Apologies for not meeting the timetable for posting again; I have had much real work to do over the past few days, so delayed resuming this non-paying recreation. I’m now back, a year older and incomparably wiser.
Not much seems to have happened in the past ten days that was novel. The only candidate in the Democratic primaries with an impeccable record on security issues proved predictably unpalatable to his party’s activists and crashed even more disastrously than Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson in 1972 and 1976.
Meanwhile Al Gore confirmed his unfitness for public office with a speech whose standards of tawdriness and mendacity will remain unsurpassed till the stars burn out and the heavens implode.
"He betrayed this country!" Mr. Gore shouted into the microphone at a rally of Tennessee Democrats here in a stuffy hotel ballroom. "He played on our fears. He took America on an ill-conceived foreign adventure dangerous to our troops, an adventure preordained and planned before 9/11 ever took place."
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had hoped for a Gore victory in 2000 (especially given his running mate), as indeed I have hoped for a Democrat victory in every Presidential election I can recall. (That goes back to the feckless Jimmy Carter in 1976 – I never said my preferences were correct.) Moreover, if you can credit this, I supported Gore primarily on grounds of foreign policy. I expected a Bush administration to have a view of national security so circumscribed that it would fail to see the strategic as well as moral necessity of maintaining Nato’s presence in the Balkans, and perhaps even seek to end the unstable system of containment of Saddam Hussein by cutting a deal with the tyrant (“no blood for oil”, so to speak).
How wrong could I have been? So far from conforming to the European stereotype of a hard-nosed conservative, George W. Bush is no more of an ideologically-driven President than his immediate predecessor. What he does have – enormously to his credit, and analogously to Tony Blair – is an instinctive understanding of the importance of 9/11 for the international order. The combination of totalitarian Islamist terrorism and proliferation of nuclear technology is the issue that matters more than any other for free societies. The threat may be inchoate; that makes it all the more important that it be extirpated now, while we have the opportunity to fight on our terms rather than our enemies’.
Lacking expository skills comparable to those of Reagan or Clinton (and also, it is by no means irrelevant to add, comparable character flaws to the latter), Bush has found this point harder to articulate than to intuit. His quandary is well-expressed, however, in words imaginatively constructed for him by David Brooks in the New York Times today:
I'm not good at explaining the ideology that unites our foes and propels them to fight freedom. But I know that the threats we face are part of a universal hatred, and the only solution to that hatred is freedom — that we must undertake a generational challenge to spread democracy so people whose souls are now twisted can learn to love peace. We could not have allowed the Middle East to continue to drift down its former course.
I said I have found my mission and my moment, and it has cost me. It has cost me some of the bonds I had with average Americans. The secret of my political success was that voters sensed I was basically like them. But this mission, while elevating, is also a cocoon. I see Americans going about their business, watching the Super Bowl and reacting to it all. But I couldn't watch most of the Super Bowl and I didn't have a reaction to the whole halftime fiasco because I had to go to bed and be ready for the continuing war the next day. They say there is a cultural divide between the military and society. There is, and suddenly I am on the other side.
I look around and observe that many of my fellow Americans don't seem to be living on Sept. 12, the way I am. And if they don't feel in their bones the presence of war, I don't know what argument I can use to persuade them.
Quite: you either see the point or you don’t. In his base invective Al Gore demonstrates that he doesn’t - “playing on our fears”, indeed, as if in overthrowing Saddam the President had opted for a politically congenial and convenient course rather than an obligation necessitated by the free world’s security needs. “Betrayed this country”, indeed – whereupon the former Vice-President adopts the nomenclature of Ann Coulter and Michael Moore in accusing his political opponents not merely of holding mistaken opinions but of practising treachery.
There is indeed a link between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, but not the one that Gore charges. After 9/11 the case for pre-emptive war against our declared enemies became compelling. (This is not to say, however, that the argument for war on Saddam Hussein was about pre-emption: rather it was about implementing the 17 UN Security Council resolutions that Saddam had flouted since March 1991 and that the Security Council itself had proved utterly ineffectual in upholding.) I pay tribute to those few people, one or two of whom are indeed members of the Bush administration, who saw that point long before 9/11, and whom Gore in effect - and unwittingly correctly - accuses of having been right about Saddam all along. There was no chance that this genocidal tyrant was capable of being contained diplomatically, and ample evidence of his sponsorship of terrorism. The case for overthrowing him by force was exactly as the Prime Minister always said it was, including on grounds of weapons of mass destruction – not stockpiles of existing weapons, but a dual-purpose capability for producing them secretly when international attention flagged and became diverted to other things. As Christopher Hitchens observes in Slate:
The British government's claim that such weaponry was deployable within "45" minutes is irrelevant from both sides, since if the weapons weren't there they couldn't be used at all, and if they were there they presumably existed in some condition of readiness. Many newspapers in London sold extra copies on the bannered "45 Minutes" headline and have been in a vengeful state ever since over their own credulity. That can't be helped. In this ontological argument, nobody claimed that there was no WMD problem to begin with.
If you doubt Hitchens’s word on this, consider the laboured sarcasm of one thoroughly discredited source, the former weapons inspector Scott Ritter. Ritter recounted last week on a far-Left web site, under the baffling title Confronting the Theocracy of Evil (my inference from the piece is that he doesn’t know what a theocracy is):
In early November, 2003, I found myself engaged in a series of meetings with members of the British Parliament on the issue of Iraqi WMD….
The Chair[man] of the Select Committee on Defense, Bruce George, listened patiently as I took apart Tony Blair's case for Iraq's retention of WMD, piece by piece, in the back of the Member's cafeteria. When I finished, George shrugged his shoulders. "I still believe that this war was justified over the issue of WMD," he said, "if for no other reason than Saddam's ongoing intent to acquire them in the face of UN inspections."
"Intent?" I asked, incredulously. "What intent? No one has made a case that Saddam was attempting to either hold on the hidden WMD, or reacquire new capabilities."
Ritter is not quite accurate on this point. One writer did make exactly that case in The New Republic in December 1998:
Even today, Iraq is not nearly disarmed. UNSCOM lacks a full declaration from Iraq concerning its prohibited capabilities, making any absolute pronouncement about the extent of Iraq's retained proscribed arsenal inherently tentative. But, based on highly credible intelligence, UNSCOM suspects that Iraq still has biological agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin, and clostridium perfringens in sufficient quantity to fill several dozen bombs and ballistic missile warheads, as well as the means to continue manufacturing these deadly agents. Iraq probably retains several tons of the highly toxic VX substance, as well as sarin nerve gas and mustard gas. This agent is stored in artillery shells, bombs, and ballistic missile warheads. And Iraq retains significant dual-use industrial infrastructure that can be used to rapidly reconstitute large-scale chemical weapons production. Meanwhile, Iraq has kept its entire nuclear weapons infrastructure intact through dual-use companies that allow the nuclear-design teams to conduct vital research and practical work on related technologies and materials.
The name of this author was Scott Ritter. He had just left Iraq. Only later did he decide that “any absolute pronouncement about the extent of Iraq’s retained proscribed arsenal” was not, after all, “inherently tentative”. As the head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, put it in September 2002, evidently in sadness more than anger:
Until the day he left UNSCOM, Scott was robustly advising me, in writing -- you know, the papers are out there to prove it -- that Iraq continued to retain illegal weapons. He begged me to authorize him to go in and do what he called "kick in the doors and find those weapons." Sometimes, I authorized him to lead inspections; sometimes I rejected his proposals because, quite frankly, they were a little bit off the wall.
Now, his advice to me then, on the basis of good evidence which I knew, was that Iraq continued to retain illegal weapons. He resigned. A few months later, he crossed the road and for some reason -- I don't know why, I am not a psychoanalyst -- but he crossed the road and started to tell the world that there were no such weapons.
So I put it to you this way. Either he was misleading me when he worked for me, or he began to mislead the world's public later. Now, I know which one it is. He was not misleading me, rather, he is now misleading the world's public. And I find that sad, wrong, and frankly, a touch dangerous.
Quite. The most pointless development of the past ten days has been the announcement of yet a further inquiry into the Iraq war, the Butler Inquiry, whose remit is to investigate the pre-war intelligence given the Prime Minister. There can be no doubt that intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs was inadequate and severely flawed. And the anti-war campaigners evidence scant understanding that those deficiencies undermine their own argument. If we had no idea between 1998 and 2003 what was really happening in Iraq – and we plainly didn’t – then the only prudent assumption with a demonstrably irrational aggressor is to give him absolutely no benefit of the doubt. After all, the hapless and incompetent Hans Blix failed to uncover Iraq’s nuclear programme when he was head of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1987; it was discovered only after the Gulf War in 1991. Since the overthrow of Saddam we have found no large stockpiles of weapons, but David Kay did find – according to his underreported comments last week – evidence of an active weapons programme, a programme to deploy ricin in the form of weaponry, and literally hundreds of other concealed and illegal activities. British readers will recall that ricin was the substance that police found in a flat in Wood Green when they arrested six terrorist suspects in January 2003.
Activities such as those must be disrupted and stopped before they reach our Islamist enemies. They will not be stopped – we know this, on the historical evidence – by containment and a porous inspections regime when dealing with states that sponsor terror. They may be dealt with only by an unambiguous indication that we will take the fight to our enemies, whereupon those states – Libya, Iran and perhaps now others – will receive a powerful signal that they must change their behaviour or suffer the consequences. No political cause on earth is more important than this, no government duty more salient, and no issue more central to liberal principle.