By now it seems certain that Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction prior to the Allied military operation in Iraq - neither nuclear, nor chemical, nor biological. His nuclear option had been essentially eliminated by the Israel Air Force attack on the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, and his chemical and biological capability had been cleared away by the UN inspection teams after the first Gulf War. The assumption that he had in the meantime rebuilt an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction seemed plausible but was wrong. Very incomplete intelligence data was the basis of this assumption, an assumption adopted by decision makers in Washington and London. Among the many reasons that could justify the Allied military operation led by the US, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein was the most convincing, but it was wrong.
Israeli intelligence analysis were no better. In Jerusalem, as in Washington, government decisions were taken based on incomplete intelligence assessments and on what seemed like "worst case scenarios", reinforced by conceptions of what Saddam Hussein was likely to do when his back would be up against the wall.
Prior to the Allied invasion of Iraq, gas masks were distributed in Israel, the public was instructed to break open the sealed containers in which the gas masks were stored, and large sums of money were wasted for no good reason. Government decisions based on inadequate intelligence can turn out to be quite costly.
The decisions taken in Washington at the time had a much more far-reaching effect. Large military forces were committed, and after a quick brilliant military victory, US and British forces found themselves embroiled in a war of attrition against a multitude of armed militias and suicide terrorists.
The losses sustained by Allied troops in Iraq during the past year, and the revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction there, has not only aroused sharp criticism of US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but has called into question the wisdom of the operation in Iraq. The chances of Bush being reelected in November is bound to be strongly influenced by the current swing in voters' opinion regarding the wisdom of the Iraqi invasion.
So would the United States, and for that matter the world, have been a better place today if that invasion had not taken place? Were Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder right, and was George Bush wrong?
From the Israeli perspective the answer seems unequivocal. Saddam Hussein, the man who launched 39 Scud missiles against Israel during the Gulf War, has been deposed. His hope of obtaining nuclear capability that could be used to threaten Israel is gone. No Iraqi expeditionary forces that regularly appeared to join Arab attacks against Israel in past years will be seen on our borders in the foreseeable future. The potential threat against the State of Israel has been reduced substantially.
But is it only Israel that is better off in the wake of the deposition of Saddam Hussein?
I believe that a global accounting shows that the world is far better off than it was before President Bush decided to go after Saddam Hussein. Muammar Khadaffi's abandonment of his program to develop weapons of mass destruction is the direct outcome of the fall of Saddam Hussein. The revelations regarding the wholesale marketing of nuclear know-how by Pakistan, masterminded by Abdul Qadeer Kahan in past years, are the direct outcome of the operation in Iraq, and hopefully have put a stop to this activity that represented a mortal danger to the world. And slowly, slowly, a movement toward more democracy is noticeable in the Arab world. If the supposition that Islamic radicalism, terrorism, and suicide bombers have their roots in the many years of incompetent governance by dictators in the Arab world, it may turn out that an effective blow has been struck against a threat that seems to be directed against the entire civilized world.
It will not have been the first time in modern history that the United States has been instrumental in meeting a danger to the civilized world. It may have been for the wrong reason, but it was the right move.
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