What if, instead of giving the speech he actually gave on the eve of war, President Bush had said the following? Would America be in Iraq today?
“My fellow Americans, I come before you tonight to make my case for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. In accordance with our republican form of government, I will not conduct a war of choice without the informed consent of the people; in accordance with our Constitution, I will not launch any war without a formal declaration from Congress. I am, after all, a president, not an emperor.
“War, even when morally justifiable, is not a thing to be undertaken lightly. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of American soldiers will die during the invasion and its aftermath. Others will return with their bodies and spirits broken. Thousands upon thousands of innocent Iraqis will undoubtedly be killed or maimed.
“Moreover, even if we conclude that we have every right to depose Hussein, the question remains: ‘Should we?’ Will doing so advance the security interests of the United States? For that, and nothing else, was the Founders’ mandate for waging war: the defense of our own shores.
“My advisors and I do believe that Saddam Hussein poses a threat to the United States. We have grainy satellite photos of buildings we think house weapons of mass destruction. Our intelligence agencies have been wrong about such things before, as when President Clinton ordered the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan, but this time they could be right. We have also heard from Iraqi exiles people who wish to replace Saddam Hussein that Iraq is an imminent threat. The exiles’ leader is a convicted fraud, but we trust him.
“And about this term ‘weapons of mass destruction’: it’s misleading, and we apologize for using it. Lumping mustard gas an archaic, highly inefficient battlefield weapon together with intercontinental nuclear missiles is absurd. Even the deadliest gas has a lower capacity for ‘mass destruction’ than most conventional weapons. We strongly believe that Hussein gassed Kurdish civilians in 1988 (while supported by the U.S.), but he has no way to deliver significant quantities of this poison across the Atlantic Ocean. So don’t traumatize your little ones by packing gas masks in their lunchboxes. We blew this threat out of proportion.
“What about anthrax and other biological agents? Well, they certainly sound scary, but we have no evidence that Saddam Hussein has them, or the sophisticated technology needed to weaponize them. And no matter how scary they sound, they have never been used to wreak ‘mass destruction’ in the modern era. If we thought they posed a serious threat to America, wouldn’t we have ordered the mass production of treatments? Wouldn’t we be a little less eager to expose our troops to such a threat? So nix biological weapons, too.
“Now, nukes are a different ballgame altogether. Even a small one of these would cause incredible death and suffering. I know I’ve just confessed to whipping up hysteria, but take my word on this: nukes are a drag.
“Several countries already have nuclear weapons, and many more could soon. In Iraq’s neighborhood, you have Israel, India, and Pakistan, but we give them a pass because they happen to be our allies at the moment. The Russians, Chinese, and even the French are also longtime nuclear powers. And our own enormous stockpile makes the nuke-possession justification for war a rather dangerous precedent to set.
“Of course, we’re not even claiming that Iraq has nukes. Everyone knows they don’t. Saddam would doubtless love to get his paws on some, but we have no evidence that he’s capable of making them. Even if he made them, it would be quite some time before he developed the means to launch one at us. And even if he had such means, we have no reason to believe that he would be more likely to use them against us and face the consequences than the Soviet Union was or his fellow Muslim dictator Pervez Musharraf is.
“In other words, forget WMD. We’re sorry we brought them up.
“But 9/11 taught us that our enemies don’t need nukes or anthrax or even conventional weapons to kill large numbers of us. We are genuinely concerned about Saddam subsidizing terrorists who hate America. Yes, we know the 9/11 terrorists acted without state help. We know Osama bin Laden and other Islamic fundamentalists despise the secularist Hussein. And again, we have no proof that Hussein has ever collaborated with any group to strike American territory, despite our 12-year war against him. But maybe, sometime in the near or distant future, he or his offspring might.
“And that’s our self-defense argument for this war. Pretty thin, I’ll admit, but we have other reasons for wanting to invade Iraq.
“At the outset, I said the Founders of our great country believed wars should only be fought in self-defense. With all due respect to Washington, Jefferson, and company, however, the United States has long since abandoned this principle. The previous administration bombed Serbia on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. The evidence for their claims was dubious, to say the least, but few Americans objected. Who could deny that Saddam Hussein is far worse than Slobodan Milosevic?
“So our first objective is to liberate the Iraqi people. We also hope a democratic Iraq will spread reform throughout the Arab/Muslim world.
“Our second objective is to secure Israel’s interests, at least as the Likud party defines those interests. We believe the United States and everyone else owes Israel unquestioning support.
“Our final objective is to show the Arabs and other Muslims who’s boss. As one of our pundit friends put it, ‘The United States needs to go to war with Iraq because it needs to go to war with someone in the region and Iraq makes the most sense.’ Yes, we want to help them, we want to give them American political institutions, we want them to love us but above all, we want them to fear us.
“This is the plan. Yet I confess that these rosy outcomes are neither guaranteed nor even likely.
“You see, Iraq and most of its neighbors are not nations in any meaningful sense; they’re the botched cut-‘n’-paste jobs of former superpowers. Iraq is a volatile mix of ethnic, tribal, and religious enemies whose only glue has been dictatorship. Liberated Iraq may well become a Shi’ite theocracy plagued by civil war, a vortex that sucks the entire region perhaps the whole world into chaos. Who knows?
“As for Israel’s security, well, we all know how often government programs end up harming their intended beneficiaries. Believe it or not, invading Iraq on Ariel Sharon’s behalf may not cool Arab-Israeli hostilities.
“Nonetheless, we expect the Iraqis to greet us with hugs and kisses, to be eternally grateful for their liberation. But obviously, many will resent our presence: those who lose loved ones in the invasion, religious zealots, Arab nationalists, the unemployed, dispossessed, dislocated, etc. And don’t forget about Saddam loyalists in the military and police, who are probably planning a guerrilla campaign even as I speak. Foreign terrorists may pour into the country to pick off American peacekeepers. An extended period of lawlessness may turn even friendly Iraqis against us. It would be extremely disingenuous of me to act, a year from now, as if I never considered these possibilities.
“But I choose to be optimistic. I am willing to spend thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and several decades on this gamble, because I believe that strongly in bringing democracy to the Middle East, defending Israel, and asserting U.S. global supremacy. Blowback? Bring it on.
“Still, as I’ve said, I’m only a president, not an emperor. You have heard my case for war; now your elected representatives should hear from you. In keeping with Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution, there will be no war against Iraq unless Congress declares it. Thank you, and good night.”