Antiwar Ouija Boards

Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

With all that’s gone wrong in Iraq, critics of the war can take a certain grim satisfaction in being vindicated. Why on Earth didn’t President Bush listen to their warnings, which now appear eerily prescient? Just recall what antiwar advocates said:

Sen. John Kerry: “I do not believe our nation is prepared for war. If we do go to war, for years people will ask why Congress gave in. They will ask why there was such a rush to so much death and destruction when it did not have to happen.”

Columnist Robert Novak: “It is probable that after Bush orders the first shot fired, anything that looks American throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe could come into the cross hairs of a rifle sight or be blown up by a car bomb.”

Former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski: “The United States is likely to become estranged from many of its European allies.”


Sen. Edward M. Kennedy: “It’ll be brutal and ugly. The 45,000 body bags the Pentagon has sent to the region are all the evidence we need of the high price in lives and blood that we will have to [bear].”

Former President Jimmy Carter: “The devastating consequences will be [felt] ... for decades to come, in economic and political destabilization of the Middle East region.”

Actually there’s a perfectly good reason why President George H.W. Bush didn’t listen to these Cassandras: They were wrong. You see, all these gloomy predictions weren’t made prior to the war of 2003. They were made before the war of 1991.

I stumbled upon most of these quotes in a May 1991 Commentary article by Joshua Muravchik. The rest come from other contemporary sources. They serve as a timely reminder that many critics of the current conflict had no special insights into the dangers U.S. troops would face. They’ve been predicting disaster in virtually identical terms every time the United States has deployed forces anywhere since Vietnam. One could dredge up equally apocalyptic predictions about U.S. interventions in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan: All were supposed to be the “next Vietnam.”

The president’s opponents, with perfect hindsight, now want him to apologize for his failure to foresee everything that would go wrong in Iraq. There is no question he made plenty of mistakes, some of them foreseeable. But what about the naysayers? When will they apologize for everything they’ve gotten wrong over the years?

They might argue that the consequences of their errors are not as grave as the president’s. After all, they wanted to keep U.S. troops out of harm’s way, whereas Bush has gotten more than 1,000 killed in Iraq. What they forget are the consequences of inaction. If the United States had relied on economic sanctions in response to Saddam Hussein’s aggression in 1990 -- as so many doves, including Kerry, wanted -- today Kuwait would be the 19th province of Iraq, Saudi Arabia might be the 20th and a genocidal dictator with nuclear weapons would dominate the world’s oil supplies.

We have no way of knowing what would have happened if the United States hadn’t invaded Iraq last year, but the recent report by the CIA’s special weapons inspector, Charles A. Duelfer, suggests that sanctions were falling apart and that Hussein was plotting to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction. The consequences of inaction will, thankfully, remain in the realm of speculation. The daily drumbeat of terrible tidings appears to lend credence to the critics who foresaw disaster. Maybe, like a stopped clock that’s right twice a day, their predictions have finally come true. Maybe. The occupation of Iraq has definitely proved more difficult than its architects anticipated. The United States could even lose.

But victory is not out of reach yet. Recent events -- U.S. and Iraqi forces going on the offensive, Muqtada Sadr’s apparent decision to enter the political process, the reelection in Australia of a staunch supporter of the war effort -- give fresh reasons for hope. If we hang in there, the U.S. can still prove the naysayers wrong. Again.