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The French Were Right on Iraq

Guess who was right all along about the folly of going to war in Iraq?

That is, not counting Pat Buchanan, this newspaper, 156 members of Congress (seven brave Republicans) and thousands of others who opposed or voted against the Bush administration’s war plans for a multitude of good moral, principled, pragmatic, partisan or personal reasons?

The French.

No one west of Normandy’s beaches remembers or cares what French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said at the United Nations on Feb. 14, 2003, as President Bush and his neocon missionaries geared up to take down Saddam. Everyone in America was too busy making surrender jokes.

But after nearly four years, several thousand deaths and half a trillion U.S. dollars, the arguments Mr. De Villepin made in a vain attempt to cool President Bush’s pre-emptive jets sound pretty sensible, not to mention prescient.

The “premature recourse to the military option" now might appear to be the “swiftest” way to strip evil Saddam of the weapons of mass destruction, De Villepin said, but "let us not forget that having won the war, one has to build peace.” Check.

“Let us not delude ourselves; this will be long and difficult because it will be necessary to preserve Iraq’s unity and restore stability in a lasting way in a country and region harshly affected by the intrusion of force.” Check.

And nine months later, as Iraq began its spiral into bloody chaos, De Villepin offered this still timely advice to America on CNN: “Don’t believe that you are going to solve Iraq because you are going to send more troops or more money.” Attestation.

America had plenty of its own anti-war Cassandras who predicted the many bad things that invariably go wrong when you send armies to occupy, democratize and police a foreign land. Most of what they said is moot or forgotten today, as Congress and the White House play politics over the details of our inevitable withdrawal or redeployment from Mesopotamia.

But there’s one anti-war speech from late 2002 we probably haven’t heard the last of — the one by a then-unknown Illinois state Democrat senator named Barack Obama.

“I don’t oppose all wars,” said the future U.S. senator, celebrity best-seller and presidential aspirant.

“What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

“Even a successful war against Iraq,” Obama warned, “will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” Among other accurate things, he said it also would "strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida.”
Obama is smart and already known for being a coalition builder. He holds typically dumb Democrat ideas about things like taxes and health care. But his proposed solution for Iraq — a phased troop redeployment that would remove all combat brigades by the end of March of 2008 — is responsible and realistic.

Unlike Hillary, Obama still may not be White House-ready. But also unlike Hillary — who has tried to be both for and against the war for five years — Obama has been right all along on Iraq.

And he doesn’t even speak French.

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Mr. Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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