How much certainty is requisite as a basis for action depends in part on the consequences of being wrong. If, Rumsfeld says, the Iraqi regime had been less wicked, or if it had been in pursuit of the military equivalent of ``a BB gun,'' the United States, even in the post-Sept. 11 environment, could have afforded to give the regime the benefit of more doubts. And could have been more relaxed about classifying matters as ``doubts.''
The administration's critics would be more credible if they had a few doubts of their own concerning their own judgments, such as their reiterated insistence that only mendacity can explain the failure, so far, to find weapons of mass destruction. After all, they say, Rumsfeld, the president and Secretary of State Colin Powell repeatedly asserted that Iraq's weapons programs posed an ``imminent'' threat.
Such assertions by those three officials may have numbered ... zero. Rumsfeld is more bemused than angered, and certainly not shocked, that critics profess themselves shocked and angered because he, Powell and the president supposedly said, repeatedly, something that none of them actually ever said. At least, says a Rumsfeld aide, an electronic search finds not a single instance of them using the argument that Iraq posed an ``imminent'' WMD threat to the United States.
The president said Iraq posed a ``grave and gathering danger'' rather than the familiar locution ``clear and present danger'' because it is reckless to wait until a terrorist danger is present or imminent. In interviews and press briefings before the war, Rumsfeld, like other administration officials, was repeatedly asked to apply the word ``imminent'' to the Iraqi threat, and he repeatedly did not. Today, as then, he stresses the problem of knowing when a threat is imminent: When were the Sept. 11 attacks imminent? ``A week before, a month before, a year before, an hour before?''
The remarkable souring of political argument in 2003 continues as some Democrats, with their calculated extravagance, insist there was ``no plan'' for postwar Iraq. But if that were so, how is it that we have gone, in just six months, from zero to 85,000 Iraqis participating in providing security? And what was all that work done with the World Food Program before the war?
Critics correctly fault the mistaken certitude of some of the administration's prewar pronouncements. But critics indicting the administration not merely for mistakes but for meretriciousness would do well to avoid that in their indictments.