Iraq War Time Travel
Dan’s primary objection to the war is that “Bush is a moron” and that it would have been better to wait until he was out of office to have the war. He thinks that there was nothing at stake that couldn’t have waited until 2004. Of course, absent Bush’s sudden demise, his term goes through January 20, 2005 and, quite conceivably (even likely from the vantage point of early 2003) January 20, 2009. Strangely, though, he’d have been happy to go to war even with Bush the moron in charge if only the U.N. had given its approval and/or Saddam actually had weapons of mass destruction, a condition that most observers, including those opposed, seemed to think obtained at the time Dan opposed the war.
Matt, on the other hand, acknowledges most of the arguments of the “pro-this war now” camp but still thinks we should have waited:
Obviously, there was disagreement here, but I continue to believe the following two things:
1. The sactions/inspections regime was not sustainable over the long term.
2. Sometime after the sanctions/inspections regime collapsed, Saddam Hussein would acquire nuclear weapons and this would have an extremely adverse impact on the world.
As a result, it was necessary to implement a regime change policy of some sort at some point before Saddam’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. There was, however, not only no reason this had to be done Bush’s way, but (more important, in retrospect, from my point-of-view) there was really no reason it had to be done on Bush’s timetable. The window of opportunity here extended quite a few years into the future, so joining a coalition to block the Bush policy and then joining some other coalition at some other point to implement a different, better regime change policy would have been a totally viable policy option.
Matt’s rationale for waiting is a variant of the “Bush is a moron” view as well:
When George W. Bush is president and is advocating a war and you, too, are advocating for war, then the fact of the matter is that you are advocating that the war be conducted by George W. Bush. That Bush would botch things was a perfectly predictable consequence of said support, based on — among other things — the fact that he’d botched everything else he’d ever done.
This has the same problem as the Davies position, though, of averting a policy decision a minimum of two and potentially six, ten or more years (if Bush were reelected and followed by a like-minded successor). And, again, there was every reason to think at the time that Saddam had an active WMD program and stockpiles of at least the type of chemical weapons he’d actually employed in the past. So, we’d have had to rely on an unsustainable inspections/sanctions regime and hoped that a team more to Matt’s liking was in place before the unsustainability become apparent.
While Dan’s point that decisions are often not now/never but rather never/now/later is correct, it’s less clear to me that this applies to the security arena. There is no evidence of which I’m aware that support from France and Germany–and let alone Russia and China–was forthcoming even had we “given inspections more time.” Even if Blix and Co. had been somehow given the level of access to sites that we enjoy at present–a rather doubtful scenario–it’s far from clear that we’d have taken their non-finding of WMD as evidence that there in fact are no WMD. The U.N. Security Council gave Saddam a deadline to document what happened to his stockpiles or face “serious consequences.” He failed to take the deadline or forthcoming consequences seriously. It proved a costly error.
I agree with Matt’s point that one must choose between options actually on the table, which were indeed a war with Bush as commander-in-chief or no war for years. While I’d liked to have seen some things done differently with regard to the stabilization-transition phase of this war, that would have been the case with a President Gore, a President McCain, or certainly a President Kerry in charge. Most of the day-to-day decisions on the war are made by the bureaucracies and the folks on the ground, which would have been largely the same regardless of the leadership team. Not to mention the terrorists and insurgents. Does anyone really think that Sadr and Co. wouldn’t have emerged if only there were yet another U.N. resolution in place? The troops on the ground would have still been overwhelmingly American after all.
Ultimately, then, “not this war now” is a cop-out. It translates to either “no war, period” or “removing Saddam but without any bad stuff happening.” The former argument is sustainable, although it’s one I disagree with. The latter takes the easy way out, as it attempts to cloak its proponent as being for action but removes any responsibility for the inevitable bad things that happen in war.