THE REASONS FOR THIS WAR just keep on changing.
That was the complaint, any way, back in the glory days of weekly protests, vomit-ins, and left-wing grumbling about the “neocon” conspiracy of “Bush Jr.” Unable to grasp the notion that a single policy can have multiple causes and goals, critics of the war in Iraq eagerly pointed to the Bush Administration’s varying explanations as proof of some sinister, underlying motive (usually oil or empire).
One day the White House would talk about weapons of mass destruction. The next it would champion liberating the Iraqi people or severing the country’s connections to terrorists. It made appeals to enforcing United Nations resolutions and the Gulf War ceasefire. It even offered lofty visions of a Middle Eastern democracy other than Israel, and the need to dismantle the Islamofascist enterprise piece by piece. There were so many explanations for the Administration’s Iraq policy, opponents said, that it was impossible to trust any of them.
But after spending months complaining about the war’s manifold justifications, the left is now able to remember only one: The WMDs, or, more accurately, the inability of American forces to unearth any so far.
One of the great ironies of this war is that those who once clamored to give UN weapons inspectors “more time” (as much as a year) after four months of snooping around Iraq now believe that two months should have been more than plenty for US forces to complete the same job. (For that matter, they thought that American troops should have been able to locate Saddam Hussein’s “smoking gun” in less than two weeks.)
Yet as they were all too eager to point out just a few months ago, the war was never just about WMDs. It was about all the reasons the Bush Administration outlined, and in hindsight, most of those have been amply justified:
The Iraqi people have been liberated, and the periodic discovery of mass graves (most recently, one containing some 200 children’s bodies, complete with dolls) underscores the depths of their former oppressors’ wickedness. There has been no shortage of findings connecting Hussein to terrorists, most prominently the arrest of Abu Abbas. UN resolutions, including Security Council Resolution 1441 have been duly carried out, with the council’s tacit, ex-post facto endorsement. A democratic Iraq is in the making, albeit slowly, and the liquidation of Islamofascism, Inc. is visibly underway—just see how leaders in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia have begun to squirm.
Even on the WMD front, the Armed Forces are doing better than some in the establishment press care to admit.
During the war, U.S. Marines seized a massive cache of Iraqi chemical decontamination equipment and chemical suits. And since the war, allied forces have discovered two Iraqi mobile biowarfare labs, which were not only prohibited under UN resolutions, but which the Iraqi regime vowed, repeatedly, not to possess. Critics have pooh-poohed these findings because they don’t contain actual biological or chemical agents, but it’s hard to imagine any benign purpose they might have served, and why—if they weren’t what they appear to be—Hussein would have gone to such lengths to hide them.
But the hallmark of the left, both before the war and even in light of the many horrific discoveries that have followed it, has been to give Hussein the benefit of the doubt. The Bush Administration, having learned well the lessons of 9/11, took a more cautious approach.
Even in the unlikely case that, by the start of the war, Hussein no longer had any WMDs, he indisputably behaved as though he did, chasing out UN weapons in 1998 and refusing to cooperate with them in 2002. While his obstinacy could, in theory, have been little more than the manifestation of a disordered personality, it could also have been an indication of a feeble effort to conceal a diabolical scheme. Given his past attacks on three other nations, as well as his previous use of WMDs and his ongoing support of terrorists, that seemed the more likely case. From an American national-security standpoint, it was certainly the safer assumption to make.
It’s probably true, as one senior military officer complained to Time magazine, “There was a predisposition in this Administration to assume the worst about Saddam.” All things considered, that was a rather healthy predisposition to have.
And it wasn’t only the U.S. that believed Hussein possessed WMDs. The entire UN Security Council backed Resolution 1441, which formally recognized “the threat Iraq’s non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security.” Before the war, left-wing critics often cited the WMDs as a reason not to invade, for fear that Hussein might use them against allied troops, or pass them along to terrorist sympathizers (a claim which may still prove true).
So far, none of the weapons has turned up, although U.S. forces have still only searched about a third of some 900 suspected sites. There’s also the possibility that Hussein used dual-use facilities to conceal his WMD production stockpile, or that in the days leading up to the war, he either found some especially ingenious site to hide it or shipped it off to Syria.
For any number of reasons, Iraq’s WMDs might not turn up any time soon, or at all. Either way, the moral legitimacy of the war remains unchanged. If Hussein didn’t have WMDs, America was prudent to assume he did, and he was either a fool or a lunatic for refusing to prove otherwise.
In any case, Iraq and the world are both better off for the demise of his regime, dismantled for myriad reasons—each good enough to stand on its own, and taken together, beyond reproach.