Jake Weisberg's brief editorial from Slate a few days ago was dead-on, I'd say. Especially this closing bit:
Back during the 2000 campaign, George Will and others argued that presidential intelligence didn't matter. This notion was reinforced after Sept. 11, when it became fashionable to argue that Bush's "moral clarity" was preferable to the ability to comprehend many sides of a complicated issue. In fact, presidential intelligence does matter. The intellectual qualities Bush lacks –– historical knowledge, interest in the details of policy, and substantive (as opposed to political) judgment –– might well have prevented the quagmire we're facing in Iraq right now. A more engaged president –– one who understood, for instance, the difference between the Sunnis and the Shiites –– surely would have asked about Plan B.
I've been thinking quite a bit about the "comprehending many sides of a complicated issue" point lately, every time I hear the President or his people ask the rhetorical question: "Can anyone really say that the world is not a safer place with Saddam Hussein out of power?" It's meant to be a no-brainer, but it only seems that way if you're looking at the problem without using your brains, or at least looking at the problem without comprehending many sides of a complicated issue.
This is not mushy, "both sides now" multiculturalism. It's realpolitik. (In this debate, strangely enough, the anti-war Democrats are the hardened pragmatists, and the neocons the pie-in-the-sky optimists.) Because the truth is you can't just surgically remove Hussein, and have the only secondary effect of that removal be his no longer controlling Iraq and its allegedly vast arsenal. When you swoop down pre-emptively on another country and depose its leader -- however hateful the leader -- you set in motion a chain of events that are partly predictable, and partly out of your control. Some of those events are Plan A events, in Weisberg's terms -- things that would have happened even if the occupation had gone well. We would have ticked off our allies in Europe, and angered countless young Arab men, even if we had been greeted as liberators after the invasion. And some are Plan B events: maybe the Iraqi people will greet us as an invading force, or at least a "meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss" force; maybe Iraq will become a lightning rod and rallying cry for every wannabe terrorist organization on the planet; maybe Iraq will fall into the hands of radical Islamic groups who hate us even more than Hussein did.
And this is where our Presidential IQ comes into play. Being able to comprehend many sides of a complicated issue is all about recognizing that the secondary chain of events often cancels out whatever was virtuous in the initial intervention. It feels good to overthrow the brutal dictator, but maybe the means don't justify the ends in this particular case, because the means have other effects that go against the interests of ordinary American citizens. (By making the US more despised around the globe, particularly in regions likely to breed terrorism; by creating a war zone where small, easily-executed anti-US strikes are guaranteed global publicity; by setting a precedent where it's okay for one state to just summarily decide to remove the leader of another state.) When people argue against the Iraq war it's not because they're "soft on terror"; it's because they believe the totality of secondary effects that come out of removing Hussein will likely make the world a more dangerous place in the end. It's not just enough to do the math on what taking down Saddam alone will achieve. You have to solve the entire equation. And that takes intelligence, not just moral clarity.