Christopher Hitchens offers an interesting rebuttal of some of the arguments made in the previous post and, astonishingly, defends Ahmad Chalabi, who has become the token whipping boy for all sides. After a few paragraphs explaining why he was personally impressed with Chalabi after a long-ago meeting and pointing out what courage it took for Chalabi to so actively lead and opposition to the brutal Saddam, he refutes several allegations that have been propounded by his critics.
It has now been replaced with a whole new indictment: that Chalabi tricked the United States into war, possibly on Iran’s behalf, and that he has given national security secrets to Iran. The first half of this is grotesque on its face. Even if you assume the worst to be trueÃ¢€”that the INC’s “defectors” were either mistaken or were conscious, coached fabricatorsÃ¢€”the fact remains that the crucial presentation of the administration’s case on WMD and terrorism was made at the United Nations by Secretary of State Colin Powell, with CIA Director George Tenet sitting right behind him, after those two men most hostile to Chalabi had been closeted together. Nor does the accusation about an alternative “stove pipe” of disinformation, bypassing the usual channels, hold much water (or air, or smoke). Woodward’s book Plan of Attack makes it plain that the president was not very impressed with Tenet’s ostensible evidence. The plain and overlooked truth is that the administration acted upon the worst assumption about Saddam Hussein and that he himself strongly confirmed the presumption of guilt by, among many other things, refusing to comply with the U.N. resolution. This was a rational decision on the part of the coalition. After all, German intelligence had reported to Chancellor SchrÃƒ¶der that Saddam was secretly at work on a nuke again: The French government publicly said that it believed Iraq had WMD, and even Hans Blix has stated in his book that at that point, he thought the Baathist concealment apparatus was still at work. Whoever and whatever convinced all of these discrepant forces, it was not Chalabi’s INC or Judith Miller’s work in the New York Times.
This point is certainly correct. I don’t doubt that Chalabi lied and distorted the truth often in order to get what he so desperately wanted, help in getting Saddam out of power. But whether he lied about WMDs is really irrelevant; pretty much everyone thought they were there.
It is clearer every day that Iraq under Saddam was becoming a failed state as well as a rogue state. The immiseration and humiliation of its people, the looting and degradation of the economy and society, the resort to jihadist rhetoric and measures by the Baath Party and the opening given to clerical demagogues were all even worse than we thought. If this vindicates anybody, it vindicates those who urged a swifter and earlier international rescue expedition. Those who would have left Iraq to rot were only postponing an evil day that would have become steadily more ghastly and costly.
It is, of course, this argument on which the war now rest: regardless of whether Saddam had a huge WMD stockpile or a serious nuclear weapons program, the prevention of massive slaughter down the line may well make the sacrifice of a few hundred lives now worthwhile. For the Leftist hawks like Hitchens, it was the primary motivation for the war. For most on the Right, the justification is admittedly largely post hoc. (The neo-cons, of course, made both arguments to varying degrees.) It’s also true that, since Saddam was removed from power, the counterfactual will never occur and we’ll never know precisely what the alternative world would have looked like.