October 6, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Wishful Thinking

 Wrong, wrong, wrong. Everything about the war in Iraq is wrong - if you listen to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, that is. It's "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time," Mr. Kerry repeats endlessly. And just for good measure, he would have you know that the W. in George W. Bush stands for "wrong" as well. How sophisticated to make a bon mot of the president's name.
Does Mr. Kerry actually believe there could have been a right war at the wrong time in the wrong place? Or a wrong war at the right time in the wrong place? Or a wrong war at the wrong time in the right place? It's all very puzzling. 
Which makes you wonder what exactly Mr. Kerry is trying to say. He has recently tied himself to a position on Iraq, like Odysseus lashed to the mast, in order to resist the siren song of temptation to change his mind again. Whether he can make it to the election without changing his mind again will be interesting to watch.
What is so amazing about Mr. Kerry's new position on Iraq is his metaphysical certitude (as John McLaughlin would have put it) that Saddam Hussein did not have any dealings with al Qaeda terrorists. Whereas Mr. Kerry in December of 2003 stated that "Iraq may not be the war on terror itself, but it is critical to the outcome in the war on terror, and therefore any advance in Iraq is an advance forward in that." He and his surrogates now sing a very different tune.
"What we know from the intelligence report, there are several things. One is that the al Qaeda-Hussein connection was not there. I did not believe there was a strong al Qaeda-Hussein connection," Mr. Kerry stated on June 16. And, "It's wrong for the administration to continually mislead the American people about a link that doesn't exist," on Sept. 12. And on and on. Here is one from Mr. Edwards. "What we know from the intelligence report... is that the al Qaeda-Hussein connection was not there."

Yet, whether you look at the September 11 commission report or the unanimous report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, neither warrants any such conclusion. On the contrary, both describe contacts between the Saddam regime and al Qaeda operatives, including an offer from Saddam of safe haven for Osama bin Laden in 1998.

As meticulously demonstrated by Weekly Standard reporter Stephen Hayes, both reports concluded the Iraq-al Qaeda connection had been there for years. Mr. Hayes quotes the Senate intelligence report to the effect that al Qaeda terrorist mastermind "[Abu Musab] al Zarqawi and his network were operating both in Baghdad and in the Kurdish controlled region of Iraq. The HUMINT reporting indicated that the Iraqi regime certainly knew that al Zarqawi was in Baghdad because a foreign government service gave that information to Iraq."

Equally convinced of the connection was an indictment by the Clinton administration of Osama bin Laden in 1998. "Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specially weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq."

Denying such conclusions regarding Saddam's terrorist connections has become essential to the latest Kerry/Edwards line on the war in Iraq. Following this line of argument, Mr. Kerry would have the United States withdraw from Iraq and direct far more U.S. resources to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, whose whereabouts are actually much less certain than Saddam Hussein's terrorist connections. Perhaps in his view, the right war at the right time in the right place would be an invasion of Pakistan where the al Qaeda leader is thought most likely to be hiding - if he is still alive.

Like so many of Mr. Kerry's other foreign policy positions - that the United States should deal directly with North Korea, that we should give nuclear fuel to Iran or that we can expect Europeans to flock to the aid of a Kerry administration in Iraq - this one fails the reality test. Part of Mr. Kerry's new line is to blame President Bush for a stubborn refusal to face the facts, but Mr. Kerry's own suggestions are based on twisting the facts and wishful thinking.

Helle Dale is director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: helle.dale@heritage.org.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in The Washington Times