On Feb. 23, as the United Nations was debating whether it should offer an 18th resolution saying that it was really serious that Iraq must disarm, The New York Times had the courage, the chutzpah, the cajones, to demand the one thing we really need: more debate.
In a huge editorial, taking up the space of three normal editorials, The New York Times congratulated itself for having the courage to say what few else would. "The debate over Iraq has exhausted everybody. … There's nothing less satisfying than calling for still more discussion," the Times solemnly declared. "But that's right where this page is. More discussion is the only road that will get the world to the right outcome -concerted effort by a wide coalition of nations to force Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction. We need another debate. Another struggle to make this the United Nations' leadership moment."
In a sense, the Times is to be congratulated. At least, it believes we need "another debate" and that the last debate was exhausting. Most opponents of war contend that we haven't even had a debate at all.
Just this week I debated Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, on CNN.
It was our third or fourth appearance together on Wolf Blitzer's noontime program, "Showdown Iraq." Vanden Heuvel bemoaned the U.S. media as "strikingly conservative" because it has failed to provide the American people with a "full and robust" debate.
Across the pond, John Le Carré, the dyspeptic British novelist, thundered in The Times of London, that "America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War."
He went on: "The combination of compliant U.S. media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press."
It is only natural for people on the losing side of an argument to insist that more argument is needed. Whenever I bring my dog Cosmo to the vet, he gives me a look that I could swear says, "Shouldn't we discuss this a bit more?" Losers in the courtroom want one more chance to persuade the judge before the gavel comes down. Only the convicted man is interested in an appeal.
So in this sense, I don't begrudge opponents of war who claim that we haven't had a "full and honest" debate about a war with Iraq. After all, there's every reason to believe that there will be a war no matter what the U.N. or the anti-war folks say. That's the only conclusion of President Bush's long overdue speech outlining his plan for democratizing Iraq. But let's be clear about something: This is quite plausibly the most debated war in human history.
Sure, the Hundred Years War might have a leg up on this one. But keep in mind that the Internet and satellite television didn't exist in the 14th century. Every single day, in nations across the globe, there are debates on television over Iraq. C-Span and radio callers and their equivalents in foreign lands have raised every objection and justification for war. The Web buzzes with blogs, `zines, chat rooms and news sites hashing out every detail for and against war.
Print magazines, newspapers and books have been written, pro and con. The most powerful newspaper in America, The New York Times, has pushed against war, and perhaps the second most powerful paper, The Washington Post, has pushed back. Congressmen have been holding town hall meetings, and universities have assigned their students papers on everything from the Baath Party to the U.N. Security Council. "Crossfire," "Hardball," "Hannity and Colmes" have had everybody on their shows more than once. Any single person interested in the subject has more access to information about Iraq than at any other time in human history.
And this has been going on for a long time -four presidential terms (one elder Bush, two Clinton, one younger Bush). Since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the United States has debated, in the United Nations and in community centers, what to do about Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
When Hussein ordered the assassination of George H.W. Bush, war was debated.
In 1998, President Clinton told Saddam he had "one last chance" to cooperate with inspectors. That was debated. When Saddam failed to comply, we bombed him for days. That was debated. The Democrats crafted a policy of "regime change." That was debated. Sanctions, assassination, exile, deterrence, containment, imperialism: It's all been hashed out a million times.
Indeed, if you think there's not enough information on the subject, either you haven't been paying attention or you didn't win the argument. Neither of these justify more, exhausting, debate.