By sheer repetition, if not by strength of argument (and buttressed by incessant and overly negative news coverage of Iraq) those who have argued for the war have gradually been worn down, to the point where some now don't even try to defend the invasion anymore, arguing instead that whether the war was justified doesn't matter--only what to do now.
This is a grave tactical blunder. It unconditionally and unnecessarily surrenders the high ground of the debate to the anti-war movement, and dismisses out of hand many of the strongest pro-war arguments; more than that, it concedes the anti-war movement's single strongest argument for pulling out of Iraq: that we never should have been there in the first place.
Christopher Hitchens of Slate, at least, isn't ready to make that mistake just yet, as evidenced by his latest defense of the war. Particularly interesting are these two points:
Should it not have been known by Western intelligence that Iraq had no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction?
The entire record of UNSCOM until that date had shown a determination on the part of the Iraqi dictatorship to build dummy facilities to deceive inspectors, to refuse to allow scientists to be interviewed without coercion, to conceal chemical and biological deposits, and to search the black market for materiel that would breach the sanctions. The defection of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law, the Kamel brothers, had shown that this policy was even more systematic than had even been suspected. Moreover, Iraq did not account for—has in fact never accounted for—a number of the items that it admitted under pressure to possessing after the Kamel defection. We still do not know what happened to this weaponry. This is partly why all Western intelligence agencies, including French and German ones quite uninfluenced by Ahmad Chalabi, believed that Iraq had actual or latent programs for the production of WMD. Would it have been preferable to accept Saddam Hussein's word for it and to allow him the chance to re-equip once more once the sanctions had further decayed?
Could Iraq have been believably "inspected" while the Baath Party remained in power?No. The word inspector is misleading here. The small number of U.N. personnel were not supposed to comb the countryside. They were supposed to monitor the handover of the items on Iraq's list, to check them, and then to supervise their destruction. (If Iraq disposed of the items in any other way—by burying or destroying or neutralizing them, as now seems possible—that would have been an additional grave breach of the resolutions.) To call for serious and unimpeachable inspections was to call, in effect, for a change of regime in Iraq.
Unmentioned by Hitchens in his piece is what has always been the main reason I've supported the war: 9/11.
Not, mind you, in the moronically simplistic sense that Iraqi agents flew the planes, or some other such nonsense that some in the anti-war movement would set up as straw men, but in a more basic, strategic sense.
From the end of the Persian Gulf War until the beginning of the US invasion, we pursued a policy of containment and external pressure against Iraq. Two key components of this policy were the severe economic sanctions against the country and US troops stationed in Saudi Arabia.
Both were explicitly cited in Osama bin Laden's fatwa against the United States. Both were used as tools to recruit and build up Al Qaeda and similar movements.
And after 9/11, it was abundantly clear that both were a sword we could no longer leave in bin Laden's hands. The status quo could no longer be maintained; one way or another, the Iraq situation had to be resolved.
Either we could walk away and let Saddam run amok, or we could remove Saddam.
We chose the latter.
It was the right choice then, and nothing that has happened in the last four years makes it any less the right choice now.