When President Bush and Vice President Cheney appear before the 9/11 Commission (search) Thursday, they can justifiably claim they took prudent measures -- given the flimsy intelligence they’d received on terrorist threats against our homeland.

Most importantly, once the attacks occurred, they radically changed their whole way of operating. They -- to use the cliché of the day -- “connected the dots,” as best they could. Their critics did not.

The very phrase “connecting the dots” highlights actions based on less-than-certain information -- on history, hunches, instincts. After all, these are “dots,” not fully filled-in scenes.

Take Iraq, the second big issue after 9/11, coming after the expulsion of the Taliban (search) from power.

A big “dot” was Saddam’s having -- and probably sharing with Al Qaeda -- weapons of mass destruction. This was clearly the Bush administration’s premise going into Iraq.

But a premise based on history, circumstantial evidence, clear deception and concealment by Saddam. Moreover, the head of U.S. intelligence, CIA Director George Tenet, explicitly told the president that Iraq’s having WMD was a “slam dunk.” That couldn’t be stronger talk.

Strong enough to convince a president. Strong enough to convince the most fervent war opponent, like Sen. Ted Kennedy. On Sept. 27, 2002, during the war resolution debate, Kennedy said, “We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.”

Now, of course, Kennedy says that the Bush administration “misled Congress and the American people, because the administration knew that it could not obtain the consent of the Congress for the war if all the facts were known.”

Well, “facts” were known. It turned out some “facts” were wrong.

Another “dot” connection was the line drawn between Saddam’s henchmen and Usama bin Laden’s fanatics. That, too, was eminently reasonable, as Saddam clearly relished terrorism.

He relied on terror with his own people, bankrolled Palestinians who practiced terrorism against Israelis, ran a terrorist attack to assassinate ex-President George H.W. Bush, harbored terrorist kingpins like Abu Nidal (search) and those who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.

The biggest “dot” of all is so big that it’s missed only by those blinded by their fervent hatred of Bush.

George Orwell (search) once said, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." The titanic battle now underway between the champions of civilization and the forces of barbarism is right in front of our noses.

Just as Americans toughed out the dark days of the titanic battles with Nazism, fascism and communism last century, so must we tough out the titanic battle with Islamic fascists this century.

Look at the enemy in Iraq. His savage tactics -- killing civilians and soldiers alike, Iraqis and coalition forces indiscriminately -- indicates what Iraq would be like should we cut and run.

The barbarians would again wreck havoc there. Rather than sickening torture and brutality being inflicted by Saddam’s regime, it would now be inflicted by local power brokers.

No great improvement for a lot of American prestige, blood and treasure spilled.

The enemy now fights in Iraq with fierce determination. But for what? To end American occupation? That’ll happen in 90 days or so, with Iraqis assuming sovereignty. To restore Saddam? The coward -- who sent millions of young Iraqis to die in battle, and himself meekly surrendered with a rifle in his lap –-- would be torn to sheds were he not incarcerated, and protected, by American troops. To establish a mullah-cracy, as in Iran? Just go next door and ask Iranians how they like life under their corrupt, incompetent and vicious mullahs.

No, the enemy’s purpose is to end any U.S. attempt to spread decency and, yes, democracy in the Arab world. The stakes are high in Iraq. If it goes right there, peaceful transformations can go right in Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf states -- even Saudi Arabia and Iran.

If Iraq goes even wrong-er, the more reasonable Arab countries will be on the defensive, getting even worse than now. Our own battles against Islamic fascists (search) will be even more isolated and difficult than now.

Sure, we’re doing all this for Iraq’s future. But we’re doing this for our own future, too. We must stay the course, lest increasingly dark dots paint our future.         

 

Mr. Adelman was a U.N. ambassador and arms-control director in the 1980s, accompanying President Reagan on his superpower summits with Mikhail Gorbachev. He now serves on the Defense Policy Board, and co-hosts www.TechCentralStation.com.