Gov. Mitt Romney told NBC’s Chuck Todd today that the United States would not (and, by implication, should not) have invaded Iraq in 2003, had it been known that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction.
If we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction, if somehow we had been given that information, why–obviously we would not have gone in.
The argument that Romney appears to be making is that if western intelligence services had been able to ascertain–presumably, from Saddam Hussein’s compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions and international inspections–that there were no weapons of mass destruction, there would have been no case for war.
The presumption at the heart of Romney’s argument, however, misses the nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The inimitable Christopher Hitchens addressed the argument Romney is now using in 2007 (emphasis added):
Four years after the first coalition soldiers crossed the Iraqi border, one can attract pitying looks (at best) if one does not take the view that the whole engagement could have been and should have been avoided. Those who were opposed to the operation from the beginning now claim vindication, and many of those who supported it say that if they had known then what they know now, they would have spoken or voted differently.
What exactly does it mean to take the latter position? At what point, in other words, ought the putative supporter to have stepped off the train? The question isn’t as easy to answer as some people would have you believe…
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.
Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian regime was itself the problem–not only because of its egregious violations of human rights, but because of its active hostility to the United States, our allies, and our interests. The UN resolutions on weapons of mass destruction were not the only ones Iraq had violated, after all: Saddam Hussein was in daily violation of Security Council Resolution 688, which authorized no-fly zones to protect Iraqi civilians. He was constantly trying to kill Americans.
It is also worth pointing out–often, since many people seem to have forgotten–that the United States could not have found and killed Osama bin Laden had it not been for the arrest of a key Al Qaeda informant in Iraq in 2004. Simply put, the Iraq War was an integral part of the U.S. response to the terror attacks of 9/11. The stability of the new Iraqi democracy–now thrown into doubt by President Barack Obama’s precipitous, premature withdrawal–remains important to our security and our interests.
Finally, Romney appears to have conceded a key point to the anti-war left and its Democratic Party supporters, who have long repeated the false charge that “Bush lied, people died.” Later in the NBC interview, Romney suggests that the U.S. went to war based on what President Bush “knew” about weapons of mass destruction. In fact, it was what the United States and the UN did not know, and could not know while Saddam Hussein was in power, that provided the ultimate impetus for invasion.
History is more important, and more reliable, than hindsight. “Knowing what we know now…there would have been no effort on the part of our president or others to take military action,” Romney says. The fact is that the U.S. and our allies were already taking military action against Saddam Hussein’s regime on a daily basis, and under both Democrat and Republican presidents. A coherent opposition to President Obama’s foreign policy cannot begin with the same faulty assumptions.