Some arguments against war in Iraq are better than others.
On the one hand, there are the tragically comic responses by last weekend's peace protesters in New York, caught on camera by an enterprising self-styled reporter at www.brainterminal.com. Asked for alternatives to war, the respondents hemmed and hawed and, ultimately, had to admit they had absolutely no clue how better to confront the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Not one clue. What's more, they were blissfully unconcerned about their dead-end thoughtlessness: They weren't for anything other than poorly-thought-out pacifism.
"All we are saying," the famous song goes, "is give peace a chance." Yes, indeed. That is all they were saying.
Then, too, there's always the give-Saddam-another-chance blather emanating from the anti-American crowd at the United Nations and the People's Republic of Hollywood.
On the other hand, there are the eminently more thoughtful reservations expressed this past week by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who warned against "the traps of hubris and imperial temptation that come with great power.
"The success of our actions will be determined not by the extent of our power, but by an appreciation of its limits."
Now, that is both articulate and wise. And it should give even the hawks among us great pause.
Still, United Nations impotence, Saddam Hussein's intransigence, the Arab world's blind loyalty to even the worst of its own, and the inspectors' hopelessness - a handful of scientists scouring the surface of a nation the size of California - leaves the civilized world with little choice.
And perhaps no one has yet made as compelling a case for military action as the one made recently in a speech by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
It was a devastatingly logical, factual and damning recitation of history's failure to either contain or deter Saddam Hussein - and the most convincing testimony to date on either side of the issue.
McCain showed, in exacting detail, why the U.S. ability to contain the Soviet threat during the Cold War is not applicable today with regard to Iraq. Such containment, he says, requires four things: reliable allies; a clear goal with a consistent doctrine; economic and military capability to enforce the doctrine; and the political will to carry it out.
Those things were present in the Cold War. But today, McCain says:
The allies are not reliable: Whereas previously we had a stout and welcoming West Germany, today we have a non-resolute, intolerant, back-stabbing Saudi Arabia. And of course, there are famous friends France and Germany, placing their financial and commercial interests over that of world security.
Not even the United States, much less its weak-kneed allies, has shown either the consistency or political will to contain Iraq's weapons programs. The 15-day ultimatum of 1991 passed without Iraq's disarmament, as did various other demands over the next 12 years.
Sanctions against Iraq - the ultimate peaceful weapon - are in tatters. Iraq has still managed to become the world's second-largest oil exporter, and despite complaints that sanctions are crippling the country, McCain says "air and commercial traffic (is) thriving, diplomatic missions flourishing, weapons production lines up and running ..."
"Proponents of containment claim that Iraq is in a box," McCain said. "But it is a box with no lid, no bottom - and whose sides are falling out.
"Within this box are definitive footprints of germ, chemical and nuclear programs. ..."
Besides the need for the world to have the discipline, doctrine and capability to contain such threats, that which is the object of containment must also be containable - in other words, McCain says, capable of making "realistic cost-benefit calculations." Clearly, that ability has escaped the dictator of Iraq.
Never mind just giving peace a chance - the world has gone beyond that. We've given containment and deterrence more than a few chances. They have failed. Miserably. That point is not even arguable.
Yet, even on the eve of war, much of the world obliviously holds out the long-discredited and disproved notion that containment can work.
"A policy of containing Iraq," McCain logically concludes, "is unsustainable, ineffective, unworkable and dangerous." Embracing that failed policy, he notes, means "you must accept proliferation, and proliferation - not just unchecked, but accelerated - will make the violent century just passed seem an era of remarkable tranquility in comparison."
No one wants war. But guess what: The world hasn't appeared to, and still doesn't, want peace - and security - badly enough to really work for it. Last-minute protestations against military force - without any ideas offered as to reasonable alternatives - are woefully inadequate. You want peace? Don't wait until the guns are leveled to step in.