On the eve of war, The Times editorial board remained persistent in its call for the United Nations to approve action against Iraq, even though it took the liberal hawkish position that Saddam Hussein needed to be disarmed for his tyranny and, The Times believed, his pursuit and possession of weapons of mass destruction. This still put it to the left of all the major papers. Below, we quote at length from that editorial, and its prescient consideration of costs and rising threats from North Korea and Iran.
Friday, March 14, 2003
The Right Way in Iraq
In a post- 9/11 world, the president argues, things are different. The nation must protect itself. Yes. So the question becomes, would an invasion of Iraq make the United States and the world safer? If the world community unites to do it, yes. But a U.S.-led invasion, without sanction from the United Nations, would make this nation and the world at large more dangerous.
It is well established that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. Among other things, Iraq still has tons of material that can be made into biological weapons like anthrax and into chemical weapons like mustard gas.
It clearly is in the world's interest to disarm this murderous tyrant. The Security Council, riven by both legitimate concerns about the U.S. use of power and its own petty political games played for domestic consumption in France, Germany, Russia and China, must not freeze in a critical moment....
But the president's next step in effect, "if the U.N. doesn't do it, right now, the United States will" -- is where he loses us and, we suspect, many other Americans.
The Bush administration's months of attempts to justify quick military action against Iraq have been confusing and unfocused.... The administration tried mightily, and failed, to show a connection between Hussein and the 9/11 perpetrators, Al Qaeda. Had there been real evidence that Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, Americans would have lined up in support of retaliation....
Opposition to immediate war cuts across religious lines, but it is especially strong among Muslims, some of whom see an attack on Iraq as a renewal of the Christian crusades against Islam. Throughout the Middle East, a postwar occupation of Iraq would become part of the myth of an American empire come to wreak havoc on the Muslims. This refueled resentment would not make the world safer. It would not make the streets at home safer.
The cost of war would be high, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars. Add on costs to occupy Iraq while rebuilding it and the price tag would be higher still.... As the U.S. places a laser focus on Iraq, other serious challenges await. North Korea is believed to have one or two nuclear bombs and the intention of making more. It exports missiles to other countries.... And recent reports suggest that Iran too is making advances in its nuclear weapons program.
All of these problems require a response, and this nation cannot muscle its way out of all of its international disputes.
Six days later, the war had begun. Noticing that "shock and awe" weren't happening, The Times hoped for a brief conflict with low casualties:
Thursday, March 20, 2003
The Beginnings of War
The limited early strikes contrasted sharply with what had been expected after Pentagon officers spoke of beginning the war with massive airstrikes designed to "shock and awe" or overwhelm Iraq....
The "gee whiz" effect of the most modern armaments should not cloak their result: death and destruction. The targets will be military and government installations; Pentagon planners say they have tried to minimize civilian casualties. But war brings carnage....
The common wisdom as the war began was that it would be short and the more difficult phase would be the next one, occupying and rebuilding Iraq. But the generals and admirals rightly warned against being overconfident and underestimating any enemy, and Bush on Wednesday acknowledged that a campaign on the harsh terrain of Iraq, a country as large as California, "could be longer and more difficult than some predict."
In the end, for Bush, this war of choice is rooted in 9/11: "We will meet that threat now with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of firefighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities."