March 17, 2003


AT THE BRINK: The UN is now out of the loop. The President's speech tonight promises an ultimatum, giving Saddam until later in the week to go into exile or face war. (We'll find out the exact timetable tonight, but an administration official told CNN that 72 hours was "in the right ballpark.")

We're very close, but elements of the American Street are still antsy. This came in my inbox today, along with a link to the story above:

72 hours is three days ---too long MUCH too long. I would have given 3 hours.
I think this correspondent has let his emotions get the better of him. As agonizing as the wait has been, another three days is pretty close to nothing. And it is important to give Saddam a real shot at exile, because exile has enormous advantages, even if the benefits may be diminished.

If Saddam does go into exile, post-Saddam Iraq may be less free and less democratic than it would be after a war; we would be reforming an existing Baathist society rather than building a new, freer society from the ground up. Hence, the potential benefits of exile may be smaller than the benefits of war.

Lest we forget, though, the potential costs of war are substantial. It may be an easy conflict, but there may be an attack on Israel, a release of chemical or biological weapons, very high civilian casualties, an attack by Hezbollah-- the possibilities are frightening, even if some are remote. Even though I think the likely post-war benefits outweigh the likely costs of the war, it's dishonest to discount the possible costs of the war. Those possible costs make exile attractive, because it is, in terms of risk, a pretty cheap option. Of course, it probably won't happen.

Posted by John Tabin at March 17, 2003 06:49 PM