What if, by some miracle, everyone 'fessed up to mistakes made about the surprisingly easy overthrow of Saddam and its unexpectedly bloody aftermath, and mistakes now being made in building democracy?
(1) In London, the amalgam of isolationists, pacifists and anti-Blair leftists — once certain they would spoil a state visit by branding the U.S. president a monster militarist — would generously admit that they had been a noisy minority, and that their discourtesy triggered a reaffirmation by most Britons of the ties between two freedom-speaking nations that lead the world in defeating tyrants.
(2) Gen. Wesley Clark would have to admit that his early reading of the Pentagon war plan on CNN was unduly panicky. Other analysts who feared heavy civilian casualties, masses of refugees, environmental disaster in the torching of oil fields and the mother of all battles in the narrow streets of Baghdad were in egregious error.
(3) Hawkish idealists like me who believed that Iraqi scientists, including "Dr. Germs," would come forward promptly to reveal where supplies of biological weapons were hidden were mistaken, at least for now.
(4) SecDef Donald Rumsfeld would freely admit that he did not anticipate the disappearance of Saddam's intact Republican Guard and the formation of a Baathist terrorist insurgency that would kill coalition soldiers and drive out U.N. and other relief agencies. On the same day, SecState Colin Powell and spymaster George Tenet would admit that their bureaucracies' resistance to the pre-invasion training in Europe of Iraqi expatriate volunteers to perform police and anti-guerrilla duties was unfortunate.
(5) Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who became Jacques Chirac's toy spitz in opposing America as well as neighbors in Europe, would confess that his positioning of Germany as an unreliable Atlantic ally and a Central European bully was a diplomatic and economic blunder that his current attempt to sweet-talk U.S. investors is not about to rectify.
(6) Former spooks who convinced reporters that there was never any connection between Saddam's Iraqi regime and Osama bin Laden's terror network would forthrightly assert they were uninformed about the decade-long links that were revealed in the classified memo the Senate Intelligence Committee requested from Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith. (The secret memo detailing 50 instances has gone relatively uncovered by major media because it surfaced in the current Weekly Standard, but is the subject of an automatic leak investigation — yet another time-wasting mistake.)
(7) Kurdish leaders on Iraq's Governing Council who indulged past grievances by spurning Turkey's offer of 10,000 troops to help suppress the terror campaign would realize, too late, that they not only dismayed Americans who supported the Kurdish cause through thick and thin, but also missed their historic opportunity to reverse the tide of ill will that hurts the Kurds more than the Turks.
(8) Paul Bremer has already as much as admitted that his disbanding of Saddam's army, especially officers, was a mistake. But if this military group, made up almost completely of Saddam's ruling Sunni minority, is to be reconstituted and re-armed, who is to say that — after elections are held giving most power to the majority Shiites and coalition troops leave — it won't stage a coup? Those now so certain that disbanding Saddam's army was a mistake would have to own up to their greater error.
(9) In the same way, the U.S. has now admitted being mistaken for months in following the wishes of the Shiite leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, that the Governing Council draft a constitution before holding elections and transferring sovereignty. Sunnis on the council balked; they fear the Shiite majority. Under White House pressure, Bremer prevailed on the ayatollah to go along with sovereignty first, elections later.
(10) On that Great Mea Culpa Day, what would be the biggest mistake admitted? It would come from Western experts who for years have been saying, in pessimistic condescension, that Arabs in their culture and religion are unsuited to democracy.
Mistakes have been made in overcoming that notion. Mistakes will be made in winning this war. But advancing freedom is never a mistake.