October 20, 2003,
Q: If you're a new sheriff in a really bad town, what's one of the smartest things you can do?
A: Smack the stuffing out of the nearest, biggest bad guy you can.
Q: If you're a new inmate in a rough prison, what's one of the smartest things you can do?
A: Pick a fight with the biggest, meanest cat you can but make sure you can win.
Q: If you're a kid and you've had enough of the school bullies pants-ing you in the cafeteria, what's one of the smartest things you can do?
A: Punch one of them in the nose as hard as you can and then stand your ground.
Q: If you're the leader of a peaceful and prosperous nation which serves as the last best hope of humanity and the backbone of international stability and a bunch of fanatics murder thousands of your people on your own soil, what's one of the smartest thing you can do?
A: Knock the crap out of Iraq.
Why Iraq? Well, there are two answers to that question.
The first answer is "Why not?" (If it helps, think of Bluto burping "Why not?" in Animal House.)
The second answer: Iraq deserved it.
Now. Here's the important part: Both of these are good answers.
MY HIATUSLet me back up. I haven't written about Iraq in quite a while. I basically decided to take a wait-and-see approach during the postwar hoo-ha for one simple reason: I'd written a trillion Iraq columns, I had a brand new daughter to fawn over, I didn't trust an ounce of the journalism in the aftermath of the war...and I figured it would take a while for the smoke to clear before anyone knew what was going on. Okay, that's more than one reason.
But I was right: The fog of peace was cloudier than the fog of war. The calamities the naysayers predicted would happen didn't refugee crises, regional wars, chemical attacks on our troops, body bags for as far as the eye could see. Since nothing disappoints the press more than disasters unfulfilled (Have you ever seen anyone grumpier than an anchor when a hurricane doesn't materialize?), the press decided to pretend these things were never predicted in the first place. Instead we spent countless news hours discussing how the supposed looting of the museum-that-wasn't-actually-looted proved the war was a mistake. Then the 16-words-that-didn't-matter became the first "proof" that George Bush is a "liar."
Meanwhile, the-writer-who-would-use-hyphenated-phrases bided his time.
So here we are. The legitimately surprising and disturbing failure to find weapons-of-mass-destruction in Iraq is now seen as the ultimate proof that George Bush "lied" even though it is virtually impossible to make that argument logically.
For that to be the case, Bush would have had to have known that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction. That is the charge, right? That he lied about Saddam having WMDs. Okay, so if Bush knew that Saddam didn't have those weapons, he would have known something which the CIA, the United Nations, the British, the French, the Germans, the Saudis, the Israelis, the Pentagon, scores of Iraqi exiles were convinced was not true. Moreover, he would have to have known that Saddam Hussein was willing to forgo $100 billion in oil revenues to conceal the fact that he didn't have WMDs. But forget about that. Anyway, so Bush knew there were no WMDs, but at the same time he pretended otherwise. He convinced his entire Cabinet, Congress, Tony Blair, and most Americans that Saddam had WMDs and that he himself was convinced of this even though he knew otherwise. (Presumably, he even went back in time like Peter Potamus the Hurricane Hippo and convinced Bill Clinton and his entire national-security staff and the Democratic leadership of Congress that Saddam had WMDs.)
Now that's pretty impressive stuff for a guy every "intelligent" liberal considers to be an unequivocal moron.
The "imminent threat" argument also strikes me as the logical equivalent of an MC Escher drawing in which unreality is used to confirm reality and fact to support fiction. But I've written about that elsewhere.
SOME' SPLAINING TO DOIn the past couple months pretty much all the pro-warriors have been unburdening themselves on why they supported the war. For some it has been painful. The New Republic had hinged its support for the war almost entirely on the perceived nuclear threat from Iraq. While they supported the humanitarian rationale, without the WMD leg specifically the nuclear one their case fell over and they fell into the terrible tangle of being pro-war and anti-Bush and intellectually consistent at the same time. I wish them luck.
The Weekly Standard faced a similar problem in that it supported the war largely on the strength of the WMD argument too (though they also found the humanitarian case compelling). But they've taken a different course, restating why we went to war in a conveniently titled editorial "Why We Went to War."
Others, such as the always-insightful Fareed Zakaria, have offered their own clarifications. "As it happens, I was not one of those who thought Saddam's weapons were the main reason to wage war," he writes. Instead, he believes Iraq offered a huge "opportunity" for not merely nation-building but region-building. Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens have never stopped swinging, and for that they should be applauded.
And I agree with, and respect, all of them. In fact, the only people I have palpable contempt for are the coterie of Democrats who so obviously voted for the war out of rank political calculation and who now spin themselves beyond the point of scrotal torsion in an effort to say they didn't mean it. Now they're trying to atone for having done the right thing by doing the wrong thing. To support the war but oppose its reconstruction as Senator Kerry is doing runs so counter to every historically noble impulse of the Democratic party and the United States itself it alone should disqualify such people from public office.
MY WAYI never understood why there has to be only one reason to go to war. I preferred the "checklist" (scroll to the bottom) approach. There were lots of good reasons to topple Saddam. And while it makes sense to emphasize some over others, they all added up to a list of benefits to making the right decision.
That's one of the funny things about doing the right thing: You can come up with an endless supply of reasons why it's right. That makes sense since that's how the world works. Things that are right are right for a zillion reasons and things that are wrong are wrong for a zillion reasons. Fire burns because it's hot and fire burns because your nerves feel the heat. Neither explanation is less right than the other. Ducks do not make plutonium because ducks do not contain nuclear processors and because plutonium would kill waterfowl. Neither explanation is less wrong than the other. In mathematics this principle is demonstrated in its purest form. 2 + 2 = 4, because 2 and 2 add up to four. But four is also four because 2 times 2 equals 4. Also, one plus one plus one plus one equals four. And pretty much every way you come at it, four is going to be four if everything that goes into it adds up (subtracts down, or whatever) to four.
Now, the war with Iraq was obviously less cut and dry than 2+2. But it still always added up to the right decision in my book. But, since everyone's looking for a single persuasive equation, I should say the kicker for me was simple: We needed to kick someone's butt (other than Afghanistan) and Iraq was by far the best candidate. Indeed, nearly a full year before the war in April of 2002 I wrote: "The United States needs to go to war with Iraq because it needs to go to war with someone in the region and Iraq makes the most sense."
I got grief about that from all quarters, but that was cool with me. Interestingly, for a long time I was the only person I knew of to make that case explicitly until ten months later and a couple months after the war when Thomas Friedman of the New York Times came out and said the same thing: "The 'real reason' for this war, which was never stated," he wrote on June 4, 2003, "was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world...Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine. But we hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that world."
Which brings me back to where I started.
Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is to beat the tar out of a bad guy even if that bad guy was "innocent" of the specific offense that ticked you off. If a crackhead robs your house, there's no reason in the world you should feel bad about shutting down all of the crackhouses in your neighborhood. If a rat bites your baby, would you tell your wife "Well, honey, I know there's a whole rat's nest out in the backyard, but there's no way I can identify the specific rat that bit the baby. So, there's nothing I can do."
I doubt Saddam had anything to do with planning 9/11 and frankly I don't give a damn. The lesson of the 3,000 dead was that we're going to take our responsibilities seriously again. And that means cleaning up unfinished business and telling the rest of the world we are serious. Nobody nobody has made a remotely persuasive case for why it would have been good to keep Saddam in power. Nobody dares make the case that Saddam and his regime didn't deserve everything they got because that would be like arguing you shouldn't fix the shot brakes on your car because your last accident was the result of bald tires.
No, the opposition never said it was wrong for Saddam to go. Rather, they rejected the notion that America should actually have its way. More than anything else, this desire to thwart America explains the motives of the U.N., the French, the Left, and pretty much everyone else except for the Arab leaders. The Arabs have something even bigger at stake should America succeed in transforming Iraq into a prosperous democracy their own corrupt kleptocratic torture states might be next.
Regardless, the gripes we hear today are the predictable complaints of people who grew pretty comfortable in the shadow of a sleeping giant. The giant was rudely awoken. And if the resultant harsh light of day is unpleasant or inconvenient to you, too frick'n bad. The United States is taking care of business and we've got nothing to apologize for.