Politics & Policy

Surprise, Surprise

We weren't "almost all wrong" about Saddam's WMDs. But our diplomatic strategy was.

David Kay–former head of the U.S. WMD search team in Iraq–told a Senate Committee Wednesday that, “…we were almost all wrong” in believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. After a whole day of Democrat hyperventilation about why we haven’t found any of Saddam’s WMDs, it’s time to take stock and remember Sun Tzu.

The fact that Saddam’s WMDs haven’t been found proves precisely nothing about whether he had them, what form they were in, or what became of them. In David Kay’s most important remarks–made in an interview with London’s Daily Telegraph last week–he said that some of the WMDs were moved to Syria before the military action began. “We are not talking about a large stockpile of weapons,” Kay told the Telegraph. “But we know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some of Saddam’s WMD program. Precisely what went to Syria, and what’s happened to it, is a major issue that needs to be resolved.”

Syria–its capital, Damascus, a sort of terrorist union hall–is governed by the same Baathists who ran Iraq with Saddam. We know that even after the campaign began in March 2003, convoys of trucks went along the Baghdad to Damascus highway under heavy military escort. Intelligence sources said then and still say now that some of the heaviest fighting by special forces occurred around Al Qaim, on the Syrian border. The Iraqis were desperate to keep that highway open to continue the access to Syria for those convoys which were carrying senior Iraqi officials, carloads of cash, and the people and materials key to Saddam’s WMDs. America had stated no casus belli against Syria, so it was a safe place to store whatever Saddam didn’t want to be found. In the six months he had to plan for the war, and to move his most precious assets, we gave him the opportunity to implement his strategy. That we haven’t found the WMDs gives the Dems a major issue, and a strategy of their own for the fall election.

Kay’s Senate testimony tells us a lot about how the Dems will play this issue in the election. Sen. Carl Levin–whose hyper-partisanship on the ABM Treaty failed, thank heaven, to save it–said we need another nonpartisan commission to look into why we were so wrong about the WMDs. Ted Kennedy–apparently not having read the headlines about the BBC–now wants to investigate whether President Bush sexed up the intelligence to lie us into war. (Kay also said that there was no manipulation of the intelligence, and it would have been hard to have come to any conclusion other than the one Mr. Bush did: that Iraq’s WMDs were a gathering, serious threat to the world.) Forget it, Senator Kennedy. Teddy’s idea is so thin, even CBS gave it short shrift Wednesday night. The facts are that we weren’t wrong, but our diplomatic strategy was completely disconnected from our military one. We blew any chance of finding the WMDs by wasting six months in the U.N. debating whether or not to disarm Saddam.

The concept that winning requires a belligerent to have both surprise and deception on his side is not exactly new. Sun Tzu wrote it all down a few years ago, in 500 B.C. or thereabouts. If we really wanted to win the political victory in Iraq, and not just the military one, we needed to preserve those advantages. We didn’t.

How many times do we have to repeat it? This is a different kind of war, and we are have to fight it in a different way. Preemption of terrorist threats is the only course for a nation that doesn’t want to suffer another 9/11. The entire world–even Carl Levin–agreed that Saddam had WMDs, and that Saddam’s regime should go. The French and Germans–who viewed Saddam as a client not an enemy–only quibbled about how long we should take to try to disarm him peacefully. In 1998, President Clinton signed the Iraqi Liberation Act making regime change in Baghdad the lawful policy of the United States. That law expanded U.S. efforts–both covert and overt–to topple Saddam. From that year–when Saddam threw the U.N. inspectors out, until March 2003–the world, and the U.S., fiddled and diddled about what to do. And Saddam had all the time in the world to do what he could to plan for the inevitable.

We seem all too eager to give up the advantages of surprise and deception. All through the Iraq campaign, we allowed the media to broadcast the takeoffs of our B-52s from bases in Britain. Now, we’re making the same mistake in Afghanistan. The evening network news Wednesday night featured what can only be characterized as a Pentagon ad that a major operation against the Taliban resurgent movement in Afghanistan is about to begin, and that it will extend into Pakistan. The only thing you can expect now is for the bad guys to head for the hills, and disappear again. Why the hell is this going on?

It’s going on for three reasons. First, and most importantly, we are still not connecting our diplomacy to our military goals as closely as we should. If it is necessary to consult with allies before we act, and it is, it can be done quickly and confidentially. Second, our policymakers are overconfident in our seemingly unbeatable military. (N.B. The Maginot Line was impregnable, at least until the Germans went around it.) Third, the silly season is upon us and political advantage can be won or lost on the battlefield.

A day before the Dems could hyperventilate about another Investigation to See If We Were Misled, the president declined to repeat his frequent assertion that WMDs will be found in Iraq. They may never be. The Bush-lied-us-into-war crowd is having a field day, and the president seems unable to stop the bleeding. The political tide will continue to build against President Bush until he makes it clear that preemption will continue, and that we have learned the lesson of Iraq.

We cannot allow terrorists time to hide their people or their weapons. If we are at war, then war it should be: a war that will continue against terrorists and their nation-sponsors wherever they may be, at times and in places that we will determine, and not announce on the network news.

President Bush put himself in this corner and, for our sake, he needs to come out of it swinging. He needs to be as clear and resolved as he was after 9/11. The war against “terrorism” is no such thing. You can’t fight terrorism, which is a tactic. It is a war against those people who are terrorists, and those nations–such as Syria, Iran, and others–who support them. Preemptive war against the terrorist nations must continue, or we will quickly be more vulnerable than we were on 9/11. Damascus should be very high on our list. Or not. Maybe we should talk to Assad again as Secretary Powell did a year ago. Let’s talk to Iran, and all the others as well. It’s a great idea to have a congressional delegation visit Libya. Surprise, deception. Reread Sun Tzu.

NRO Contributor Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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