THE CLINCHER

Several reports over the weekend, barely covered in the mainstream American press for some reason, strike me as blockbusters. The Sunday Telegraph’s scoop of documents in Baghdad clearly linking al Qaeda with Saddam, if verified, means that an essential debate is over. Even opponents of the war against Saddam’s dictatorship said they would be more inclined to support war if there were proof of a link to al Qaeda. Now, it seems, there is. But the manner in which we found this out after the event, raises a more complicated question about foreign policy in the age of terror. We know that Saddam had elaborate designs to make chemical and biological weapons. No serious person doubts that – although whether he tried to destroy evidence before the war, how extensive it was, what exactly it amounted to, are still questions in search of good answers. (But we’re getting warmer, it seems.) So what does a free country do when confronted with an enemy state, with WMDs, that we strongly suspect is in league with terrorists like al Qaeda, but cannot prove without invading? It’s tough. My view is that, after 9/11, we have little option but to launch a pre-emptive strike and hope for retroactive justification. But I understand why people demand proof before such action. This new finding – and I bet there will be more like it – strengthens my position, I think. The threat was not the weapons as such; it was the regime, its capacity to make and use such weapons and its potential or actual alliance with al Qaeda. We had to make a judgment about how likely it was that such a link existed. We bet right. Bush clearly didn’t create that alliance. It existed long before he came long. It’s clearer and clearer that we did the right thing. And this debate is even more important to have now when we can look at the evidence than before, when we couldn’t.

PUNISHING FRANCE: I agree we shouldn’t engage in petty payback in foreign policy, especially when it might hurt us. But now we have more evidence that France acted in bad faith; that it passed on secrets of U.S.-French communications to Saddam; that it tried to undermine, at Saddam’s behest, a conference designed to highlight human rights abuses in Iraq; that it acted in ways that make it clear that the country is not an ally of the U.S.. It’s increasingly clear that the French veto “under any circumstances” of the enforcement of Resolution 1441 was motivated in part by the now-revealed deep ties between Paris and Saddam. Tony Blair is absolutely right to worry about France’s long term ambitions and policy. And the U.S. needs to develop a policy toward the E.U. and Europe in general that breaks free of wishful thinking about a country that is essentially and actively hostile to the United States.