January 08, 2004

Too High a Price to Pay

Jim Henley tells us what he really thinks about the war in Iraq:

Unqualified Offerings: Nothing. Nada. Zip. - "Iraq's Arsenal Was Only on Paper" writes the Post's Barton Gellman in an authoritative report. On the WMD front, the hawks seem now reduced to two claims:

1) Saddam was eeeeeeeeeeviiiillllllll! Stop asking about this stuff!

2) Saddam tried to bluff the world into thinking he had WMD. He succeeded and got wiped out for his troubles. Where's the problem?

The first is actually the stronger argument., but it simply returns us to familiar should the United States expend blood and treasure toppling foreign tyrants? ground. Had the Administration thought that argument a winner they'd never have bothered pushing the WMD line in the first place.

That leaves us with the second. We are faced with an immediate problem. Saddam's "bluff" consisted, in the main, of insisting his country had no WMDs. He furthered this bluff by having his government spokesmen say the same thing. To this, the hawks reply that these denials were pro forma, and the bluff was proven by his pattern of obstruction of the inspectors. Sticking purely to the post-resolution period, from October 2002 to March 2003, our main evidence for Iraq's non-cooperation with the inspection regime is continual, categorical statements by the Bush Administration, and weaker ones from Hans Blix.

The irony of the hawks choosing Hans Blix for an argument from authority is palpable. As for the Administration's statements, I noticed at the time how reflexive they were - no matter what Iraq did or didn't do, what papers it released or sites it opened up, someone in DC instantly declared that "Iraq is still not cooperating enough." We are faced with this problem: the same administration said, out of various mouths that it believed Iraq had "reconstituted nuclear weapons" (just add water!), that it knew of specific sites full of chemical and biological weapons, that Iraq was hording 20,000 liters of this and 30,000 liters of that, that its human sources had confirmed these facilities manufactured such and such.

We know now that none of those statements about WMD were an accurate reflection of reality. We know in retrospect, and this pisses me off no end, that the statements of one of the worst dictatorships in the world on this issue were more nearly the truth than the statements of our own government officials. So those same officials automatic and largely unspecified statements about "obstruction" are suspect.

And what about those dire warnings of Hans Blix about Iraqi non-cooperation? It makes sense to see these as part of Blix's double game - trying the best he could to keep the Americans sweet on one hand ("Look, I am tough!") and to get the most possible out of the Iraqis ("Hey, you don't deal with me, you deal with them.") It is manifestly the case that Blix's team felt the inspections were worth continuing, and clear that the hawks' derision of Blix for "failing to find any WMD" was unjust. There weren't any to find.

The inspections were, from the Administration's perspective, a charade. Blix said "Nice Doggie" while we gathered rocks. That Blix largely meant "Nice Doggie" made the charade that much better.

Which brings us back to argument 1. Saddam really was evil. And we really did get him. The costs of that deed include not just the dead and the maimed on our side, and the dead and the maimed on theirs, and the couple hundred billions of dollars from buildup through reconstruction. The costs include the Administration's decision to motivate the American people by fear, to perpetrate an official farce (inspections) and to be less truthful about factual matters than one of the most tyrannical governments on earth.

Yes, it was too much to pay, and to continue to pay.

Posted by DeLong at January 8, 2004 12:21 PM | TrackBack

Comments

This omits the most obvious cost - taking out Saddam is valuable only insofar as it produces a better world. Smashing the bad guys may sound great but the US record in that regard is not particularly positive - military interventions have had mixed results at best. Invading Iraq has had huge costs, resulting not from the fact of the invasion but from its time and manner, and from the US choices to deal with the aftermath. Was taking out Saddam worth alienating much of the world, including major US allies, and pissing on the ideal of multilateral, international institutions? Was it worth giving a huge propaganda boost to Al Qaeda right when they're a major threat? And was it worth the effects of a rather botched occupation which risks giving us another authoritarian regime or a replay of the Iranian Revolution?

Posted by: Ian Montgomerie on January 8, 2004 02:31 PM

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"Saddam's "bluff" consisted, in the main, of insisting his country had no WMDs."

Obviously Jim Henley read a different report. Per Gellman's report:

"Saddam Hussein ordered this work, but where would we get the materials?" said an Iraqi general who declined to be named and who kept close tabs on Tamimi's missile designs. "This was the case in every field. People would prepare reports under the order of Saddam Hussein and the supervision of the people around Saddam Hussein. But it was not real."

Of course, we were supposed to know that it wasn't real because Saddam's past had shown us so clearly. And then there is the sticky question about why it was not real? Oh yeah, the enormously popular sanctions! So Jim concludes the logical thing is to not act? Sure the first argument is stronger for Jim because it is the only one that blows over. The point that Saddam would possess WMD as soon as he could IS confirmed by the above quote.

Posted by: Stan on January 8, 2004 02:40 PM

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We are flaying a dead cat here. Ask yourself this question: When history is written, will it say that the entire war was based on intentional lies about the existence of WMD, or will it say that Bush made the best choice he could based on information available to him. Ian's view is trumped by Stan's.

Posted by: Masaccio on January 8, 2004 03:19 PM

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Ian: was it such a loss to alienate "allies" in Europe and elsewhere, if such "allies" have been anti-American all along?

There is a price to be paid in practicing state-sanctioned anti-American bigotry (as in France): eventually, you lose leverage with America.

Posted by: Finnpundit on January 8, 2004 03:33 PM

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"...or will it say that Bush made the best choice he could based on information available to him."

Colin Powell on sanctions 2/24/01:

"And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors."

Perhaps history will say that Bush made the choice he wanted based on the information he chose to use depending on the expediency of the moment.

Posted by: Steve on January 8, 2004 04:11 PM

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Stan/Masaccio: if your standard for invading a country is that its dictatorial leader would like to possess WMDs, as i'm hardly the first one to note, there are loads of countries we could be invading.

The purpose of leadership is to identify the real threats. Saddam and Iraq may well, someday, under some circumstances, have been a real threat. Today's real threats, though, are Pakistan (and what happens if Musharaff does get assassinated), Iran, North Korea, and Al Qaeda.

History will indeed note the flawed priorities of the backbone administration.

Finnpundit, your argument would make more sense if: a.) France were the only opponent of the war in iraq; b.) France really did practice state-sanctioned anti-american bigotry; and c.) if being george bush's pal was really giving tony blair any leverage.

Posted by: howard on January 8, 2004 06:02 PM

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Nobody is ‘picking’ on France. The country has a long and rich history of anti-American sentiment that has been well documented. It is also interesting to note that the anti-Americanism is very populist - it comes from the street and not the Chirac government (see link below.)

http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20040112&s=sartarelli

The other point is the misleading attempt to ascribe principle to the anti-war position when, in fact, it appears to be more of an anti-Bush position. Had Bush declared that the sky was, is, and always will be blue, this same group of people would have screechingly informed the world that there are purple fringe hues near the mountain horizons that have been repeatedly documented by the nightly weather report, with clearly defined outlines of white spots where clouds wasp across the heavenly vistas that have been duly observed and charted by several generations of meteorologists, and only a cowboy with no sense of history and no intellectual understanding of the vast complexities of atmospherics would disingenuously fail to acknowledge the distinct shades of grey that build up in the western horizon just prior to severe bouts of weather, usually in the form of thunderstorms or hail storms, which we all know is God’s way of saying ‘Back off, kid.’

But I think poster ‘anne’ called the IMF performance exactly right.

Posted by: AL on January 8, 2004 06:29 PM

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Question:

if all (repeat, all) of Saddam's generals believed that Iraq had WMD, was it or was it not reasonable for the US to also believe that?

http://www.intellnet.org/news/2003/11/03/21324-1.html

Posted by: am on January 8, 2004 07:16 PM

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"The other point is the misleading attempt to ascribe principle to the anti-war position..."

Surely there are no good reason to try to avoid war. It's so much fun watching those embedded journalists. And the cool thing is that whenever there are thousands deaths and injuries on either or both side, you can always refer to WWII, and argue that there were many more atrocities during that war, so that any modern high-tech war is unquestionably moral. Surely, war is so unequivocably good, that I don't even understand why anyone can be opposed to it any more than to apple pie...

"Was it worth giving a huge propaganda boost to Al Qaeda right when they're a major threat?"

Indeed, and was it worth diverting limited resources away from the *real* war on terrorism? You know that guy who destroyed the WTC and killed 2000 people. Remember him? He just broadcasted his new year's resolution. And is it worth going so deep in the red, that it is not even clear the US will be able to afford a decent military a couple of decades from now, let alone pay its veterans - support the troops! - some social security?...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on January 8, 2004 07:52 PM

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-am but the link is more particular than you report:

"The only consistent pattern we've gotten -- 100 percent consistent -- is that each commander says, 'My unit didn't have WMD, but the one to my right or left did,' " said the senior U.S. official involved. This has led some American interrogators to theorize that Hussein may have bluffed not only neighboring governments and the United States, but his own restive generals."

Does this seem plausible to you?
All of the commanders believed their collegues had them? Not one of them thought it was a 'story'? So each of the commanders must have been under the impression that he was under-armed compared to his neighbour's unit?
This one does not leave the ground for me. Not credible. The 'senior US official' spreading this stuff must have recognized the WashPo reporter as from the farm.
So, emphatically, "No ( I mean 'N' 'O') it was not, N-O-T, reasonable for the US to believe that.

Posted by: calmo on January 8, 2004 08:25 PM

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There were UN inspectors in Iraq who found no evidence of banned weapons before the war. The US and UK governments knew, or should have known, that there were no nuclear weapons and little or no chemical or biological weapons, and the timing of the invasion strongly suggests that they did know that.

No nuclear, biological or chemical weapons have been found since, nor have any long-range delivery vehicles.

History will certainly show that this war, like many others in the past, was started on fraudulent grounds.

Posted by: bad Jim on January 8, 2004 08:48 PM

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"Ask yourself this question: When history is written, will it say that the entire war was based on intentional lies about the existence of WMD, or will it say that Bush made the best choice he could based on information available to him. Ian's view is trumped by Stan's."

Well, only if Fox news gets to write the history.

A full reading of all information before and after the war made it pretty clear that a) a decision was taken years before to invade Iraq, and b) the administration willfully filtered evidence to focus only on those out-of-context shreds that supported their position. Dating back to 1998 Cheney et al were pushing Clinton to invade Iraq. In the hours following the 9/11 attack Rumsfeld was demanding that his staff find a way to connect Hussein to the attack. In March 2002 Bush told a reporter that "We're going to take [Saddam] out." Not to mention the heap of Heritage Foundation and PNAC papers that argue for establishing a friendly client state in Iraq to stabilize the middle east.

And the evidence from State, the CIA, the FBI and the Pentagon of Rumsfeld/Cheney willfully ignoring prepared intelligence in favor of the fanciful imaginings of the Iraqi National Congress exiles is abundant.

Finally, extensive evidence of the right wing's scornful treatment of Blix in the months leading up to the war is available for anyone who wants to look it up. And yet his assessment of the risk has turned out to be exactly correct. So it is a flat-out lie to say the best evidence at the time indicated a threat. The man most qualified to make that assessment determined at the time that no threat existed.

Posted by: Ca on January 8, 2004 09:00 PM

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Bad Jim is right. There were no WMD's in Iraq before the invasion. One person who comes out of this smelling like a rose is Scott Ritter, the former UN inspector. He was right, and the Bush administration was wrong. Absolutely--and deliberately--wrong.

There was no connection between Iraq and al Queada, either.

These were the reasons that were given to the Congress to gain a "go" vote for this war. It is a felony--an impeachable offense--to make false testimony before the Congress, and this administration should be held accountable for that.

What really happened here is that the foreign policy of the US was hijacked by a group of people, using 9/11 as a lever, to implement a policy that they had long favored. (This can be, and has been, documented 8 ways from yesterday.)

In short, these people used the tragedy of 9/11 to drive a policy wherein the US would invade, and control, all of the Middle East. IOW, a new Crusade. That, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely what you're seeing, even if some of you are so blind that you can't see it.

To see how this will end, just look at the results of the previous Crusades.

It has all happened before.

Posted by: James Hogan on January 8, 2004 09:14 PM

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Al says:

"The other point is the misleading attempt to ascribe principle to the anti-war position when, in fact, it appears to be more of an anti-Bush position"

I don't see how this dimishes the anti-war position any. Why shouldn't people who are against a war be also against a major instigator. If they feel the war is unjust and immoral, it can follow that the one who sold such a war is also unjust and immoral. Wait a minute, I know what this is about... The president and his advisors are being beat up on by the big bullies in the anti-war establishment. "It's not fair!" they shout with indignation. I thought feeling sorry for yourself was a whiney liberal thing to do. I say, put up or shut up. If there is evidence that supports the war, cough it up. That will prove to the anti-war types that the war is worth the price.

Posted by: heeter on January 8, 2004 10:33 PM

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Almost everyone seems to forget the point that Saddam secretly tried to deal with the U.S. on the eve of the invasion, to allow whatever access we wanted. And Colin and Condi have both said outloud he wouldn't have been weapons-capable for maybe a decade: giving us plenty of time to eliminate him individually. It's hard to escape James Hogan's conclusion, expressed as a geostrategic consideration in the Project for the New American Century's old PDF.

Posted by: Lee A. on January 8, 2004 11:04 PM

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In other words, it wasn't necessary and sufficient that Saddam was an brutal, evil dictator. Otherwise we'd throw over Karimov in Uzbekistan (whose security forces BOIL PEOPLE ALIVE, financed with our foreign aid) or Niyazov in Turkmenistan (who, by the way, will sell us the oil and natural gas that will run through the future Afgan pipelines). Saddam had the misfortune of being the brutal, evil dictator who GOT IN OUR WAY.

Posted by: Lee A. on January 8, 2004 11:27 PM

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late to the discussion, but I'm visiting my brother in Paris right now. having just last night exited the Metro at a station named 'Franklin D. Roosevelt,' I find serious discussion of whether France practices "state-sanctioned anti-american bigotry" utterly risible. that W. Bush and some of his cronies have been trying to throw away centuries of alliance with France is quite irksome.

further, Parisians I've met have been much nicer to me, with my two-dozen words of badly accented French, than would the natives of English- or German-speaking cities in which I've lived.

Posted by: wcw on January 9, 2004 12:18 AM

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Last winter, when I stood with my peace sign in a crowd by the side of a highway, some twit in her truck called out "Go back to France!"

From your words to God's ear, I thought.

Posted by: bad Jim on January 9, 2004 01:08 AM

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Correction: "from your lips"

Said imprecation worked, though. Maybe there is a god.

Paris is definitely worth a mmmmmm

Posted by: bad Jim on January 9, 2004 02:47 AM

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It's being reported (see TalkLeft) that Saddam has terminal cancer (lymphoma, two years to live). Too bad G*d didn't tell Bush to be patient.

Posted by: rilkefan on January 9, 2004 03:06 AM

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"Too bad G*d didn't tell Bush to be patient."

He tried. Cheney and Rumsfeld got to him first.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on January 9, 2004 04:21 AM

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The idea that some of us opposed the war because Bush was for it is ridiculous and pathetic. Explain, Al, if you will, the lengthy period of high approval ratings for Bush, and the high approval of the war on the Taliban.

It goes the other way around: Bush consistently propounds poor solutions to problems, as a result of which, many of us oppose him.

Posted by: howard on January 9, 2004 06:37 AM

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Stan/Masaccio: if your standard for invading a country is that its dictatorial leader would like to possess WMDs, as i'm hardly the first one to note, there are loads of countries we could be invading.

Posted by: howard on January 8, 2004 06:02 PM

I see. It is bad when the right engages in this nonsense, but it is OK when the left does?

Sure Howard, belief that Saddam was a threat to U.S. citizens because he had WMD and was engaged in ongoing attempts to develop more despite being under a UN mandate to disarm and prove it via inpections is not my standard for invading Iraq. Likewise other countries not under a UN mandate to disarm because they kept invading their neighbors are obviously in the same boat as Iraq. My standard is only the strawman of Saddam's desire.

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There were UN inspectors in Iraq who found no evidence of banned weapons before the war. The US and UK governments knew, or should have known, that there were no nuclear weapons and little or no chemical or biological weapons, and the timing of the invasion strongly suggests that they did know that.

Posted by: bad Jim on January 8, 2004 08:48 PM

The very public review of the British security dossier appears to show that our intelligence agencies certainly did believe Saddam had WMD. Other former inspectors certainly believed we would find WMD. Saddam had a history of lying to inspectors and apparently continued to do so until the end as even Hans Blix admits. We did find a few banned weapons. The quote "Saddam Hussein ordered this work..." shows that Saddam apparently did believe he was working toward them and perhaps might have believed he still had some (which of course would undermine arguments that the inspections were working). Gellman's article gives numerous reasons why all of this was apparently occuring, but surely we knew or should have known?

Of course! We should have known that Saddam was telling us the truth even when he may not have believed it himself. We should have known that all of Saddam's weapons development people were lying to Saddam and we should have known we had learned everything we could have about Saddam's WMD program through his son-in-law. We should have known this since there was potentially a letter confirming this sitting in one of Saddam's palaces. We should have known that Saddam had destroyed all of his WMD because he did it after he said he did and apparently kept no records or proof of that action. We also should have known Hans Blix and Scott Ritter were right even though we all knew Saddam kept lying to them. Sure. We should have acted on information we didn't have too!

Posted by: Stan on January 9, 2004 08:59 AM

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The author bravely responds:

My rationale in support of the war was the principled objection to the proven depredations of the Hussein regime, which need not be cited here as this is publicly available information. My secondary reasons were twofold. I believed the chance of establishing a free society somewhere in the Middle East would act as a stimulant for spreading freedom through the region and I believed that increasing the number of local citizenry committed to freedom would reduce the influence of terrorism and the possibility of terrorist threat throughout the world.

The primary rebuttal argument to my first rationale appears to be ‘why not Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan …’ and ‘where was the U.S. during Rwanda?’ The Left maintains that all these places were fatally lacking in economic strategic advantage. Maybe to a degree, but I am not convinced that is the full story. First, it makes no sense - either strategically or ethically - to restrain what is deemed a beneficial response, simply because we failed to engage in the past. Can’t undo history. Second, is there economic advantage to stabilizing the Middle East. What do you want me to say? No? Of course there is, but, in addition to several large oil companies experiencing a disproportionate benefit, there is also a global benefit - we used to call it a ‘peace dividend’ - derived from a stable world operating under stable economic conditions that allow people to produce, manufacture, entertain, sing, whatever. It is not realistic to diminish the importance of the global peace dividend because the profit and loss sheet of Halliburton will go radioactive for a few years.

The second primary rebuttal argument seems to be the abandonment of ‘soft power’ diplomacy for muscularity of a military solution. Maybe, but that is a small concession to the argument that I offer only because I think it has merit, but not at the present stage of world development and not for the Iraq War, but for some point in the far future when we have learned as a species the advantages of mutual cooperation in conflict resolution. Surely it is not a mental stretch to suggest that a world which boils people alive in water, drops them into wood chippers and engages in other physical tortures of mind-numbing brutality is not prepared to exercise the kind of civilized and dignified restraint required of soft persuasive tactics that fall under the rubric of non-violent diplomacy.

The other question introduced by the suggestion of soft power diplomacy is the existence of evil which apparently sends many on the Left into convulsions of hysterical laughter. That is fine. While you engage in pious moralizing about irresponsibly sending ‘our boys’ to their deaths because the U.S. has been kidnapped by nothing more than bellicose, jingoistic adventuresome cowboys with no respect for life, think about what that loss of life bought for you and your children. This is not a parlor room exercise for intellectual dilettantes engaged in spurious sophistry about the Manichean naiveté of evil. To put it in mathematical terms, there exists a demonstrated threat to life - call is Islamofascism, totalitarianism, evil - but it is real and it is corrupting the fabric of Middle Eastern society while expanding into the international arena and I am very pleased and gratified that this administration had the intelligence to recognize a threat and the courage to engage in decisive action and the responsibility to persist in spite of howling opposition from those who remain convinced in the superiority of their intellectual constructs of peaceful solutions in a savage world.

The establishment of a free government in Iraq, and the Middle East, is clearly an enormous gamble whose success depends on so many indeterminate factors. The people of Iraq must grow out of generations of tyrannical rule and that will only through their children and their children’s children. In the meantime, peace must be maintained. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria pose very serious external threats to any developing stability in the region. My suggestion is that the Bush administration halted (and boldly so) any momentum that was gathering within al Quaeda and the various extremist groups of the Middle East. This breathing room should be swamped with the non-military diplomacy that spreads understanding and builds strong friendships - not alliances - but something more durable that is based on commitment to values and a shared respect for freedom.

The war is over, but the long hard ‘slog’ is ahead and, to my mind, it serves no purpose, to obsess over WMD (despite the intelligence suggesting that despite not being found, mustard gas was used to great effect against the Iranians as well as the Iraqi people) or the ‘cowboy’ adventurism of the ‘neo-cons’ who come off as nothing short of first cousins to Abdullah with plastique strapped to his chest. Now is the time to engage in a bipartisan effort to develop a geopolitical strategy that will effectively secure the safety of U.S. citizens and the sovereignty of this country. Will this happen? I don’t know. Michael Kinsley has pointed to the startling ideological ‘war’ on the home front between Republicans and Democrats. I only partially yawn because a political party in the throws of a transition is ripe fodder for political analysis (of which we have seen very little) is nothing new, but what will be very new and very significant, is if this transition disrupts the evolution of a rational foreign policy with bipartisan support. If that happens then I guess we will need a few more million from Uncle Soros to help get us back on our feet again.

Posted by: AL on January 9, 2004 09:17 AM

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Shorter version of post immediately above:

"Saddam = Osama"

Now you other readers won't have to hack through all those subordinate clauses.

Posted by: Hopper on January 9, 2004 10:38 AM

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Shorter version of post immediately above:

"Saddam = Osama"

Now you other readers won't have to hack through all those subordinate clauses.

Posted by: Hopper on January 9, 2004 10:38 AM

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Thanks, AL.

"Now is the time to engage in a bipartisan effort to develop a geopolitical strategy that will effectively secure the safety of U.S. citizens and the sovereignty of this country. "

But aren't some of us against the notion of U.S. sovereignty? Aren't we, instead, in favor of multi-lateral, trans-national, associations and alliances that follow the traditions and codification of international law, rather than our own law and self interest?

Posted by: Pouncer on January 9, 2004 10:51 AM

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Whatever merits of the "Middle Eastern democracy" argument, it can't be used to excuse the misrepresentations and mistakes in this Administration's arguments for an attack on Iraq. My objection to this war was pragmatic--prewar the Administration did not speak to the duration, costs, or shape of the occupation, except to minimize the former two items. Therefore, I assumed that our commitment would be generational and the military costs enormous, and that Bush and his cadres had no sure method to deal with Iraq's religious and ethnic differences, and that Bush's officials were unwilling to admit to any of these estimates or doubts lest they sap American support for the war, which was spoken of only in terms of ending the threat to America of those pesky banned weapons, with a side order of toppling a murderous despot. (Not the most democratic way to do things, eh, Al, for an Administration that believes in the redeeming qualities of democracy?) As it turns out, in spite of the high-mindedness--buying Al's argument--of Cheney and Wolfowitz were corrupt incompetents at planning American occupation of Iraq, and as soon as an American public became disenchanted with its messiness, having not been prepared for it and thus suffering from deep buyer's remorse, the Bush Administration scrapped its big plans on November 15th and announced a rapid transition to some sort or another of Iraqi government by 30 June, thus insuring that the United States would appear inept and without resolve both in Iraq and the rest of the world. And, rather than hold officials to account for their mistakes--at the very least, mistakes--in intelligence gathering and postwar planning, and perhaps establishing a maturity that would dispel the worst opinions the rest of the world formed of us and attract genuine global cooperation in the endeavor to build a better Iraq, if it were coupled with a willingness to establish democracy in Arab Palestine, the Bush Administration keeps the same faces in the same (generally Pentagon) places.

Frankly, if you had to assemble a group of leaders guaranteed to fail at extending democracy outside the United States, and to diminish representative government within it, these would be your guys. Having been elevated to the presidency without even a plurality of the votes cast, it was always rather hard for me to regard Bush and Cheney as men who held a genuinely high opinion of democracy. My cynicism has been oh, so very, very richly rewarded. If they can't rule competently or honestly here, why would they aspire to reward competence and transparency somewhere else?

Posted by: Brian C.B. on January 9, 2004 11:36 AM

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If you use any of the following standards

1) Stability of the Middle East
2) U.S. standing in the world
3) U.S. Fiscal Health
4) U.S. Vulnerability to Foriegn Attack
5) Military Readiness of U.S.

...It is not a demonstrable fact that we are better off after invading Iraq than we would have been without invading Iraq. Al, is projecting towards a desired outcome but that outcome is still in doubt. The proponents of the war can speak well of the elimination of a Dictator but beyond that and the very, very uneven gratitude of his victims, there is ittle that is "already in the bank" so to speak. The dice haven't stopped rolling yet, so we don't even know the real costs and benefits of this undertaking and won't for many years, if ever.

I doubt there will be an outcome to this that completely vindicates US policy because a truly Democratic Middle Eastern society would logically work against a variety of U.S. interests. I don't see anyone convincing anyone else for along time on this one.

The result, another point of fragmentation in American idenity. Not welcome IMHO.

Posted by: Michael Carroll on January 9, 2004 11:40 AM

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"military costs" = "monetary costs"

Posted by: Brian C.B. on January 9, 2004 11:45 AM

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This is all a pretty good demonstration to us in the rest of the world that, whatever the merits or otherwise of attacking Iraq and whatever the individual or aggregate states of mind and intentions in the USA, the USA is - to coin a phrase - "objectively evil". Sooner or later it will do the same to the rest of us one by one, unless some deus ex machina derails it first.

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence on January 9, 2004 03:55 PM

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"To see how this will end, just look at the results of the previous Crusades. It has all happened before."

Do you mean Europe's descent into barbarism?

This has been one of my secret (well, not so any more) fears for a number of years. Not specifically for Europe, but the whole Western world. One tendency that I think I can make out is the relative decline of educational standards over the last few decades, combined with a rise of ideologically motivated polity, expressed, seemingly, in that in public discussion and social policies the focus on increasing general welfare (in the sense of well-being) gives way to focusing on specific indicators like stock market indices, unemployment rates, etc.

Of course, this decline will not happen overnight (and hopefully not ever), and specifically w.r.t. education the delays involved are quite large. The "globalized information society" (if you will) may be a strong counteracting force though. At the time of the crusades, there were no global information networks (i.e. communication between societies as well as individuals), and science and technology were at a much lower level. Also, there was less or no precedent of democratic societies that people could take as guidance.

What do you think?

Posted by: cm on January 9, 2004 05:55 PM

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RE: “"Saddam = Osama"

Now you other readers won't have to hack through all those subordinate clauses.”

How convenient if our world could be reduced to a simple equation. What I - clearly -said was that the Hussein regime was demonstrably repressive and that indirect benefits would accrue from the establishment of a free society as a bulwark against terrorism. I very clearly did NOT equate Hussein with bin Laden although there is more than enough evidence for me at this point to accept the tacit support provided by the Hussein regime to bin Laden and his associates. The American engagement is neither hypocritical nor disingenuous. It is good politics in the service of Middle Eastern stability, American security and world security.

RE: “"Now is the time to engage in a bipartisan effort to develop a geopolitical strategy that will effectively secure the safety of U.S. citizens and the sovereignty of this country. "

But aren't some of us against the notion of U.S. sovereignty? Aren't we, instead, in favor of multi-lateral, trans-national, associations and alliances that follow the traditions and codification of international law, rather than our own law and self interest? “

True and ripe for debate. International law is another subject that deserves much more critical thought than it has received to date. IMVVHO, we are not yet at the point where any kind of international concept of justice can be applied to a world that is subject to the disturbingly great disparities that separate modern nation-states. Much work needs to be done and in the meantime I counsel a strong sense of place and values.

RE: “the misrepresentations and mistakes in this Administration's arguments for an attack on Iraq”

I will agree that the war was not handled with the diplomacy of an FDR. I personally attribute this to ineptness in dealing with complications rather than intentional duplicity (although that is always an element of geopolitical strategy.). In an objective context -outside of the domestic political arena - there are very good reason s to support the military engagement, but the ’knowledge transfer’ to the public was handled poorly for a variety of reasons. (It is interesting to me to note that the American public, at least, did not seem to suffer inordinately from this Keystone Kops routine because domestic support for the intervention in Iraq has always been high, which tells me that most Americans understand the stakes and the consequences.)

I agree that WMD may have been used as a ‘smokescreen’ to avoid dealing with the more difficult issues of post-war reconstruction. But I also point out, that this argument was a requirement for Tony Blair and the support of Great Britain. I would also suggest that post-war reconstruction is not a fast or an easy task and, most importantly, it is definitely not an effort that benefits from strategic planning. Criticism may be well directed at the lack of post-war planning - and I think this is a valid critique - but it is not fatal because nations change in a generational time frame and not in annual time frame so any plan must take this into account.

RE: “...It is not a demonstrable fact that we are better off after invading Iraq than we would have been without invading Iraq. Al, is projecting towards a desired outcome but that outcome is still in doubt. The proponents of the war can speak well of the elimination of a Dictator but beyond that and the very, very uneven gratitude of his victims, there is ittle that is "already in the bank" so to speak. The dice haven't stopped rolling yet, so we don't even know the real costs and benefits of this undertaking and won't for many years, if ever.”

All of your arguments are conditional - on the future. In my mind, Bush interrupted the momentum in the Middle East - he did not effect a complete solution - he reversed course and changed direction. And yes, there must be a very real commitment - from the U.S. and the world - to oppose totalitarian thought in any form. This is not a commitment that can be demonstrated through a passive support of status quo regimes that do less harm than good, but a commitment that must be engaged by principle. The introduction of the ‘ultimate price’ question begs the thought experiment - and what if we had not? The Bush administration made a decision. And there is little to suggest to me that they did so precipitously. I believe it was a sober decision based on information that may or may not have been flawed to a degree that will be endlessly debated.

RE: “This is all a pretty good demonstration to us in the rest of the world that, whatever the merits or otherwise of attacking Iraq and whatever the individual or aggregate states of mind and intentions in the USA, the USA is - to coin a phrase - "objectively evil". Sooner or later it will do the same to the rest of us one by one, unless some deus ex machina derails it first.”

My argument comes about as close to ‘evil’ as your statement comes close to rational. You appear to have a generic commitment to the destruction of ‘power’ in any form - unfortunately that happens at the present time to be the U.S. - and this requires some sort of intellectual rationalization. If you can so blind yourself to freedom as a universal concept worth defending, then you can easily blind yourself to the concept of commitment to a principle. There is no value in your world - there is only power and oppression and that makes your world view very limited. This is nothing more than situational posturing and that is all too obvious from your statement of cynical worldliness and threat-filled consequences.


Posted by: AL on January 9, 2004 07:16 PM

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AL,

The weakness in your rejoinder to me is that you assume incorrectly that Saddam Hussein needed to be delt with in 2003. There was no imminent need to do this now and there were MANY good reasons to put this off for a number of years. First we could be much further along in Afganistan. Second we could actually be engaged in the Isreali-Palestinian Conflict. Third we could be dealing more comfortably with the economic adjustments the world economy is expereincing.

The resources, attention and prestige of the U.S. would Government could have been far more productively devoted to this than to Iraq. Do you have ANY idea how much human misery we could have addressed if even ten-percent of the cost of Iraq spent to this day had been devoted to addressing AIDS worldwide. You could stack 50 Saddam Husseins on their heads and the impact in loss of life and orphaned kids would still come up short. The comparison isn't even close.

The knee-jerk nature of our involvement in iraq is the very weakest part of the whole thing and where your point to me falls completely apart. The ONLY justification for the speed with which this took place was the possibility of WMD's being used against the US. This turned out to be a non reality as I suspected and you may have before the war. That's it.

If there is no threat there is always the luxury of proper planning and that luxury was basically squandered.

Posted by: Michael Carroll on January 9, 2004 07:36 PM

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Michael Carroll:

Note the following quote from the linked news story below:

Former US president Bill Clinton said in October during a visit to Portugal that he was convinced Iraq had weapons of mass destruction up until the fall of Saddam Hussein, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso said.

"When Clinton was here recently he told me he was absolutely convinced, given his years in the White House and the access to privileged information which he had, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction until the end of the Saddam regime," he said in an interview with Portuguese cable news channel SIC Noticias.

http://sg.news.yahoo.com/040109/1/3h5er.html

I regret that my defense of the WMD argument was not stronger. The failure to locate the evidence is not a convincing rebuttal for me because the ‘evidence’ could be anywhere. Furthermore, there has been too much upper level consistency, including President Clinton, on this issue, which makes me believe that not all the available information has been distributed to the general public. No, I do not believe everything I read in the papers, nor do I believe in the infallibility of White House, CIA, or Pentagon decision-makers. Hussein used mustard gas against the Iranians during their 7-year long ‘border dispute’ and against the Kurds. The WMD did in fact exist and they were used by Hussein on at least two occasions.

You argue about timing. I do not have nearly enough information to responsibly enjoin this argument, but I will say this. Issues of geopolitical timing will always involve a large degree of judgment. The obvious analogy is the much documented appeasement of Germany prior to WWII. Joseph Kennedy, as ambassador to Britain, argued strongly for a diplomatic response to Hitler despite the concerns of Churchill. This has been studied to death yet the question remains - what would have been the ‘proper’ time to stop Hitler? How much evidence would have been required to achieve multi-lateral consensus? How many lives could have been spared in the ‘war of attrition’ that literally ended only after both sides ran out of bodies.

I cannot sympathize with the argument of ‘timing’ when bad judgment or misjudgment increases exponentially the (human) cost of the response nor can I understand how one can justify this position with a ‘lives saved elsewhere’ argument. This is specious reasoning based on imaginary calculus. How many lives could be saved from AIDS in Africa if the pharmaceutical industry were to suddenly develop a humanitarian sense of responsibility by dipping into it‘s profit margin and making treatments available at or near cost? How many lives could be saved if the World Bank and the IMF were to operate without the level of corruption that literally diverts millions of charitable contributions into the hands of a few dishonest administrators? How many lives could have been saved from starvation in Somalia if their own warlords had not stolen the grain that was airlifted into the country as humanitarian aid? How many lives could be spared from abject poverty and ’human misery’ if the international currency markets were regulated to prevent large traders, of whom George Soros is one, from savaging the economies of entire nation-states in pursuit of profit? I could go on but the point is made. This is a very corrupt world in which decisions must be made and I support the decision made by the President. To characterize his response as ‘knee-jerk’ is an opinion that ignores the information and studies gathered for 12 years under the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations. The military engagement was inevitable. It just wasn’t published in the nightly newspaper.

Posted by: AL on January 10, 2004 04:41 AM

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"[...]This is a very corrupt world in which decisions must be made and I support the decision made by the President. To characterize his response as ‘knee-jerk’ is an opinion that ignores the information and studies gathered for 12 years under the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations. The military engagement was inevitable. It just wasn’t published in the nightly newspaper."

The military involvement was the corrupt way, that's what made it inevitable.

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on January 10, 2004 12:51 PM

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"To see how this will end, just look at the results of the previous Crusades. It has all happened before."

'Do you mean Europe's descent into barbarism?'

'This has been one of my secret (well, not so any more) fears for a number of years. Not specifically for Europe, but the whole Western world.'

I can't speak to the entire western world, but as far as the US is concerned, we are already well on our way into the descent into darkness.

One way that I guage this is by observing the number of people who (reportedly) believe in "creationism" vs Darwinism (the genetic, not social) version. A substantial majority of Americans think the Creationist myth is the "truth" versus the number who think that evolution is the "truth."

This will inevidably lead into mystery and magic.

There is nothing magical in this world.

The people who think that it is America's place to invade the Middle East and "democratize" it are the same people who think like Pat Robertson, the TV preacher. It is interesting to note that one of the perennial best-sellers is the "Left Behind" series, written by Tim Lahaye (and some other person). If you've ever been surrounded by a group of people who really, really believe that this is what is to come, then you'd just cast all your history books out the window, put a glaze over your eyes, and wait for the "rapture." I am not kidding here, for that is exactly what is running underneath the political radar.

This view is continually reinforced by a sympathetic media, much of which is controlled by people who have a vested interest in our invasion of Iraq.

For the record, the United States was founded on FREEDOM OF RELIGION, and not on any particular religion. I deeply resent anyone using their own personal religious preferences to shade coverage of the news to suit their own ends. The electromagnetic spectrum is limited, so it should be geared toward presenting all points of view.

Just so that I won't be accused here of waltzing around the hand grenade, let me be more clear about that point: Much of the US media is owned by Zionists, or people sympathetic to Zionism, people who believe in an Israel for Jews. (I do not mean to equate all of Israel's supporters with this tendency, for that isn't correct.) The Zionist lobby wanted the US to invade Iraq for Israel's benefit--more specifically, for Ariel Sharon's benefit--and they used any pretext available to promote the invasion. To this day, this same group (about 7 people in the US) are able to control the thinking of about half of the people. Don't say much for "democracy, rule by the people, does it?

While I'm still holding the grenade, just let me say that polls show that those who favor the invasion are demonstrably influenced by what they see on TV. Not surprisingly, those who watch Fox are the most favorable. They are also the most uninformed.

PT Barnum had it right a long time ago--"There's a sucker born every minute."


Posted by: James Hogan on January 10, 2004 08:34 PM

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RE: DSW

How can you believe that a military response is by definition the most ‘corrupt’ option? By what metric? Lives lost? The statistics are everywhere on the Internet. Loss of life has been minimized to a degree never before seen in the history of warfare. Before segueing back into the argument that even one life lost is too many, I ask that you reread my previous post about lives lost in non-military engagements, which at this point in arms development, far exceeds the lives lost in combat.

RE: James Hogan

What we are now calling neo-conservative thought originated in the 1970’s with liberals who were disaffected with the Vietnam War and the state of America in general - oil crises, inflation, kidnappings, and a federal government that seemed rudderless and off course. The stimulus for a new body of thought was primarily domestic - what kind of policies would most effectively support democratic governments, which had only recently been accepted into the world pantheon of ‘workable’ institutions based on the huge success of the U.S. experiment. (If you read Woods “The Radicalism of the American Revolution”, you will discover that our founding fathers did not favor democracy but preferred a form of government by noblesse oblige in which an enlightened few ruled with objectivity and benevolence over the many. Our founding citizens had other ideas and democracy flowered.)

The two domestic principles that emerged as most beneficial to sustaining democratic governments were tax cuts and deregulation as a symbol for removing government as an intrusive and largely corrupt force in human endeavors (mostly economic, but elsewhere as well - health, safety, and environmental).

Neo-conservative thought has never embraced a formal foreign policy principle, other than to support democratic governments under threat from totalitarian forces, such as France and Great Britain in WWII. This belief, yes, has been applied to justify the U.S. support of the nation state of Israel.

I will leave the argument there. In my opinion, there is not enough evidence for me to believe in the existence of a conspiratorial cabal of 7 to 8 people who have hijacked the U.S Government in order to save the Jews from extinction. I do believe that the State of Israel has a strong and effective lobby and exerts a great deal of influence. So what? That is the way the game is played and that is playing by the rules. If Arafat had adhered to the diplomatic solution brokered by Clinton, you would have no argument. Because Arafat made the decision to behave as he did, the State of Israel has assumed a tougher posture - one that apparently ignites cries of conspiracy, while conveniently ignoring the duplicity of their enemies. I do not - and will not - engage in an Israeli-Palestine argument other than to say that the evidence and the information available to me suggests that your argument is conjecture with insufficient and therefore unconvincing factual support.

Posted by: AL on January 11, 2004 08:05 AM

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"RE: DSW

How can you believe that a military response is by definition the most ‘corrupt’ option?[...]"

First, DSW is short for Da SWidanya, "Goodbye" in Russian.

Second, I wrote "The military involvement was the corrupt way, that's what made it inevitable." which is evidently not what you wrote. Now you may have not enough attention span to get the context so I'll excuse you. The question is that there were other ways to handle the situation, and only if the decision maker was corrupt the decision would be "military involvement" then this was the "corrupt way" and it is "inevitable" as a decision from a corrupt decision maker.

Is my poor English clear enough to you?

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on January 11, 2004 02:54 PM

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RE: Antoni Jaume

Your English is just fine, but your logic is faulty. My point was that all of the options available to the U.S. administration were tainted with a degree of corruption and, in my opinion, the military solution was neither more nor less corrupt, at least in terms of lives lost. In fact, I am cautiously optimistic that history will prove the War to have been both timely and effective.

I am curious, since you seem to be Russian, have you not read The Grand Inquisitor chapter in The Brothers Karamazov? Is it asking too much to grant that President Bush - surrounded as he was by conflicting interests of oil, economic stability, geopolitics, domestic opposition, demonstrated expansionism and use of deplorable weaponry by the Iraq regime, and uncertain field information - was, at least in part, motivated by a sense of principle - so eloquently and famously described in this chapter - that proved more important in his decision-making than the real politik input provided by some of his advisers?

DSW

Posted by: AL on January 11, 2004 05:40 PM

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> The very public review of the British security dossier appears to show that our intelligence agencies certainly did believe Saddam had WMD.

Well, the Hutton Report is due out soon, so let's see about that.

Posted by: ahem on January 11, 2004 10:56 PM

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