A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004 :::
Because he has something big in the works, A Mind That Suits has been ploughing through back issues of conservative journals from the run-up to the war. Those who want to duck the Kay-Tenet problem by saying the war was never really about Weapons of Mass Destruction have their work cut out for them: from July through September, the National Review hardly mentioned the broader strategy of "reforming the Middle East." Indeed, the longest article on the subject, by John O'Sullivan, dismissed the whole idea as needlessly dangerous. Although this writer is not the biggest fan of Mr. O'Sullivan's Europeanist view of the world, he must say that in this, he was right. All of the articles are about WMD, about the diplomatic stategy necessary to build support for the war, and about how dastardly opponents of the war were.

What is clear is that inside the Administration, there was a huge fight not only over the diplomatic strategy, but also over any broader strategy beyond getting rid of Saddam. The first mentions that the decision to go to war had been made come from around February or March, 2002, around the time of the "Axis of Evil" speech. Someone obviously leaked to the Weekly Standard, one of whose writers spoke about the "terror, tyranny, and WMD" strategy. But that strategy was not to resurface until February, 2003, in the President's epochal speech at the American Enterprise Institute's annual gala. That speech was also largely ignored by the conservative press. Best of the Web did write about it, but only in the context of convincing other thugs to disarm, and did not emphasize democratic reforms. BotW's host, the mighty Wall Street Journal, largely ignored it, if memory serves. We haven't gotten to them yet in the trip down memory lane. Indeed, at the time, this writer grew very frustrated that no one noticed how overreaching the aims outlined in the speech were, or even discussed it.

Unfortunately, it turned out the search for WMD was overreaching enough.

What is clear is that nearly everyone in Washington had decided that Saddam must go because he posed a clear and present danger with those WMD. Some, perhaps most, thought that this would then help control terrorism. Precious few thought that we should aim to reform the entire Muslim world, and their views were not heard much in the conservative press prior to February, 2003. The debate was discussed, but sotto voce.

The emphasis was, at all points, on WMD, and that was because it was the one argument that everyone agreed on, that the American people would generally buy, and that the "international community" could support if it was willing. Indeed, as the UN Security Council resolutions in force at the time read, the WMD issue was important because the US really needed no further authorization to go in: Saddam had apparently violated all his agreements, so we could just go to town.

Some things bring you up short in hindsight. In a blistering article on the obviousness of the WMD problem, one of the star experts was a chap named David Kay, who of course bent his considerable all towards finding them. And didn't.

Which makes it doubly important that conservatives wake up, admit there are no WMD, and build from what Kay found. If the President looks across a debate stage and actually mimics the current conservative line by saying, "The war was never about WMD," he will be laughed out of office. Fortunately, he told Diane Sawyer that he was surprised they weren't there, so he is not going to be suckered into that one.

But he does seem to be fishing around for a way to express the truth, and it is the duty of the conservative press to do their best to come up with options. He is a superb politician, and will recognize the right argument to emphasize. But the conservative intellectuals need to start that job now. Right now.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 11:13 AM



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