WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is relying on a slender thread to justify its disastrous war in Iraq: Saddam Hussein is now in jail.
"The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power," President Bush insists, because "he was a clear threat."
Bush's rationalization comes up lame, given the administration's reluctant and deferred acknowledgement that Saddam had nothing to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and especially in view of the mounting casualty tolls of U.S. service members and Iraqi civilians.
Vice President Dick Cheney also says, "The world is better off today with Saddam Hussein out of power."
While holding no brief for Iraq's brutal dictator, I question whether we now live in a safer world.
The world would be better off without any dictators, of course. That's a given.
But I'm thinking of all the Americans and Iraqis who would be alive today had there not been a U.S.-waged war of choice.
Anti-terrorism experts regard the U.S. invasion and occupation as an alluring recruiting poster that is attracting more Islamic radicals to the ranks of suicide bombers in Iraq and elsewhere.
That may explain the insistence by Bush and Cheney that Iraq is the central front in the fight against terrorism. If it wasn't before the invasion, it is now.
The Middle East is aflame and the U.S. has lost its campaign for the hearts and minds of the people in the region.
Karen Hughes, the president's close confidante who is in charge of the State Department's public diplomacy, has been given the impossible mission of making friends for the U.S. in the Middle East. She will fail in this mission unless U.S. foreign policy is transformed.
Looking back, we had Saddam wrapped up tighter than a detainee in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We had covered Saddam with strangling economic sanctions; regular bombings in the two no-fly zones had kept his military confined since the end of the first Gulf war in 1991; and intense U.S. satellite surveillance of Iraq kept tabs on what was going on.
U.N. inspectors and two U.S. task forces spent months and millions of dollars searching Iraq for evidence of weapons of mass destruction -- the centerpiece of Bush's rationale for going to war -- but found nothing.
Reminded of this inconvenient truth during his appearance on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" last Sunday, Cheney had to fall back on the pathetic excuse that, even though Saddam didn't have such weapons, Iraq had the capability of obtaining them.
Against that yardstick, most of the world is a potential target for invasion and occupation.
The never-give-an-inch vice president concluded: The invasion was "the right thing to do" and "if we had it to do all over again, we'd do exactly the same thing."
That statement is outrageous, given the reality that none of the stated reasons for the U.S. invasion turned out to be accurate.
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Tony Snow is trying to brush aside the administration's tragic errors by saying, in effect, that the president wants to let bygones be bygones.
Snow told reporters last Friday that the president's view is, "OK, we'll let people quibble over (what happened) three years ago, the important thing is to figure out what you're doing tomorrow and the day after and the months after and the years after to make sure this war on terror is won."
Clearly, the president has no regrets about the Iraqi debacle as evidenced by the administration's fumbling efforts to fix the facts around his war policy and to fall back on contrived explanations for this tragedy.
This isn't the accountability we should expect from any White House, especially when it comes to the power to wage war.
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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