The Washington Times

Trying times in Iraq make it worthwhile to explain the basics once again: Saddam Hussein was a security problem, a legal problem and a moral problem. That’s why we took him out. But that’s not why we are in Iraq today.

Of the three problems, the first – security – was essential: Had Saddam been deemed to pose no particular threat going forward, it would not have been necessary to act against him. Long before U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 codified the nature of the Iraq threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction [WMD], Saddam’s Iraq was correctly understood to be a menace to international peace. This was a function of Saddam and his totalitarian Ba’athist regime, including its capacity for covert action.

That Saddam may, at some point, have rid himself of some of the especially nasty elements of his arsenal in no way vitiates the threat. It is clear from the statements of Iraqi military personnel and scientists that Saddam had every intention of restarting his weapons programs as soon as he could. In other words, if the U.N. sanctions regime was constraining his pursuit of WMD – a big if, since his hiatus from the all-out pursuit of such weapons may have been entirely voluntary, designed as a ruse to get sanctions lifted – then sanctions would have had to continue indefinitely. The weakening support for sanctions prior to September 11 revealed all too clearly the dubiety of their permanent continuation.

The legal issue was Saddam’s continuing defiance of numerous Security Council resolutions. But, of course, the case here is as much about the credibility of the Security Council as it is about Iraq. Defiance of Security Council resolutions as such, abstracted from the conduct that provoked the council to adopt them – presumably a threat posed to peace and regional stability – is not likely to be reason enough for the United States to go to war any time soon.

And, of course, the humanitarian problem, as many have noted, is just as severe in several other states against which the United States has no plans to go to war. I think it is service to the cause of justice whenever as odious a human being as Saddam Hussein gets taken down. As the old Quaker hymn puts it: “When tyrants tremble, sick with fear / And hear their death knells ringing / And friends rejoice both far and near / How can I keep from singing?” With any kind of luck, fear will encourage other local monsters to dial down the repression out of concern that we will come after them.

But in truth, I think we are a long way from anything like regime-change war for solely humanitarian purposes – in other words, apart from a security threat. I know that a number of proponents of intervention in Iraq have subsequently [and sans-WMD] emphasized the humanitarian aspect of the intervention. The problem here, to be blunt, is that it assumes its conclusion: the peaceful, democratic, pluralist, liberal Iraq we all want to see flourish. One would not wish to have only, or chiefly, a humanitarian argument at one’s disposal in the event that circumstances such as those of the past 10 days are only the prelude to something worse.

It is quite a burden to place on oneself to insist on being loved after one has gone to war and occupied a country. Surely, it was not wrong to hope. But what we can say as of now with perfect truth and considerable satisfaction is that we removed the danger of Saddam from the world once and for all.

That’s what we went to Iraq to do, and we were brilliantly successful at it. Other threats and menaces, take note. Now, because we are decent people, we set ourselves the additional task of reconstructing Iraq as the liberal state described above. I think we will continue to do the best we can in that regard for quite some time. [I also think the background buzz of second-guessing is appalling, as if the second-guessers had ever built a liberal democracy out of the ruins of a multi-ethnic Arab dictatorship and doing so was easy as pie.] The Iraqis deserve every reasonable chance to live normal, peaceful lives, and no doubt we will continue to pay dearly to give them that chance.

But once again, let’s be blunt about regime change: We now take it upon ourselves to insist that once we take down the bad regime, we are obliged to install a good regime. It’s the American way. But if, God forbid, the latter part of the project doesn’t always work, would-be threats to the United States and its allies and world order should not be under the illusion that they are accordingly safer. The doctrine “you break it, you fix it” is a good thing in general. But it strikes me that in extremes, we are going to be willing to deal with threats as they gather and rise, quite regardless.