Philip Bobbitt, professor at law at Columbia University and the University of Texas School of law who served on the National Security Council for Presidents Clinton and Carter, appeared last week on the Dennis Prager radio show to pitch his book Terror and Consent Surprisingly, he sounds a lot like a dying breed -- the Joe Lieberman Democrat.
Most interestingly was that Bobbitt took a view of the Iraq war that is increasingly unpopular -- that even without the WMDs, Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a danger to the U.S. and President Bush was right to invade.
Prager: Why did you support the invasion of Iraq?
Bobbitt: I believe that Saddam Hussein presented almost a unique threat. There are other tyrants who are just as vicious, but they tend to be very poor states of very modest means where some clique has a grip on power. There are other states that are quite wealthy that could develop weapons of mass destruction, but they're also quite benign. In Saddam Hussein's case, you had a very ambitious, very dangerous dictator who had the resources to develop weapons of mass destruction. And I believed if we didn't act, he would eventually get them. We couldn't keep the sanctions in-play indefinitely. And even with the sanctions he was skimming what I took to be $3, perhaps to $4 billion per year -- it turns out it was $12-$15 billion per year. So I thought we had to act to preclude that. I'm glad we did.
Prager: So how do you react to: "Bush lied, people died?"
Bobbitt: I think that President Bush and other leaders, a great many other leaders, on both sides the issue. Leaders of France, Germany, Russia, all believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And they took that belief, some of them anyway in Britain and America, and took that to Italy, took that belief to the public as the basis of acting. I think that was the mistake. I don't think the president lied. Because he believed the same thing that many other leaders believed who did not want to go to war in Iraq. I do think he made a mistake by pinning the invasion on that cause. He left himself and the rest of the coalition entirely open to precisely what happened. You can blame the intelligence community for that; I believe they deserve a great deal of blame for it. But at the end of the day it was a very unwise political misstep.
Prager: So on what grounds should he have justified invading Iraq?
Bobbitt: He should've said: 'This is a state with whom we have been in a cease-fire for with for some years. We have no peace treaty. We have simply paused hostilities. And we believe, and there is ample evidence to justify this, that someday he will get the nuclear weapons and the biological weapons that he has unceasingly sought in the past. If we don't act now -- unless he's prepared to come clean, unless he's prepared to show us he's not going to do that -- then we're basically setting ourselves up for a fait accompli. Because once he acquires those weapons, then he's in a completely different position. And then it is we who are deterred from acting, not Iraq.'
Prager: Then we can't do anything about him.
Bobbitt: That's right.
Prager: So his error was the tense. Had he said "he will have" instead of "he does have" ...
That's something that a lot of people have conveniently forgotten. What the United States and Britain and the rest of the "coalition of the willing" were facing wasn't a choice between "Invade Iraq" or "Keep Iraq in its box." The choice was "Invade Iraq" or "Let Iraq out of its box" -- something France and Russia were pushing for because of oil contracts they had signed with Saddam Hussein's government effective when the sanctions regime was lifted. Also forgotten is the Duelfer report which revealed -- as Bobbitt alluded to -- that Hussein had every intention of restarting his WMD programs the moment sanctions were lifted.
Maybe invading was the wrong choice. But critics of that choice should be forced to justify their alternative: an Iraq with biological and chemical weapons -- because the "box" is a lie.
So, for the record: There are two people in the world who still believe that invading Iraq was the right thing to do -- Me and Bobbitt. (I was informed this weekend that I was the only person who still believed that -- it was one of those "I don't know how Reagan got elected, no one I know voted for him" moments.)