Monday, November 21, 2005

The Road to Baghdad

Since Veteran's Day many have talked about the road to war. The President has attacked his critics for selective memory, forgetting that they supported the war resolution and thought Saddam had WMD. Milbanks and Pincus in the Post have quibbled with his statements, pointing out the administration had more complete information than Congress and noting there's been no investigation of how the intelligence was used.

I don't remember blogging very much on this issue. I'd classify myself with Bill Keller and Kenneth Pollack as a reluctant hawk. That is, doubting that Iraq had any connection with Al Qaeda, believing that Saddam was a bad man who ought to be removed, impressed by the quick collapse of the Taliban that maybe Rummy was on to something, etc. (I think the latter is a point often forgotten. The course of events in Afghanistan seemed to discredit many of those who feared a quagmire, who thought the US was following the USSR into an unholy mess. When the Taliban collapsed, it raised Rummy and GWB's creditability significantly. It lowered the effectiveness of the opposition to taking on Saddam, which seemed to rest on the quagmire argument. The only thing left was asking for international support, as in 1991.) I also remember the Clinton administration. At some point, Sec. Cohen went on TV with a bag of sugar as a prop in expounding the dangers of WMD. And Albright and Cohen went to a university as part of a campaign to act against Saddam and were rather ineffective in making it.

That being said, it seems obvious to me that the administration made up its mind to go after Saddam very early after 9/11, that they used everything they could and bypassed the bureaucracies to get some more to make their case, and had a closed mind. The latter is the sticking point: in September 2002 under pressure from Scowcroft, Lugar, Blair,, the administration agreed to go through the UN and did its "war" resolution accordingly. The problem is that it was a forced change of course. Neither Bush nor Cheney had his heart in the course they were following. Of course, I suspect many Democrats thought it was the best deal they could get at the time: maybe going to the UN for international support would cause the administration to reconsider, if not, they'd done their best.

The implication of the current criticism is that an administration should have kept an open mind all the way up to the time the bombs fell. If the casus belli was solely WMD, that would be rational. You get the UN inspectors back into Iraq, they can't find anything even though they've got the best leads you can give them, you should go back to the drawing board and consider whether your intelligence assessments were really sound. But when you decided to take out Saddam on 9/12 and your problem was simply assembling the case and the public support, there's nothing to reconsider.

The decision to go to war is not a decision like choosing a college, though many on both sides talk as if it were.

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