Some time over this weekend I want to get time to address in detail the defenses coming from administration advocates regarding the war.
For the moment, let me try briefly to address two of the more commonly-heard ones.
First is that captured in Charles Krauthammer's column this morning. Responding to the many charges of exaggerated or manipulated intelligence, the plea is essentially nolo contendere, no contest. Whether the intelligence was cooked or not, they say, we and the region are better off for having invaded when we did.
I think that for anyone seriously following events in the region, that judgment is still very much in suspense. The truth is that it's too soon to know with any certainty what the long-term results of all this are. But, however that may be, this strips down to an ends justify the means argument. Simple as that.
The means the White House used to get the country into Iraq are quite capable of being analyzed independently from the results of the invasion. Anyone who argues otherwise is really cynical in the extreme.
The other argument is that advanced by Dick Cheney yesterday in his speech at AEI. That was, essentially, this: knowing what we knew then we had no choice but to act.
In fact, I said so many, many times in magazine articles and in these virtual pages. But Cheney's is only an attempt to retrospectively distort the debate to such an extent that the choice was one between doing nothing and launching the war with only one significant ally in March 2003. (And, no, don't even try to tell me about Poland and Spain.) Cheney is simply trying to pitch the ludicrous notion that everyone who doesn't drink the neocon Kool-Aid spends their spare moments teary-eyed over the rough shake Saddam got growing up on the mean streets of Tikrit.
I certainly hope no one will let him get away with this laughable dodge. To act, in this case, was not synonymous with going to war in March 2003. The key questions were a) timing, b) how we did it, and c) what inspectors were finding once in country -- because as I've said many times before, the initial reconnaissance by the IAEA gave good reason to believe that the Iraqi nuclear program was at best not very far advanced. And nukes were the central issue, as far as any imminent threat.
The challenges we're facing now stem from the fact that we dealt with the situation on the double-quick. And the fact that we dealt with it that way is inextricably linked to the issue of hyping and manipulating the intel.
The question is not whether there was any reason to believe there was a threat. There was. The questions were whether that threat was imminent and whether we dealt with it in the best possible way or the stupidest possible way.
Coming next, criticism aside, what's the best policy to pursue in Iraq today ...