The What Ifs

The What Ifs aren't in and of themselves arguments against war in Iraq -- as Rumsfeld says better than anybody, the risks of inaction are also great -- but those who dismiss the potential problems out of hand are dead wrong. Aggressive chemotherapy isn't always the best way to treat a cancer, and in this case aggressive military action may not be the best way to eradicate the threat post by this tyrant -- especially given the damage it may do to the rest of our war against terrorism. Joe Klein, in this refreshingly contrarian take on the Gore's crass but important speech, largely sees things my way.

I have been particularly concerned about this scenario he describes: "Furthermore, as the American military pieces are slowly wheeled into place for the campaign, Saddam's chemical and biological labs are likely to be shut down, the germs and gases that are transportable put in suitcases -- and then sold or given away to the very people we fear." And in the chaos of war itself, aren't we more likely to lose track of his poisonous materials than we would under the relative order of coercive inspections, which would enable us to dismantle and destroy those weapons systematically? That's my hunch.

Those who support invasion would probably say that leaving Saddam alone will only increase the chances of some insidious chem/bio handoff, and increase the chances of it happening with expertise and/or material for constructing a nuke, to boot. I agree that's the likely consequence of doing nothing -- as, say, most of the world would happily tolerate -- but coercive inspections like those outlined here are much more than nothing. They very forceful and hopefully every bit as effective at disarmament as an invasion. If disarmament is the goal. Is it? We need to decide. In fact, that's the central question: What's the goal? Disarmament or regime change?

Here's the nut of Klein's piece: "The rush to war, the tendency of conservatives (and their propagandists) to go berserk whenever legitimate questions are raised, the giddy moral certainty in the air, the fact that we are not talking about one quick war against an obvious psychopath but about actions--and a fundamental shift in American policy --that may well echo and shape the world for the next 50 years -- all this should cause us to pause, slow down, talk this over." I'm pretty damn conservative on a solid 60 percent of issues these days, but Klein's right. And shame on the Democrats for running away from these issues, not toward them.

Well, maybe they're beginning to walk toward them now. Now that the man they hate, Gore, has made it safe.

Daschell Shocked

Senator Daschle's remarks on the floor yesterday were hyperbolic.

He did seem genuinely upset. (I was actually on the floor when he was talking, and you could feel the tension in the room.) He did quote Bush accurately. And he does have a point. The main problem with the new Bush criticism of the Democrats, which referred to the debate over homeland security, not over Iraq, was its slippage from "more interested in special interests than in the security of the American people" to "more interested in special interests, and not interested in the security of the American people."

But I can't help thinking that the outrage is off point. I mean, what if the Democrats really were putting special interests in front of national security? What if the homeland security bill really was a sop to the unions that tied the President's hands? (I don't share that interpretation, but many do -- and I must say I don't find that to be an outrageous reading of the bill.) If that's the case, don't true believers have a responsibility to call them on it -- and in the process create what they believe is a better and stronger Homeland Security Department -- rather than dancing around the charge?


The War Against the War Against the War

We may have to go to war, but we'd better exhaust some other options (and quickly) first, if only to go through some very valuable motions. We'd better try something like coercive inspections. The worst thing that could happen after Gore's anti-war speech is for all of his (admittedly shrill and unfair) criticisms -- are all be dismissed as petty, partisan, and political. It's ashame that the Democrats have such awful messengers for some pretty important ideas. I'm reminded of Churchill's line: "The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes."


The People Versus the Powerful

David Brooks nicely dissects the anti-war left in the new Weekly Standard, cutting to the quick of those who -- like the friend of mine I mentioned a week ago -- call Dick Cheney "terrifying" but prefer not to worry their pretty heads about the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein.

This graph is especially good: "This is the dictionary definition of parochialism -- the inability to consider the larger global threats because one is consumed by one's immediate domestic hatreds. This parochialism takes many forms, but all the branches of the opposition to the war in Iraq have one thing in common: Iraq is never the issue. Something else is always the issue."

But it would be a mistake for people to lump all the war doubters into this camp, and many are doing exactly that. Many skeptics are trying legitimately, it seems to me, to weigh the risks of action against the risks of inaction, and it's unfair to belittle that effort, so long as it is intellectually honest.

The far left has made it clear they will always be suspicious of American power, no matter how it's exercised, and will always manufacture a perverted trust for the underdog -- and that includes anyone who we may ever view as a threat to us, since we're always favored, with points. The fair left -- and, for that matter, many on the right -- trust American power but fear that this war may be a headlong rush that could jeopardize the war against terrorism.

It bothers me that the right is trying to ridicule the entire notion of "making the case." What the hell is wrong with saying that a government that believes we need to go to war against a nation preemptorily, while the country is ostensibly at war against another set of combatants, has some articulating to do? It should go without saying that a case needs to be made.

And while the litany of Iraqi CBRN inspections violations over the last decade is pretty compelling -- a strong presentation of the dangers of inaction -- it doesn't quite do the job. The second thing Bush has to explain is why inspections won't work and will only offer false comfort, giving Saddam more time to scheme and turning much of the world against any decisive action. This shouldn't be that hard to do, but that doesn't mean the President can just skip that step.

I also like this Brooks flourish: "When you get deep enough into the peace camp you find fog about the fog. You find a generation of academic and literary intellectuals who have so devoted themselves to questioning meanings, deconstructing texts, decoding signifiers, and unmasking perspectives, they can't even make an argument anymore."

True. For many artist/intellectuals, reflexive distrust of America has for years replaced real political thought.

But at least somebody on the right should admit that when you get deep enough into the war camp, you find contempt for anyone who might doubt the severity of any proclaimed threat to America, or for anyone who might hestitate on the road to Baghdad -- even if that person is trying honestly to sort through the facts and make a considered judgment. Some conservatives have turned indignation toward left-wing doubters into an art; they're all appeasers, all pollyannas, all against the U.S. and for the World no matter what. No, no, no.