I don’t usually play "What if?" because in general it is not a productive use of my time. When I managed a stock brokerage and one of my brokers indulged in "What if?" regarding an investment decision, there was always a shout of "Woulda, shoulda, coulda!" from his fellow workers. Normally it is simply a waste of time to worry about what would have happened, what should have happened, or what could have happened - if...
However, sometimes performing a "What if?" analysis can be productive, if we are willing to learn from our mistakes and apply the knowledge gained to a pending decision. For instance, "What if?" the United States had engaged in a preemptive strike against Osama bin Ladin thirteen months ago?
Would the Attacks on America last September 11 have taken place? Would the more than 3,000 Americans killed that day be alive today? Would the Twin Towers still be standing? Would our economy be more robust because we weren’t spending billions dealing with the effects of 9/11? Would more Americans feel safe flying in an airplane or attending large gatherings?
Let’s turn the question around. "What if?" Israel had NOT engaged in a preemptive strike in 1981 against Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad just before it went on line?
Would Iraq have had nuclear weapons in 1991 when it invaded Kuwait? Would Saddam have used them against our troops during Desert storm? Would he have wiped Israel, our only real ally in the region, from the face of the map? And would he have become bold enough to bring his weapons of mass destruction to our own shore?
Let’s try another. "What if?" the United States had acted unilaterally against Saddam in 1991, instead of building an unnecessary coalition and accepting a U.N. mandate that limited our mission to the liberation of Kuwait?
Would Saddam Hussein be serving a life sentence in a democratic Iraq? Would the fact that we had demonstrated our resolve have discouraged other dictators like Arafat, thus saving thousands of lives? Would the Middle East be stable and moving toward prosperity, rather than wasting its resources on innumerable conflicts? Most important, would we be discussing a preemptive strike against Iraq today if we had finished the job then?
"What if?" has been fodder for hundreds of movies over the years, from Dickins’ excellent "A Christmas Carol" to a variety of time travel plots of varying quality. "What if?" Thomas Marley had been kind and generous instead of being the personification of "Scrooge"? "What if?" a time traveler went back in time and saved the life of a man who ultimately murdered the time traveler’s own father?
No one knows for sure what would have happened if any particular action had taken place in the past. There are too many variables. But I am willing to speculate on the results of our past lack of effective action, and the potential results if inaction today.
I believe that if we had forged on to Baghdad after liberating Kuwait in 1991 and removed Saddam Hussein then, the world would be a much safer place today. Instead of worrying about "world opinion" we should have been concerned about doing what was right. "What if?" Bush the elder had had the courage to ignore the do-nothings at the UN and finish what he had started? I believe his son would not be facing the dilemma he faces today.
"What if?" the son emulates the father instead of doing what is right today? He appears to be following in his father’s footsteps. He has already wasted precious time trying to build a coalition that will never materialize, waiting for Congress to authorize what it has already authorized, and asking the UN to enforce resolutions it has failed to enforce for eleven years.
Do I believe that Saddam Hussein will invade the United States if we fail to act against him now? Of course not. But if we lack the courage to stop him now, this is what I believe will happen:
Saddam will complete the production of nuclear weapons. He has promised to obliterate Israel, and will attempt to do so. He may succeed. If he does not, the Middle East will be embroiled in a conflict that will spill over to the rest of the world. He will supply portable nuclear weapons to terrorists, some of which will find their way to our shores.
"What if?" instead we do what America has always been famous for? "What if?" we accept the leadership role that the world has thrust upon us? "What if?" we have the courage to do the right thing, and stop this madman whose personal hero is Adolf Hitler? Stopping Hussein won’t solve all the world’s problems. But it will remove a major threat to world peace. And it will show all the world’s dictators that the United States will always stand up for what is right.