As a result of the U.S. failure to turn up weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, many Americans are asking: Why did we go to war?
They should have pressed that issue more strongly before the conflict.
My position has always been that the Bush administration should have provided a stronger body of evidence supporting its view that delaying military action in Iraq would create unacceptable risks. Further, the White House should have demonstrated that the world had exhausted its supply of realistic non-military options.
Such evidence, combined with other reasons for intervening in Iraq -- promoting stability in the Persian Gulf, protecting the security and integrity of Iraq's neighbors, defending human rights, enhancing the environment for trade, opposing tyranny and encouraging political legitimacy, among others -- would have made a more compelling case.
But that didn't happen. So, Americans must deal with the consequences.
Congressional hearings may eventually yield more information about Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction and the intelligence that supposedly identified them and their potential locations. My immediate concerns, however, are that Saddam Hussein loyalists could still employ weapons of mass destruction or that the devices may never show up -- at least, not in Iraq.
Consider that Saddam spent decades toying with research that pointed toward chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, with various successes and disturbing examples of some of those weapons' use against his adversaries, both internal and external.
More recently, he perfected a system of shadowing the results of Iraq's nefarious work from the prying eyes of international inspectors. Despite expanding U.S. military control over Iraq, it could take years to locate clever hiding spots in the vastness of that country. It's essential to make the effort, though, especially if Saddam remains alive, as U.S. government reports increasingly imply.
Although Saddam and his advisers squandered their opportunity to launch weapons of mass destruction at U.S.-led forces or regional allies of the United States during the battle phase of the war, one can't rule out such tactics in the future.
Americans also should contemplate other possible twists and turns in the ongoing Iraq saga. Saddam and his advisers, knowing that they would lose the war, could have dismantled their weapons of mass destruction to confound the United States and raise doubts about the U.S.-led intervention.
If that occurred, the Bush administration will find no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Americans might never have a satisfactory answer to their questions about those devices.
Even worse, Iraqi leaders could have forged an ignoble alliance of convenience with al-Qaida or another terrorist organization. If the choice came down to losing their weapons of mass destruction to the United States or underutilizing them in an attack, Iraq's leaders might have struck a deal with terrorists. Thus, Americans have to worry about the potential use of those weapons against the United States and its interests worldwide.
Not really. Even in its present weakened state, al-Qaida poses more threats to the international community than any other terrorist organization with global reach. It would relish the opportunity to acquire and use a weapon of mass destruction as much as it cheered 9-11 and subsequent attacks. If the world has learned anything about al-Qaida, it's that the organization knows no limits in its zeal to undermine civilization.
That situation calls for perpetual U.S. vigilance in the war against terrorism, lest Americans learn the whereabouts of Iraq's elusive weapons of mass destruction in the most horrifying way -- at their doorsteps.