Unaccustomed as I am to favoring a war, I have watched television and read the newspapers wondering -- fearing -- that an antiwar spokesman will say something to change my mind. Nothing like that has happened. Instead, I can answer any question they raise but wonder why they have not emphasized the one about which I have the most doubt.
First, let's deal with the questions raised. Bush should have waited before initiating a war. Not convincing. The sanctions might never have sufficiently damaged Iraq, and waiting might well have weakened the anti-Iraq alliance. Anyway, it seems clearer and clearer in retrospect that Saddam Hussein was never going to back down.
This war is only about oil. Not true. Issues of principle and morality are involved. Saddam had really invaded Kuwait, had earlier used poison gas against Kurdish civilians, had made war on Iran, was developing a nuclear capability, was a menace in a region where the United States has allies (Israel and Saudi Arabia) and had otherwise comported himself in an unacceptable manner. And, anyway, the oil market stabilized when U.S. troops were sent to the Gulf to protect Saudi Arabia.
The United States is as bad as Saddam Hussein. Look at Panama. Nonsense. The United States invaded Panama but not to seize the country and its assets. Moreover, American policy did not tolerate the execution of civilians, the raping of women, the looting of stores or the taking of hostages. It's one thing to say the United States was unwise to get into this war, it's another thing to put its morality on par with Saddam's.
We could have worked a deal. Maybe, but the deal Saddam was seeking would have rewarded him for aggression. No matter how reasonable some of his demands might have seemed (Palestinian self-determination, for instance), they could not be granted at gunpoint. Anyway, it was not for the Palestinians that Iraq invaded Kuwait. It had other, more selfish, reasons.
Kuwait is not worth a single American's life. It's true that many Kuwaitis have not allowed the war to crimp their party schedule, and Kuwait itself was no democracy. But Saddam did not invade Kuwait waving the Federalist papers nor to put an end to partying. Even granting that Iraq had genuine grievances against Kuwait does not alter the principle that war and conquest are unacceptable ways of settling a dispute -- especially when the larger country is not really threatened.
Given some permutations, I could go on and on. But the most telling -- at least the most complicated -- argument against the war goes like this: It's not our business. To label this argument "isolationist" is merely a way of ducking it. Maybe a searching review of some assumptions -- including, of course, our leadership of the Western alliance -- is due. Maybe also the nation is weary of playing world policeman, especially when the trouble is in remote neighborhoods. Administration critics who say much needs to be done at home have a point.
But while that argument was made by some conservative critics of the administration (Patrick Buchanan, for instance), the left was silent when it mattered most -- at the onset of the crisis. Jesse Jackson, for one, had this to say about Saddam last August: "He must be driven back to the borders" of Iraq. As for the United States, Jackson added, it must be prepared to "use military force, multilaterally or unilaterally." Jackson got precisely what he asked for.
After saying that -- after, in effect, acknowledging a moral obligation -- everything else comes down to an argument over timing or tactics. The grand strategy was put into place in August. When a world power sends an army halfway around the world, it's making a clear statement: Back down, or war will result. The only other option was for the United States and its allies to do the backing down. Why they should have done so is beyond me. They were -- and they remain -- both morally and legally right.
Critics of the war who fault the Bush administration for inept diplomacy in the months before Iraq invaded Kuwait have a point. The same could be said, though, about Britain, France and the United States in the years preceding World War II. But just as leaving the keys in the car does not excuse auto theft, neither does Washington's inept diplomacy (or lack of an energy policy) excuse Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
We are left with all sort of anomalies, including the refusal of Japan and Germany to grow up and stop relying on the United States to protect their interests. But the hardest of all propositions to face is war itself -- the dreadful reality that there are world leaders for whom violence is not abhorrent. Saddam is one of these. Once he invaded Kuwait and once the United States, not to mention the United Nations, demanded he get out, it was up to him to avoid war. He made his choice, and in doing so, he gave us none.