George F. Will, hardly an anti-war lefty, has chimed in on the where-are-the-WMDs debate with the observation that “the doctrine of preemption — the core of the president’s foreign policy — is in jeopardy.” He explains:
To govern is to choose, almost always on the basis of very imperfect information. But preemption presupposes the ability to know things — to know about threats with a degree of certainty not requisite for decisions less momentous than those for waging war.
Some say the war was justified even if WMD are not found nor their destruction explained, because the world is “better off” without Saddam Hussein. Of course it is better off. But unless one is prepared to postulate a U.S. right, perhaps even a duty, to militarily dismantle any tyranny — on to Burma? — it is unacceptable to argue that Hussein’s mass graves and torture chambers suffice as retrospective justifications for preemptive war. Americans seem sanguine about the failure — so far — to validate the war’s premise about the threat posed by Hussein’s WMD, but a long-term failure would unravel much of this president’s policy and rhetoric.
Will argues, convincingly, that “a vast multinational conspiracy of bad faith, using fictitious WMD as a pretext for war, is a wildly implausible explanation of the failure to find WMD.” (Among the conspirators in such a scenario, he says, would be President Clinton, Hans Blix, the British, French, and German intelligence agencies, and Saddam Hussein.) But that bit of sanity, sadly lacking on the Left, does not alter Will’s conviction that the WMD question cannot go unanswered:
For the president, the missing weapons are not a political problem. Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, says Americans are happily focused on Iraqis liberated rather than WMD not found, so we “feel good about ourselves.”
But unless America’s foreign policy is New Age therapy to make the public feel mellow, feeling good about the consequences of an action does not obviate the need to assess the original rationale for the action.
Until WMD are found, or their absence accounted for, there is urgent explaining to be done.