Kristol Reconsidered

It is something of a cheap shot to mine the archives of a prolific pontificator to pull a passage that reads as so much foolish nonsense today. But I came across this while reading a forthcoming book and could not resist sharing. So, with that caveat, I present a March 17, 2003 Weekly Standard editorial by Bill Kristol, penned on the eve of the war in Iraq:

“Obviously, we are gratified that the Iraq strategy we have long advocated…has become the policy of the U.S. government, because we believe it is the right policy for the country and the world… 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.”

Postscript: Andrew Sullivan has a terrific post on the diverging opinions of Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol.

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2 Comments on “Kristol Reconsidered”

  1. HW Says:

    “the war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction. ”

    Actually, it hasn’t. The issue of WMD was not so much stockpiles as capacity and potential versus compliance, and not certainty but ambiguity. The Bush administration gave the false and misleading impression that it knew for certain that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of nonconventional weapons in the leadup to the invasion – a certainty that was impossible. Some opponents of the invasion claimed that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction – again, an impossible assurance. These opponents generally went by the logic that if they could show the administration was misrepresenting the evidence, then the case that Hussein had any nonconventional weapons was false. This always struck me as a fundamentally silly argument.

    Saddam Hussein had a history of developing weapons of mass destruction, including a rapid move to acquire nuclear weapons capability. He had the potential to develop nonconventional weapons thanks to his massive oil wealth and military infrastructure. He refused to comply with international weapons inspections that would have provided at least some assurance that these weapons were not being developed. And, as we now know – the only thing the invasion itself has in fact clarified – Hussein was intentionally pursuing a policy of ambiguity as to his WMD capability. Even his own generals were shocked to discover on the eve of the invasion that he had no stockpiles or assembly lines and had been largely playing a charade. The argument over WMD has therefore been fundamentally misguided from the start. Hussein acted like he had them and refused to comply with efforts to make sure he didn’t. One can still argue that this was sufficient grounds for invasion or that there were other factors that outweighed it, but this still seems to me the central point.

    “It will reveal the aspirations of the people of Iraq”

    It would be more accurate to say that the war has revealed that there is no Iraqi people. The Kurds wish to have nothing to do with Iraq. The Shiites want revenge and domination. The Sunnis want to be back on top or, failing that, busy keeping the Shiites from dominating them. There is no loyalty to the idea of a unified Iraq, which is why any strategy based on that idea is bound to fail.

    “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.”

    This may be true, but to be respected and feared, you have to win.

  2. ERG Says:

    It is worth adding to HW’s eloquent comment that there is no doubt that Saddam was comfortable with the idea of using – as well as pursuing – weapons of mass destruction. Of course, we have known this for decades. But we got a harrowing reminder yesterday in a Baghdad courtroom where the trial of Saddam and his henchmen continus despite the death of Saddam. Yesterday featured recordings of Saddam casually discussing the wholesale slaughter of Kurds with poison weapons. Read John Burns searing account: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/09/world/middleeast/09iraq.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print


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