In its struggle to avoid discussion of Obama foreign policy and the world disorder that it is abetting, the left is busy with changing the subject to 2002/03 and the runup to the Iraq war with “gotcha”-type interviews with potential Republican presidential candidates, conveniently forgetting that the only currently announced or potential presidential candidate from either party who actually voted for the war resolution is Hillary Clinton. Of course, the big question is: If we knew then as we do now about the absence of WMD, would you have supported going to war in Iraq? Some, notably Jeb Bush, got tangled in their answer for about a week; Marco Rubio finally had the best answer, which was that “Presidents don’t have the benefit of hindsight. You have to make difficult decisions based on the information that is before you at that moment”. And, of course, that is exactly what George W. Bush did at the time, because substantially the entire world intelligence community, not to mention President Bill Clinton late in his term, was convinced that Saddam Hussein had or would soon have WMD and would not hesitate to use them.
But I remember writing during this time that whether or not he actually had WMD was not the most important question, so I looked back to see what I had actually written. Here are some excerpts:
Saddam Hussein must go. Now. Not after re-instituting United Nations arms inspections (a red herring); not after we prove to an international court of world opinion that he is harboring weapons of mass destruction; not after we or one of our allies has been attacked again; and not after we have commitments from a multinational coalition of allies. Certainly President Bush should make the case, forcefully and with as much candor as prudent, and he should also ask for Congressional approval, not that he needs it except as a politically unifying gesture. But the evidence is in, and I can’t improve on Lady Margaret Thatcher’s words: “His continued survival after comprehensively losing the Gulf War has done untold damage to the West’s standing in a region where the only unforgivable sin is weakness. His flouting of the terms on which hostilities ceased has made a laughingstock of the international community. His appalling mistreatment of his own countrymen continues unabated. It is clear to anyone willing to face reality that the only reason Saddam took the risk of refusing to submit his activities to U. N. inspectors was that he is exerting every muscle to build weapons of mass destruction. To allow this process to continue because the risks of action to arrest it seem too great would be foolish in the extreme.”
What we have in Saddam Hussein is a brutal menace who has expressed the moral equivalent of Hitler’s Mein Kampf about his intentions for thirty years. As David Brooks recently pointed out, this is not about this missile or that weapon of mass destruction, but about the explicit objective of a madman to be known 500 years from now as the Arab who brought America down and re-established Pan Arabism by whatever means possible, including racial and ethnic genocide.
There was a time when I would have agreed with the “realpolitiks”, that we must have a narrowly defined mission, a definitive and imminent threat, and a well-defined exit strategy before intervening in Iraq. The events of the 1990s, culminating on 9/11/01, changed this view for me. As I’ve suggested before, in too many instances in the past, this realpolitik has supported stability as the ultimate objective, where revolution and transformation would have been preferable, albeit messy. On the subject of this particular enemy, I’m much more a crusader in the best sense of that term, as an American form of crusading intervention for liberation, not to act as the “redeemer nation” to recreate the world in our image, as with Woodrow Wilson, but rather based on universals that are the minimal acceptable standards in an increasingly smaller and more interdependent world–the rule of law, the sanctity of each individual life, and self-determination. The ruling elites of the Arab-Muslim world, friend and foe alike, must choose which future they want, but the status quo is not acceptable for them or us. Call this type of crusading American exceptionalism if you like, but name another regime that has the moral authority to lead it.
There is no question that the ultimate test of the success of the Bush Doctrine in Iraq will be winning the peace and, in this, the President must be very careful to avoid the American tendency to rely on quick fixes and to come home too soon. First, he must educate the American people on the necessity of a long-term commitment that could involve an extensive occupation, a la Japan after World War II………………………………And, very importantly, Iraq’s oil industry should be privatized through competitive bidding as soon as possible. Whatever the model, it should serve as an example for the rest of the Arab world.
On hindsight, there is no doubt that I was very hawkish, but I don’t think I would change much that I wrote then. Of course, much was botched in the “winning of the peace”, a lot of mistakes were made, and President Bush had to use considerable political courage to authorize the “surge” of 2007 to regain control of the country. But in his speech announcing the surge in Iraq, he predicted exactly what would and what has now in fact happened if we withdrew precipitously–we would have to return later to face an even greater threat, a situation that is now in fact upon us and events are not going our way. The question that all candidates should be forced to answer very early in the coming campaign is “what now?”