Stop rationalizing

The commission tasked with finding WMD's in Iraq has now officially terminated its search, issuing its statement that such weapons will probably never be found. Not that they never existed, but that the likelihood of actually finding stockpiles of WMD's in Iraq is so low as be not worth the further expenditure of time and effort.

This has prompted another round of after—the—fact nay saying by the Administration's numerous and willing critics, as they fall over each other in a race to see who can be the first to say 'Aha! This is the final proof that Bush took us to war under false pretenses.'

At the time Bush made the decision to go to war, all the intelligence—ours and the rest of the world's, including France, Britain, Israel, and Russia—painted an unequivocal picture of a WMD—armed Iraq, led by a maniacal, terrorist—sympathizing leader willing and ready to use those weapons in a post 9/11 world. Decisions can only be evaluated and analyzed based on the information that was available at the time the decision was made. Why is that so hard for people to grasp? This is a very simple concept that the President's critics seem only too happy to ignore in order to gain cheap political advantage.

Yet once again, Iraq provides an example of the rationale for going to war turning out not to be the reason that the war is fought. Oftentimes, a new reason emerges that legitimizes the action, even as the original pretense evaporates into total insignificance and irrelevance.

This entire scenario brings forth a fascinating question: What is the proper rationale for going to war? When can one country justifiably use force against another? History sheds some essential light on this topic.

Would most people agree that the 1939—1945 war in Europe against Adolph Hitler was a just war? Yes, it was as morally justified as any war could possibly be. Why was it justified? Well, most people would immediately jump in and say that Hitler was a murderous madman, responsible for the deaths of millions of people, including six million Jews in the concentration camps. He had to be stopped at all costs, before he controlled all of Europe, before he wiped out all the people who didn't meet his sick standards, before he reshaped the world according to his own perverse vision.

Yet that is NOT the reason Europe went to war in 1939. The war began on September 1, 1939, when Hitler's forces turned eastward and unleashed a combined air—land Blitzkrieg attack against Poland. The next day, in response to Hitler's aggression on their treaty ally, France and England declared war on Germany. Thus began World War II. It had started because of one country's aggression against another. Poland's threatened freedom was the rationale for the West—France and England—going to war. When the Japanese attacked the U. S. Navy at Pearl Harbor two years later, Germany, allied with Japan, declared war on the United States, and the war became truly world—wide in magnitude.

The Allies fought Hitler for six years, finally defeating his military in the spring of 1945. When the advancing Allied armies overran the concentration camps, the world learned for the first time the true nature of Hitler's barbarism. We know now of his 'Final Solution,' the plan to exterminate all European Jews. But that plan didn't start until 1942—three years after Germany invaded Poland—and it wasn't widely—known in the West until after the war when the camps were liberated. Certainly, neither the Western public nor the Allied soldiers in the field knew of it during the war. The West fought the war based on the political—military reality as they understood it at the time, not for the moral justification that came to light AFTER the war. Yet history's judgment is that perhaps the greatest value to the world of the war in Europe was in stopping Hitler's crimes against humanity.

So it may well be with Iraq. The original hypothesis of Saddam, in 12—year defiance of UN sanctions, using his WMD against the West or transferring them to terrorist groups was definitely a valid premise for military action. Yet even if the hard evidence of WMD stockpiles is never found, the value to the world of his removal, with new humanitarian transgressions emerging every day, is undeniable. The opportunity to establish a new democracy in a region that has never had one, with its promise of fundamentally reshaping the dynamic of the Middle East's relationship to the rest of the world is a potentially epochal moment in modern history. The difficulty of achieving that objective should not be confused with the legitimacy of undertaking the task itself.

Ironically, Poland's freedom, whose invasion by Germany was the catalyst for the beginning of European hostilities, was never achieved. The Soviets rolled into Poland from the east on their way to Germany, and kept Poland under Soviet control for the next fifty years! Thus, the entire rationale for starting World War II remained unfulfilled at the conclusion of hostilities in 1945. Does that mean the war shouldn't have been fought?

That's irrational.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.

The commission tasked with finding WMD's in Iraq has now officially terminated its search, issuing its statement that such weapons will probably never be found. Not that they never existed, but that the likelihood of actually finding stockpiles of WMD's in Iraq is so low as be not worth the further expenditure of time and effort.

This has prompted another round of after—the—fact nay saying by the Administration's numerous and willing critics, as they fall over each other in a race to see who can be the first to say 'Aha! This is the final proof that Bush took us to war under false pretenses.'

At the time Bush made the decision to go to war, all the intelligence—ours and the rest of the world's, including France, Britain, Israel, and Russia—painted an unequivocal picture of a WMD—armed Iraq, led by a maniacal, terrorist—sympathizing leader willing and ready to use those weapons in a post 9/11 world. Decisions can only be evaluated and analyzed based on the information that was available at the time the decision was made. Why is that so hard for people to grasp? This is a very simple concept that the President's critics seem only too happy to ignore in order to gain cheap political advantage.

Yet once again, Iraq provides an example of the rationale for going to war turning out not to be the reason that the war is fought. Oftentimes, a new reason emerges that legitimizes the action, even as the original pretense evaporates into total insignificance and irrelevance.

This entire scenario brings forth a fascinating question: What is the proper rationale for going to war? When can one country justifiably use force against another? History sheds some essential light on this topic.

Would most people agree that the 1939—1945 war in Europe against Adolph Hitler was a just war? Yes, it was as morally justified as any war could possibly be. Why was it justified? Well, most people would immediately jump in and say that Hitler was a murderous madman, responsible for the deaths of millions of people, including six million Jews in the concentration camps. He had to be stopped at all costs, before he controlled all of Europe, before he wiped out all the people who didn't meet his sick standards, before he reshaped the world according to his own perverse vision.

Yet that is NOT the reason Europe went to war in 1939. The war began on September 1, 1939, when Hitler's forces turned eastward and unleashed a combined air—land Blitzkrieg attack against Poland. The next day, in response to Hitler's aggression on their treaty ally, France and England declared war on Germany. Thus began World War II. It had started because of one country's aggression against another. Poland's threatened freedom was the rationale for the West—France and England—going to war. When the Japanese attacked the U. S. Navy at Pearl Harbor two years later, Germany, allied with Japan, declared war on the United States, and the war became truly world—wide in magnitude.

The Allies fought Hitler for six years, finally defeating his military in the spring of 1945. When the advancing Allied armies overran the concentration camps, the world learned for the first time the true nature of Hitler's barbarism. We know now of his 'Final Solution,' the plan to exterminate all European Jews. But that plan didn't start until 1942—three years after Germany invaded Poland—and it wasn't widely—known in the West until after the war when the camps were liberated. Certainly, neither the Western public nor the Allied soldiers in the field knew of it during the war. The West fought the war based on the political—military reality as they understood it at the time, not for the moral justification that came to light AFTER the war. Yet history's judgment is that perhaps the greatest value to the world of the war in Europe was in stopping Hitler's crimes against humanity.

So it may well be with Iraq. The original hypothesis of Saddam, in 12—year defiance of UN sanctions, using his WMD against the West or transferring them to terrorist groups was definitely a valid premise for military action. Yet even if the hard evidence of WMD stockpiles is never found, the value to the world of his removal, with new humanitarian transgressions emerging every day, is undeniable. The opportunity to establish a new democracy in a region that has never had one, with its promise of fundamentally reshaping the dynamic of the Middle East's relationship to the rest of the world is a potentially epochal moment in modern history. The difficulty of achieving that objective should not be confused with the legitimacy of undertaking the task itself.

Ironically, Poland's freedom, whose invasion by Germany was the catalyst for the beginning of European hostilities, was never achieved. The Soviets rolled into Poland from the east on their way to Germany, and kept Poland under Soviet control for the next fifty years! Thus, the entire rationale for starting World War II remained unfulfilled at the conclusion of hostilities in 1945. Does that mean the war shouldn't have been fought?

That's irrational.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.