Monday, March 10, 2003

See now, this is what I'm talking about.

My questions about the coming war with Iraq haven't slowed, and they are too complex to go into one more time five minutes before Tuesday, when my blog is supposed to turn into a pumpkin.

But I'll just say that one of the things that bugs me - note that term - bugs me. Not "is an airtight argument against war" or "is a defense of the status quo" - is the plain fact that the United States spent a lot of time in the 1980's helping Saddam Hussein build up his regime, and, more importantly, build up his power to bring harm to the world via biological and chemical weapons. He was, quite simply, perceived and treated as a hedge against radical Islamist states, secularist that he is.

In the delicate world of diplomacy, total honesty and transparency is too much to ask for and even ill-advised. But it seems to me that when you're making the case to wage war against a regime you helped sustain for a time, a clear explanation of what has changed and why we should trust that this - not that - is the right thing to do is called for.

The Bush administration evidently has no interest in doing this, but Jeff Jacoby does a good job here.

I am a great admirer of Reagan, whose conduct of foreign policy overall left the world a freer, safer place. But there is no way to prettify his handling of Iraq. It empowered an evil and brutal tyrant, gave free rein to his aggressive megalomania, and treated his human rights atrocities as an unimportant side issue. Had Reagan (and Carter and Bush I) seen Saddam first and foremost as a dangerous, destabilizing cutthroat rather than a "balance" to Khomeini's Iran, there is no telling how many lives might have been saved.

But why is any of that an argument against doing the right thing now? If America played a role in entrenching Saddam's dictatorship, isn't that all the more reason for it now to take the lead in toppling that dictatorship? If US foreign policy for too long disregarded the suffering of the Iraqi people, is it not good news that US policy now makes that people's liberation a priority? Are American presidents forever barred from denouncing a vicious oppressor and leading a war against him because some of their predecessors neglected to do so?

Of course not...but it makes it difficult to trust what's being presented as the right course of action now when so many of the president's essential advisors on this, if not the president himself, were involved in the earlier appeasement....



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