Andrew Sullivan digs up, on the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a couple of quotes from Bill Clinton pushing the “cakewalk” narrative and the WMD myth.
[Saddam] is a threat. He’s a murderer and a thug. There’s no doubt we can do this. We’re stronger; he’s weaker. You’re looking at a couple weeks of bombing and then I’d be astonished if this campaign took more than a week. Astonished.
[I]f we leave Iraq with chemical and biological weapons, after 12 years of defiance, there is a considerable risk that one day these weapons will fall into the wrong hands and put many more lives at risk than will be lost in overthrowing Saddam… In the post-cold war world, America and Britain have been in tough positions before: in 1998, when others wanted to lift sanctions on Iraq and we said no; in 1999 when we went into Kosovo to stop ethnic cleansing. In each case, there were voices of dissent. But the British-American partnership and the progress of the world were preserved.
Each quote is founded on a particularly damaging idea that makes it difficult to have rational foreign policy conversation. The first quote is founded on the notion that America’s powerfulness makes this — and, really all military action — a sure bet. So there’s no need to sit down and do an actual accounting of the things that could go wrong and the cost to ourselves, the invaded country, or its neighbors.
And the second quote rests on the complementary idea that the “tough position” U.S. and British leaders find themselves in is not facing the possibility of giving orders that will surely end lives and lay waste to the treasury; it’s facing dissent. One might think the measure of a leader’s “toughness” is his ability to lay one hard truth (the misery imposed by Saddam’s regime) against other hard truths (Saddam is a bulwark against the aspirations of other regional powers, war is inevitably devastating, and anyway we’re not that good at nation-building) and make a principled decision. But by Clinton’s formulation, the “progress of the world” depends on a leader ignoring dissenting voices that might be presenting the other hard truths.