Remember the Cassandras
9/13/2002 12:00:00 AM - Mona Charen
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was asked, following
President Bush's address to the United Nations, whether he thought Bush had
made the case for pre-emptive action against Iraq. Daschle allowed that each
time the president addresses the matter, he strengthens the case. Still,
Daschle insisted, there remain unanswered questions. These are: 1) what
would be the response of the "international community" and 2) how would the
war against Iraq affect the war against terrorism?
Democrats worry a lot about the "international community." They
believe that the views of world leaders, elected and unelected, carry more
moral weight than those of Americans. And their tendency is to seek not just
the advice of "allies" but their permission for American action. Who can
forget the spectacle of Secretary of State Warren Christopher scurrying from
one European capital to another "consulting" about Bosnia and being rebuffed
as often as not? Or the memory of the same fellow cooling his heels outside
Syrian dictator Assad's office, hoping for an interview.
What Democrats almost never seem to grasp is that steadfast
American leadership can affect world opinion. Just one recent example: After
the latest round of Palestinian terror and Israeli response, rumors
circulated that President Bush might call for the replacement of Arafat. Any
number of voices were raised in opposition, arguing that Arafat was the
legitimate leader or at least the devil we know, and it was no business of
the United States to tell others whom to choose. Bush did it anyway. And
within a few weeks, European foreign ministers and even some Arab leaders
were announcing that Arafat's day had passed.
Daschle's second objection has been voiced by Brent Scowcroft
and other war-wary former officials. But, as the president carefully spelled
out, far from distracting us from the war on terror, dealing with Iraq is an
urgent and essential part of the war on terror. With Iraqi cooperation, the
worldwide terror network can inflict catastrophic damage on us. Mere
retaliation is an empty threat. As Vice President Cheney put it, "Who
launched the anthrax attacks?" We don't know, and that's the point.
Deterrence made sense against an enemy in possession of thousands of ICBMs.
It does not make sense against an ally of terrorists cooking up vats of
poison in the desert.
History is replete with examples of stupid prewar boasts: North
and South in the U.S. civil war predicted rapid victory. Most of the nations
who fought World War I imagined the war would be over in a few weeks. But it
is also possible to be overly pessimistic about what war can achieve.
Remember the Cassandras who predicted disaster before the Gulf
War? "We stand on the brink of catastrophe," said Sen. Paul Wellstone,
D-Minn. "An effort to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait would, according to
estimates, cost the lives of 20,000 American soldiers," reported Sen.
Claiborne Pell, D-R.I. "If war comes, Iraq's fondest hope is that the United
States will commit substantial ground forces to frontal assaults, thus
giving Iraq a chance to inflict heavy casualties," cautioned Sen. Sam Nunn,
Others were certain that by attacking Iraq we'd ignite a fuse
that would cause the entire Arab world to take up arms against us. Evans and
Novak wrote, "One very high official told us that every Arab head of state
except Saudi King Fahd (and the tiny Gulf states) ... agrees that that if a
single Iraqi soldier is killed by an American, it would be taken as 'an
aggressive act against us.'"
In the event, members of the vaunted Republican Guard were
surrendering to CNN crews, and the war was a walkover. But even if the next
war is not, it is still worth fighting. Churchill famously said that the
Second World War was the "avoidable war." If resolute action had been taken
against Hitler earlier, millions of lives would have been spared.
Churchill's words are particularly apposite now:
"If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win
without bloodshed. If you will not fight when your victory will be sure and
not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with
all the odds against you and only a precarious chance for survival. There
may be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no chance of
victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves."