Three rejoinders to malign notions about Iraq

Posted: Mar 30, 2006 12:05 AM

Margaret Thatcher, Britain's Reagan-era prime minister, noted that "nothing is more obstinate than a fashionable consensus."

Today's fashionable consensus about Iraq includes these postulates:

The U.S. hungered for war in Iraq, lied to the world in its justifications to remove Saddam, unnecessarily risked American lives, has proved incompetent following direct hostilities, can neither achieve military victory nor establish democracy, has no business being there - or in the fight anywhere - and should withdraw.

In response to such malign notions, three rejoinders - condensed for presentation here:

President Bush, in a March 21 press conference - answering a question from longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas, "Why did you really want to go to war?":

"To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen - in all due respect. No president wants war. It's just not true.

"My attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. When we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people.

"Our foreign policy changed on that day. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life. And I'm never going to forget it. And I'm never going to forget the vow I made to the American people, that we will do everything in our power to protect our people. Part of that meant to make sure that we didn't allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy, and that's why I went into Iraq.

"That's where Afghanistan provided safe haven for al-Qaida. That's where they trained, that's where they plotted, that's where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans. I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the U.N. Security Council. That's why it was important to pass Resolution 1441, which was unanimously passed.

"And the world said, 'Disarm. Disclose or face serious consequences.' And therefore, we worked with the world. We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did. And the world is safer for it."

Vice President Dick Cheney, March 7:

"Over the last several decades, Americans have seen how the terrorists pursue their objectives. Simply stated, they would hit us, but we would not hit back hard enough.

"In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 Americans, and afterward U.S. forces withdrew from Beirut. In 1993 we had the killing of American soldiers in Mogadishu and the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. Then came the attack on the Saudi National Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995, the killings at Khobar Towers in 1996, the attack on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and, of course, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

"With each attack, the terrorists grew more confident in their belief that they could strike America without paying a price, and, indeed, believing that if they killed enough Americans, they could change American policy.

"So they continued to wage those attacks - making the world less safe and eventually striking the United States in our homeland on September 11th. And we've seen the work of terrorists in many attacks since 9/11 in Jerusalem, Riyadh, Casablanca, Istanbul, Karachi, Mombasa, Bali, Jakarta, Najaf, Baghdad, London and Madrid. The terrorists have declared war on the civilized world. And America will lead the civilized world to victory."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, March 21:

"Here, in its most pure form, is a struggle between democracy and violence.

"We must reject the thought that somehow we are the authors of our own distress, that if only we altered this decision or that, the extremism would fade away. The only way to win is to recognize this phenomenon is a global ideology, to see all areas in which it operates as linked, and to defeat it by values and ideas set in opposition to those of the terrorists.

"The fundamental point: 'We' is not the West. 'We' are as much Muslim as Christian or Jew or Hindu. 'We' are those who believe in religious tolerance, openness to others, to democracy, liberty, and human rights administered by secular courts.

"This is not a clash between civilizations. It is a clash about civilization. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace and see opportunity in the modern world and those who reject its existence; between optimism and hope on the one hand, and pessimism and fear on the other.

"(The terrorists) know that if they can succeed either in Iraq or Afghanistan, or indeed in Lebanon or anywhere else wanting to go the democratic route, then the choice of a modern democratic future for the Arab or Muslim world is dealt a potentially mortal blow. Likewise if they fail, and those countries become democracies and make progress and, in the case of Iraq, prosper rapidly, then not merely is that a blow against their whole value system but it is the most effective message possible against their wretched propaganda about America, the West, the rest of the world.

"That to me is the painful irony of what is happening. They have so much clearer a sense of what is at stake. They play our own media with a shrewdness that would be the envy of many a political party. Every act of carnage adds to the death toll. But somehow it serves to indicate our responsibility for disorder rather than the act of wickedness that causes it. For us, so much of our opinion believes that what was done in Iraq in 2003 was so wrong that it is reluctant to accept what is plainly right now.

"What happens in Iraq or Afghanistan today is not just crucial for the people in those countries or even in those regions, but for our security here and round the world. It is a cause that has none of the debatable nature of the decisions to go for regime change. It is an entirely noble one - to help people in need of our help in pursuit of liberty - and a self-interested one, since in their salvation lies our own security."