resident George W. Bush has begun to shove back at critics of his decision to remove Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Democrats have been hammering away for months, accusing Bush of intentionally exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam’s regime. Finally, in a speech on Veterans Day
, the president signaled that he’s had enough: “It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how the war began. More than 100 Democrats in the House and Senate who had access to the same intelligence voted to remove Saddam Hussein from power.”
John Kerry responded at once to Bush’s words, charging, “This administration misled a nation into war by cherry-picking intelligence and stretching the truth beyond recognition.”
The debate over the collection and organization of intelligence is interminable, of course. Kerry is correct in a limited sense; the Bush administration thought toppling Saddam was necessary and clearly sifted and presented intelligence data to make the case for doing so as strong as possible. But Bush is also correct that key Democrats believed, prior to the invasion of Iraq, and prior even to Bush’s election, that Saddam’s weapons program posed a significant threat to the region and ultimately to the United States. To wit:
”If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program
.”–President Bill Clinton, 2/17/98.
”He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983.” –National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, 2/18/98.
”We urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions . . . to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.”–excerpt from a letter to President Clinton, signed by (among others) Senators Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry 10/9/98.
”Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology, which is a threat to countries in the region, and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”–Representative Nancy Pelosi 12/16/98.
”Hussein has . . . chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction and palaces for his cronies.”–Secretary of State Madeline Albright, 10/10/99.
”There is no doubt that . . . Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of an illicit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies.” –letter to President Bush, signed by Senator Bob Graham, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, 12/5/01.
”We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.”–Senator Carl Levin, 9/19/02.
”Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power. . . . We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.”–former Vice President Al Gore, 9/23/02.
”We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.”–Senator Ted Kennedy, 9/27/02.
”The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons, but has not yet achieved nuclear capability.”–Senator Robert Byrd, 10/3/02.
”There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years. We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction.”–Senator Jay Rockefeller, 10/10/02.
”In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.”–Senator Hillary Clinton, 10/10/02.
In the final analysis, of course, the crucial question is not who believed what about Saddam’s WMDs but whether the decision to invade Iraq was the right thing to do. It’s a question for the history books; a definitive answer is likely a decade away. The more instructive question for the present, the more courageous question to ask right now
, is this: “If you could turn back the clock, would you undo the invasion?” With an eye on a run for the White House in 2008, John Edwards on Sunday became the first serious contender for the Democratic nomination to tackle this question head on, writing in a Washington Post op-ed
: “It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake.”
Edwards’s position is therefore clear. Weighing the costs and benefits of the war in Iraq, he would choose the road not taken. Consider, in that light, the chart below:
The Road Taken vs. The Road Not Taken
style=”border: 1px solid #333; font-family: Times, Sans, Times New Roman; font-size: 12pt;”>
class=”MsoNormal”>1) Saddam is in
prison, about to go on trial for crimes against the Iraqi people and
style=”font-size: 12pt;”>2) The prospect of a representative
democracy, albeit one with an Islamic character, founded on a
constitution that guarantees individual human rights.
Oil-for-Food scandal is rapidly unraveling, the names of prominent
politicians, diplomats, and businessmen disgraced by their
style=”font-size: 12pt;”>4) Over 2,000 American military personnel are
killed in Iraq; over 15,000 are wounded.
class=”MsoNormal”>5) Over 100,000 Iraqi
civilians are killed as a direct result of the invasion of Iraq, most of
the casualties coming from American bombing campaigns–according to
high-end estimates cited by Noam Chomsky. (The actual number, it should
be noted, is likely a fraction of this.)
style=”font-size: 12pt;”>1) Saddam continues to rule Iraq, jerking
around United Nations weapons inspectors, torturing and killing
style=”font-size: 12pt;”>2) The prospect of reigns by Qusay and
perhaps Uday Hussein, whose previous forays into power politics include
mass torture and genocidal rampages.
class=”MsoNormal”>3) The Oil-for Food
program is ongoing, with prominent politicians, diplomats, and
businessmen enriching themselves while helping Iraq skirt United Nations
style=”font-size: 12pt;”>4) No American casualties are taken in Iraq;
more military personnel are free to search for Osama bin
style=”font-size: 12pt;”>5) Roughly 4,500 Iraqi children under the age
of five are dying each month as a result of U.N. sanctions–according to
high-end estimates cited by Noam Chomsky. (The actual number is likely a
fraction of this.) By href=”http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/iraqemb.htm”>Chomsky’s
figures, the total number of Iraqi children saved by the end
of sanctions since Saddam’s regime fell in May 2003 is roughly 135,000.
There you have it. The road taken and the road not taken. For the sake of intellectual consistency, let every critic of the war embrace the road not taken–as Edwards has. But no more “cherry-picking” (to echo John Kerry’s favorite phrase) outcomes. Reality isn’t a take-out menu. You can’t select three from Column A and one from Column B.–Mark Goldblatt’s novel, Africa Speaks, is a satire of black hip-hop culture.