The Magazine

The 9/10 Democrats

From the July 19, 2004 issue: The Bush campaign must remind Americans that the Iraq war was no mistake--that the case for the war was and is compelling, and that it used to be bipartisan.

Jul 19, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 42 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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LAST THURSDAY, CNN's Larry King asked John Kerry whether he would want former President Bill Clinton to campaign on his behalf. Kerry said yes. "What American would not trade the economy we had in the 1990s, the fact that we were not at war and young Americans were not deployed?"

Kerry's answer is revealing. We were, in fact, at war. The Clinton administration, with the exception of a few cruise missiles, had simply chosen not to fight back. Osama bin Laden, a sworn enemy of the United States, had launched attacks on our embassies and on a warship of the U.S. Navy. Saddam Hussein had defied U.N. weapons inspections, repeatedly threatened America, and attempted to assassinate former President Bush.

Furthermore, where does Kerry object to young Americans' being deployed? Afghanistan? But Kerry has criticized the Bush administration for an insufficient commitment of troops there. Iraq? But Kerry voted for the war and has said he would not cut and run.

So Kerry was simply indulging in demagoguery. He's not the only one. The Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on pre-Iraq intelligence failures last Friday. Jay Rockefeller, the committee's ranking Democrat, claimed that, because of the flawed intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, "Our standing in the world has never been lower. We have fostered a deep hatred of America in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before."

Consider the extremism of Rockefeller's statement. Our global standing has never been lower? Our nation is more vulnerable than ever before? Then consider the facts. Since the 9/11 attacks, the United States and its allies have deposed the Taliban in Afghanistan and overthrown Saddam Hussein's Baathist despotism in Iraq. The Pakistani/Libyan international nuclear weapons bazaar has been shut down. Al Qaeda operatives not already killed or captured are on the run, with no safe base of operations remaining in the world. All this has made us more vulnerable? If that's true, then it is the position of Senator Rockefeller that the American and allied soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq not only have accomplished nothing but have been counterproductive. This is a slander the Bush administration must answer--if not for its own sake, then for the honor of those who have sacrificed so much to make this country less vulnerable than it has been for years.

As for hatred of America, al Qaeda leaders were planning their attacks on New York and Washington back in those halcyon days of the Clinton era that John Kerry recalls with such nostalgia. Indeed, al Qaeda was left unmolested as it trained thousands of terrorists at camps in Afghanistan. And of course, lest we forget: On October 12, 2000, al Qaeda bombed the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, killing 17 American sailors. On August 7, 1998, al Qaeda struck two U.S. embassies in East Africa killing 257--including 12 Americans--and injuring 5,000. During the 1990s, numerous other attacks were planned (the Millennium attack on the Los Angeles airport) or executed (the Khobar Towers attacks, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing). Those were the good old days when, by Jay Rockefeller's reckoning, America was less hated and less vulnerable.

The Senate Intelligence Committee faults the U.S. intelligence community for providing flawed intelligence to policymakers. But the intelligence community is not up for reelection this fall. The policymakers are. So many Democrats, with a compliant media, will be tempted to fall in behind Rockefeller. We'll soon be hearing a lot about the Bush administration's "exaggeration" of intelligence.

What the Bush campaign must do is remind Americans that the Iraq war was no mistake--that the case for the war was and is compelling, and that it used to be bipartisan. Jay Rockefeller, of all people, made that case well in an October 2002 floor speech: "Saddam's existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose a very real threat to America, now. Saddam has used chemical weapons before, both against Iraq's enemies and his own people. He is working to develop delivery systems like missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that could bring these deadly weapons against U.S. forces and U.S. facilities in the Middle East." Rockefeller wasn't done. "He could make those weapons available to many terrorist groups which have contact with his government, and those groups could bring those weapons into the U.S. and unleash a devastating attack against American citizens....Some argue it would be totally irrational for Saddam Hussein to initiate an attack against the mainland United States, and they believe he would not do it. But if Saddam Hussein thought he could attack America through terrorist proxies and cover the trail back to Baghdad, he might think it not so irrational."