President Bush declared this week that America is safer today because we toppled Saddam. I think this is absurd. We are not safer today because we toppled Saddam, or at least I don't think we are.
Let me back up a bit.
Whenever I defend the invasion of Iraq or - gasp - say that I still think it was a good idea, I get a torrent of e-mail from readers saying that I'm a hack-mouthpiece-shill who parrots the administration's talking points. And these are among the friendlier anti-Bush readers. The problem - for me - is that I also saw the case for the invasion of Iraq slightly differently than Bush did.
In part because the media insisted that the White House give "one reason" - in Tim Russert's words - to invade Saddam, the administration focused on the WMD threat, which everybody agreed was real, by the way. By everybody, I mean pretty much everyone except Scott Ritter, Janeane Garofalo and Michael Moore. Jacques Chirac, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry, Bill Clinton: They all believed the WMD threat was real.
The only disagreement was over what tactics were the best to deal with the problem. Indeed, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz got in hot water in May of last year because he told Vanity Fair that the administration settled on the WMD issue for bureaucratic reasons. Bush critics denounced this as a sign the administration was cooking the intelligence books or . something. (Coherence from Bush critics back then was a lot to ask for). But all Wolfowitz meant - as demonstrated by a full transcript of the interview - was that the there were disagreements over all the other rationales for toppling Saddam. But everyone could agree that Saddam's WMD threat was real and serious.
And while I always thought the WMD problem was a major factor, as a journalist I never saw any reason to refine my rationale for going to war down to a bureaucratically or politically convenient ?er-Reason.
How many important decisions do you make in your life that boil down to a single reason? You don't buy a house just because it's near a good school. You also look at the cost, the condition, the size. You ask the seller if the basement foosball table conveys or whether the owners are taking it. And so on. In other words you weigh a bunch of factors and you make decision based upon the totality of variables. It's a real luxury to face decisions where one factor outweighs all others, but such situations are rare and, more important, such decisions are easy.