I don’t know if I have any readers devoted enough to remember what I wrote in my column here on Jan. 7, so I’m not above telling you myself: I predicted we’d be learning that Saddam Hussein’s WMDs were “slipped across the border into Syria.”

Now, it’s just a few weeks later, and we have in fact learned that was the case. I’m neither prophet nor genius on this stuff, and if I was catching on long before the first days of January, so were other people. Now we have enough increased evidence and detail to declare mystery solved.

The new mystery is why the politicians and the news media are taking scant notice.

If what’s being learned isn’t news, well what is? Even rumors about this would deserve notice bigger than these facts are getting. Has the definition of news become just the bits that fit an ideological agenda? Are raw facts off the menu?

By now, of course, you’ve heard of the verified audio tapes revealing Saddam Hussein in his palace meetings discussing his WMDs and ways to hide evidence and smuggle them over the Syrian border in the final weeks before the U.S. military came calling in earnest.

What? No! Don’t tell me you haven’t heard!

Right now, if I needn’t say this to you, there are lots of people who do need to hear it from you. The truth is, a recently commissioned poll by the respected TIPP organization shows that no more than 20 percent of the public are even aware of the existence of these tapes showing that pre-war intelligence about Saddam’s WMDs was correct all along!

Why aren’t we hearing playback with voice-over translation and maybe some artsy graphics as we did with certain past events in Iraq that had the major media frenzied? My hunch is that it relates to there being no kind of pornographic element to juice the story. Then again, those old Nixon White House tapes and these recent pre-Katrina tapes evidencing too-casual official preparedness had none either – yet they got plenty of broadcast repetition. So is this story beyond big media’s appetite just because its bad guy Saddam doesn’t happen to be anybody they’re itching to bring down?

OK, so we have only audio of Saddam’s conferences, no video. But just put it on TV with graphics or stock footage and folks will watch – and appropriately watch in some shock and awe!

This is of pivotal historic importance (especially if you take seriously the idea that “Bush lied” as some of the media have all but engraved in stone), and what “everybody” knows someday (after enough expos?s by the likes of The History Channel) won’t help a citizenry who need to know right now. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees something catastrophically wrong here, and we’d better make some loud noise and make it immediately. Contacts with elected representatives, rage calls to corporate media switchboards, talk radio, letters to the editor …all will count for something now.

Facts known are growing more numerous, and from reputable sources, but they now include:

  • That the United States has uncovered some 12 hours of Saddam Hussein palace audiotapes – since authenticated by FBI methodology – with discussions by familiar voices like Tariq Aziz and others including Saddam himself about what to do with their WMD stockpiles and resources.

  • That Russian Spetsnaz (special forces) units evidently helped Saddam’s military in secreting away – mostly into Syria – WMD that had first been purchased from Russia. Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense John Shaw recently declared after lots of inquiry that the Russians’ goal had been to erase any signs of their involvement in Saddam’s WMD programs. On this point, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney has been quoted as believing the Bush administration needs Russia’s involvement now in halting Iran’s rush toward nuclear armament and so must resist information damning to Russia.

  • That two different former high-ranking Iraqi military officers – Gen. Georges Sada, the No. 2 ranking officer with the Iraqi Air Force, and Ali Ibrahim, another Iraqi commander – both assert that that Saddam possessed stockpiles of WMD and transported them out of Iraq by converted 747 passenger jet and by land to be hidden inside Syria.

It’s not my point here that I (along with countless others) was right about Saddam slipping WMD evidence across the border into Syria. – As I wrote here months ago, “It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.” No, the louder discussion now needs to be about the neglect of this new information in our public discourse. Both the mainstream political leaders and the mainstream media are oddly muted or downright silent about the details we’re learning.

Why? By now, does anyone still imagine that ignoring inconvenient facts can make them just go away?

The conventional wisdom has been settled around the idea that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs, so President Bush now has only the good riddance of Saddam and the better life of Iraqis left as a way to justify the decision to make war back in 2003. And this has made “Bush lied, people died” seem just a tad less loony a mantra for copyright by the left.

Amazingly, given what’s being revealed, nobody has yet laid a glove on the conventional wisdom. But people do catch on and make up their own minds about things like this. If you check the percentages of Americans who believe Lee Harvey Oswald was not JFK’s lone assassin or that UFOs are indeed extraterrestrials’ vehicles, it’s obvious that the “official line” on a subject does not always become what “everyone knows.”

But what “everyone knows” doesn’t matter; it’ the way everyone acts, and this is a dreadful problem if failure to act risks our national security. If the president and members of the Congress timidly act as if the justification for making war on Saddam was only that the Iraqi people are better off now, public debate will be distorted. It is the mainstream news media’s duty to point unblinkingly to the fact of Saddam’s WMDs being smuggled into Syria. If they in their wisdom prefer – for whatever imaginable combination of reasons – to soft pedal the information, then we “small fry” are duty-bound to bellow about it as I do here and now.

A nation may survive or succumb based on its conventional wisdom. And each of us has a personal part in shaping it just by what we bother to mention, or refuse to let go by unchallenged, in our passing conversations with random fellow citizens. This is an art not to be forgotten as we accept life within urban masses as more likely for most of us than life in any sort of Mayberry. Can you respectfully tell a fellow traveler, say, on a commuter bus or awaiting service at a deli counter, that you’ve heard contrary to what you just heard him mention? DO IT!

On Manhattan subways, when I was a Columbia undergraduate, it often impressed me when my fellow “strap hangers” would do this back in the late ’50s. It remained friendly, but it was authentically spirited. This kind of open exchange between strangers is one of the “vital signs” of a healthy free society. May God bless all who keep this sport participatory, and let’s you and I work to keep ourselves counted among them.

In the days ahead, the erroneous conventional wisdom about Saddam’s WMDs needs to be squarely in our cross hairs. Tell your friends and neighbors. “THERE WERE WMDs IN IRAQ!”

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