Our objectives in Iraq were twofold and always simple: Depose Saddam Hussein and replace his murderous regime with a self-sustaining, democratic government.
As Sullivan notes, however, something is missing from this list:
What's missing from this assessment? No mention of weapons of mass destruction. Is this central argument made by the president and by the secretary of state at the U.N. now to be airbrushed from history? Is this a mere oversight on Charles' part? Or is he now revealing that he never believed the WMD rationale in the first place? If so, a little clarification might be in order.
A review of Krauthammer's columns from 2002-2003 shows that he certainly did believe that Iraq had WMD. In fact, he cited the alleged intersection of WMD and links to terrorists as the key reason for the war. Here's a chronology of Krauthammer's statements about Iraq, WMD, and the reasons for war:
Iraq is Hitlerian Germany, a truly mad police state with external ambitions and a menacing arsenal.
Saddam survived, rearmed, defeated the inspections regime and is now back in the business of building weapons of mass destruction.
...Time is running short. Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. He is working on nuclear weapons. And he has every incentive to pass them on to terrorists who will use them against us. We cannot hold the self-defense of the United States hostage to the solving of a century-old regional conflict.
Kissinger says that regime change in Iraq is an appropriate goal. The point he made in his syndicated column, and which he continues to make, is that in its "declaratory policy" -- i.e., public posture -- the United States should emphasize weapons destruction rather than regime change in order to garner allies for the war. But our actual policy is to achieve both. After all, the goals are inseparable. Given the nature of Hussein's rule, destroying these weapons requires regime change.
The vice president, followed by the administration A Team and echoing the president, argues that we must remove from power an irrational dictator who has a history of aggression and mass murder, is driven by hatred of America and is developing weapons of mass destruction that could kill millions of Americans in a day. The Democrats respond with public skepticism, a raised eyebrow and the charge that the administration has yet to "make the case."
How far the Democrats have come. Forty years ago to the month, President Kennedy asserts his willingness to present his case to the United Nations, but also his determination not to allow the United Nations to constrain America's freedom of action. Today his brother, a leader of the same party, awaits the guidance of the United Nations before he will declare himself on how America should respond to another nation threatening the United States with weapons of mass destruction.
Hawks favor war on the grounds that Saddam Hussein is reckless, tyrannical and instinctively aggressive, and that if he comes into possession of nuclear weapons in addition to the weapons of mass destruction he already has, he is likely to use them or share them with terrorists. The threat of mass death on a scale never before seen residing in the hands of an unstable madman is intolerable -- and must be preempted.
[W]hy does the president, who is pledged to disarming Hussein one way or the other, allow Powell even to discuss a scheme that is guaranteed to leave Saddam Hussein's weapons in place?
President Bush remains apparently sincere in his determination to rid the world of Hussein and his weapons.
The president cannot logically turn back. He says repeatedly, and rightly, that inspectors can only verify a voluntary disarmament. They are utterly powerless to force disarmament on a regime that lies, cheats and hides. And having said, again correctly, that the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Hussein is an intolerable threat to the security of the United States, there is no logical way to rationalize walking away from Iraq -- even if the president wanted to.
Blix never really found anything big in his scavenger hunt through Iraq, but he reported to the Security Council that Iraq's regime had failed to cooperate and disarm.
Under Resolution 1441, that is a material breach. It is a casus belli.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the cozy illusions and stupid pretensions died. We now recognize the central problem of the 21st century: the conjunction of terrorism, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction.
The reason you [President Bush] were able to build support at home and rally the world to at least pretend to care about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is that you showed implacable resolve to disarm Iraq one way or the other. Your wobbles at the United Nations today -- postponing the vote, renegotiating the terms -- are undermining the entire enterprise.
The inability to find the weapons is indeed troubling, but only because it means that the weapons remain unaccounted for and might be in the wrong hands. The idea that our inability to thus far find the weapons proves that the threat was phony and hyped is simply false.
The most damning, however, is his July 18, 2003 column on the reasons President Bush went to war, which explicitly cites the risk of Saddam acquiring WMD and passing them to terrorists, not the need to create democracy:
The charge is that the president was looking for excuses to go to war with Hussein and that the weapons-of-mass-destruction claims were just a pretense.
Aside from the fact that Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction was posited not only by Bush but also by just about every intelligence service on the planet (including those of countries that opposed war as the solution), one runs up against this logical conundrum: Why then did Bush want to go to war? For fun and recreation? Because of some cowboy compulsion?
...On the contrary, the war was a huge political gamble. There was no popular pressure to go to war. There was even less foreign pressure to go to war. Bush decided to stake his presidency on it nonetheless, knowing that if things went wrong -- and indeed they might still -- his political career was finished.
It is obvious he did so because he thought that, post-9/11, it was vital to the security of the United States that Hussein be disarmed and deposed.
Under what analysis? That Iraq posed a clear and imminent danger, a claim now being discounted by the critics because of the absence thus far of weapons of mass destruction?
No. That was not the president's case. It was, on occasion, Tony Blair's, and that is why Blair is in such political trouble in Britain. But in Bush's first post-9/11 State of the Union address (January 2002), he framed Iraq as part of a larger and more enduring problem, the overriding threat of our time: the conjunction of terrorism, terrorist states and weapons of mass destruction. And unless something was done, we faced the prospect of an infinitely more catastrophic 9/11 in the future.
Later that year, in a speech to the United Nations, he spoke of the danger from Iraq not as "clear and present" but "grave and gathering," an obvious allusion to Churchill's "gathering storm," the gradually accumulating threat that preceded the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. And then nearer the war, in his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush plainly denied that the threat was imminent. "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent." Bush was, on the contrary, calling for action precisely when the threat was not imminent because, "if this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions . . . would come too late."
The threat had not yet even fully emerged, Bush was asserting, but nonetheless it had to be faced because it would only get worse. Hussein was not going away. The sanctions were not going to restrain him. Even his death would be no reprieve, as his half-mad sons would take over. The argument was that Hussein had to be removed eventually and that with Hussein relatively weakened, isolated and vulnerable, now would be more prudent and less costly than later.
He was right.
In addition, here's what Krauthammer wrote on April 2, 2004:
What exactly was the failure? What was Bush supposed to do to prevent Sept. 11? Invade Afghanistan? [Former anti-terrorism official Richard] Clarke has expressed outrage at Bush's preemptive invasion of Iraq. So: Bush deserves excoriation for preemptively invading Iraq based on massive, universally accepted intelligence of its weapons, to say nothing of its hostility and virulence; and, simultaneously, Bush deserves excoriation for not preemptively attacking Afghanistan on the basis of . . . what? Increased terrorist chatter in the summer of 2001?
The irony is that Krauthammer seems to have a good memory for recycling old material when it suits him. But in this case, apparently, he's trying to erase his past writings.