What kind of world do you want to live in?

What would you do if someone in your community took the law into his own hands and murdered an admittedly bad character? What if he then had trouble proving why he pulled the trigger?

Let’s open this up with a hypothetical situation: There’s a murderer living in your community. He’s struck before and one of your neighbors, the richest and most powerful guy in town, is convinced he’s going to strike again. Rich Guy tells everyone in town that the murderer is a bad guy and needs to be taken care of, that he has a torture chamber in his garage and that he’s a threat not only to you but to the whole town. To top it off, he beats his attractive wife and abuses his children. But no one wants to join Rich Guy’s lynch mob. And the cops aren’t much help; they say they have no evidence that he’s done anything lately. He’s a wily criminal and covers his tracks. But he gives you and everyone else in town the creeps.
Finally, Rich Guy decides to take the law into his own hands. One day, after repeated warnings, he shoots the old guy dead in the street in full view of everyone. The community is secretly glad he did it, and — bonus! — his attractive wife and children are no longer terrorized. Why, you might even date her yourself although Rich Guy has already started wooing her.
One small problem: As Rich Guy is rummaging around in the murderer’s house, he can’t find a single instrument of torture or the murder weapons that he used on his previous victims. All signs, in fact, point to a decrepit old man whose reign of terror — which at most extended to his front lawn — would soon be coming to an end anyway. There are no indications he was able to kill again. However, Rich Guy does find the old man’s personal fortune stashed away in mason jars, which he said he would take “to hold on to while his wife and child recover from their horrible ordeal.”
So now Rich Guy has killed a man — who no doubt deserved to die and could hardly be considered innocent — but he’s broken the law. He committed murder and there’s really no denying that.
Should the cops now lock him up? Prosecute him for first degree murder? What would you say if this situation happened in your community?
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Well, if that mean old man was really about to do some nasty stuff, perhaps Rich Guy should get manslaughter or justifiable homicide.” But the mean old man’s means of terrorizing his neighborhood are inconveniently absent. Do you still trust Rich Guy? Would you look at him counting the old man’s money with his arm around the beautiful widow and think, “Ah, hell, the wife and child are happy so all’s well that ends well”? Would you shrug and think, “This is the kind of town I want to live in! Who needs cops when Rich Guy can take care of the bad guys?”
But what happens if Rich Guy is wrong?
Okay, this was obviously an analogy for Iraq and the United States, and this report from the Washington Post makes it clear that not only is the search for weapons of mass destruction coming up empty, it’s looking increasingly futile. As the Post says:

The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group’s departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war.

The task force is being shuttered next month, and the number of fruitless missions paints a damning indictment.
CENTCOM began the war, the story says, with 19 top weapons sites. Only two remain to be searched, with nothing coming up in the first 17. Another list had 68 top “non-WMD” sites that might offer clues to the locations of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons programs. Forty-five have been dead ends. Despite the Bush administration’s assertions that the inspections have barely begun and — irony alert! — must be given time, Task Force 75’s inspection of the high-priority targets has been marked by poor intelligence on the part of Washington or poor security that led to sites being looted or burned. This means that any materials that might have been used to produce WMD are now missing, which is what this was was allegedly fought for.
“Am I convinced that what we did in this fight was viable? I tell you from the bottom of my heart: We stopped Saddam Hussein in his WMD programs,” said Army Col. Richard McPhee, according to the Post. “Do I know where they are? I wish I did … but we will find them. Or not. I don’t know. I’m being honest here.”
But the key parts of this article are the ones that show how poorly the retroactive search for a casus belli is going.

“We came to bear country, we came loaded for bear and we found out the bear wasn’t here,” said a Defense Intelligence Agency officer here who asked not to be identified by name. “The indications and warnings were there. The assessments were solid.”
“Okay, that paradigm didn’t exist,” he added. “The question before was, where are Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons? What is the question now? That is what we are trying to sort out.”
One thing analysts must reconsider, he said, is: “What was the nature of the threat?”

The suspicion that the American people — and the United Nations — were not simply misled but actively lied to by Team Bush to gain support for this war leads to a bit of a queasy feeling. At least it should.
Look, I’m not denying that good came of this and that the Iraqi people likely will eventually be better off, but I do have to ask some questions to the people now crowing that what the United States did was right:

  1. Was the good that came out of this worth the problems and costs now facing the United States?
  2. Was it worth it to saddle the United States taxpayer with a multi-billion dollar commitment to Iraq when the nation’s deficits are climbing ever higher and the economy is as stagnant a Florida swamp?
  3. Was it worth the damage to international order and alliances that has been done?
  4. Why did the United States start a war armed with a quiver full of lies?
  5. Is this the kind of world you want to live in?