Pleasant surprise of the century

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has produced discomfiture among hawks, outrage among doves.

Both camps should cheer up. Suppose that last spring Saddam Hussein did have an arsenal of WMD. He probably would have used them. And the casualty count would have been astronomical.

Granted, the presence of such weapons would have made the hawks' case for going to war look better. But I suggest asking some of our soldiers or embedded reporters whether they are disappointed that they never got to put their chemical suits to good use. Or ask them how they would have fared had the enemy returned fire not with bullets, but with germs.

Iraq's apparent lack of WMD should go down as one of the most pleasant surprises of modern history.

The world was a little less dangerous than we thought. Since when is that a reason to be so glum? How wonderful it would be if North Korea, Iran, and other rogue nations do not actually possess WMD. My bet is that they do. But I would love to be wrong on that score.

Before the war, doves made the legitimate argument that the risks of an invasion would be too high. They acknowledged that Mr. Hussein's regime was a humanitarian nightmare. But they warned that our soldiers could die en masse from WMD attacks. Hundreds of oil wells could be set aflame. WMD-tipped missiles could land in Israel. Americans could face a barrage of terrorist attacks at home. The "Arab street" could rise up to destabilize neighboring governments.

All were valid points. As it turned out, getting rid of Hussein turned out to be relatively easy. Casualties have been on the light side, as wars go.

And the humanitarian benefits have been huge. No more acid baths. No more mass executions of entire families.. No more living in constant fear of informants. No more prisons full of children whose only crime was being the offspring of those who spoke out against Hussein's regime.

Yet, many steadfastly believe ousting Hussein was wrong. The folks at Moveon.org are livid that "George Bush relentlessly led us into a war that has cost 500 American lives, left 3,000 seriously injured, and has already cost more than $100 billion." Apparently they do not think these sacrifices justify the liberation of 24 million Iraqis, masses of whom would have died at the hands of Hussein's executioners, had he remained in power.

From a humanitarian standpoint, the doves can make a legitimate argument in this respect: what may lie ahead. They can plausibly argue that Iraq could degenerate into a bloody civil war, or become an Islamic tyranny worse than that of Hussein.

But so far, none of this has come to pass. While Iraq is no paradise, the vast majority of Iraqis are far better off now than they were under Hussein.

Many doves fear Iraq will go to pot, but hope it will not happen. Other doves fear Iraq will go to pot, and hope it will happen. The latter group's spite for President Bush apparently outweighs any humanitarian concern they have for the Iraqi people.

A Des Moines Register columnist wrote about a friend who last summer actually took comfort in news of explosions, ambushes, and other attacks against Americans and innocent Iraqis. And in a remarkable confession, at the outset of the war the executive editor of Salon.com had at times secretly wished for the worst-case scenarios, just to see the Bush administration look bad. A number of others told him they had identical feelings.

The honesty of both observers is commendable. And to their great credit, they felt guilty about their feelings and disavowed them. But I surmise that other people out there lack such scruples.

Imagine a notorious criminal holed up in a building with hostages. The police are convinced he has a bomb. Lots of people warn against storming the building; it is way too risky. Others say we should take our chances. The mayor and police chief finally decide to move in. The SWAT team pulls it off with minimal casualties. And guess what: there was no bomb after all. The hostages are freed. Everyone is happy.

Everyone, that is, except those who are chagrined that their dire predictions did not come true. It is the same group of people who always considered the mayor as something of a maverick. They already resented him for lowering the city's tax rate. Now they criticize him at every opportunity because the suspicions about the bomb were not confirmed. The police should not have taken action, they say. Those who urged taking action are now somewhat chagrined, too, since there was no bomb.

Meanwhile, the notorious criminal is in jail, and the hostages are finally free.

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