Tuesday, February 03, 2004
I may have gone overboard a bit in the last post, so let me stress two things:
First, I think the "show of force" rationale for the war is still entirely valid, as is the human rights justification. I was skeptical about the democratization rationale before, and I still am. It's one thing to say we went to war to depose a psychotic killer. We're not obliged to deposed every psychotic killer on earth, but it's hard for me to see how taking one out is wrong. It's another to say we went to war to make the Middle East safe for democracy. I don't think that's happened, I don't think Iraq is a good candidate, and I don't think democracy emerges from the point of a bayonet. But the point is: there is still perfectly good justification for the war, independent of the threat assessment.
Second, I can accept the idea that, in the post-9-11 world, we should be erring on the side of caution, and that it was reasonable to conclude that the Iraqi threat was significant and growing and could not be solved but by force. Trouble is, we live in a world of finite resources. We can't invade everybody. I am much more worried about Pakistan than I was about Iraq. I'm worried about Iran and North Korea. I'm worried about Syria. I'm worried about the Hizbullah in Lebanon. We can't invade everybody.
Therefore, we need to assess threats, weight them against each other, and decide on priorities. We actually do that: the advocates of the Iraq war were and are pretty much sanguine about Russia, for example. Implicitly, moreover, the bulk of the supporters of the Iraq war disagreed with Michael Ledeen's assessment that toppling Saddam *before* taking out the mullahs of Iran was too risky. So they did assess threats relative to each other. It's just that part of that assessment was wrong, and wrong in part because the pro-war agenda affected the interpretation of intelligence.
It's just not credible that the collapse of the public case for war - the WMD case - has no consequences. Sure, we wouldn't know the extent of the Iraqi threat without invading. Guess what: we won't know the extent of the North Korean threat without invading. Or the Iranian threat. We didn't go to war because Iraq wouldn't tell us how many chemical warheads they have. We went to war - in part - because we believed the worst about what Iraq had and what they intended to do with them. Maybe that worst-case assessment was the most reasonable assessment given the information available at the time; it was still wrong. Had we assessed that threat differently - had we decided that Saddam was a nutter but that North Korea was a more serious national security threat - we might not have placed the Iraq war at the top of our priority list. Or we might have placed it there on different grounds - and those grounds would have been debated, assessed, and either approved or found wanting. And the legitimacy of our policy would be greater. That's the point.