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Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War By: Slate
Slate | Tuesday, January 20, 2004

(This is the first round of Slate's symposium. To see Round II Click Here)

Slate's Panel:

Paul Berman is the author of Terror and Liberalism and The Passion of Joschka Fischer, which is forthcoming in the spring.

Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and most recently the author of Longitudes and Attitudes.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and a regular contributor to Slate. His most recent book is A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq.

Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for Slate and is the author of The Wizards of Armageddon.

George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where his article about the occupation recently appeared. He is working on a book about America in Iraq.

Kenneth M. Pollack is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

Jacob Weisberg is editor of Slate and co-author, with Robert E. Rubin, of In An Uncertain World.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and the author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.


From: Jacob Weisberg
To: Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth M. Pollack, and Fareed Zakaria
Subject: Should We Have Backed This Invasion?
Monday, Jan. 12, 2004, at 8:12 AM PT


Thanks for agreeing to participate in this Slate dialogue. I've invited you because you're fellow members of what Bill Keller, the editor of the New York Times, once termed the "I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club." With the arguable exceptions of Fareed and Christopher, you're liberals by background and inclination. Yet you decided to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq despite a range of objections to the Bush's administration's foreign policy. Ten months on I thought that, like me, you might be having some second thoughts about that decision. The question I'd like to raise with all of you this week is a straightforward one: With the benefit of hindsight, do you still believe that the United States should have invaded Iraq in March 2003?

Let me kick things off by volunteering some of my own qualms. I had been in favor of deposing Saddam Hussein since the premature end of the first Gulf War in 1991 for two primary reasons, which I explained in an earlier Slate dialogue. The first was humanitarian: Saddam was (is) a genocidal butcher on an epic scale, and I wanted to see Iraq freed from his grip. The second was Saddam's seemingly incorrigible pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. March 2003 was not the time of my choosing—I would have gone in back in 1993 (when Saddam tried to assassinate former President Bush), or in 1998 (when he slammed the door on the U.N. inspectors*), or waited for a genuine emergency and a more propitious moment to reassemble an international coalition. But when George W. Bush chose to finally act, I supported him despite serious reservations about timing and method because I wanted the job finished at last.

To me, the liberation of 25 million Iraqis remains sufficient justification, which is why I don't think the failure to find weapons of mass destruction by itself invalidates the case for war (though it certainly weakens it). What does affect my view is the huge and growing cost of the invasion and occupation: in American lives (we're about to hit 500 dead and several thousand more have been injured); in money (more than $160 billion in borrowed funds); and in terms of lost opportunity (we might have found Osama Bin Laden by now if we'd committed some of those resources to Afghanistan). Most significant are the least tangible costs: increased hatred for the United States, which both fosters future terrorism and undermines the international support we will need to fight terrorism effectively for many years to come. Of course, the fall of Saddam has made us safer and is likely to produce all sorts of positive side effects, such as Qaddafi's capitulation. But the diminution of America's ability to create consensus around actions necessary for collective security makes us less safe. So, while I still think the Iraq war was morally justified, I'm not at all sure it was worth the costs.

Many of those costs—human, financial, and diplomatic—could have been reduced substantially if President Bush hadn't gratuitously alienated so many potential allies, and sympathizers, and if arrogance and ideology hadn't prevented his Pentagon team from properly planning for the occupation. But as a supporter of the war, I can't get myself off the hook by saying Bush has screwed things up, because he has screwed things up in ways that were evident in advance of the invasion. This was elective surgery, and we had a pretty good idea what the surgeon's limitations were. The choice wasn't between an invasion led by George W. Bush and an invasion led by a president who would make an eloquent case to the world and build a credible global coalition. The alternatives were Bush's flawed war or no war. So, the question I'm asking myself now is whether the marvelous accomplishment of deposing and capturing Saddam justifies costs that I really ought to have expected.

Because I'm doubling as moderator (and because, frankly, I haven't completely made up my mind), I'm going to refrain from answering for the moment. My hope is that by the end of the week, the rest of you will have helped me reach a conclusion.

Let's start off with a question for Kenneth Pollack. Ken, in your excellent piece in the new issue of the Atlantic, you conclude that our discovery that Iraq did not in fact have active WMD capabilities makes the case for invading "considerably weaker" than you believed when you argued it in your book The Threatening Storm. I agree! But does it weaken it to the point that you now think, with the benefit of hindsight, we should not have gone to war?

I'd like Thomas Friedman to respond first to Ken. After that, it's open season.


Correction, Jan. 16, 2004: This piece originally stated that Saddam "booted the U.N. inspectors out" in 1998. This is technically inaccurate, though his actions led to their withdrawal.

From: Kenneth Pollack
To: Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Friedman, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Jacob Weisberg, and Fareed Zakaria
Subject: War Was Not a Necessity
Monday, Jan. 12, 2004, at 9:00 AM PT

I also don't find this to be an easy question to answer. And let me start with the necessary disclaimer that while I believed a war would be necessary to depose Saddam, I opposed both the timing and manner of the actual war as the Bush administration pursued it.

For me, there is no escaping the fact that the prewar intelligence estimates regarding Iraq's WMD programs—and particularly its nuclear program—were wrong. Iraq was not 4-5 years away from having a nuclear weapon, as I and the rest of the Clinton administration had been led to believe.

On the other hand, going back in time to 2002, but knowing that Iraq did not pose the same kind of strategic threat that we believed, I think there still would have been grounds to argue that a full-scale invasion to topple Saddam was a reasonable option.

Saddam Hussein's regime was still a source of considerable instability in one of the most important and fragile regions of the world. Setting aside the invasions of Kuwait and Iran, and the wars he threatened with Syria and Israel, his behavior throughout the 1990s (when he did not have nuclear weapons and after suffering the horrible defeat of the Gulf War) was still astonishingly aggressive, risk-tolerant, and determined to overturn the status quo. His 1993 attempt to assassinate George Bush, his 1994 threat to Kuwait, the 1996 attack on Irbil, provoking Desert Fox in 1998, and trying to move Iraqi ground forces to the Golan to provoke an Israeli military action in 2000 all speak to the problems his regime created as a matter of routine.

There was still a residual WMD threat. What we have learned since the fall of Baghdad is that Saddam remained determined to acquire these weapons at some point in the future and had preserved rudimentary elements of the programs, which he intended to use to rebuild them after the sanctions were lifted. With the exception of the missile area, these were not very active programs, and the threat from Iraqi WMD (and particularly nuclear weapons) was much, much further away than was believed, but it was not gone completely. I think this the weakest argument, but not entirely irrelevant.

There was also the human rights argument. For me, this was very compelling, although I recognized that it wasn't necessarily as important for every American. Even before the revelations of postwar Iraq, only the most obtuse failed to recognize that Saddam's regime was among the most odious of the last 50 years. As someone who supported previous U.S. humanitarian interventions in the Balkans and elsewhere—and who wished we had taken action in Rwanda—the argument was an important aspect of my own conviction. I felt guilty all throughout the 1990s that we were not doing more for the Iraqi people (especially after we betrayed them in 1991). Unfortunately, until Sept. 11, I saw no likelihood that the American people were going to support an invasion—which was the only policy that could actually relieve Iraq's misery. However, I had supported both revising the sanctions (years before the Bush administration would adopt them under the banner of "smart sanctions"), and I argued for a more aggressive covert action program in the vain hope that it might produce regime change.

Which brings me to my last point: the range of available options. In asking whether the United States should have gone to war with Iraq I think we also need to address what our alternatives would have been. We need to remember that our Iraq policy was in bad shape starting in the late 1990s. I still find the alternatives all pretty bad—although some are not necessarily as bad as I thought them before the war.

I think the war put to rest the fantasies of the neocons that we could simply arm Ahmad Chalabi and a few thousand followers (followers he still has not actually produced), give them air cover, and send them in to spark a rolling revolution. Richard Perle and others argued for that initially, but in the end they had to support a full-scale invasion as the only realistic course. The covert-action-based regime-change policies that I and others in the U.S. government had pushed for as an alternative never had a high likelihood of success, either—they were just slightly more likely to produce a coup and much less likely to create a catastrophic "Bay of Goats," as Gen. Anthony Zinni once put it. Ironically, I think the events of the last 12 months have also indicated that containment was doing both better than we believed, and worse. On the one hand, the combination of inspections and the pain inflicted by the sanctions had forced Saddam to effectively shelve his WMD ambitions, probably since around 1995-96. On the other hand, the behavior of the French, Russians, Germans, and many other members of the United Nations Security Council in the run-up to the war was final proof that they were never going to do what would have been necessary to revise and support containment so that it might have lasted for more than another year or two.

The one alternative policy that looks better in retrospect is deterrence—which was the idea that we could allow containment to collapse because we could still deter Saddam from making mischief through our own military power. While I think Saddam's astonishingly reckless behavior before the war only confirms the prevailing view among Iraq experts that this was not someone we would have wanted to trust with nuclear weapons, the postwar revelations suggest that he was so much further away from having those nuclear weapons that we might have safely opted for deterrence in the expectation that we could have found an alternative way to deal with him in the years before he did get his hands on a nuke.

If I had to write The Threatening Storm over again I certainly would not have been so unequivocal that war was going to be a necessity. However, I still would have pointed out that there was a strong case for removing Saddam's regime (for the reasons mentioned above) and that realistically the only way to remove him from power was to mount a full-scale invasion. I might have decided that when you weighed all the pros and cons, deterrence and invasion might have been roughly equal, but I would have pointed out that a key difference between them was that if you opted for invasion you were removing a great evil from the world and creating the possibility that we could turn Iraq into a real positive, as Tom and Fareed argued when they made the case on the basis of democratization. It would not have been as compelling, but my guess is that many readers would still have come to the conclusion that war was the least-bad choice among a menu of imperfect options.

Ken Pollack

From: Thomas Friedman
To: Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth Pollack, Jacob Weisberg, and Fareed Zakaria
Subject: Four Reasons To Invade Iraq
Monday, Jan. 12, 2004, at 10:12 AM PT

I appreciated Ken Pollack's honest reassessment of the question of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq. The Bush team could learn a lot from it.

Since my liberal hawkishness regarding the Iraq war was never rooted in the WMD issue, I look at the postwar a little differently. The debate about the Iraq war for me was always a struggle between hope and experience: hope that we could partner with Iraqis to remove the genocidal tyranny of Saddam Hussein and replace it with some kind of decent, pluralistic, representative government in the heart of the Arab world, and my experience—particularly living in Lebanon during its civil war—which left me skeptical about ever producing a self-sustaining, multiethnic democracy in that region. It was a real struggle in my head. In the end, I let hope win. I have no regrets.

Indeed, having visited Iraq three times since April, I feel even more strongly today than I did the day the war started that, while the Bush team has made an utter mess of the diplomacy and postwar planning, it was still the right war and still has a decent chance to produce a decent outcome.

Why? I think there were four reasons for this war, and I identified with three of them: There was the stated reason, the moral reason, the right reason, and the real reason.

The stated reason for the war was that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction that posed a long-term threat to America. I never bought this argument. I didn't have any inside information. I simply assumed that whatever WMD Saddam possessed had to be, after a decade of sanctions, so limited that it was easily deterrable. There was absolutely nothing in Saddam's history to suggest that he was suicidal—that he had the capability or will to attack the United States directly and pay the price.

He was always deterrable and containable. This was always a war of choice.

The WMD argument was hyped by George Bush and Tony Blair to try to turn a war of choice into a war of necessity. They will have to answer for that.

Personally, I believed the right reason and the moral reason for the war were more than sufficient to justify it. To be sure, they would have been a hard sell as a war of choice, but not impossible—had Messrs. Bush and Blair really thrown themselves into it.

The moral reason for the war was that this was a genocidal regime responsible for the deaths of some 1 million Iraqis, Kurds, Iranians, and Kuwaitis as a result of Saddam's internal suppression and external wars with Iran and Kuwait. Saddam was 10 times worse than Serbian thug Slobodan Milosevic, whom NATO took on without U.N. cover.

The right reason for the war, and this was the core of my own argument, was that the real weapons of mass destruction that threaten our open society were not the hidden WMD of Saddam. Those, as I said, were always deterrable because Saddam and his sons loved life more than they hated us. No, the real WMD that threatened us, and still do, are the young people being churned out, year after year, by failed and repressive Arab states, who hate us more than they love life and therefore are undeterrable. I am talking here about the boys of 9/11. I am talking here about all the youth identified in the two U.N. Development Programme Arab Human Development reports—youth who want to run away from the Arab countries they were raised in because they are so frustrated, angry, and humiliated by how their governments and society have left them unprepared for modernity. Sept. 11, I have always believed, was produced by the poverty dignity, not the poverty money. It was the product, as Egyptian playwright Ali Salem once remarked, of young men who felt so humiliated by the world, they felt like dwarfs, and dwarfs search out tall towers to bring down in order to feel tall. Humiliated youth, ready to commit suicide using instruments from our daily life—cars, planes, tennis shoes—and inspired by religious totalitarians are the real threat to open societies today.

Therefore, the right reason for this war, as I argued before it started, was to oust Saddam's regime and partner with the Iraqi people to try to implement the Arab Human Development report's prescriptions in the heart of the Arab world. That report said the Arab world is falling off the globe because of a lack of freedom, women's empowerment, and modern education. The right reason for this war was to partner with Arab moderates in a long-term strategy of dehumiliation and redignification.

The real reason for this war—which was never stated—was to burst what I would call the "terrorism bubble," which had built up during the 1990s.

This bubble was a dangerous fantasy, believed by way too many people in the Middle East. This bubble said that it was OK to plow airplanes into the World Trade Center, commit suicide in Israeli pizza parlors, praise people who do these things as "martyrs," and donate money to them through religious charities. This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something—to let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society. Yes, I know, it's not very diplomatic—it's not in the rule book—but everyone in the neighborhood got the message: Henceforth, you will be held accountable. Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we could—period. Sorry to be so blunt, but, as I also wrote before the war: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.

Unless we successfully partner with Iraqis, though, to build a new and more decent context, that terrorism bubble will eventually come back tenfold. We must get this right. Yes, I know, it may all turn out to be a fool's errand. A decent Iraq may be impossible. But I would rather go down swinging as an optimist than resign as a pessimist. Because if there is no way to produce governments that can deliver for their young people in the Arab world, get ready for a future full of Code Orange and Code Red.

From: George Packer
To: Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Friedman, Fred Kaplan, Kenneth Pollack, Jacob Weisberg, and Fareed Zakaria
Subject: The Trouble With Liberal Hawks
Monday, Jan. 12, 2004, at 1:11 PM PT

I can't wish the fall of Saddam's regime undone. Before going to Iraq I knew abstractly that it was one of the worst in modern history—and there's been plenty of stiff competition. After five weeks there, my appreciation of its terribleness is more concrete and emotional. I know that's hardly the best or only basis for foreign policy decisions, but in this case it's decisive for me: The slaughter and misery of Iraqis (and their neighbors) justified the war; it would have justified it going back to 1991, or 1988, and I never understood why there's a statute of limitations on genocide. I admired Jacob Weisberg's lucid reckoning of costs and benefits—I've been thinking very much along the same lines, with the same question mark at the end—but I honestly don't know how to weigh such things: Bush's manipulations versus no more torture, the damage to international institutions versus the end of a regional threat. What is the point system?

Rationally, Jacob has posed a very hard question—maybe impossible. But every time I try to calculate the tally, I can't make myself want another outcome.

Ken Pollack should be congratulated: How many leading voices on this issue have subjected themselves to such honest criticism? What he got wrong he got wrong because the intelligence was mistaken. What the administration got wrong it got wrong because it didn't care about the intelligence. Like certain French intellectuals, it knew the truth apart from the facts and found its own facts to fit the truth. Anyone who doubts this should read the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's new report on weapons and the Iraq War. The United Nations comes off as a fairly effective institution; the administration version loses on every count, and it would be good to know why the president didn't know what he claimed to know. It's amazing to me that there's no national debate, no commission of inquiry, no serious congressional hearings about the way the country was systematically manipulated into war. Tonkin Gulf, by itself, was a minor deception by comparison (with major consequences, of course). Like Tom Friedman, I was always suspicious of the weapons arguments. The administration protested too much. But this doesn't mean that the weapons arguments can be bracketed or put aside—first, because the way they were made did some fairly serious damage to American democracy, and second, because they go to the heart of the debate over the Bush national security strategy, pre-emption, and international institutions. It turns out that the cobwebby world of inspectors, containment, and alliances isn't as disposable as some people thought.

I'm much less certain about the other half of Tom's argument—changing the political culture of the Arab world by breaking things—than I am about the human rights imperative. Changing the political culture of one Arab country is going to be hard enough. Before the war, no one could know what kind of political psychology we would find once the seal of Saddam's tyranny was broken. It turns out that Iraqis are a lot less grateful, a lot more suspicious and even conspiratorial, than the advocates of liberation predicted. The moral self-congratulation we saw in this country in early 2003 went a long way toward damaging the prospects of a decent postwar. Totalitarianism didn't make Iraqis better people or readier to govern themselves democratically—exactly the opposite. The margin for error was almost zero: The American occupation had about two weeks to get things right after the fall of Baghdad in order to set in motion a process that had any near-term chance of success, and it got everything wrong. The best efforts of the best Americans in Iraq are constantly undermined by the terrible decisions of policymakers in Washington. Now we're just flailing—people in both Washington and Baghdad admit privately that there is no workable plan and little faith in the competence of self-rule. I think we should stop talking about vast change in the Arab world and focus on doing what we can—even as our influence wanes by the day—to get Iraq right. Sept. 11 made us think about big ideas, global conflicts—inevitably, and rightly. But Iraq should make us think about practical knowledge and nuanced judgment. One problem with liberal hawks is that great moral dramas are always more attractive to us than difficult long-term tasks.

George Packer

From: Paul Berman
To: Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth Pollack, Jacob Weisberg, and Fareed Zakaria
Subject: Stopping Muslim Totalitarianism
Monday, Jan. 12, 2004, at 2:10 PM PT

My own two cents, on the topic of WMD: I never did think that Saddam's weapons were sufficient grounds for war. I even said so here, in Slate, before the war. If WMD were the problem, containment and deterrence were the solution. But I can understand, sort of, why Bush and Blair ended up harping on the weapons issue, and why the Bush administration kept hinting at conspiracies that probably never existed. I don't defend Bush and Blair for speaking in these ways, and I hope that future elections will show that Bush has been punished for his misdeeds, and Blair has not. But I can imagine what drove them to do this.

It was because something is missing from our modern way of discussing the world. We know how to describe certain things—and have forgotten how to describe certain others, which are sometimes larger. This has been true of the war's proponents, except for a few of us lonely liberals (and even we have been inconsistent), and true of the war's opponents. It is a vocabulary problem. The words are missing.

Foreign-policy-speak has been taken over by terms like these: WMD, rogue states, regime change, nation-building, humanitarianism, and individual Bad Guys with such names as Osama, Saddam, and Slobodan. These terms express a vision of the universe that might suit a big-city mayor—a universe in which every problem can be handled either by the police department or by the do-good agencies. WMD, rogue states, and Bad Guys are the foreign-policy equivalents of guns, gangs, and gangsters—matters for the police.

Regime change, nation-building, and humanitarianism are the equivalents of slum-clearance, housing development, schools, and soup kitchens—matters for the do-goods. In city politics, conservatives cheer on the police department, and liberals cheer on the do-goods. Thus, in foreign policy, conservatives cheer on the U.S. military, and liberals, the United Nations—the police and the do-goods.

Only this vision of life has the minor drawback of leaving out the single largest fact in the modern history of the world. That largest of facts is the rise of a certain kind of political movement—movements animated by paranoid hatreds, by apocalyptic fantasies, and by the fanatical desire to kill people en masse. These have been the big totalitarian movements, Nazism, Fascism, Stalinism, and a few others—movements whose greatest goal was to destroy liberal civilization.

The language of WMD, Bad Guys, humanitarianism, and all the rest cannot describe these movements and their doctrines and their fanaticism. We know how to speak about member states of the United Nations. But totalitarian movements have always been international, with and without state support. We have lost the ability to speak about mass international movements of that sort.

Why is that? It is because most people have convinced themselves that modern totalitarianism no longer exists. The Bush administration has said so itself. Everybody remembers the notorious National Security statement of 2002—the statement that became infamous for declaring somewhat idiotically (because some things are better left unsaid) a policy of pre-emptive war. But the really scandalous part of that statement said: "For most of the 20th century, the world was divided by a great struggle over ideas: destructive totalitarian visions versus freedom and equality. That great struggle is over."

Wrong! The totalitarian visions live on. Only, instead of being called fascism or some other name from the past, the visions of the present are called radical Islamism and Baathism and suchlike, with doctrines duly descended from their European progenitors—the totalitarianism of the modern Muslim world. All the talk about WMD has been hugely misleading, in this respect. As the NRA likes to say, WMD don't kill people; mass totalitarian movements kill people (sometimes using WMD, but more often, not). But our mayor's language of foreign policy has prohibited us from saying so.

What was the reason for the war in Iraq? Sept. 11 was the reason. At least to my mind it was. Sept. 11 showed that totalitarianism in its modern Muslim version was not going to stop at slaughtering millions of Muslims, and hundreds of Israelis, and attacking the Indian government, and blowing up American embassies. The totalitarian manias were rising, and the United States itself was now in danger. A lot of people wanted to respond, as any mayor would do, by rounding up a single Bad Guy, Osama.

But Sept. 11 did not come from a single Bad Guy—it was a product of the larger totalitarian wave, and the only proper response was to comprehend the size and depth of that larger wave, and find ways to begin rolling it back, militarily and otherwise—mostly otherwise. To roll it back for our own sake, and everyone else's sake, Muslims' especially. Iraq, with its somewhat antique variation of the Muslim totalitarian idea, was merely a place to begin, after Afghanistan, with its more modern variation.

But I haven't responded to what everyone else has said, or said anything about non-military ways to go about this. I promise to do so tomorrow.


From: Christopher Hitchens
To: Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth Pollack, Jacob Weisberg, and Fareed Zakaria
Subject: Iraq Revisionism
Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2004, at 9:30 AM PT

Kenneth Pollack's revisiting of his own argument in The Threatening Storm, while admirable and scrupulous (even if it is written by someone who used to be a producer rather than a consumer of WMD information) affects the essential case no more than Paul O'Neill's supposed "disclosure" that the Bush administration was anti-Saddam from the start. It was long ago announced, by President Clinton in a major speech in 1999, that a future confrontation with Saddam on WMD had become inescapable. And it was long ago voted nem con by the Senate that, for other reasons having to do with genocide and tyranny, the Iraq Liberation Act ought to become law. It would have been an occasion for very severe criticism if the incoming Bush administration had sought to dilute either of these historic commitments.

Pollack may have been led to overstate the immediate danger from WMD, but he did so on persuasive evidence that was supported by a long history of exorbitant behavior by the Baathists, and on a long history of culpable underreaction by Washington. (There was no comparable inquisition, as I recall, when the intelligence "community" failed to predict, and very nearly failed to report, the invasion of Kuwait. And the antiwar forces cling to their taunt on WMD because every other part of their propaganda and prediction has been utterly exploded.) That's if WMD ever were much of an argument in that quarter. I myself had a different experience from Pollack, in the run-up to the war. I had to debate, every week and sometimes every day, with anti-interventionists who said that Saddam's possession of WMD was a reason NOT to attack or attempt to depose him. I said that the threat was latent not blatant, and that the main "immediate" danger was an off-the-shelf purchase by Iraq from North Korea, and by the way I think I was right. But I was not an elected officeholder in a democratic government in a post-9/11 atmosphere. If I had been, I would certainly have decided to make the worst assumption about any report on Saddam's capacity for lethality, and I would have been operating at all times on the presumption of guilt. As a civilian, I would have wanted to criticize any Western government that did not err deliberately on this side.

Another way of phrasing this is to remember the line taken by the late Dr. David Kelly, sad subject of the Hutton inquiry in Britain. In an article written just before his death, this experienced inspector stated that you could have genuine inspections only by way of regime change. This essentially commonsensical view, which has been seconded by other veteran inspectors such as Rolf Ekeus and David Kay, takes account of the notorious Iraqi deception and concealment programs; the failure to comply at any point with U.N. resolutions; the sequestration of Iraqi scientists; and the preservation of secret funds, documents, and resources in Baghdad against the day when sanctions might be lifted and another bid for superpowerdom be made. Taken together with the secret bargaining (now exposed) with North Korea, this entitles us to speak of a Permanent Threat if not precisely an Imminent One. "Imminence" might have come when Saddam gave way to the Odai/Qusai regime: a prospect that need no longer concern us but that did not concern the antiwar forces even when it was a possibility.

Thus, we now can account more or less for Iraq's lunatic mixture of missing and undeclared weapons, and that in itself is an achievement. Moreover, the Iraqi economy and military are no longer at the disposal of a crime family with well-attested links to piracy and gangsterism, and that too is a gain. Dr. Howard Dean now tells that al-Qaida is in Iraq after all, but only because of President Bush. He is entitled as a private citizen to his touching belief that the connection began only a few months ago: One would not want a president to have been so insouciant if he had had to take the actual decision at the time, and once again I applaud the presumption of guilt, which was equally well-merited.

I cannot see the point of the case about a "distraction" from the hunt for Bin Laden, and this is not only because I strongly suspect that dear Osama has already passed away. Nor is it because so many of those who stress the Iraq "distraction" were telling me, just a couple of years ago, that it was futile to intervene in Afghanistan lest such a move cause thousands of new Bin Ladens to spring up. … (How soon they forget, but I don't, and I am keeping score.) The tactics and resources that are required to fight a covert war against nihilistic theologues, and the tactics and resources that are required to remove a totalitarian dictatorship, are somewhat distinct. They may well overlap and they have in fact done so, but who can argue that we should not be ready and able to perform both such undertakings, possibly simultaneously? The two in fact reinforce one another, and coalition forces in Iraq are now rapidly acquiring deadly skills that will certainly be required in other places and at other times before the war against jihad and its patrons is over.

This point also applies to the question of cost. One cannot know the price of anything in advance, but one can be determined to pay it no matter what, as in a struggle for one's own life or for the life of loved ones. If it was foolish of the administration to argue that things like Iraq or Afghanistan could be done cheaply, it is flat-out irresponsible for the antiwar populists to argue that the money would be "better spent at home." Do they somehow still imagine that war is another word for "overseas"? For all I know they do. If we are really looking for cost cuts, then we could draw down the wastage and folly of the "war on drugs," or the fantasy of nuclearism. (The failure of the left to seize those chances, by the way, is yet another proof that it cares only for morbid dislike of anything undertaken by the president.)

As for casualties, there is only one apparent way of avoiding them for sure, and that way—abstention or pacifism—runs a risk of greater casualties later on, or as well. I detest utilitarianism, but I prefer it to idealism or neutralism, and I believe a decent case can be made that many, many Iraqis have been saved by the intervention, and that many inhabitants of other countries including our own are better-protected by the abolition of aggressive and unstable dictatorships. The case cannot be literally proved, of course, but we have a shrewd idea of what can happen when such regimes are left to choose the initiative. And this in turn makes one weep to think of what we and the Iraqis might have been spared if Saddam Hussein had been removed by Bush Senior. (Now that the in-between sanctions have been lifted, surely those who claimed that they were genocidal and child-murdering ought to have a good word to say. Or do they want one to suspect that they only wanted sanctions lifted when Saddam Hussein was still in power?)

Staying with the lachrymose for a moment, one weeps also at the missed chances and the blunders. Need I specify the appalling misjudgment of Washington's Turcophiles, the stupefying lack of economic and technological follow-through—the voracious Halliburton lobby seems really to have dropped the ball there—and the ditherings over the Governing Council? However, these seem to me to be second-order objections, since we had well before the turn of 2000 become in effect co-responsible for the future and the care of Iraq. Its future was unavoidably in our future. The chief blemish of that de facto policy, in which every main faction in American politics was already complicit, was that it involved a shame-faced and unstated power-sharing with Saddam Hussein. That was intolerable and could not long endure. So, I think that the president and his advisers deserve credit for acknowledging and shouldering what was in fact an "actually existing" responsibility. While those who tried to disown or disclaim the responsibility are in a very poor position to snipe at the way it is being discharged. Much of the criticism I read expresses one or another form of denial of this basic consideration. Those who say, for example, that they would approve the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq if only there were more French or Russian soldiers there are conceding more than perhaps they intend. (I personally can't say that I yearn to see there the veterans of Rwanda and Cote d'Ivoire and New Caledonia, or the heroes of Grozny.)

Friedman is right to say that the macro-policy, so often and so stupidly attributed to "neocon" conspiracy, has provided an important vindication. Since the regime changes in Kabul and Baghdad, other regimes from Riyadh to Islamabad to Tehran have quietly but decidedly changed their tune, while some others have gone so far as to drop their weapons. There is no serious state-sponsored hiding place for al-Qaida, whereas a quiverful of measures and tactics now exists, well field-tested, to tackle any new challenger in this field. Myself, I still have a fondness for the micro-policies, too. The Marsh Arabs are returning to their habitat, my profession can be practiced again in one of the places where writing was invented, the Shiites can follow their own religion, the Kurds are nearer to self-determination, there is politics again in a serious country, and we have seen the tree of liberty being watered in the traditional manner, which is an event that not every member of every generation can take pride in.

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