Sunday, August 19, 2007

Former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove appeared today on NBC's Meet the Press. He was asked by David Gregory, substituting for Tim Russert, about remarks Dick Cheney made in 1994, as revealed in a video appearing this past week on YouTube. Cheney therein defended the decision of George Herbert Walker Bush not to invade Beirut at the close of the war and try to apprehend Sadam Hussein. Gregory quotes Cheney in the video as saying

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? If you take down the central government of Iraq, you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off.

It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad and took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? And our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.

Queried about the former Secretary of Defense's apparent change of opinion, Rove responded

And you’re right, 1994. He, he was describing the conditions in 1994. By 2003 the world had changed. It changed on 9/11, and it became clear—it should be clear to every American that we live in a dangerous world where we cannot let emerging threats fully materialize in attacks on our homeland. Between 1994 and 2003 Saddam Hussein ignored a total—between 1991 and 2003, 16 UN resolutions that said “live up to the agreement that you made in the aftermath of the first Gulf war to disclose your weapons of mass destruction and to account for them.” He didn’t. He was thumbing his nose at the international inspection regime. He was taking money from Oil For Food and putting it into programs to maintain his state security apparatus. He was funding terrorists. He was supporting terrorists, harboring terrorists. He became a dangerous threat, and people are entitled over time to look at the conditions and change their mind, and that’s exactly what Dick Cheney did...

We've come to assume that whenever this war is questioned, the bloody shirt of "9/11" is waved. The Administration and its apologists never tire of exploiting the murder of 3,000 American citizens to bolster flagging support of its failed war effort. And we know that none of the hijackers were Iraqi nationals, that most were of Saudi origin. (That's Saudi Arabia, the Bush family's favorite Arab nation.) And that Saddam's Iraq was less involved in terrorism than Iran or Syria(or Afghanistan, obviously).
But Rove's statement contains something new. Arguing that Cheney "was describing the conditions in 1994," whereas "by 2003 the world had changed," Rove implies that the world, presumably due to the threat of terrorism, had become more dangerous over the intervening nine years. But the September, 2001 terrorist attacks had not made the world more dangerous but rather had awakened us to the threat. We know from Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting (FAIR) that Gen. Hussein Kamel, the late Iraqi weapons chief and son-in-law to Saddam Hussein who told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) (and, separately, the CIA) when he defected in 1995 that the regime had destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and banned missiles. And that as early as March, 1999 former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter declared "none of Iraq's major biological weapons production facilities are in operation today, with some of them having been destroyed completely. Iraq's chemical weapons program has been driven into hiding, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has destroyed Iraq's pre-war nuclear weapons facilities." So Saddam posed no more, and probably less, of a threat in 2003 than in 1994.
Perhaps Cheney had decided that removing Saddam Hussein in 2003 posed less of a risk than it would have in 1994. Except that he would be wrong. As he argued in a November 2006 article in Slate, journalist Christopher Hitchens, an ardent, consistent, and obviously misguided supporter of Gulf War II, believes allied forces could have cleanly toppled the Hussein regime in 1991. Broad international support included that of Syria, though gained with a price; Iran (now friendly with the Shiite regime in Iraq) had limited influence following its war with Iraq; and the strength of sectarian militias was slight.
There is no way of knowing whether invasion of Baghdad in 1991 would have been successful and not resulted in nearly worldwide enmity, an increase in terrorism, and nearly 4,000 American deaths. But we do know what happened when we tried this in 2003. And that no one has been more consistently wrong about the war than Dick Cheney.

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