I take a backseat to no one in my respect and reverence for William F. Buckley. There are very few men of letters who emerged at the end of the 20th century who can make the claim that they A) largely succeeded in what they set out to do and B) that the world is better for it. Indeed, the public record in many ways makes such testimonials superfluous.
But many readers keep asking what I make of this nugget from the New York Times:
“With the benefit of minute hindsight, Saddam Hussein wasn’t the kind of extra-territorial menace that was assumed by the administration one year ago,” Mr. Buckley said. “If I knew then what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war.”
So here’s what I think: I agree and I disagree. It is more than fair to say that if you thought the main reason to depose Saddam was to eliminate the threat of his Weapons of Mass Destruction to then say it wasn’t worth it now that we believe with the benefit of hindsight that they weren’t there. I think that is what Mr. Buckley is saying.
But this is also like saying, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have not ordered the fish.” In other words, it seemed like the right decision at the time. Some think that, given new developments, this appearance was wrong and others do not. I still think the war was the right decision. Though, obviously, if we knew Saddam didn’t have a major nuclear program the debate would have looked very different and the tactics available for toppling him would have been very, very different. But, ultimately, the “if I knew then what I know now” point is an academic one.
And once you concede that point we are back to the fundamental debate(s) about the war and reconstruction. Should post-9/11 America give tyrants like Saddam the benefit of the doubt in a climate of uncertainty? Was the WMD threat the only reason toppling Saddam was in our interest? Should opposition to the war justify obstruction of the reconstruction? Etc? Etc?