Thursday, June 12, 2003
Kudos to NRO for publishing the following editorial, on how supporters of the Iraq war are overreaching on the WMD issue. They are absolutely right.
There were a series of reasons articulated for the war in Iraq. Iraq was in contemptuous violation of U.N. resolutions, making it "fair game." It was a proven regional threat, having repeatedly attacked its neighbors in wars of conquest. It was ruled by an evil regime guilty of crimes against humanity. It had a history of collaboration with and support of anti-American terrorist groups, and there was some circumstantial evidence linking Iraqi intelligence to al-Qaeda and even to 9-11. The regime had used unconventional weapons against civilians and enemy troops, had had an extensive biological weapons development program and had been actively pursuing nuclear weapons for decades. And there were the "positive" reasons for war, the things to be gained rather than the evils to be ended: the establishment of a pro-Western regime in Baghdad, the end of the need for oppressive sanctions, the end of the need for American troops in Saudi Arabia, the impact of a decisive American show of force on our other enemies in the region. If I've left anything out, I apologize.
But there were good responses to all of the above. If flouting the U.N. was the justification for war, then presumably the U.N. should authorize any measures to defend its authority. If gross evil is justification for war, who prepares the indictment and tries the case to establish that evil? The U.S. alone? And if the "positive" reasons for war justified the war, then there is truly no meaning to international law: any nation can legally undertake any war for the sake of achieving positive ends.
There were only two justifications for unilateral war that were persuasive. If Iraq was involved with 9-11, or even al-Qaeda, then war against Saddam was simple national self-defense. But the Bush Administration was never comfortable putting that foot forcefully forward, probably because the intelligence pointing to the link was less than perfect and largely circumstantial. If, on the other hand, Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear weapons, with a goal of ultimately using them against the U.S. or our allies or for purposes of blackmail, then war was justified on the notion of preemptive self-defense of the sort that Israel used in the Osirak strike and in the 6-day war. People should recall that the Gulf War ended with a cease-fire, not a peace, so that the resumption of hostilities was not the initiation of a war but just that: the resumption of hostilities in a war that had not ended. That doesn't mean it required no justification, but it required some; we did, after all, agree to the cease-fire.
If the U.S. does not find an active nuclear or biological weapons program in Iraq, then the case for war becomes retrospectively much shakier. Iraq might have still been "fair game" but there will have been no compelling need to initiate hostilities rather than continuing to work through international organizations. While we can all agree that the only reason that inspectors had returned was because of American military pressure, and that the obligation of the Iraqis was to make a full disclosure of all their activities (which they did not do), from our allies' (and certainly our adversaries') perspective it will be easy to argue that a real effort was being made to solve the problem, and that America cut the process short simply because we were tired of waiting, or because the "positive" reasons for war were too compelling to allow for a peaceful solution. Which would be a very bad conclusion for them to come to.
I'm not sure which is worse for America's position, for people to believe that we lied (or exaggerated) the Iraqi threat to win global support, or for people to believe that our intelligence was fooled. The fact that their own intelligence services (as French, Russian and U.N. declarations attest) confirmed the American conclusion that there were active WMD programs in Iraq does suggest that we were fooled rather than that we did the fooling. But I'm not sure that should make us any more comfortable, since the end result will still be a greater reluctance on the part of our allies to support preemptive strikes against dangerous regimes (e.g. North Korea, Iran, Pakistan).
The Administration really is vulnerable on this question, from at least two angles. While I think the "the whole war was a lie" line is ludicrous and will survive primarily among the paranoid fringe and the inveterately partisan, the suspicion that the Administration overplayed and exaggerated the quality of its intelligence is far more credible, and this will hurt America's credibility going forward. This is a negative consequence that should be decried even by Administration supporters and war supporters. Second, and more damaging, is the line The New Republic has increasingly been taking - to whit, if we can't find the WMD, maybe they are already in terrorist hands? We heard before the war that chemical weapons were being moved to Syria and/or Iran. We haven't found Saddam. How do we know that he wasn't spirited safely away as part of a deal that put sophisticated chemical weapons in the hands of Hezbollah? How do we know that the declared nuclear sites that were looted before or during the war didn't put lethal radioactive poisons on the market for al-Qaeda? The Pentagon designed and implemented an amazingly versatile and effective campaign to remove the country of Iraq from Saddam's control. But if a primary objective was to neutralize Iraq's most dangerous weapons, we don't yet know enough to know if that objective was achieved. This is not a quibble and is, again, something supporters of the war should be very concerned about.