TCS Daily

Saddam and French Logic

By Kevin Hassett - December 16, 2003 12:00 AM

I just returned from a trip to Paris, where I was asked to appear on a panel discussing whether President Bush's economic policy is "Voodoo Economics." As is most often the case the conference, which was sponsored by the think tank IFRI, was a delightful meeting of economists and policymakers filled with stimulating and collegial conversation. While there were some who felt that voodoo might have affected Bush's economic choices, I strenuously disagreed. The exploration of arguments for and against led to an improved understanding of the relevant questions, and closer bonds between French and American players.

The conference gathered together thinkers who mostly work on subjects other than defense policy, and the conversations about Iraq were generally saved for the delightful receptions and meals. The conference ended the day before Saddam was captured. The conversations were very striking to me, and clarified in my mind the debate over Iraq in a manner that all of the press coverage here in the U.S. does not. The most striking thing was the extreme emotion of my normally sedate and analytical colleagues. When they discussed President Bush, the kind of red-faced anger one expects from the New York Times op-ed page emerged. After a good deal of probing, the position of the anti-U.S. factions in France (and perhaps elsewhere) became much clearer to me. Without claiming to be a defense specialist, or endorsing their position, let me lay out there case.


President Bush, their argument goes, began the war in Iraq because he believed that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. The French opposed the war because they believed that the system of U.N. inspections was working, and had effectively restrained Hussein. President Bush's claims about weapons of mass destruction were, these gentlemen believe, dishonest, and a ploy to cover his own aggressive intentions. Moreover, there was a large danger that Iraq would descend into chaos after Hussein fell, turning the country into the kind of base for terror and anti-western activity that Lebanon was two decades ago. Finally, the U.S. action could threaten to radicalize the extremists in the regions even more, undoing any benefit that Hussein's departure might generate. Since weapons of mass destruction have not been found, the argument continues, then the evidence suggests that the sanctions and inspections may have been as effective as the French believed. And the pacification of Iraq has not gone smoothly, again perhaps supporting the French view.


My own response to these arguments was that the case for war was never tied solely to the current existence of weapons of mass destruction. At his excellent speech on this issue at the American Enterprise Institute's annual dinner last year, President Bush discussed the possible long-run benefits of democratization in the Middle East, and connected the war with Iraq with the war against the terrorists. When pushed, however, I was unable to state with certainty that the U.S. would have invaded Iraq absent the weapons arguments. If Saddam had cooperated fully and convincingly, then there might not have been a war at all.


Which ties the question of the war up into a strange logical mess. We now know that Saddam gave his own generals the impression that some of his troops had weapons of mass destruction. It is likely that our intelligence agencies relied on this and other evidence and suggested to President Bush that he possessed them. That intelligence might have been wrong. If it turns out that Hussein had no weapons, then the war was, as the French suggest, in part the result of a "lie," although the untruth was as much Hussein's responsibility as anyone's. On the other hand, a terrible and evil tyrant is now in custody, which in itself is a worthy accomplishment, and bodes well for the future pacification of Iraq. We might have started a war for the wrong reasons, but produced a just and worthy result nonetheless.


But even if the U.S. wins the war, my French colleagues believe that it will only win the argument with the French government if weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq.



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