So, the anti-war movement says the war in Iraq was wrong, that we never should have invaded. OK, fine. Let's see how that plays out:
"OK, people, we've pretty much destroyed the Taliban in Afghanistan. We've conquered most of the country, killed thousands of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the survivors are hiding in caves or running for the borders. That's one trouble spot off the table. But there are a lot of other ones around the world, and if we pay too much attention to one, the others could blindside us. What are we gonna do about Iraq?"
"Mr. President, I think it's pretty clear that sanctions and carefully measured responses against Saddam aren't working. He's got the "cheat and retreat" game down to a science, and he's playing it like a master. We've assembled a ton of evidence he's been using the 'Oil For Food' program to bribe officials of other nations to get them to ease up on the sanctions, and we have strong indicators he's still developing WMDs. Further, we have clear proof that Saddam is supporting terrorism and terrorist groups around the world. We can't tie him into 9/11 directly, but we have evidence connecting him with Al Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, and several other groups."
"So, you're saying we ought to invade Iraq next? Just take what Congress said in '98 and put some muscle behind it?"
"That's one idea, sir. But I think it might be a good time to steal an idea from 'The Godfather' -- 'keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.'"
"I'm not following you."
"Saddam has a lot of information we could use, and we have something he desperately wants -- the lifting of the sanctions. I think we ought to explore the possibilities.
And with that, Bush secretly sent an envoy to Iraq, with the following deal: if Saddam starts giving us information on the terrorists he's been helping, we'll agree to an easing of the UN sanctions. It's a simple quid pro quo: the more and better intelligence he gives us, the more sanctions we agree to let ease. And if he'd like to take an active role in the fight, all the better.
We make it clear that we won't be compromising on the inspections issues, but do give assurances that as long as he's helping us, he needn't fear facing an invasion from Iran alone -- one of his biggest worries. At the first signs of trouble, we'll let the Iranians know that any such moves will be dealt with most harshly.
Saddam, seeing the opportunities, agrees. He gives us some low-level information at first, testing the waters. In response, we lower some objections to easing some of the sanctions. And things progress from there, with Saddam giving us more and more important information, and the US relenting on more and more sanctions.
But then, as is inevitable, word starts leaking out that we have a "deal" with Saddam. And the Democrats, seeing the upcoming presidential campaign, leap on to the rumors with both feet.
Ted Kennedy takes to the floor of the Senate. "Nearly twenty years ago, a previous Republican administration also cut a deal with our enemies in the Middle East behind Congress' back, in direct violation of existing laws, and paid the price for it. Now this administration is deliberately ignoring the Iraqi Freedom Act of 1998, which called for the removal of Saddam Hussein, and instead is supporting his continued reign of terror over the Iraqi people."
Meanwhile, Saddam is seeing other possibilities. He fabricates evidence tying some of his rivals and potential enemies with Al Qaeda, and has them arrested and executed as "terrorists."
Congress sees this, and Democrats immediately call for investigations into the whole "deal" with Saddam. They point to his long history of supporting terrorism, and accuse the Bush administration of resurrecting the old Cold War policy of coddling dictators who play ball with us, under the old "he's an SOB, but he's our SOB" standard that led us to back some truly repugnant tyrants who were at least nominally anti-communist. Talk of impeachment starts circulating. The Bush advisors who pushed the Saddam initiative resign, but face
Meanwhile, at the UN, the revelation that the US has been agreeing to the easing of sanctions for its own reasons causes a bit of a stir. The reactionary anti-American factions want a full investigation to properly embarass the US, while those who also took Saddam's bribes want the whole matter to just quietly go away.
And as we head into the 2004 presidential campaign, we find President Bush gravely weakened, the Democrats with a serious issue on their side, and the whole nation generally disgusted with the whole war on terror.
While the US government wrestles itself over whether or not it should have tried to co-opt Saddam, Al Qaeda manages to regroup and starts planning its next move. And other terrorists see how the US has turned its war into a tar-baby that we can't seem to extricate ourselves from, and we find ourselves flailing helplessly.