We might have avoided the Iraq war, even though both Bill Clinton and Al Gore had repeatedly and publicly said that another and conclusive round with Saddam Hussein was, given his flagrant defiance of all the relevant U.N. resolutions, unavoidably in our future. And the inconvenient downside to avoiding the Iraq intervention is that a choke point of the world economy would still be controlled by a psychopathic crime family that kept a staff of WMD experts on hand and that paid for jihadist suicide bombers around the region. In his farewell interviews, President Bush hasn't been able to find much to say for himself on this point, but I think it's a certainty that historians will not conclude that the removal of Saddam Hussein was something that the international community ought to have postponed any further. (Indeed, if there is a disgrace, it is that previous administrations left the responsibility undischarged.)
The obvious failures—in particular the increasing arrogance and insanity of the dictatorships of Iran and North Korea—are at least failures in their own terms: failure to live up to the original rhetoric and failure to mesh human rights imperatives with geo-strategic and security ones. Again, it's not clear to me how any alternative administration would have behaved. And the collapse of our financial system has its roots in a long-ago attempt, not disgraceful in and of itself, to put home ownership within reach even of the least affluent. So the old question "compared to what?" does not allow too much glibness.
Inescapable as it is, "compared to what?" isn't much of a defense. And nor has this column been intended exactly as a defense, either. It's just that there's an element of hubris in all this current hope-mongering and that I am beginning to be a little bit afraid to think of what Wednesday morning will feel like.
I really like Hitchens and he shows his intelligence and his stability. If only more people were like him... (and I like him even though he voted for Obama.) His level-headedness shows how we need to proceed: bold but humble.