The Magazine

The Imminent War

From the March 17, 2003 issue: Finally, Saddam Hussein will be forced off the world's stage.

Mar 17, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 26 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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"There is an alternative: to open our eyes, to do more than sit and wait for the next crisis, and to shift fundamentally the direction of U.S. policy toward Saddam. Containment is no longer enough. Rather than try to contain Saddam, a strategy that has failed, our policy should now aim to remove him from power by any and all means necessary. . . . We hope the president and his advisers will begin to . . . prepare for the coming crisis. And we hope that Republicans rouse themselves from their post-Cold War torpor and see the Iraqi threat for what it is. Said President Clinton, 'This is not just a replay of the Gulf War. This is about the security of the 21st century and the problems everybody is going to have to face dealing with chemical weapons.' This is the truth. We should act on it."

So the editors of this magazine wrote in the December 1, 1997, issue, whose cover proclaimed, not so subtly, "Saddam Must Go." Saddam will soon be gone, thanks to the courage of one man above all, George W. Bush, very much aided by the equally impressive courage of another, Tony Blair. Obviously, we are gratified that the Iraq strategy we have long advocated--and whose contours were further specified in that December 1, 1997, issue, in articles by Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz, Frederick W. Kagan, and Peter Rodman--has become the policy of the U.S. government, because we believe it is the right policy for the country and the world. But we feel no joy and little satisfaction. It would have been much better if Saddam could have been removed without war, or if he had been removed at the end of the previous Gulf War. We wish a peaceful resolution were now possible. But it is not. Wishes are not facts. Saddam has proven--he had proven by December 1997--that he will not disarm peacefully. And he must be disarmed. So war will come.

We are tempted to comment, in these last days before the war, on the U.N., and the French, and the Democrats. But the war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction. It will reveal the aspirations of the people of Iraq, and expose the truth about Saddam's regime. It will produce whatever effects it will produce on neighboring countries and on the broader war on terror. We would note now that even the threat of war against Saddam seems to be encouraging stirrings toward political reform in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a measure of cooperation in the war against al Qaeda from other governments in the region. It turns out it really is better to be respected and feared than to be thought to share, with exquisite sensitivity, other people's pain. History and reality are about to weigh in, and we are inclined simply to let them render their verdicts.

This is a moment for restating the obvious: We hope and pray the war goes as well as possible, with the fewest possible American casualties, and also the fewest possible casualties to all innocent parties, very much including the Iraqi people, who have suffered so greatly. We fear, as does the Bush administration, Saddam's chemical and biological weapons, and, needless to say, hope for nothing more than the administration's success in crippling Saddam's ability to use them. We look forward to the liberation of our own country and others from the threat of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and to the liberation of the Iraqi people from a brutal and sadistic tyrant.

A time will come to scrutinize our government's management of the war's aftermath, its equivocations on democracy in Iraq, its inadequate defense budget, and much else. But for now, at this moment of historic opportunity and national resolve, we simply pray for the president, his advisers, and our brave men and women in uniform.

--William Kristol