Russert: In light of not finding the weapons of mass destruction, do you believe the war in Iraq is a war of choice or a war of necessity?Needless to say, this is is not at all clear.
President Bush: I think that's an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It's a war of necessity. We-- in my judgment, we had no choice when we look at the intelligence I looked at that says the man was a threat. And you know, we will find out about the weapons of mass destruction that we all thought were there. That's part of the Iraqi survey group and the group I put together to look at.
But again, I repeat to you, I don't want to sound like a broken record, but David Kay, who is the man who led the Iraqi survey group, who has now returned with an interim report, clearly said that the place was a dangerous place. When asked if President Bush had done had made the right decision, he said yes. In other words, the evidence we have uncovered thus far says we had no choice.
First, as I've noted, lots of people said that Iraq was no threat, could be deterred even if they had WMD, etc. The biggest problem, it now seems clear, is that no one took seriously the IAEA's March 2003 finding that Iraq had no nuclear program.
Second, Bush officials have pretty clear said there was a choice. On November 23, 2003, Richard Haass, director of policy planning at the State Department until June 2003, wrote a much-discussed op-ed for the Washington Post:
The debate can and will go on as to whether attacking Iraq was a wise decision, but at its core it was a war of choice. We did not have to go to war against Iraq, certainly not when we did. There were other options: to rely on other policy tools, to delay attacking, or both.Haass wrote some pretty powerful stuff and people around the country may have missed it. Consider also these words:
Iraq was thus fundamentally different from World War II or Korea or even the Persian Gulf War, all of which qualify as wars of necessity. So, too, does the open-ended war against al Qaeda. What distinguishes wars of necessity is the requirement to respond to the use of military force by an aggressor and the fact that no option other than military force exists to reverse what has been done.
the American people are prepared to wage wars of choice so long as they prove to be relatively cheap and short. But the United States is not geared to sustain costly wars of choice.Haass now leads the Council on Foreign Relations. The full text of the op-ed is on their website.
We are seeing just this with Iraq. The American people are growing increasingly restless, and it is not hard to see why. We have been at war now in Iraq for some eight months. More than 400 Americans have lost their lives. Costs are in the range of $100 billion and mounting.
The Bush administration knows all this; hence the accelerated timetable to hand over increasing political responsibility for Iraq to Iraqis. Such a mid-course correction in U.S. policy reflects in part the political realities of Iraq, where enthusiasm for prolonged American occupation is understandably restrained; even more, though, the policy shift reflects political realities here at home.
Update: I should have noted that Haass served as a political appointee in State, and was not a career diplomat. From 1989-1993, Ambassador Haass was Special Assistant to the first President George Bush and Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs on the staff of the National Security Council. He's a long-time political associate of the Bush family and was not in government, so far as I can tell, during the Clinton years.