At this point in time, Howard Dean isn’t an incredibly powerful figure on the American political scene, so I’m not going to join in on the two minute hate currently being directly his way for his dumb stance on Park51. Instead, as Operation Iraqi Freedom comes to its official close, it’s worth remembering some of the stuff that made him an important person in recent political history in the first place.
Consider, for example, his February 2003 foreign policy address at Drake University:
My question is, why not use our information to help the UN disarm Iraq without war?
Secretary Powell’s recent presentation at the UN showed the extent to which we have Iraq under an audio and visual microscope. Given that, I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the Secretary, but rather by its sketchiness. He said there would be no smoking gun, and there was none.
At the same time, it seems to me we are in possession of information that would be very helpful to UN inspectors. For example, if we know Iraqi scientists are being detained at an Iraqi guesthouse, why not surround the building and knock on the door?
If we think a facility is being used for biological weapons, why not send the inspectors to check it out?
And if we believe terrorists – especially if they are terrorists linked to al Qaeda – have set up a poison and explosives training center in Northern Iraq, outside Saddam Hussein’s control, why haven’t we verified that information and destroyed that camp?
The events of February and March 2003 have sort of gone down the memory hole, but speaking as someone who spent the majority of the pre-invasion year supporting the Bush administration’s policy, what happened during those months was fairly shocking. Faced with the threat of invasion, Saddam Hussein was largely knuckling under to demands for inspections. The UN weapons inspectors were saying they found instances of Iraqi non-compliance with UN resolutions, but could not find evidence of active weapons programs. The US government insisted that it had such evidence. But instead of sharing everything we allegedly had with UNMOVIC and the IAEA so they could check it out, the governments of the US, UK, Spain, Australia, and a few others (Poland!) insisted on leaping ahead into a war. This should have changed people’s minds, exactly along the line of argument advanced by Dean, but most of the country’s elite—including the leaders of the Democratic Party—just sort of hummed along.