This column seems tame now. But I wrote it at a time when anything less than 100 percent gung-ho agreement with the White House brought you heaps of invective. I heard from a lot of angry readers over this one. Many of my misgivings look prescient, but I too was fooled into thinking that Iraq was hiding WMDs.
IRAQ CONFLICT ALREADY RAGES -- IN MY MIND
Date: Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B
Byline: HOWARD GOODMAN COMMENTARY
Like many Americans, I am divided on Iraq. My lack of resolve shows in the internal polls I've been taking.
According to my mind's pollster, I am 85 percent certain that Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator whose greatest contribution to the world would be to leave it.
I am 95 percent sure that Hussein is hiding weapons of mass destruction, including terrible gases, chemicals and germs. And I am 75 percent sure that the United Nations will lose even more of its credibility if it lets Hussein off the hook.
But I am 90 percent sure a U.S. invasion of Iraq will bring death to many innocent people, encourage Hussein to unleash the very weapons we fear he has, and radicalize new generations of Arab and Muslim suicide bombers to haunt us.
Those aren't the only conflicting opinions I'm holding.
I am 100 percent behind the idea that bringing democracy to Iraq would be a grand and wonderful thing.
But I am only about 15 percent confident that the United States is capable of making a democratic state out of the tribal, religious and ethnic jumble that would follow a U.S. victory.
And I am 100 percent leery of the costs of occupying Iraq for any length of time. It's going to cost billions of dollars, make our soldiers targets for terrorists and inflame the people who already hate us for being imperialist big shots.
Don't forget, what first ticked off Osama bin Laden was that we infidels established bases in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. Al-Qaida's plots against U.S. targets started as vengeance for our disrespect of the holy land.
That's a prime example of the Law of Unintended Consequences -- a law we flout at our peril.
Who knows what future disasters we'll sow by warring on Iraq, especially if much of world opinion disapproves?
But doing nothing ain't so great, either. Munich in 1938 proved pussyfooting with a dictator is a formula for disaster.
Speaking of Osama, I'm only about 7 percent convinced that he is in league with Hussein. That tape from last week, which Colin Powell paraded as proof of their connection, looks to me like Osama just piggy-backing onto the Saddam Show.
By the way, how bad an omen is it that bin Laden suddenly reappears on tape? If we didn't succeed in Afghanistan to get him "dead or alive" -- as President Bush bit out in his best John Wayne -- what makes us so sanguine about winning this war?
I realized how conflicted I felt when I watched coverage over the weekend of the massive anti-war demonstrations that circled the globe. Thirty-five years ago, I took part in many similar protests as a whole-hearted opponent of the Vietnam War.
This time around, the slogans of the millions in the streets seemed facile. This new conflict isn't all about oil or Bush's fixation on his dad. It's not enough to simply say that war is bad and we should never engage in it -- not without noting that a lot of worse people have guns pointed at us.
The thing is, I'm not sure about the right next step.
And neither are most of you.
According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, only a slight majority (53 percent) of Americans approve of Bush's handling of the Iraq situation. Sixty-six percent think the U.S. should take military action to remove Hussein from power. (Huh? Did that extra 13 percent think Bush opposes military action?)
But only 38 percent say Iraq is so dangerous the U.S. should act now, even without U.N. support, while 59 percent say the United Nations and weapons inspectors deserve more time. That result seems completely opposite of Bush's position.
It must be nice to be like George Bush: to be completely sure of one's position and brag about sleeping well at night.
But I suspect I'll stay muddled until the moment war is declared. Then I'll try to shelve my misgivings and pray for low casualty counts.
Meantime, I am 78 percent in favor of giving the inspectors more time because they seem to have Iraq boxed in.
But I don't know how much time we should give them.