The Washington Times

“I was wrong,” wrote John Edwards in The Washington Post Sunday, repudiating his vote to authorize military action against the Saddam Hussein regime in September 2002. Well, yes, he was wrong. Then, a prudent political calculation for a Democrat with national political aspirations was to support the Bush administration’s effort to get Saddam to disarm or take his regime down by force. Now, the prudent calculation to maintain your viability within the late-2005 Democratic Party is to run as far away from your unfortunate 2002 vote as possible – by presenting yourself as yet another victim of the supposed deception foisted on the American people.

“Almost three years ago we went into Iraq to remove what we were told – and what many of us believed and argued [!] – was a threat to America. But in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003 … The argument for going to war with Iraq was based on intelligence that we now know was inaccurate.”

OK, Mr. Edwards, let’s pursue your argument: How do we know this? We know this for one reason and one reason only, the only way it was knowable: because we invaded Iraq. We took down the Saddam government, arrested and detained as many senior Iraqi officials and weapons scientists as we could find, questioned them thoroughly, scoured the country for biological and chemical weapons supplies, and found evidence of programs variously abandoned or discontinued or on hold.

We found, however, no clear record of when or how (or whether) Saddam had destroyed whatever stockpiles he may once have possessed. Nor did we find any evidence that Saddam had done anything more than suppress his chemical, biological or nuclear ambitions for prudential reasons. On the contrary, there was ample reason to conclude that he hoped to reconstitute such programs at the first opportunity.

Now, back to Mr. Edwards: How exactly were we supposed to figure all this out without going to Baghdad? U.N. weapons inspectors? Please. We have, on the one side, the consensus judgment of every intelligence service in the world that the Saddam regime is in possession of these weapons. We have unpersuasive denials from the Iraq government accompanied by nothing in the way of documentary evidence to show that Saddam disarmed. We have the conclusions of the chief U.N. inspector himself that Iraq is not fully complying with the terms of disclosure.

And on the other side, we have: what exactly? Well, again, exactly what we have is the argument that sanctions and inspections were working because Saddam was unable to reconstitute his weapons programs under that regime. The sanctions were working, hooray! (I think, by the way, that that’s bunk: There is no indication that Saddam was unable to continue his programs, only that he had chosen to discontinue them temporarily. Certainly there is nothing to indicate that it would have been especially difficult to restart them, even under sanctions.)

But again, how do we know that sanctions and inspections were “working,” if that’s what you want to call it? Because we toppled the regime, that’s why, and for no other reason.

Does anybody think that if Hans Blix had another six months to look around, his inconclusive results and his non-finding of weapons, in the context of a Saddam government that continued its longstanding practice of cooperating as little as possible with the inspection regime, would have upended the decade-long consensus among intelligence services that Saddam had weapons?

Oh, there would certainly have been a crisis within the intelligence community, here and abroad, especially as Mr. Blix visited sites recommended to him by various agencies and turned up nothing. But does anybody really think the inspectors’ failure to find WMD would have led to a wholesale re-evaluation of the intelligence estimates, reaching the consensus conclusion (which I am happy to say we do know for certain now) that Iraq is disarmed? Within six months or even a year?

But let’s continue with Mr. Edwards: The result of this non-finding of WMD after six months or a year would have been: A) the conclusion that sanctions and inspections were working in keeping Saddam in his box and that they should be continued indefinitely, backed up by a couple hundred thousand U.S. military personnel nearby? Or, B) that sanctions and inspections had served their purpose and could be discontinued? I’m afraid that when I weigh likelihood, I come down a little more toward B than A, especially since support for sanctions was eroding in the Security Council before September 2001.

Such considerations do not even slow Mr. Edwards down in his effort to get right with the new party line: “Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war.” That knowledge is what we paid a price in blood to obtain, and we got it the only way it was available.