NBC News' intrepid Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reports this morning that despite warnings now-slain terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi was overseeing the making of ricin from his northern Iraq redoubt, U.S. forces passed on taking him out three times.
The reason, it is thought, was that Zarqawi was more valuable alive as a symbol of Iraq's ties to Al-Qaeda than dead.
Of course when Zarqawi started to pop up prominently on the radar screen just after 9/11, he wasn't hiding only from the U.S. He had set up shop in northern Iraq to hide from Saddam, who was still in power.
But no matter. Zarqawi was operating from within Iraq, so his mere presence was handy as a straw man to establish a "link" between Saddam and Osama.
"People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president's policy of preemption against terrorists," terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey tells Miklaszewski.
Miklaszewski writes that military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi's operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.
And that case was indeed made: to Tony Blair, to the fear-mongers on Fox News and talk radio, to the young men who signed up for the military because with Zarqawi a most convenient scarecrow, the fright-wing media pumped up the volume of the supposed connection between Saddam and Zarqawi's patron, Osama Bin-Laden.
All this leads me to wonder three things:
1. Given the possibility the Bush Administration is playing political timing-games with the terrorist card, will we conveniently kill Osama the week before November's mid-term Congressional elections?
I think you know the answer to that.
Are there any dead U.S. soliders who would be alive today if we had taken Zarqawi out the first chance we had to do this?
2. I know you know the answer to that.
3. In light of the NBC News report, will everyone from Rush and Sean to Anne-the-rhymes-with (fourth down and kick it) Coulter scream, "our brave men have killed the number one terrorist in Iraq and the liberal media still won't give President Bush or our soliders any credit."
You know that I know that you know the answer to that as well.