Despite massive international demonstrations against a war with Iraq, we remain on course to wage such a war sooner rather than later even without U.N. support.
The logic is simple: We cannot live with the uncertainty—and the economic consequences—of waiting. We cannot leave thousands of troops in the desert for too long. The window for war is narrow before the hot weather arrives. And President Bush would have a tough time explaining in the forthcoming presidential campaign that Saddam Hussein may still be in business, Osama bin Laden on the loose and the economy in trouble.
In our democracy, we have come to celebrate leadership by the strength of its determination, its conviction, its ability to stay the course. It is a virtue, we now accept, that, once our decision is made, we do not allow such things as public opinion, opposition of allies, changed circumstances, worries about consequences or increased terrorist threats at home to stop our leaders from carrying out their convictions.
Then comes the strategic argument now put forth by mighty political thinkers: It is all about credibility. We have come this far, we cannot now turn back. That’s simply not the stuff of great powers. This, before a war even commences, for surely after we begin, we must then prevail even if there were surprises and unexpected costs that may not be warranted by the original strategic objectives, for then our credibility will be on the line even more.
Whatever the original strategic arguments about Iraq, they are already lost before the war begins. Our means have become our ends.
To start with, the logic of war with Iraq was the preservation of international legitimacy represented by U.N. Security Council resolutions. Iraq is somewhat different from North Korea in an important regard: It is obligated to disarm by U.N. resolutions. That’s the central justification for action. Now, it turns out, we are prepared to forgo the United Nations in order to carry out a war, or else we lose face. Yes, we are prepared to undermine international legitimacy in order to defend it.
It’s now about us and those who oppose us. Surely this is about the French. Yes, we did think for a while that it was mainly about the Germans, but that was before their recent elections. Yes, of course it is also about the Chinese, the Russians and most nations around the globe. But still, it is mostly about the French. How else can one explain that 2 million Spaniards would take to the streets to oppose the war, over a million in Italy, and that London, where surely France has tremendous influence, would witness its largest demonstration ever?
It is curious that most people around the world now oppose us. We are doing this for them. Surely Iraq is more of a threat to all of its neighbors and to Europe than it is to us. Its future is more consequential and vital to them than it is to us, by far. Can they not see that we know what’s good for them better than they do themselves?
Certainly, this is only a temporary problem, because everyone will ultimately see that we were right all along. And most enlightened and courageous leaders will resist their public opinion and come along with us. Miraculously, the courage that authoritarian leaders in the Middle East will display in resisting their ignorant publics will ultimately lead to more democracy—and stability.
We will prevail in the end. Certainly Iraq will not be a new Vietnam. No one doubts that we will quickly smash Mr. Hussein’s army and replace his government. In wars, winners write history, and victory is a magnet for new allies. If now they feel coerced into joining us, they will eventually learn to love us. How else will they be able to sleep at night?
As for consequences, surely they have little to do with our policies. If the war turns out to be easy, all the nay-sayers will be proved wrong. If it turns out to be difficult, they will see that it will have become even more difficult had we waited longer. And if there are long-term consequences, such as more terrorist attacks on our soil, surely no one will dare suggest that our actions had anything to do with them. Does anyone want to appear, even indirectly, to justify such horrible deeds?
Mr. Hussein will be gone, which is a genuine good thing that will mask all else. Even the French will claim that they were on board all along. Everyone will recognize our unsurpassed power and our unbending convictions. This is the stuff of leadership, the stuff of great powers.