"Letter to a Democrat" (October 22, 2004)
The case against a vote for Kerry. By Ramesh Ponnuru
A vote for George W. Bush will make you an accomplice after the fact in the death of thousands and the maiming of thousands more—an infliction of suffering unexcused by justice or necessity. As theologians argued before the invasion of Iraq, preventive war is justified only on grounds of self-defense. But we know now, through the President's own inspector, Charles Duelfer, that Iraq posed no threat to the United States, or to its neighbors. In saying he would launch the war knowing everything he knows now, President Bush has endorsed a principle that most Americans would denounce if other countries espoused it: Might makes right.
Bush could (but doesn't) claim he was misled by bad intelligence into believing that Saddam possessed WMD. But you know better. In voting for Bush now, you would be taking a position you would not have taken before the war—that even if Iraq had no WMD and no connection to 9/11, the U.S. should invade and occupy it; that even without justification, we should kill from ten- to twenty-thousand Iraqis; that even though self-defense does not require it, we should will the death of over 1,000 U.S. servicemen and women and the wounding of 7,000 more. Bush is stuck with that position. He is a politician; you are not. He is asking you to endorse all that has happened knowing that none of it was necessary. Won't that be worse than endorsing what the Pope called the war before it began—"a defeat for humanity"? Won't it be more like endorsing a crime against humanity?
But, you say, Saddam is in jail. His regime is gone. The Iraqis are free. Toppling his regime, however, was not an end in itself but a means to the end of securing Iraq's WMD. Which did not exist. Such threat—faint, almost notional—as Iraq posed was contained before the war. And now? Osama Bin Laden wanted to provoke Western intervention in an Arab country and Bush played into his hands. How much will Iraq help Bin Ladenism? We can't know. But, from the point of view of U.S. security, the cost of removing Saddam exceeds the short-term benefit, and weights the odds against realizing any long-term gain by way of "democracy" in Iraq.
As for the Iraqis, they are free of Saddam, but at what cost? Put it this way. The U.S. population is roughly twelve times Iraq's. How would you feel if, in liberating us from an oppressive government, a foreign invader killed 120,000 Americans? If your son or daughter was among those killed, your loss would be absolute; beyond balance by any future gain for the country. That is how it is for many of the Iraqis we have "liberated." Life was hard under Saddam, but it was life nonetheless. Saddam was not perpetrating genocide, which would have given the intervention a humanitarian justification, allowing us to claim we killed thousands to save hundreds of thousands. But you know better.
A vote for Bush promises the absolution of denial—and that, I think, explains his otherwise inexplicable hold on the electorate. The President cannot face the truth, but his moral blindness won't excuse yours. Our soldiers have done their duty. No dishonor attaches to them. It attaches to Bush; and it will attach to you if you vote for him.