A Cautious Man
March 19, 2004
 
The Lies That Leave You Nothing But Lost and Brokenhearted
Two items from today's papers. First, the New York Times carries a guest column by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (sorry, the link requires registration). In it, he provides the current rationale for the war which started one year ago today:
Today, in a world of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and states that sponsor the former and pursue the latter, defending freedom means we must confront dangers before it is too late. In Iraq, for 12 years, through 17 United Nations Security Council resolutions, the world gave Saddam Hussein every opportunity to avoid war. He was being held to a simple standard: live up to your agreement at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war; disarm and prove you have done so. Instead of disarming — as Kazakhstan, South Africa and Ukraine did, and as Libya is doing today — Saddam Hussein chose deception and defiance.

Repeatedly, he rejected those resolutions and he systematically deceived United Nations inspectors about his weapons and his intent. The world knew his record: he used chemical weapons against Iran and his own citizens; he invaded Iran and Kuwait; he launched ballistic missiles at Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; and his troops repeatedly fired on American and British aircraft patrolling the no-flight zones.

Recognizing the threat, in September 2002 President Bush went to the United Nations, which gave Iraq still another "final opportunity" to disarm and to prove it had done so. The next month the president went to Congress, which voted to support the use of force if Iraq did not.

And, when Saddam Hussein passed up that final opportunity, he was given a last chance to avoid war: 48 hours to leave the country. Only then, after every peaceful option had been exhausted, did the president and our coalition partners order the liberation of Iraq.
I do not know if by this he means the threat was "imminent". From reading this, it appears that the reason we went to war was because Saddam Hussein neither left town, nor proved to the satisfaction of the United States that he had disarmed. The claims made one year ago, that Iraq actually had WMD that they were poised to use, are slowly being obscured by today's after-the-fact rationales. In this regard, a recent article provided by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace details five "themes" in the Administration's backing away from its prior claims, and is worth reading (heads-up on the article was provided by "The War in Context").

As I noted yesterday, the fact that inspectors were in Iraq until we told them to get out, is something which the Administration would prefer that the public forget. But really, is it true that "every peaceful option had been exhausted"? Whether the threat was "imminent", "immediate", "gathering", or whatever, can we honestly say that our leaders chose the wisest course of action? The real question is not, "Are we better off without Saddam?" Instead, the real question should be, "Was this the right way to reach our goal?"

The second item in this morning's papers: a full page of photographs of the members of the military from my state, who lost their lives in the past year in Iraq. Included is a photo of a young man from my area, Army Specialist Simeon Hunte, a husband and father who was killed last fall, long after "Mission Accomplished". Looking at his face, and all the other faces, I think it's legitimate to question whether the Administration really considered the cost of the course of action they chose.

In the upcoming election, the armchair warriors will continue to speak of the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers such as Specialist Hunte, as if the fact of their deaths justifies the decision to plunge into war. In that discussion, we should keep in mind that those sacrifices are, in fact, a reason to question the decision-makers and demand accountability. As my favorite contemporary philospher has put it (in a statement I've quoted before):
"The question of whether we were misled in the war with Iraq is neither a liberal or conservative question or Democratic or Republican question. It's an American question. And protecting the democracy we ask our sons and daughters to die for is our responsibility and it's our trust. And demanding accountability is our job as citizens. That's the American way so that truth will out."

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