Just to try and tidy up my thoughts on the recent debate over Iraq evidence:
1. Before the war, there was excellent indirect evidence that Saddam Hussein posed a long term threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf.
2. It would have been irresponsible for Bush, or anyone else, to ignore this threat. There were lots of different ways in which the threat might have been addressed, but unless you take the threat seriously, I can't take you seriously.
3. Nothing has surfaced since the war that should change our minds about this. Even if Iraq's capabilities were more degraded than we guessed, Saddam Hussein nevertheless retained an obvious interest in someday dominating the region with nuclear weapons.
4. Before the war, there was precious little evidence that Saddam Hussein posed an immediate, or even medium term, threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf.
5. Nothing has surfaced since the war that should change our minds about this.
6. The failure to discover WMD stockpiles or capabilities has the following significance: It provides excellent evidence that the Bush admin lied repeatedly and/or deluded itself about the immediate risk Saddam Hussein posed.
7. Success, however improbable at this point, in the search for significant WMD stockpiles would have the following significance: It would reset the debate to about March, at which time many sensible people rejected the war even though they thought that Saddam Hussein did have serious nuclear ambitions. Finding WMD now would not vindicate the Bush admin's approach. The whole debate was about whether that approach was necessary to deal with WMD presumed to be in Iraq.
8. Before the war, there was precious little evidence of significant ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
9. Nothing has surfaced since the war that should change our minds about this.
10. This has enormous significance for our assessment of the truthfulness of the Bush admin about the reasons its waged a major war.
11. Before the war, there was unimpeachable evidence that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, with no regard for human life.
12. Nothing has surfaced since the war that should change our minds about this.
13. Further confirmation of Saddam Hussein's brutality has the following significance:
a) It means that little of value was lost when his regime was toppled - except security of a sort (not security against torture, or injustice, but better than what Iraq is - I hope temporarily - now experiencing).
b) It means that we ought to bear in mind that Iraq would have been awful in the absense of war, as well. That is, the current suffering of the people of Iraq needs to be weighed in the balance, but part of the balance is a judgement about what life would have been like for them in the absense of the war.
d) It does NOT mean that the people of Iraq have been liberated. It does NOT provide retrospective vindication for the war. Retrospective vindication for the war depends on a judgement as to whether the war stood a plausible chance of delivering the people of Iraq from misery. You can't cite humanitarian concerns as a basis for intervention unless - at a minimum - it's plausible to think that your strategy might address those concerns. Only success on the ground in Iraq now can vindicate the U.S.'s behaviour: pointing to further evidence of Saddam Hussein's evil won't cut it here.
d) It does provide us with further evidence, though none is needed, of the character of a man who was once a U.S. ally. Until the admin comes to terms with this, and makes an honest accounting for its past alliances, it has no right to point to these abuses. This means more than simply admitting past mistakes. It means attempting to avoid current ones: They can start to prove they're serious by cutting Turkmenistan loose.
14. The clear evidence that most of the major players in the Bush admin lied repeatedly in the buildup to war has the following significance:
a) It should not change our assessment of long or short term risk. It does not relieve us, in the anti-war movement, of the responsibility of explaining how we would have dealt with the long-term threat posed by Saddam Hussein to the region.
b) It does mean that this country went to war after being told lies by its own government. It does justify cynicism about the motives and claims of every single member of the admin for as long as they're around.
I said yesterday that Bush lied. That's probably not the right way to frame it. Bush may well be a liar. But he appears so stupid, so gullible, so cut off, so indifferent to outside sources of information, that it's quite possible he meant what he said. His crime may be gross negligence, rather than lying. One quite widespread, but nonelessless curious, convention we have is to punish lying (of a certain sort - the kind easily caught and incompetently performed) far more brutally than gross negligence. I wish that this whole episode convinced people to reject the convention, but if Reagan couldn't convince people to drop it, I doubt anything can.