Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War

Final Words
Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 16 2004 2:11 PM

Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War


Thanks to all seven of you all for contributing to what has been, at last for me, an illuminating and at times agonizing conversation. All week, I've found myself persuaded back and forth by your various arguments. And I very much second George Packer's commendation. The spirit of rigorous self-criticism is alive and well here, if nowhere else among supporters of the war.

For my part, I have indeed changed my mind this week. I no longer think I was correct to support Bush's invasion of Iraq last March. That's hard for me to say, since as I noted at the outset, I've itched to depose Saddam Hussein by violent means, since 1991. But Bush was the wrong president to do it, and last year was the wrong moment—based on problems I didn't perceive clearly enough because of my impatience to see our unfinished business in Iraq finally completed.

Jacob  Weisberg Jacob Weisberg
Paul Berman is the author of Terror and Liberalism and The Passion of Joschka Fischer, which is forthcoming in the spring. Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and most recently the author of Longitudes and Attitudes. Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and a regular contributor toSlate. His most recent book is A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq. Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for Slateand is the author of The Wizards of Armageddon. George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where his article about the occupation recently appeared. He is working on a book about America in Iraq. Kenneth M. Pollack is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Jacob Weisberg is editor of Slate and co-author, with Robert E. Rubin, of In an Uncertain World. Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and the author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.

The first factor impelling me to change my mind is the emerging picture of the dishonesty involved in getting the public to support the war. Members of the Bush administration truly thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, as did the vast majority of its critics. But the administration contributed to the general misapprehension by suborning intelligence, exaggerating evidence, and amplifying unreliable data in ways that, as Ken Pollack has depicted, amount to deception. They did this because, absent a powerful fear of Saddam's WMD, the American people would not have supported the invasion. A democracy must not be led to war on the basis of deceit, even if the unarticulated reasons for going war remain persuasive to many of us.

I don't fault myself much for being wrong about the weapons. Perhaps I should have been more suspicious, but if Ken and other experts couldn't see through the flaws in the Bush administration's evidence, I don't see how I could have. It was a very strong argument for war that turns out to have to be almost completely wrong.

The other reason I have changed my mind is that, as I indicated yesterday, I don't think it stands up well to cost-benefit analysis available at the outset. I think that the benefits could have outweighed the costs if the Bush administration had proceeded multilaterally and on the basis of prudent contingency planning. But it should have been possible to see a year ago that Bush was going to proceed in precisely the self-undermining way he did. Unilateralism was the president's policy. The liberation fantasy that caused so much additional damage to the already wrecked society of Iraq was the obvious underpinning of the Pentagon's postwar plan.

Here I do fault myself, for not better recognizing the evident character of this administration. Another president might have taken us to war in a basically prudent and honest way. This one was not competent to do so. Facing a continuing tragedy in Iraq, but no emergency, we should have waited for a leader capable of reasoning about our security priorities and working more effectively with countries we need as allies in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

Mistake or no, we must all live with the consequences of our decision. One point we all seem to agree on is that America must stay and finish what it started. A functional, democratic state in Iraq that exerted a positive influence on the region would go a long way toward vindicating the liberal hawks. I'm less optimistic about this outcome than Tom Friedman. But if such a nation emerges, no one will be more pleased about it than I.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 AM Syria’s “Moderate” Rebels Are Realizing That U.S. Airstrikes Help Bashar al-Assad, Not Them
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:43 AM “I Didn’t Want to Build the Next Twitter for Cats” Search funds are the quiet, dependable, risk-averse sibling to the startup. 
The Vault
Oct. 1 2014 10:49 AM James Meredith, Determined to Enroll at Ole Miss, Declares His Purpose in a 1961 Letter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 10:44 AM Everyone’s Favorite Bob’s Burgers Character Gets a Remix You Can Dance to
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 AM Watch a Crowd Go Wild When Steve Jobs Moves a Laptop in This 1999 Demonstration of WiFi
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.