The price of being wrong

Posted: Oct 31, 2003 12:00 AM

The Left's criticism of President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq makes no sense historically, strategically or morally.

Democrats like John Kerry insist that the president has done everything wrong since Congress voted to authorize war (Kerry's vote in the affirmative has dogged his campaign for the nomination of a dovish party). All of the Democratic candidates insist that Bush should not have taken the nation to war without the full participation of the United Nations.

What they never address is this: President Bush sought the support and participation of the United Nations, returning again and again to that body virtually begging it to uphold its own resolutions. France, Germany and sometimes Russia -- nations that were only too happy to trade with Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- declined to agree. Without France's OK, the U.N. Security Council could not pass a final resolution endorsing the use of force. If Kerry or Dean or Sharpton had been president at the time, would they have permitted France to dictate U.S. foreign policy?

The answer may be yes, if the Clinton administration is any guide. As Rich Lowry reminds us in "Legacy," the Clinton administration sought European support for a strong stand against Serbia in 1993. The Europeans balked. Clinton backed down. The resulting massacres took the lives of tens of thousands.

Have the enthusiasts for United Nations action noticed that the U.N. has pulled out of Baghdad at the first sign of trouble?

Democrats further argue that our failure to find weapons of mass destruction proves that the war was illegitimate. In fact, not satisfied to say that Bush erred, they insist -- against logic -- that Bush purposely deceived the world about the presence of the WMDs so as to drag us into an unnecessary war.

Have they thought this through? In the first place, Bush was hardly alone in believing Iraq possessed WMDs. All of the Democratic candidates thought so, too. As did the U.N., the British, the French (yes, the French should know, they built Saddam's first reactor back in 1981), the Russians and even Scott Ritter. He certainly possessed them in the past, and used them on the Kurds and the Iranians. And why would Bush lie about something that would so rapidly be revealed?

But there is another question, as well. Suppose it turns out that Bush acted on the basis of bad intelligence. We can judge a decisionmaker only on the basis of what was known at the time. A good president will weigh the consequences of being wrong in both directions. If we did not act, and Saddam was on the verge of getting nuclear weapons that he in turn shared with terrorists, hundreds of thousands might have died. If we did act, and it turned out that Saddam was less threatening to other nations than suspected, then what?

We're seeing what. A vicious dictator who supported terrorism in the region and tortured and starved his own people on a truly gruesome scale has been deposed. Did massive numbers of innocent Iraqis die? No. In fact, as Walter Russell Mead has pointed out, continuing the sanctions for one more year would have killed more Iraqi civilians than the war did.

According to UNICEF, Saddam's response to sanctions was to permit 5,000 Iraqi children under the age of five to die each month (60,000 per year) so that he could purchase military equipment and palaces. The number of Iraqi civilian deaths in the recent conflict was estimated at 3,240 by The Associated Press.

Further, it could well be argued that we have done the Iraqi people a huge service. We have liberated them and are now showering them with new schools, hospitals, electrical grids and fresh drinking water. There are plenty of countries around the world that would welcome a U.S. invasion.

It's true that we have reasons beyond humanitarianism for doing this. But it remains a mystery that the Democrats cannot see the advantages to us. We are creating in Iraq an open, market-oriented, pro-Western (we hope) country in the heart of darkness that is the modern Middle East. This is a giant step toward draining the swamp that generates homicidal jihadis. It demonstrates strategic thinking on Bush's part.

But the Democrats prefer endless talk, passivity and truckling to "our allies."