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A whole bunch of folks here in the USA and around this beat-up globe are all worked up over George W. Bush’s 16 shifty words in his “Let’s Do Saddam” State of the Union speech, when they should be taking a harder look at the president’s judgment on the most critical matter to a state: war.

After all, most Oval Office dwellers during my lifetime told their fair share of whoppers. Just to name a few of the super-doozies: Ike and the Gary Powers spy-plane fiasco; LBJ and the phony Tonkin Gulf incident; Nixon and Watergate; Clinton and “I did not have sex with that woman.”

Our covert war against Iraq began under Clinton and became increasingly more aggressive under Bush right up until he officially declared we were at war last March. For several years before the war became overt, a group of sergeants and junior officers kept reporting to me that they were eyeballing enough satellite imagery and radio-intercept documents to convince these good soldiers that Saddam had a well-stocked arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. No 16-word nuke weapons, mind you, but enough tons of biological and chemical weapons to cause serious pain.

Before sounding off, I’d always ring former Marine and weapons inspector Scott Ritter and bounce the hot skinny off him. And this brave and so far most prescient analyst would always shoot it down: “Hack, Saddam doesn’t have WMD. Full stop.”

But I figured my info was solid, particularly since it tracked with what the president and all his chicken hawks were putting out. Let’s face it – they had a $30 billion network sucking intelligence from worldwide sources.

I even went to Mike Wallace at “60 Minutes” to voice my constituency’s deep concern about how many of our heroes – especially Reserve and National Guard units – were inadequately prepared for the WMD threat.

And on the night of April 9, as our tanks were rolling into Baghdad and Saddam’s statue was getting the heave-ho, I railed on “Larry King Live” that too many of our troopers had dropped their guards and their gas masks and were treating the war like a day at the beach – and that our commanders out there ought to jack up their troops regarding adequate WMD protection.

Still, throughout Bush’s almost two-year rush to use the military solution against Iraq, I became increasingly convinced that the Butcher of Baghdad was not a threat to our national security and was far from the main event. No way in my military mind could I see how he represented anywhere near the clear and present danger of a dirty-bomb-armed al-Qaida or a North Korea with nukes and a missile-delivery system probably capable of frying our West Coast at the push of a button.

So I was opposed to employing the military solution against Iraq because: We’d lose our focus on dealing with the main contenders; we’d use too many military assets and too many tax dollars; and we’d end up with an already overstretched military force stuck in the Iraqi sand for years.

“So what if Saddam had bio/chem WMD?” I thought at the time. So did at least a dozen other rogue countries. And how would he deliver them anyway? Pour them into a wheelbarrow, paddle a raft across the Atlantic, land on the East Coast and then double-time it to the White House and dump it on the people’s lawn?

Iraq would have been a snap to contain, and we’d have used no more than 10 percent of the force we’re presently employing to seal every road and port and close down the oil biz. Without those bucks, the Tikrit tribe would already have sent Saddam to swim with the fishes, replaced him with this decade’s American-approved despot and made Texaco’s day as well as the tribe’s own.

The moral of the story? Don’t have heartburn over those 16 words. Have it instead over the folks who’ve gotten our nation in a megamess that might cost hundreds more casualties and around $100 billion by Christmas, a figure this regime’s Liars Club is busy doing its best to hide.

Judgment is the essence of leadership. It seems sorely lacking when it comes to the president’s Iraqi solution.

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