Those who read my columns last year know that I was an outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq. It was not a stance that I came to lightly, nor one that I refused to re-evaluate every so often. Recently, I forced myself to once again revisit the case I made one year ago. I am somewhat relieved and satisfied that I do not now regret my support for the war, but I must admit it was a grueling process that forced me to allow the possibility that I was wrong and supported an unjust war. After my self-reflection, I can say with confidence that I do not believe I was wrong, and that the Iraq war was in fact just.
I began by breaking down my case for war into two specific bullet points, and a third more general one. The first major issue is whether or not Iraq was a threat to America's national securitynamely, the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program that Saddam Hussein was building. Before the war, I believed very strongly that Saddam was actively pursuing WMD capabilities that the United States and the rest of the free world could not afford to allow. I anticipated that after the war, coalition forces would find his weapons rather quickly. I must admit I was and still am quite surprised that only hints of weapons (chemical vials, French missiles built in 2003), and no "smoking guns" have been found, but I do still believe that they are there and will be found. My justification for this is simply that Saddam had been subjected to U.N. weapons inspectors on and off for two decades. During that time, he was able to build up significant weaponry, including a nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons grade nuclear material, under the noses of those inspectors. Saddam became an expert at hiding his weapons. His weapons do exist, and they will be found.
What if Saddam didn't actually have weapons as of March 2003 when the war began? What if he had actually destroyed his weapons for fear of more international sanctions if the UN inspectors found them? Quite a legitimate question, but I believe it doesn't matter. I was sincerely convinced that Saddam Hussein would never give up his quest for WMD and regional domination. If Saddam's weapons program was halted last spring, it was because a quarter of a million American and British service men and women were stationed at his borders waiting for the signal to invade. If this is the only type of successful deterrent save war, then I choose war. Such a method is irrational and economically and logistically impossible. Saddam had to be eliminated not only because of the weapons he may or may not have had on the eve of war, but more so because of the weapons he was planning to build in the future, no matter the consequences. If Saddam Hussein was not an immediate threat last year, then he would have been in five years. Either way, it was essential to our national security to remove him.
The second major issue is that of human rights. Did Saddam's horrendous human rights violations warrant military action? As horrible as they are, did they alone warrant action, without a direct security threat to America? Again, tough questions. The issue of using military force to stop a human rights disaster is a complex one, but in general, the international community throughout history has tended to agree that action is the right choice in extreme situations; I must agree. Saddam Hussein's Iraq was as bad a human rights disaster as we have witnessed in a long time. It warranted action. For those who complain that the current situation in Iraq is worse than it was under Saddam, I say be reasonable. It is unreasonable to expect immediate recovery from a warany warand it is also unreasonable to expect Saddam's influence to disappear immediately. However, I would trade two years of shaky water supplies and traffic jams for a free, democratic Iraq in five years.
The more general issue that I considered is one that stretches much farther than the borders of Iraq. America and the free world have been confronted with a disease in the form of dictators, Islamic terrorism, and unchecked weapons proliferation in the hands of madmen. No one is naïve enough to say that this disease arrived on September 11, 2001, nor that poor decisions in past American foreign policy have not influenced it. But the truth is that this disease is here now and must be dealt with now. The likes of Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-Il, Hafez Assad, Abdullah, and Yasser Arafat must not be tolerated. To let Saddam Hussein continue to rule in the face of international objection would have been to admit defeat in the face of the disease. I do not suggest attacking Syria or North Korea next week, but they should know that the option exists.
I do not deny that the choice of war had other political and economic origins, nor do I deny that the public was severely misled in many areas leading up to war. With what I have seen since the war ended, there are many things I would have preferred done differently, but I can honestly say that given the current result and future prospects, my decision to support the war stands firm.