Counterfactual historical speculations are all the rage these days, but it is ultimately a fatuous exercise. For a long while I have speculated on what would have happened if Churchill had been prime minister in 1936 or 1938, and had launched a "pre-emptive" war against Hitler. No doubt it would have been ferociously controversial and might have stained his reputation forever for having started an "unncessary war." After all, the appeasers would have said, we could deal with Hitler diplomatically. The wisdom of a different, tougher course in 1936 or 1938 is only clear in hindsight, but the obvious paradox is that wed never have known about the greater disaster that was avoided. As Churchill himself put it, what is is singular; what might have been, infinite.
And so I have wondered what might have happened if the US had backed down on Iraq in the spring of 2003 and we had not done the deed. Wouldnt Husseins prestige have soared in the region, perhaps promising a whole new world of trouble down the road? How would the Iranians have reacted? Gerard Baker of the London Times offers his own counter-factual speculations in this fine piece.