ALAN WOLFE FEBRUARY 12, 2009
Thanks to Jonathan Chait for his kind remarks about my attempt to understand where the liberal hawks went wrong. He criticizes me for myopia toward Saddam Hussein, however, arguing that Saddam would have started up his weapons of mass destruction programs if he had gotten the chance.
There are two problems with what Chait says here. The first is that, according to Chait, the fact that Hussein was willing to take the risk of developing such programs, convinced as he was that the U.S. would never confront him, proves that he was irrational. In fact, it does the exact opposite. It was the United States that defied rationality by starting a war against an enemy that did not threaten it, thereby unleashing new forces that really did. Almost no one believed that Bush was really determined to fight this war. By Chait's logic, not just Saddam but everyone was irrational.
Secondly, the argument I was making did not hinge on Saddam's mental state. My point was that liberals--I was citing Kenneth Pollack--confused Saddam's intentions with his capabilities. Even if we concede Chait's point that Saddam was in fact preparing to restart his program, waging war against him because of what he had in mind rather than any actual threat he posed may not have been the smartest idea. It is, in fact, an example of preventive war, a doctrine that is both risky and foolish.
I wrote my essay in an effort to promote a debate among liberals about where they may have gone wrong in supporting the war in Iraq. I am grateful to Chait for responding.