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January 30, 2004

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Bush ... said that the threat was serious enough to require immediate military action. [That] doesn't depend on a showing that Iraq was an "imminent" threat.

I think you missed a step in logic here. A serious threat may require military action, but why "immediate" military action if the threat is not imminent (or, at least, of an unknown imminence)?

I want a full and thorough investigation of the intelligence, I want it now, I want it done by an independent investigator, and I want its findings published.

Please don't hold your breath. I recall vaguely there was a little event back in September, 2001, that cost more lives than this splendid little war, and you haven't got and are not going to get a full and thorough investigation of that.

A serious threat may require military action, but why "immediate" military action if the threat is not imminent (or, at least, of an unknown imminence)?

Well, you partially answered your own charge with your statement regarding "unknown imminence". And, a nation can pose a significant threat requiring immediate military action even if the threat is not "imminent." Nazi Germany in 1941 would be a reasonably good example.

I agree that we need to figure out just what the h*ck CIA et al are doing over there, Ouija Boards, Tarot cards??

However, I think that there is a middle ground benefit that is between removing WMDs and making the Iraqis' lives better. I think that middle ground is the pressure we can now exert on SA, Iran, Syria and the rest of the ME as well as hitting the reset button on NK's belief in our pacifism. IMHO take Mecca out of SA and we would have gone there. Move Seoul out of NK artillery range (nukes aside) and we're there too.

Iraq was simply the perfect vessel for achieving many goals, WMD or not.

Can't say I agree with your analysis of why the administration did not use the word "imminent".
I think they tried to avoid using the word in public statements (although many of them did say it) because "imminent threat" has a particular meaning in international law. However, while avoiding using the exact words "imminent threat", they used completely equivalent formulations time and again. Moreover, in the official documents which were public statements, the words "imminent threat" are the preferred phrasing.
What you see is more intentional duping by the administration.

I want a pony, dammit. And a flying car.

I'm more likely to get my wish than you are, I suspect.

a pony
heh, chuckle.

Well, you partially answered your own charge with your statement regarding "unknown imminence".

I submit that if the threat is of unknown imminence then it should be large and direct before action is taken. I think the case against Iraq failed in both respects, at least with regard to us. If anything, Iraq was arguably such a threat to its neighbors (after all, it had warred only on them), but not to the United States. Of course, there can be times when a non-imminent threat is large enough that its lack of directness doesn't matter; the Nazi Germany example you cite is one instance.

Crionna wrote:

However, I think that there is a middle ground benefit that is between removing WMDs and making the Iraqis' lives better. I think that middle ground is the pressure we can now exert on SA, Iran, Syria and the rest of the ME as well as hitting the reset button on NK's belief in our pacifism. IMHO take Mecca out of SA and we would have gone there. Move Seoul out of NK artillery range (nukes aside) and we're there too.

Iraq was simply the perfect vessel for achieving many goals, WMD or not.

I agree. The Taliban was comparatively one of the weaker dictatorships in that region and arguably the Baathist Socialists in Iraq was one of if not the strongest and we defeated them with a fraction of our forces (which IMNHO is why we used relatively few troops). This sent a pretty clear message to the lesser regimes that if we could take out the biggest baddest dog in the region with one-hand tied behind our back, how easy do you think it will be to take you out? The site of Saddam Huessein’s statutes being torn down, his sons filled with bullet holes, and him cowering in a spider hole looking like a homeless refuge from a Grateful Dead concert is going to be with the other dictators and terrorist sponsors in that region for a long time and ultimately they are motivated by their own desire for power and self-preservation.

Even if we do not find a single WMD and it turns out that Saddam Hussein was either committing one of the greatest hoaxes in history or having one perpetrated on him by his lackeys, it would not have made a bit of difference and here is why.

First, there were always multiple reasons for regime change in Iraq beyond merely the WMD’s and humanitarian concerns. Crionna touched on the real politik effects of sending a message to other dictatorships (which appears to have had positive affects in Libya, Iran, North Korea, and probably others as well). There is also the hope that if we build a stable secular and comparatively enlightened republic in Iraq (which has one of the more cosmopolitan and literate populations in the region), it could also put reform pressure on some of its neighbors. It may give us a chance to move out of Saudi Arabia and put additional reform pressure on that regime as well. Iraq was a known sponsor and harborer of different terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda (yes I know, until we see a picture of Saddam Hussein and UBL tangoing, some will still try and deny this) even if not the main one. It did have a history of invading its neighbors and no doubt would try so again if it thought it could do so without an American and British response. So any honest analysis of the merits of enacting regime change has to be looked at in the context of the preponderance of all of these reasons together as well as a few others (1).

Also the questions remains that if we did not invade and remove the regime, what would we do instead? Try to keep him contained with the sanctions and Oil for Palaces program? Or lift the sanctions (as many were pressuring us to do) and let him run wild? Or lift the sanctions and try to keep him contained and hope that he did not restart his WMD programs which seemed to be his intent even if his capability was temporarily depleted?

IMNHO we were going to have to invade sooner or later because it would be incredibly stupid on a Kuchinich-level of stupidity to let the guy run wild and try to restart his programs and given the level of corruption within France, Germany, Russia, et al and the humanitarian disaster of Iraq, extremely unlikely that we were gong to have sanctions for another ten years. Besides which, even if one believed we were going to keep them contained, it was still far cheaper in blood and treasure to remove Saddam Hussein now than try and keep him contained for the next fifty years. It was never a question of if we were going to have to liberate Iraq but rather when and given the deteriorating resolve internationally for even maintaining the sanctions and what appears to be a number of world leaders getting in bed with Saddam Hussein, we probably had as strong of a coalition as we were ever going to have.

TW

(1) Oil, the fact that this piece of garbage tried to assassinate a US president, his support of homicide bombers in the West Bank, and his violation numerous UN resolutions. Although I care little for the United Nations and frankly consider them to be part of the problem, Saddam Hussein was clearly in violation of the terms of the case-fire agreement and we had every right to resume hostilities as we did.

"I think you missed a step in logic here. A serious threat may require military action, but why "immediate" military action if the threat is not imminent (or, at least, of an unknown imminence)?"

Two Iraq specific reasons: First, 'immediately' is the inappropriate word when we have had multiple reasons to invade after more than 12 years of cease-fire breaking from Saddam. Second world approval for 'containment' had evaporated. If you think we can't invade unilaterally, you should really try to see us maintain a long term containment regime without help. With France, Germany and Russia undermining containment it had no chance.

it was still far cheaper in blood and treasure to remove Saddam Hussein now than try and keep him contained for the next fifty years.

Um, I kinda suspect that no matter what we did or didn't do, containing Saddam wouldn't have been an issue 50 years from now, or probably even 10. A pine box would've been doing the containing instead. We're far from knowing what the long-term costs would have added up to with containment, and we still don't know what the final bill for occupation and reconstruction will come to, so I don't think anyone can confidently say which would have been cheaper in the long run.

I agree that the WMDs were just the selling point, not the real or best reason for the invasion. Their absence is an embarrassment for the administration because of how it chose to sell the war, but not (to me) a reason to think that the whole enterprise was unjustified. If we succeed in creating a stable democratic Iraq, then that'll be all the justification needed.

Not that I supported the war in the first place -- I saw it as a gamble with too much of a potential downside. So far, it's actually going better than I feared, but we're a long way still from knowing whether even the Iraqis will ultimately better off for it.

I agree with you, Moe, except about the going to war part, though if your rationale was hinged on WMDs I can understand. To me, Saddam should never have been trusted to abide by agreements. Continued violation of binding resolutions over 12 years was casus belli.

Um, I kinda suspect that no matter what we did or didn't do, containing Saddam wouldn't have been an issue 50 years from now, or probably even 10. A pine box would've been doing the containing instead.

I disagree, even if Saddam Hussein would have died tomorrow, the infrastructure of his dictatorship would still be in place regardless of whether one of his sons or supporters would have succeeded him. Considering the lifespan of comparatively weaker dictatorships North Korea, the 50 year span is not an unreasonable figure.

And that is of course assuming that we do not just end up having to delay regime change (in which case we still pay what we are paying now if not more) or suffer an attack because of Iraq either from a non State actor sponsored by the regime or from someone who got their hands on something cooked up by the regime which they apparently were unable to control the proliferation of.

Either way, we still seem to have gotten off cheap.


it was still far cheaper in blood and treasure to remove

I'm trying to encourage people to use the term "lives and lucre" -- it's worth learnin' a little Latin for the 'literation. ;)

I agree with you, Moe, except about the going to war part, though if your rationale was hinged on WMDs I can understand.

Yo, Bird Dog, I wrote the post. (Now ya gotta live with the knowledge that we're essentially in agreement on this point.)

Well, you said "Saddam Hussein", not "Saddam's regime", so I thought it was worth tweaking you on that.

Either way, we still seem to have gotten off cheap.

You say this as if you know exactly what Iraq is going to look like five years from now.

Von,

You're forgetting something important about how "what we know now" would mean if we knew it then. I wrote something in Sept '02 that dealt with this. I should dig it up. Thought by the time I find it, it may be too late to blog on.

von:

in my view, the US does not wage wars solely for humanitarian reasons.

Why were we in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Somalia?

Why were we in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Somalia?

Kosovo and Bosnia created a security threat for our European allies, and had the potential to destabalize the region. (I'm not suggesting that they were proper interventions, only providing the background for them.)

Somalia was not intended as an invasion; it was intended as a humanitarian mission. I should state that I have no problem, per se, with using the US military to provide security to distribute food to starving people, either at the invitation of the government or in where there is no government. I do think it's profoundly unwise, however, to invade another soveriegn country and attempt to take control and rule that country solely because we dislike/disagree with the country's current leadership.

"attempt to take control and rule that country solely because we dislike/disagree with the country's current leadership. . . . "

Sorry, in the absence of a threat to our country's security. (To complete the thought.)

von:
Kosovo and Bosnia created a security threat for our European allies, and had the potential to destabalize the region.

Isn't this also true for Iraq -- that it was a threat to our allies in the region, and had the potential to destabilize the region?

What I am getting to is this: is there any principle under which it was right to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo, but wrong to intervene in Iraq?

Thorley,

"This sent a pretty clear message to the lesser regimes that if we could take out the biggest baddest dog in the region with one-hand tied behind our back, how easy do you think it will be to take you out? "

I think you need to read up on the mind of the islamo-facist. This never plays to a martyr generation.

Fredrik,

You may consider this a small detail, but Bosnia and Kosovo weren't invasions -- we didn't invade and occupy Serbia, we simply acted to protect the breakaway "countries". Milosevic was ousted by his own people. Our Balkan actions were more directly comparable to the '91 gulf war, or to what we might have done if Saddam had tried to reassert his power against the Kurds.

Also bear in mind that the Bosnians and Kosovars were actively soliciting help from the West. My understanding of the feelings of the Iraqis before the war was that while they wanted Saddam gone, they by and large didn't want America, aka Great Satan, to be the one to do it.

KenB --

In a cost/effort/scale sense, you're right that there's a huge difference between just dropping bombs, as we did with Kosovo and Bosnia, and doing a full-blown invasion, as we did with Iraq.

But Kosovo, Bosnia, and Iraq are comparable in one respect: they are examples of the US using its military power to accomplish political goals.

If we're going to talk about the US use of its military power, isn't helpful to try to identify the conditions/principles that determine whether the use is right or not?

Thus my earlier question to von: under what principle(s) was military intervention justified in Kosovo and Bosnia, but unjustified in Iraq?

Judson wrote:

I think you need to read up on the mind of the islamo-facist. This never plays to a martyr generation.

You might be able to find some impressionable young idiot who buys into the “seventy virgins” line of malarkey but the people who actually head these dictatorships and terrorist groups seem considerably less willing to die for their respective causes in a blaze of glory.

“Let the boasters of jihad remember this and be always reminded of it: Mullah Omar and his gang left "their" capital city of Kabul at dead of night and did not even bid farewell to the people they had so long exploited and tortured. Their guest bin Laden may or may not have met his end under the rubble in some obscure cave, as now seems likeliest. But whether or not he did, his last known action was to run away. As with every big-mouth cleric who ululates to an imaginary heaven about the bliss of suicide-murder, he preferred (and nominated) others to do the dying. In contrast to this cowardly hysteria, innumerable American civilians and soldiers acted with calm and humanity and courage.” – Christopher Hitchens

While some Palestinians may have celebrated in the streets over 9/11, their leader Yassar Arafat was so fearful he gave blood.

While some fedayean(sp?) may be willing to put a gun to the head of a civilian’s family and force them to drive a car with bombs into a marine checkpoint, Saddam Hussien was found quivering in a rat hole “ready to negotiate.”

While Qadaffi may have been willing to sponsor terrorists from his palace, now he cannot wait to give up his WMD programs.

Martyrs may make great dupes but are rarely found in leadership positions.

von, not Moe. I clicked on Moe's name to get here. My bad.

Crionna wrote:

I think that middle ground is the pressure we can now exert on SA, Iran, Syria and the rest of the ME as well as hitting the reset button on NK's belief in our pacifism.

You know, I am a believer in continuity in the absence of egregious misconduct (it costs a lot to change managements, administrations, etc.). And the comment above sounds like a pretty good reason to keep Bush in office a while longer. I'm not convinced any of the Democratic contenders would or could maintain such a tough posture.

Macallan

Blog away no matter when you find it. I still return to the Fafblog schism page to read what I politely term the "Fafnir lied and Macallan cried" post....Undersecretary...hehe, makes me chuckle every time I think of it.....

Fredrik Nyman writes: What I am getting to is this: is there any principle under which it was right to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo, but wrong to intervene in Iraq?

First off, I may have overspoken: I intended to state a guiding principle, not a hard-and-fast rule. There are exceptions (and Kosovo may be an exception that proves the rule).

Nonetheless, it is possible to support intervention in Kosovo but not Iraq, and still maintain a reasonable degree of constistency. For instance, KenB's point (which I think you brush aside too quickly) is a material difference. Being invited and invading are, quite obviously, two different things.

Also, with the benefit of hindsight, I think it's clear that acting in the Balkans had a clearly positive effect on regional stability, while acting in Iraq had a clear negative effect on regional stability. Saddam's vicious, but relatively toothless, regime made for a stable Iraq that was no threat to Iraq's neighbors. And, unlike in the Balkans, our intervention in Iraq had a hugely destablizing effect, which you see in the rise of the Kurds (destabilizing Turkey); the rise of the Shia theocracy; the intrusion and expansion of terrorist and jihadist forces in Iraq; and the continuing terror perpetrated by the Ba'athists.

If stability is the goal of an intervention, it was a goal met in Kosovo but soundly trashed in Iraq. (Again, I say this with the benefit of hindsight. None of this was clear prior to the war.)

Finally, a difference can be drawn on purely pragmatic grounds: The intervention in the Balkans was a NATO action, and far less costly in lives or lucre than Iraq has been (or will be). Put another way, the costs of intervening in the Balkans were lower than the costs of intervening in Iraq. Thus, even allowing that both Iraq and the Balkans were "close cases," one could argue that we could afford to do the latter, but not the former.

von

Actually, I would say that Iraq is not better off w/o Saddam at this point. No electricity? Lots of rubble? Instability and violence? Looting? Just as an on-the-run Saddam is unimportant, with no time to coordinate attacks, no communications to the fragmented groups doing them (warlords + foreigners + pissed off Iraqis, in equal proportion), and he has no skill besides scheming how to get to the top and not getting assassinated.

How could you have not noticed the misstatements going on about the Iraq war, as obvious as they were? The "centrifuges" being anodized and thus not useful for processing, besides fitting missile warhead specs, the nigerian document being an obvious forgery, a big deal out of the al-Samoud 2 flying 15 mi too far w/o guidance, saying Saddam and Osama worked together, when in fact there was only a single meeting of people working for them, the plagiarized dossier, the inspectors not being kicked out but evacuating both times, and now, claiming REFERENCE STRAINS apparently from the US as evidence of WMD programs...

Why would you have started out trusting Bush? People have to earn my trust - even presidents.

von: None of this was clear prior to the war.

That seems to me somewhat disingenuous; not only was the potential for destabilization not made clear in the public sphere, but there were reasons to believe that the Administration was not adequately planning for the aftermath of the invasion. It is true that one could not say with any real certainty that destabilization was going to occur -- so in that sense it wasn't "clear" beforehand -- but the implication of your phrasing above is that it also wasn't reasonably predictable, which claim I most certainly contest.

BDH: Why would you have started out trusting Bush? People have to earn my trust - even presidents.

Because he's the President. Because one assumes that once someone attains the mantle of the Presidency they'll try to do what they think is best for the country, whatever you might think of that course of action. And because it's almost unimaginable that an Administration might massage data to support a predetermined conclusion without regard for the truth.

At least, that was my experience. Other people presumably had other rationales.

That's a dangerous assumption to make, and though I think it's true in this case, trust requires more than honesty.

Reuters: officials: Bush to announce independent probe this week.

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