The Threat We Couldn't Ignore

"We were right to go into Iraq," President Bush said recently. Is he right?

Before we answer, let's look back at what two politicians were saying about Saddam Hussein not that long ago.

1) "Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction (search) technology, which is a threat to countries in the region, and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process."

2) "If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program."

Who were these warmongers? Vice President Cheney? President Bush?

Neither. The first quote is from Rep. Nancy Pelosi,D-Calif., now House minority leader. The second is from President Bill Clinton. Both were spoken in 1998, when politicians from both parties were insisting that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States.

It turns out, as the Sept. 11 committee report proves, that our pre-war intelligence about Iraq was inaccurate. Clearly, changes are needed in the intelligence community. But no one should assume this means we weren't justified in waging war on Saddam Hussein. Doing so would neglect both the lessons we should have learned from Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein's threatening track record.

From his first day in power, Saddam's foreign policy consisted of two elements that directly conflicted with vital U.S. interests: He wanted to destroy Israel and dominate the Middle East. He pursued his foreign policy by developing and using weapons of mass destruction, threatening violence against other countries (including the United States), invading countries, attempting to assassinate foreign leaders (including the first President Bush), and by supporting and harboring terrorists.

After his defeat in the Gulf War (search), Saddam agreed to stop his threatening activities and let the United Nations monitor his compliance. Instead, he continued to threaten the United States and other nations with violence, went on a killing spree — murdering thousands who stood against him in Iraq — refused to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, continued supporting and harboring terrorists, and routinely fired at U.S. and British planes enforcing U.N. no-fly zones.

When one considers Saddam's past actions and words in the context of lessons learned from the Sept. 11 attacks, it becomes clear that the status quo was not acceptable.

We learned on Sept. 11 that modern terrorists and terrorist states are not deterred by threats of retaliation. Al Qaeda knew the United States would strike back, yet acted anyway. Saddam behaved similarly. He remained defiant in spite of a decade of threats and isolation.

Moreover, he maintained a WMD program. While it is true that large quantities of these weapons haven't been found, it's also true that immense amounts of WMD remain unaccounted for and that there was a strong likelihood that Saddam was trying to develop the capacity to produce them through dual-use programs.

In addition, U.N. weapons inspectors recently told the Security Council that they have seen evidence, including satellite photos, that Iraq had transported dual-use technology out of Iraq in the days before and during the war.

Whether Iraq had anything to do with Sept. 11 or not, Saddam did have direct ties and ongoing contacts with terrorist groups. He was believed to shelter several terrorist groups, including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (search) organization and several Palestinian-sponsored groups. The Sept. 11 commission acknowledges that there was contact between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Perhaps this didn't develop into a "collaborative operational relationship," as the Sept. 11 commission put it, but Saddam gave us plenty of grounds for assuming the worst.

A final lesson of Sept. 11 is that the future envisioned by extremist rogue states and organizations is incompatible with America's security. Our enemies will use unprovoked violence to pursue their goals. And considering that Saddam flagrantly violated each of the many Iraq-related U.N. Security Council resolutions, it's clear his vision of the future was incompatible with that of the rest of the world, too.

Saddam openly threatened the United States and its allies, demonstrated his willingness to kill on a mass scale and use WMD and, most importantly, saw the United States as his primary adversary.

He was given ample opportunities to comply with his obligations to the United Nations. Had he done so, he could be in Iraq today raping, pillaging and executing his oil contracts with his Russian and European buddies. But he isn't, and that makes America —and the world — a safer place.

Jack Spencer is a senior policy analyst for defense and national security at The Heritage Foundation, where Olivia Albrecht is an intern.