What would you have done? Would you have left Saddam Hussein in power? The inquiry, familiar to all of us who opposed the war, is put in a finger-stabbing sort of way – as though that clinched it; as though the answer is so obvious that the peaceniks can only stammer. Just ask them what they would have done and watch them squirm!
Elsewhere, the tactic is more typical of left-wing polemicists than of the Right. ‘How could you stand by and see…?’ is a favourite way of arguing for state intervention (and taxpayers’ money) for any amount of expensive interference with nature. Any Tory with guts learns to summon them when reminded of dying patients, hungry jobseekers, sinking industries, failing railways or freezing pensioners, and asked, ‘What would you do?’ We answer ‘nothing’ and duck the flying eggs. But when it comes to what should be done about Saddam, we who answer ‘nothing’ face the missiles from the Right, newly converted to the Something Ought To Be Done brigade. On Iraq, neoconservatives deploy the gambit much as a warrior confronts a pacifist by demanding to know what he would do if somebody tried to rape his sister.
I cannot answer the rape question for pacifists, not being one. But as someone certain that the invasion of Iraq was a blunder, perhaps I should say what I would I have done.
Now let me oblige my interrogators by squirming. I should count it a mark of humanity to squirm. In some disputes I do not find the answers easy or (a different thing) easy to proclaim. If I were not troubled by the existence in the world of tyrants, troubled to know how far it is our duty to remove such men, and embarrassed to put into words the conclusion that it may not always be my duty, I would not be human.