Ilana Mercer, June 25, 2003

Some rather creative post hoc arguments are being made to justify the unnecessary war the United States waged on a sovereign nation that had not attacked us, was no threat to us, and was certainly no match for us.


One after-the-fact rationalization has it that because, at some point in history, the UN, the French, the Germans, and “everyone else” may have believed or stated that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their current objections to the war Bush waged are unjustified. We were only adhering to a common consensus about Saddam’s WMD, the War Party now whines.


This worse-than-asinine reasoning leaves out that saying something is not the same as doing something. To say that Saddam may have had WMD is quite different from advocating war based on those assumptions. It’s one thing to assume in error; quite another to launch a war in which thousands would die based on mere assumptions, however widely shared. It was not the anti-war-on-Iraq camp that intended to launch a war based on the sketchy information it had. The crucial difference between the Bush camp and its opponents lies in the actions the former took.


Those who insisted Saddam had WMD and said war was the only way were certainly not hedging their words or their actions.


Second, it matters a great deal when during the last decade someone said Saddam was in possession of impermissible weapons. “Everyone—the French, the Germans and the UN—agreed Saddam Hussein had WMD” is the battle cry from Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Hannity’s ahistorical bawling ignores that to have made the claim in 1991 is not the same as saying so in 2003, by which time Iraq had so obviously been cowed into compliance and was crawling with inspectors.


Naturally, at certain times during Iraq’s belligerent history, opponents of this war would have agreed Saddam had a weapons program. But by 1998, sensible people realized that Operation Desert Storm, followed by seven years of inspections, made the possibility of reconstituting such a program remote. The Defense Intelligence Agency reached the same conclusion in September 2002, writing that, “A substantial amount of Iraq’s chemical warfare agents, precursors, munitions, and production equipment were destroyed between 1991 and 1998.” President Jacques Chirac said as much to both Bush and Blair, who pretended not to hear.


More significantly, the anti-war-on-Iraq camp, the most principled of whom were on the conservative and libertarian Right, agreed that there was no imminent danger from Iraq. As this column wrote in the Toronto Globe and Mail on September 19, 2002, “Iraq is a Third World nation, whose military prowess is now a fifth of what it was when hobbled during the Gulf War. It has no navy or air force. It is not a threat to American national security.” Considering this self-evident reality, war was the last, not first, resort.


Michael Novak, a Catholic scholar of religion from the American Enterprise Institute, advances a different after-the-fact justification. The burden of proving Iraq had or didn’t have WMD rested not on the administration, but on Iraq, he absurdly claims. First, the burden of proof is on he who proposes the existence of something, not on he who claims that it does not exist. (For this point I am indebted to Dr. J. Stierman.)


Second, Novak’s rickety reasoning, if one can call it reasoning, omits the one crucial variable—aggression. When initiating war against a nation which is not being aggressive and doesn’t want war, the onus is on the aggressor, not the aggressed against, to justify his actions, at least according to the conventional morality espoused by the pope, Novak’s formidable spiritual leader.


Novak is correct to say that Iraq was supposed to disarm or else. But his statement begs the question: he assumes that Iraq didn’t disarm. How does he know that? The Iraqis claimed they did. That nothing terribly incriminating has hitherto been found in Iraq suggests that Iraq was complying with its obligations at the time it was invaded. The country had been thrown open for inspection and a report, which may turn out to be one of the few truthful documents circulating at the time, was issued by the Iraqis attesting to their compliance. But by then, it was too late. Nothing could loosen Bush’s viselike grip on his victims.


Novak and his cohort are taking pains to lower the threshold of what constitutes WMD, so that when the administration plants or uncovers a couple of dozen drums of inactive, old goop, minus the necessary dispersing systems, “Boobus Americanus” will easily accept these as the real reason for the war. Unless told by their “truthful” leaders, Americans have little need to apprise themselves of anything, not least that many military experts don’t even consider weapons other than nuclear to be WMD. Or that the few pitiable manned and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) found in Iraq have a range that would make getting to Tel-Aviv the stuff of an Arabian Nights miracle. A flying carpet was more likely to reach an American metropolis than an Iraqi UAV.


The justification of last resort now animating the nation, thanks to the propagandists, is counteracted by the Future of Freedom Foundation’s Sheldon Richman: “There is no warrant in the U.S. Constitution for the president of the United States to launch a war in order to liberate people from a brutal government.” Unless, of course, you join liberals in adopting the odious doctrine of a “living Constitution,” as conservatives have clearly done.


Surprisingly, National Review’s editors admit that the presence of WMD in Iraq was “the decisive argument in the pre-war debate.” Trying in vain to balance on the wobbly WMD scaffolding they helped erect prior to the war, even expressing some embarrassment over the president’s reflexive ongoing lies about having already located WMD (at the very same time the few remaining honest experts were admitting that the two burned-out trucks were not where the Iraqi Einsatzgrüppen plotted mayhem, Bush was telling the troops that these were without a doubt “mobile biological weapons facilities,” a lie he repeated to Vladimir Putin), NR at least rejects as bogus the belated humanitarian reasons for the war.



June 25, 2003

* Image credit, screen pic

CATEGORIES: Anti-War, Constitution, Iraq, Logic & Reason, Media, Neoconservatism, Reason, War, WMD