The Blog

Everyone Except Saddam

12:09 PM, May 3, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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Here's what MSNBC's Chris Matthews had to say last night:

Somebody is responsible for this war. Is it the president, the politicians in Congress who voted to authorize the war, the military who saluted Bush three years ago when the war was popular who are now calling for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation, or it was cooked intelligence from the administration?

Of course, others may say that in the end it was Saddam Hussein who was "responsible for this war." And some may also still agree with the overall judgment made by liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen on March 11, 2003:

There ought to be an understanding that while war is bad -- very, very bad -- sometimes peace is no better, especially if all it does is postpone a worse war. That is what would happen if the United States now pulled back, leaving Saddam Hussein in power and our troops sweating in the desert, their morale and their strength dissipating.

What would happen then? Ultimately, Hussein would wait us out. This is what he has been doing since the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when he began this game of hide-and-seek with his weapons of mass destruction. If, at the moment, he does not have nuclear weapons, it's not for lack of trying. He had such a program once and he will have one again -- just as soon as the world loses interest and the pressure on him is relaxed....

I grant you that in the run-up to this war, the Bush administration has slipped, stumbled and fallen on its face. It has advanced untenable, unproven arguments. It has oscillated from disarmament to regime change to bringing democracy to the Arab world. It has linked Hussein with al Qaeda when no such link has been established. It has warned of an imminent Iraqi nuclear program when, it seems, that's not the case. And it has managed, in a tour de force of inept diplomacy, to alienate much of the world, including some of our traditional allies.

But the fact remains that were it not for those 250,000 troops sitting out in the desert, there would be no inspectors in Iraq. Hussein kicked them out once and he will kick them out again, just as soon as the world, as is its wont, loses interest and succumbs to the lust for oil, contracts and, in the case of France, the chimera of a glorious yesterday....

What's more, I have some doubts about this war -- especially the challenge of governing and rebuilding Iraq afterward. But I have less doubt about the sort of peace that would result from what, after all, would be appeasement. Saddam Hussein -- not to mention other despots -- will have taken the measure of us. He will resume his old ways. By then, a just war might be unthinkable -- and a just peace no longer in our grasp.