Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

THE CASE FOR WAR....Over at NRO, Victor Davis Hanson tries manfully to explain why a "careful postbellum anatomy" of the lack of WMD in Iraq actually makes the case for war even stronger than it was before:

The threat of WMDs may have been the centerpiece of the administration's arguments to go to war, but for most of us, there were plenty of other and far more important reasons for prompt action now. Let us for the nth time recite them.

You can click the link if you want to read either the recitation or the full list of eight bullet points on why the war was justified.

But there's really no reason to bother, because Hanson, like virtually all war supporters, simply refuses to grapple with the fundamental issue here: there may indeed have been "plenty of other" reasons besides WMD for going to war. And they might have been good ones. But that doesn't change the fact that they were mere trifles in the administration's public case.

According to the director of the CIA, his WMD estimates were always carefully caveated and he never advised the president that Iraq posed a serious threat. Despite that, whether for bureaucratic reasons or otherwise, the administration's case for war was built on an absolute certainty that Saddam Hussein had dangerous stockpiles of WMD that posed an urgent and serious threat to the security of the United States.

In a democracy that's simply not acceptable. Regardless of whether history judges the war kindly, the leader of a democracy must be honest about his reasons for going to war. If those honest reasons are not enough to convince his fellow citizens, then the war does not get fought.

War supporters need to face up to this squarely and provide an honest answer to this question: In order to gain public approval, is it OK for the president of the United States to massively misrepresent a foreign threat merely because he believes that we ought to fight a war?

And if their answer is yes, are they willing to provide the same carte blanche to future presidents, even if they are whipping up support for a war they don't happen to like so well?

It is one thing for conservative thinkers to maintain that the Iraq war was a good thing. It is quite another to tacitly or in Hanson's case, openly approve the idea that there is nothing wrong with democratic governments deceiving their citizens about the reasons for war as long as it's a war they like. Are any of them ever going to face up to this?

UPDATE: For what it's worth, I should mention that I'm sincere when I say that all those other reasons for war "might have been good ones." For new readers or for longtime readers who think I should be reminded occasionally about my mistakes I myself wrote about those reasons last February in a post explaining why I supported the war. After a further month of fruitless UN inspections and a realization that no one in the administration was really serious about democracy promotion, I changed my mind here.

Kevin Drum 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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