So, Mr. Hitchens, Weren't You Wrong About Iraq?
Hard questions, four years later.
Wasn't Colin Powell's performance at the United Nations a bit of a disgrace?
Yes, it was, as was the supporting role played by George Tenet and the CIA (which has been reliably wrong on Iraq since 1963). Some good legal experts—Ruth Wedgwood most notably—have argued that the previous resolutions were self-enforcing and that there was no need for a second resolution or for Powell's dog-and-pony show. Some say that the whole thing was done in order to save Tony Blair's political skin. A few points of interest did emerge from Powell's presentation: The Iraqi authorities were caught on air trying to mislead U.N inspectors (nothing new there), and the presence in Iraq of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a very dangerous al-Qaida refugee from newly liberated Afghanistan, was established. The full significance of this was only to become evident later on.
Was the terror connection not exaggerated?
Not by much. The Bush administration never claimed that Iraq had any hand in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But it did point out, at different times, that Saddam had acted as a host and patron to every other terrorist gang in the region, most recently including the most militant Islamist ones. And this has never been contested by anybody. The action was undertaken not to punish the last attack—that had been done in Afghanistan—but to forestall the next one.
Was a civil war not predictable?
Only to the extent that there was pre-existing unease and mistrust between the different population groups in Iraq. Since it was the policy of Saddam Hussein to govern by divide-and-rule and precisely to exacerbate these differences, it is unlikely that civil peace would have been the result of prolonging his regime. Indeed, so ghastly was his system in this respect that one-fifth of Iraq's inhabitants—the Kurds—had already left Iraq and were living under Western protection.
So, you seriously mean to say that we would not be living in a better or safer world if the coalition forces had turned around and sailed or flown home in the spring of 2003?
That's exactly what I mean to say.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Marine with statue of Saddam Hussein by Laurent Rebours/AP Photo.