Jack Kelly: Spring surprise coming

Democrats dig their own hole on Iraq

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Howard Dean offers on a nationally syndicated radio show, with only the mildest of demurrers about its accuracy, a theory that President Bush had forewarning of the Sept. 11 attacks. This is the sort of vicious lunacy that made Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., ex-Rep. McKinney.

Rep. James McDermott, D-Wash., tells a Seattle radio station he thinks the Army could have captured Saddam Hussein at any time, and only did so now to give the president a political boost. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tells journalist Mort Kondracke she thinks Bush has Osama bin Laden on ice somewhere, ready to be "captured" at the time most propitious for the president's re-election campaign. Democrats have become barking moon bats. They may soon have more grist for their bizarre conspiracy theories.

Weapons inspector David Kay will issue early next year his report on weapons of mass destruction. If two stories out of Britain are accurate, it won't be good news for the tinfoil helmet crowd. Kay's Iraq Survey Group has found "massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine [weapons] laboratories," Prime Minister Tony Blair told British armed forces radio Dec. 16.

On Dec. 7, the Sunday Telegraph published an interview with an Iraqi air defense officer who said his unit and others were issued cases containing WMD warheads which were to be used only on the explicit orders of Saddam.

The "secret weapon" was not used because the bulk of the Iraqi army would not fight for Saddam, Lt. Col. al-Dabbagh told the Telegraph. When it was clear the Iraqi army wouldn't use them, the special warheads were collected by the Fedayeen Saddam, al-Dabbagh said. He said he thinks they are still in Iraq.

The recently retired director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. James Clapper, told Agence France Presse in October there was evidence from satellite imagery that Saddam moved WMD into Syria just before the onset of hostilities.

On Dec. 13, the Telegraph reported on a memo sent by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, then the head of Iraq's intelligence service, to Saddam. The memo, dated July 1, 2001, reported that Mohammed Atta, the lead Sept. 11 hijacker, had just completed a training program in Baghdad run by Abu Nidal. Atta had demonstrated his capability to lead the team "responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy," Tahir told Saddam.

Kay's group has pored through a lot of documents and interviewed a lot of Iraqis, whose tongues are likely to loosen now that Saddam is in custody. Presumably, his report will have more light to shed on what happened to the WMD, and on Saddam's connections to al-Qaida.

It's a shame (heh heh heh) that Kay's report will be coming out at just about the time Dean wraps up the Democratic nomination, knocking the legs out from under the key element of his platform. Democrats will claim that Bush had this information all along, and deliberately chose to hold it until its release would inflict maximum political damage on Dean and the Democrats.

This will be false. It is Democrats who are chiefly responsible for the timing of the Kay report. After the kerfuffle over Bush's statement in the State of the Union address that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Bush is wise to make sure he has all the information he can gather before making a public report on these controversial issues.

And by down playing, or ignoring altogether, the already abundant evidence of Iraq's al-Qaida ties, and by giving more credence to Saddam's claims than to those of the president, their friends in the news media inadvertently have helped set the Democrats up for a "Spring surprise."

The Democratic charges also will be irrelevant, because it is they who have put themselves in position to be harmed by proof that Saddam was as dangerous as Bill Clinton said he was. Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt will suffer no embarrassment from release of the Kay report. Democrats could have followed them instead of following Howard Dean off the cliff. But those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

Jack Kelly is national security writer for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio ( jkelly@post-gazette.com , 412-263-1476).


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