Sunday, March 19, 2006

There Are No Excuses

...for those who got the war wrong. Three years into the greatest foreign policy disaster since Vietnam -- quite possibly one that will in the end prove far greater than that unhappy conflict -- none of the disastrous things that have happened were beyond the range of what was widely and loudly foreseen by anti-war voices at the time. I'll say it again: it was widely and loudly foreseen at the time. There are no excuses for getting this one wrong. You can't say you didn't know. This was not something that was tricky at the time or about which you can say, "if only we knew...". Because either you knew, or you damn well should have known, because most of the world was saying it as loudly as they could manage.

It was all perfectly clear.

No, it was not widely known that Saddam had no WMD at all. (But it was widely known that inspectors were on the ground in Iraq and finding nothing; it was widely known that there was no possible threat that could have justified removing them from the country and invading before letting them finish their task.) But WMD was always a category error -- worse, a deliberate category error, a portmanteau designed to rope together genuinely dangerous weapons that we had no reason to think Saddam had (nuclear weapons, biological weapons such as smallpox) with weapons that all sides believed that Saddam possessed -- weapons that, however horrific in their uses, were not a particular threat to the US (chemical weapons). No, we didn't know that Saddam didn't even have chemical weapons. But we knew he didn't have nuclear weapons and that he wasn't on the verge of getting them; we knew, in short, that he wasn't a threat.

And all the rest was simply and widely known, widely spoken at the time. The disastrous ineptitude of the Bush administration and its almost pathological tendency to lie and distort were both well known. The folly of trying to build a liberal democracy at "bayonet point" (to use the phrase that, of all people, Ronald Reagan used to dismiss the notion) was widely known. The caldron of ethnic and religious tensions that would boil over if we invaded was well known too. We knew all this.

And please, don't say: do you wish that Saddam Hussein were still in power? Of course I don't: no more than pro-war proponents really wanted Casey Sheehan and more than 2,300 other coalition troops -- to say nothing of an unknown and uncounted number of Iraqis (a number which, however, is likely to be well over 100,000 people) -- dead. The point is that removing him in this way was a foreseeable and foreseen disaster.

So no: there are no excuses. This is true of course of Bush, the supreme architect of this disaster (who was already talking about having a war for the political benefit before assuming the Presidency: a point which should not be forgotten). It is true of all the many other members of this administration behind the war -- all of whom, in a just world, would stand in the dock at the Hauge for the crime of aggressive war, the supreme crime of which the Nazi leadership were indicted by the U.S. and other at Nuremburg. (Not to mention the horrific crimes committed in the course of the war, which has turned the U.S. into a nation which tortures prisoners (most recent revelations on this matter in today's New York Times.))

But it is true of everyone else too. It is true of the cowardly Democrats who voted for this war (I'm looking at you, Senator Clinton, and you, Senator Kerry). It is true of the editorialists who endorsed it, of the warbloggers who pushed for it. Without the abetting of all of these groups the war would have been, at the least, much harder for Bush to pull off -- if not impossible.

I don't know what we should do now, since given the current disaster there are probably only various different bad options. I strongly suspect that the best course would be a U.S. withdrawal in a speedy a manner as would be consistent with troop safety. I might well be wrong about that. But how to proceed now that this disaster is upon us is not obvious.

Unlike the fact that the war would be a disaster, for all the reasons that almost everyone now acknowledges. That was obvious, three years ago. And for all those who abetted this disaster, there are no excuses. None at all.

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