We Didn’t Dare Wait

That’s the title of William Raspberry’s column today, wherein he presents “the speech the president didn’t make at his news conference last week.” It’s thoughtful and well-written. Basically, it argues that 9/11 changed everything, we could no longer afford to wait for the other guy to strike before acting, we thought Saddam had WMD, etc.

Strangely, though, the president has made this speech. Time and again, in fact. See the 2003 SOTU address, for example. For those preferring the PowerPoint version, I summarized it thusly last July:

  • Saddam promised to give up WMD when he lost Gulf War I
  • International agencies found the presence/ability to produce:
    • 25,000 liters of anthrax
    • 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin
    • 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent
    • 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents
    • several mobile biological weapons labs. . .designed to produce germ warfare agents
    • an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb
  • Saddam refused to explain or account for any of this despite numerous UN resolutions and the threat of war
  • Saddam is intimidating and otherwise denying UN inspectors the ability to do their job
  • The threat of action by Saddam is NOT IMMINENT.
  • 9/11 showed the danger of waiting too late.
  • Saddam is has used WMD on his own people and continues to torture them
  • We’re coming to liberate the Iraqi people

The “What now?” portion of Raspberry’s speech is interesting, and maybe the president should have delivered it during the press conference:

If I had it to do over again, would I wait another day or two for more convincing proof? Maybe so. Would I have given the weapons inspectors another week or so? Perhaps. If the failure to wait a little longer turns out to have been a mistake, it is a mistake I will admit without shame. The alternative would have been just too grim to think about.

We can argue another day about whether we should have predicted the violence now being instigated by a few power-hungry fanatics.

But for now, those are not the important questions. We are where we are, and the question is: What do we do now?

I do not believe the American people want us to abandon the Iraqis to the chaos that would surely be the result if we cut and run right now, before there is some reasonable chance at stability there. But our people are also worried over the intensifying violence against the coalition forces and even civilians in Iraq, and they want some assurance that it will soon end.

My fellow Americans: It will end when it ends, not because we have been intimidated into fleeing, but because we will have completed our work to the best of our ability. That work is to leave a country that Iraqis can run for themselves. But that doesn’t mean we have to choose their leadership. Indeed, I am now convinced that it is better if we don’t choose their leadership. Americans and other members of the coalition have become too obvious a target for the fanatics there.

But, he’s said this, too, several times of late, if not in the venue of the press conference.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    I am in Iraq at the moment serving with the Coalition as a private security contractor.
    I have an opinion.
    The Iraqi people do not deserve what is going on at the moment but they are cleary afraid of a repeat of 1991 when we run out on them. They were punished from Saddam and his men by means of mass murder and destruction of their families,economy and free will.
    There is a small number of criminals and militia in comparison to the population running around terrorising the Iraqi’s as well as us and the tension is very high on both sides.
    Most of the killings that have taken place here have been the terrorist killing the Iraqi people. Even though we have taken great losses this month and as we have in the months gone by.
    I think that the world should be standing by the American, Brits and the coalition and sending more special operators here to fix this problem the Iraqi’s face.
    We have relative freedom in our world away from this but our brothers here have never had that in their lives.
    So if all the God loving peolple in the world did love their God (No matter which teachings you learned on earth)or do hear the cry of a poor nation. This is the time to stand up and be heard.
    There is too much suffering in the world and this is a good place to start cleaning it up of it’s Evil Rulers and thugs and criminals.

    Do not critisize but get involved and help. What Saddam done here is on par what Hitler was doing in Germany. He had to go and the people needed to be freed.
    Now the need to be helped to rid the new Saddam’s of the future who are trying to get into power.
    If we leave then all that was gained get’s lost.
    All the roads we built will be destroyed, all the schools we built will be looted and all the water we purified will be contaminated.
    So much good has been done here and now the world should help carry on this good work and stop wasting time and money complaining about why we did it.

    It is done so keep going until they are at peace.

  2. rockefeller says:


    Good luck in Iraq. I hope you stay safe.

    I agree – we can’t cut and run, we have to stay until we finish.

    I do have one issue with your comment.

    You say: “What Saddam done here is on par what Hitler was doing in Germany.”

    My neck always crawls when I hear comparisons of Saddam to Hitler. I understand the comparison you are trying to make. But I know we all must realize that what Hitler did was on a scale times ten or 100 what Saddam did.

    If we don’t realize that when we make our arguments, then we are belittling the suffering experienced by the millions of people in Europe 60+ years ago.

    I know. I saw it with my own eyes.

  3. I’m not terribly keen on the comparison, but if you reduce the scale, there are definitely similarities:

    • Threat to neighbors
    • Iron-fisted Control
    • Mass Exterminations

    However, they are far from equal. I don’t think Saddam had the big-picture goals that Hitler had.

    Both also grossly understimated the U.S.