About war, Winston Churchill said, "Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."
Certainly, this wisdom is proving true in Afghanistan. We aren't sure about Osama bin Laden and haven't brought to justice most of his lieutenants. Al-Qaeda's basic infrastructure and financial network appear to be frustrated but essentially intact.
Afghanistan is a mess and almost certainly will require more U.S. troops and a longer, larger commitment to nation-building lest the Taliban come back. Al-Qaeda cells fester like a cancer inside Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Egypt, awaiting the day they can destabilize these regimes and gain access to "Islamic Nukes" or chemical and biological weapons. And, al-Qaeda cells infect Kurdish safe areas of Iraq hoping a U.S. invasion will splinter the nation and give them a chance to turn the country into another Afghanistan or at least a Kurdish state on Turkey's border.
In addition to these dangers, the administration believes Saddam Hussein is on the verge of acquiring weapons of mass destruction and using them against us. Outside the White House complex, there is some doubt on this score. I am not convinced and I do not believe the majority of Americans are yet convinced that it is wise or prudent to divert resources away from the difficult struggle against the fanatical Islamic Jihadists and the task of rebuilding Afghanistan.
Despite his rhetoric in the 1930s, Churchill strongly believed in diplomacy before putting anyone in harm's way. I believe the American people, too, will only support an invasion of Iraq if they are convinced Saddam Hussein is an imminent threat and there is no other option.
If I were sitting alone with the president and vice president, I would put it this way: Would we be safer a year from now if (1) Saddam Hussein were gone from power but Osama bin Laden was still at large and his al-Qaeda infrastructure still intact? Or would we be better off if (2) Saddam Hussein remained in power with U.N. inspectors back in Iraq and bin Laden and his lieutenants were in their graves with certainty or at least brought to justice?
I am inclined to say the latter but the Bush administration, obviously, believes the former. Since Americans like me who instinctively hold this point of view are not privy to the secret intelligence data, I would strongly urge the president to reveal as much hard evidence as he can to justify his point of view and to show Congress behind closed doors what cannot be made public.
Next I would ask: What leads the administration to believe Hussein would be irrational or crazy enough to use a weapon of mass destruction against us? After former Secretary of State James Baker warned him of the gravest possible consequences were he to use weapons of mass destruction in the Gulf War, he dared not use them, even after he had used chemical weapons against Iran just a few years earlier.
The third set of questions is more difficult to answer but no less important because it requires us to think about the long-run implications of taking action on the basis of fear rather than hard evidence: If there is a lack of sufficient hard evidence to conclude that Saddam has his finger on the trigger of a weapon of mass destruction, or at least is taking active steps to use one in the near future, are we prepared to assert the moral and legal authority to invade and conquer Iraq preemptively because we fear Hussein might use a weapon of mass destruction against us if he were able to acquire one? Would the same apply, say, to Pakistan or Iran if we fear the current regimes might fall and Taliban-like regimes take their place? What is the evidence that should cause us to fear Iraq more than Pakistan or Iran in this regard?
The fourth set of questions go to the very heart of the danger of using preemption as a justification for war: Does the United States now claim the legal and moral authority to attack any other country preemptively because we fear that country might attack us in the future if it acquired the weapons to do so? Do we reserve the right to launch a preemptive war exclusively for ourselves or might other nations, such as India, Pakistan or China, be justified in taking similar action on the basis of their fears of other nations?
Based upon the hard evidence I have seen, I do not believe the administration has yet made a compelling case for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. There is no doubt in my mind we could win such a war and dispose of Saddam Hussein. The question that continues to nag, however, is "what then?" I know the administration sincerely believes that we can bring about freedom and democracy between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers once Saddam Hussein is gone. My last question is, beyond wishful thinking, where is the concrete plan, the detailed vision, of how we intend to build a free and democratic Iraq, notwithstanding the "unforeseeable and uncontrollable events" of which Churchill warned?