Katie Couric argues with Condoleeza Rice about how Saddam should have been dealt with in 2003 had the future been known. Rice say that you can never evaluate decisions on that basis, because decisions are made with the information actually available at the time. Dr. Rice ends by saying that the history we actually have is far better than many counterfactual histories that one can imagine having taken place, and suggests one alternative history that might have happened.
How things might have turned out in history is a fascinating but ultimately speculative form of study. What would have happened if Stalin had invaded Germany first in 1941? What if Roosevelt had not built the atomic bomb? How different would things be if Ross Perot had not run for President?
Couric thinks she knows the obvious answer to her own question. But I think no one does. Rice is content to argue that the decision made at the time, based on what was known, was entirely reasonable. Whether it would have been the best of all words is unknowable. As Robert Frost put it:
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
But what difference would it have made? There’s the rub.