David Frum February 24th, 2003 at 12:00 am
often do we hear it said that America is "rushing toward war"?
Presidential candidate John F. Kerry warned against the "rush to war"
in a major speech at Georgetown University on January 23. The day before, the
leaders of France and Germany delivered a similar warning. So did the editors
of the New York Times.
everything is relative. Compared to the movement of the tectonic plates or the
cooling of the earth’s core, the United States is indeed hurtling headlong to
war. But by the normal standards of political life, the "rush to war"
is a rush only in the sense that 5 o’clock on the Santa Monica Freeway is the
"rush hour." The truth is that we have been inching toward war for
the past ten years — and there are still quite a number of inches left to
the summer of 1993, Iraqi agents attempted to murder former President Bush
during a visit to Kuwait. Assassinations of top political leaders are pretty
notoriously grounds for war — in fact, Saddam Hussein cited the mysterious
deaths of a number of his top officials as his justification for invading Iran
in 1980. If the United States had been eager for war with Iraq, the Bush plot
was a perfect excuse. Instead, President Clinton fired a couple of dozen cruise
missiles into downtown Baghdad.
little over a year later, Saddam Hussein abruptly massed 80,000 troops on
Iraq’s border with Kuwait. The U.N. Security Council passed yet another
resolution condemning Iraq (Number 949 this time). American and British units
rushed into the emirate to deter a second invasion of Kuwait — and then rushed
back out again.
1995, Saddam’s son-in-law defected to Jordan, delivering proof positive that
Saddam had successfully concealed a biological-weapons program from the U.N.
inspectors then operating in Iraq — but there was again no rush.
September 1996, Saddam Hussein invaded the Kurdish safe haven in northern Iraq.
The United States had promised to protect the Kurds. An unnamed high official
was quoted in news accounts at the time predicting that a military response was
"very likely"; Bill Clinton himself told the White House press corps
that "reckless acts have consequences." Now the rush seemed to be on
for sure — only it turned out that the consequences Clinton meant were another
flurry of cruise-missile strikes.
1998, the U.N. inspections regime in Iraq finally and definitively collapsed.
The U.N. passed another passel of resolutions; at year’s end, Clinton ordered
up another flurry of air strikes to coincide with the impeachment vote. When
Clinton’s trial ended, so did the air strikes. No rush there.
was there any rushing after George W. Bush took over in January 2001. The new
president seemed more than content to wait for later — maybe a second term –
before taking action against the dictator who had outlasted two hostile U.S.
presidents. After 9/11, it’s true that some people around President Bush began
to question the Clinton policy of leaving Saddam in power more or less
indefinitely. And in January 2002, President Bush’s "axis of evil"
speech warned that more decisive action against Iraq would come soon.
was a time when a year was considered a long time in warfare. But although in
every other aspect of life things seem to be speeding up, apparently when it
comes to fighting, time is slowing down, and what was once considered merely a
brisk speed now feels like a dizzying whirl.
months after Pearl Harbor, and the United States was already in Sicily; 18
months since 9/11, and every one of the world’s terror regimes except
Afghanistan is exactly where it was a year and a half ago. Well, not exactly
where it was: Libya has been promoted from mere membership of the U.N. Human
Rights Commission to actual chairmanship of it. Otherwise, no signs of motion.
ever any administration has moved with deliberate speed, it is this one. But no
matter how slowly it moves, it is never slow enough. No matter how often it
makes its case, it has never made the case enough. And no matter how much
evidence of Saddam’s dangerousness it adduces, the evidence is never convincing
enough. When, do you suppose, would John Kerry and President Chirac and the
editors of the New York Times think it a good time to overthrow Saddam?
After another three months? Or six? Isn’t it really the day after never?
is not the speed of war that disturbs them. It is the fact of war. But this
time, the fact of war is inescapable. War was made on the United States, and it
has no choice but to reply. But there is good news: If the preparations for the
Iraq round of the war on terror have gone very, very slowly, the Iraq fight
itself is probably going to go very, very fast. The shooting should be over
within just a very few days from when it starts. The sooner the fighting begins
in Iraq, the nearer we are to its imminent end. Which means, in other words,
that this "rush to war" should really be seen as the ultimate
"rush to peace."