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October 12, 2003
The Post gets it

The Washington Post proves that it is the leading voice in American politics in a well-written, thoughtful analysis of the Iraq front of the war on terror.

The debate over intervention was fraught precisely because many people understood that Saddam Hussein was not an imminent danger. We argued nonetheless that the real risk lay in allowing him to defy repeated U.N. disarmament orders, including Resolution 1441, the "final opportunity" approved by unanimous Security Council vote.

As noted endlessly in the blogosphere, and acknowledged in the Post's editorial in a more passive way, the Bush administration never argued that Saddam represented an "imminent" threat. In fact, in Bush's State of the Union speech earlier this year, and in the speech he delivered to the UN, he argued that the United States and the civilized world could not afford to wait until the threat was imminent. That was the whole "preemption" controversy. Preemption doesn't apply to imminent threats. Preemption is the policy to remove threats before they become imminent.

Though it pokes holes in U.S. intelligence and our assumptions, Mr. Kay's report contains much to substantiate this reasoning. Saddam Hussein, the report claims, never abandoned his intention to produce biological, chemical and nuclear arms -- and he was aggressively defying Resolution 1441. He also was successfully deceiving U.N. inspectors. They failed to discover multiple programs for developing illegal long-range missiles as well as a clandestine network of biological laboratories, among other things. From a legal standpoint, the report shows that Iraq should have been subject to the "serious consequences" specified by Resolution 1441 in the event of noncompliance. More important, it strongly suggests that in the absence of intervention Iraq eventually would have shaken off the U.N. inspectors and sanctions, allowing Saddam Hussein to follow through on his intentions. He would have been able to renew his attempt to dominate the region and its oil supplies, while deterring the United States with the threat of missiles topped with biological warheads. In acting to enforce the U.N. resolution, the United States eliminated a real, if not "imminent," threat, while ensuring that future Security Council ultimatums carry some weight.

In the 1930s, before we had a United Nations, the League of Nations attempted to fill the same role, which was to discourage the use of force and to resolve international disputes through diplomacy. However, it refused to enforce any of its resolutions. When Italy invaded Ethiopia, and later when Japan invaded China, the League passed resolution after resolution demanding the withdrawal of invading forces, but refused to act on any of these resolutions. Because the League consisted mainly of Western democracies, Mussolini and Hitler became convinced that the Western democratic model was decadent and would not survive against Fascism or Communism, and certainly would not fight to save themselves. Franco's coup in Spain, assisted by both Mussolini and Hitler, assured them of this.

The danger of the UN is that a lack of action is worse than not having the organization at all. Had we allowed Saddam to outlast the now-discredited "inspection" process and re-arm, it would have encouraged other despots in the region and elsewhere to do the exact same thing. Worse, it would have underscored the notion that Western democracies can be bullied into submission, which would have exponentially increased our risk of terrorist attack for any number of crackpot causes. History teaches us that peace can only be achieved through strength and vigilance, not appeasement and retreat. We've tried that and it cost the world almost 50 million dead in the middle of the last century.

Read the rest of the editorial; it's balanced, contains very fair criticisms of the Bush administration, and some good suggestions for moving forward.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 12, 2003 10:01 AM

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