« Incidents of Manipulative Self-Injurious Behavior Culminating in Acts of Asymmetric Warfare | Main | Piecing Together Haditha »

June 12, 2006

Comments

Excellent piece, hilzoy. I couldn't have summarized my own views on this any better, and I also came to the same answer on all three.

I have some discomfort about a few of the rules. I'm still thinking about them as a system, but individually they all make sense.

Sujal

I don't recall how I felt about the Gulf War at the time, beyond sad - probably looked on it as an unfortunate necessity (and I was touched by the babies-pulled-from-incubator lie). I certainly subsequently thought that Bush pere had done a fine job rallying the world to his cause (if a not-great job before the Kuwait invasion or after the war). And I was strongly in favor of reasonable liberal interventionism in the years following. Say I'd been "wrong" on the war at the time - wouldn't I get some credit for having acknowledged my mistake and having learned the right lessons? Seems to me that if A and B provide useful data for assessing C, getting A or B wrong and C right is a lot better than getting A and B right and messing up C.

'Excellent piece, hilzoy. I couldn't have summarized my own views on this any better,' ditto.
However with regard to the 1991 gulf war, I thought the first Bush made a terrible mistake in not finishing what he started. I know it's hindsight. But it seems that democratisation might have been sucessful, because of the points you make, in this article.

On point 2, I would characterize the Gulf War as a four-phase, 15-year long war. Phase I was kicking Saddam out of Kuwait, and in retrospect we should've taken him out way back then. Phase II was the low-level war from 1991 to 2003, where Saddam solidified power, kicked the crap out Kurds, Shiites and Marsh Arabs, shot at planes monitoring the no-fly zones, tried to get weapons and WMD materials where he could, and bribed his way into a lucrative oil-for-palaces-and-hookers program. Phase III was the removal of Saddam, March thru April 2003. Phase IV is from May 2003 to whenever, beating down Sunni and Shiite rejectionists and terrorists, and trying to rebuild the country. When you have a bad actor like Saddam, taking him out anytime after 1991 is, in my view, perfectly acceptable.

why on earth did he think that this caricature had anything to do with liberalism itself? Presumably, the "liberals" he knew actually thought like this.

No, not necessarily. I can use a direct example from my own experience. I am a feminist. I think - in my circle of friends and acquaintances - I hardly know a woman who wouldn't identify as a feminist. I have read a wide variety of feminist novels, stories, essays, position statements, etc, on topics ranging from children's books to housework to evolution, written by feminists who were frequently widely divergent from each other or from me, while still clearly, basically, feminists.

Yet again and again, non-feminists come up with caricatures of feminism, straw dolls, that bear no resemblance to anything any feminists I know or have read actually believe. Sometimes non-feminists claim to have met feminists who are their caricatures, but usually it comes out as a sweeping statements "Of course I know feminists believe that - " whatever, or even sometimes "I'd like to be a feminist, but - " (and then something that contradicts something they think is a feminist position).

Conclusion? These people have picked up their notion of what feminism is not from reading feminist works or from talking to feminists (and certainly not, as most feminists do, from direct experience of living in a patriarchy*) but by assuming that feminism is what they've been told it is, by distinctly non-feminist sources. And this assumption can be extremely sturdy.

I see no reason not to suppose the same is not true of US liberalism, which would appear to have been turned into the same kind of dirty word as feminism has.

This is a long and slightly offtopic comment - I'd hate to see Hilzoy's excellent post turn into a threadjack on feminism - but it really is far from unusual for mainstream stereotypes to be accepted as somehow more like truth than someone's direct experience of actual representatives of the belief being stereotyped.

Debbie: However with regard to the 1991 gulf war, I thought the first Bush made a terrible mistake in not finishing what he started.

I think that the terrible mistake was in starting, not in finishing.

Driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait was the right thing to do, for exactly the reasons Hilzoy says.

Destroying Iraq's infrastructure and setting a murderous blockade on Iraq intended to make life so appalling for your average Iraqi that they'd rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein - that was wrong. No action that kills half a million children can be right.

hilzoy,

An excellent post, as usual. I disagree on only one point: it is not true to say that all believers in the Ledeen Doctrine are idiots. Call them evil by all means, but they are not all stupid. The Romans followed the Ledeen prescription pretty systematically - most likely he learned it from them, via Machiavelli - and it worked for them.

I don't think it will work for America for many reasons, some of which you have alluded to. But it's not actually idiotic.

Charles: "When you have a bad actor like Saddam, taking him out anytime after 1991 is, in my view, perfectly acceptable."

When you have a dangerous weak wall in your house, taking it out at any time is, on its face, perfectly acceptable. But common sense should dictate that before proceeding, you check that a) the remaining walls of the house are strong enough to hold it up, and b) that you know how to finish the repairs to the house after taking out the wall, and can afford to do so.

I don't think that anyone is saying that Saddam wasn't bad - Hilzoy addresses this general issue in points 7 & 8. It's the costs that have come out of it that are the problem.

And anyway, "bad actor" more correctly refers to Tom Cruise.

Thanks for the catch on Jonah Goldberg, who is one of my most preferred right-wing commentators. I'll file that Ledeen doctrine bit along with Glenn Greenwald's examples in The Death of Shame in our Pundit Class.

For another example of a real-life liberal who believes in the caricature of liberals, Chuck Williams (head of Philadelphia Against Drugs, Guns, and Violence). I have no idea how anyone became a liberal before the Web because you just couldn't find anything but these media caricatures before.

Charles: As was implicit in my post, but might as well be made explicit now, I think that wars should always be presumed to be wrong except in cases of self-defense (where that is pretty strictly defined), and are justified, when they are, by their consequences. The consequences of the war in Iraq are, by any reckoning, disastrous: for our national interests, for the people of Iraq, for the region. They include our inability to respond well to Iran; I'd also include our inability to deal adequately with N. Korea (lacking a credible threat), but the Bush admin. seems to have been quite independently unwilling to do anything serious there.

What, exactly, is it that makes the loss of so many lives and so much US credibility and goodwill worthwhile? Saying "Saddam was bad" is enough to show that it would be justifiable to remove him from power by waving a magic wand. It is not enough to show that it's justifiable to remove him from power given the actual costs in the real world.

Saying "Saddam was bad" is enough to show that it would be justifiable to remove him from power by waving a magic wand. It is not enough to show that it's justifiable to remove him from power given the actual costs in the real world.

well said

On point 2, I would characterize the Gulf War as a four-phase, 15-year long war.

Perhaps we can say that The Great War was a thirty-odd-year-long conflict that came in four phases?

Hilzoy, have you mailed this to Beinert? I feel sometimes like people on the web talk to each other about others but don't talk TO the others they are talkng about. He seems to be teachable. Of course one of the lessons he needs to learn is that he really hasn't got that much to say to any one except "I'm sorry."

Well said (or, written), hilzoy.

I think that I would add to your war-demoncracy lemma ("democracy cannot be produced by military means") that there's no guarantee that a "democracy" put in place by a military invasion will in fact be either functional or liberal (in the classical sense).

It is certainly true that Iraqis now have some of the trappings of democracy available to them: they can vote, they have a constitution, etc. But they may be many years -- if not decades -- away from becoming full-fledged citizens in a thriving democracy where they will honor the laws duly enacted by their elected representatives.

Furthermore, voters can institute any non-secular or discriminatory laws they like: they can choose to systematically oppress any group (e.g., women), they can elect pro-Iranian and/or anti-US, representatives, etc.

In my view, it is dangerous to assume that any democracy arising ab initio from a military invasion will necessarily be a Western democracy.

"Was this so hard? No."

But it was in fact hard for Democratic Party lawmakers. (See for example Kerry). A huge portion of them got it really wrong on the first Gulf War. Beinart travels in those circles, not yours.

"They must, I think, move in circles in which liberals do, in fact, believe the things they say we do. And they must, somehow, believe that the people who opposed the Iraq war are just peaceniks who have not yet gotten over the war in Vietnam."

In the circles in which I travel, nearly all the liberals got the First Gulf War wrong. In the circles in which I travel, nearly all the conservatives got the Balkans wrong.

Leaving Saddam in power after the First Gulf War was a horrific mistake. That mistake led directly to the long-term sanctions (which were supposed to help topple him) which ended up causing so much resentment. It allowed a low level of war to continue for 15 years. It allowed him to claim to be the leader who survived a fight with the US--allowing him to cause all sorts of trouble for 15 years and helping out the glass jaw perception that bin Laden exploited later.

You shouldn't go to war just to stop the immediate problem. War isn't that precise. If someone's regime is doing something bad enough for you to go to war over, you need to finish off the regime if you can--otherwise you shouldn't bother with the war. The fact that you may not be able to get perfect outcomes after that (would Iraq have had problems in 1992 and 1993? Surely. Would it be a horrible country now? I seriously doubt it, especially since we had not even drawn down from the Cold War in terms of military mobilization at the time).

In short, Beinart is hanging out with liberals who have more influence on policy than you--and they didn't get it as right as you. This is the same problem I have with Republicans. I'm conservative, but I'm not in charge.

Convince Democratic lawmakers of the rightness of your position and you will have come a long way.

Perhaps we can say that The Great War was a thirty-odd-year-long conflict that came in four phases?

FWIW, I knew a lot of people who said exactly that.

lily: I thought of emailing it to Beinart, but couldn't find an email address. After reading your post, I looked harder, but still couldn't find an email address. I did find out, however, that he graduated from Yale in 1993. This is significant, I think. It means that he would not have any first-hand memories of Vietnam, and thus no opportunity to figure out his own version of what its 'lessons' were, unmediated by anyone else's.

It also means that his memories of the Cold War would have been a lot less extensive than those of someone of my generation or older. -- The idea that we could not possibly live in a world in which a bad person had WMD always seemed bizarre to me. Obviously, I thought, it's not the world you'd choose to live in. On the other hand, during the Cold War, when people a lot worse than Saddam had many, many more weapons than Saddam could ever dream of acquiring trained on our cities, weapons whose existence was in no way hypothetical or conjectural. And to anyone who lived through that, the idea that we just could not possibly endure it if Saddam maybe possibly developed the odd chemical weapon, with no reason to think that he had a delivery system, was not deterrable, etc., was just plain bizarre.

If he's twelve years younger than I am, it makes more sense, though. (And if this explanation is true, it also explains why I find being lectured by him on post-WW2 US history maddening.)

"almost everyone I know whose opinions on policy I take at all seriously was right on all three; and so was I."

Except, of course, that you are thoroughly, utterly, and unalterably wrong about Iraq.

Moqui: care to elaborate?

Leaving Saddam in power after the First Gulf War was a horrific mistake.

and the alternative was ...?

a. Press on to Bagdad. Of course, Bush I had made explicit promises to his coalition allies that he would not do so. "You f--ked up. You trusted us." is not a good way to build long-term alliances.

b. Complete the destruction of the Republican Guard and provide air power to the insurgency. This is one thing I've never understood. Bush I explicitly called out for anti-Saddam forces to rise up, then stood by when they got slaughtered. At the very least we could have imposed a no-fly zone over the whole country, which was (iirc) within the terms of the cease-fire.

SH, two wrongs rarely make a right. Arguing that GWII was simply a continuation of GWI may persuade you and CB, but it's not an argument that has a lot of traction with us war skeptics. Some policy mistakes must simply be endured.

Drive-byes tend not to elaborate.

Charles and SH,

If we're taking the long(er) view that this war is really the same one as Desert Storm, why draw the line at that period in time? Couldn't we just as easily say that this is the continuation of the Iran-Iraq war by other means? I mean if we broaden our historical inquiry enough, we are still Crusaders in the Holy Land, which may have a certain poetry, but is completely lacking in terms of analyses for how best to proceed.

I'm with Francis on GW1. I think that we had given assurances to others that we would not go to Baghdad, and keeping our word is both morally and tactically right (see principle 4 above.) Moreover, a lot of the reasons for thinking that doing so would have been disastrous have been borne out by recent experience. People were worried then that it would degenerate into civil war and possibly into a regional war, etc.; I can't see that subsequent developments have made those concerns seem unfounded.

What I do think is that it was deeply wrong to have encouraged the Shi'a to rise up and then stand by while they were slaughtered. There are a lot of things we could have done between utter passivity and taking Baghdad; it is to our shame that we didn't do them. Grounding Saddam's helicopters would have been a good start.

(Note: in this comment I'm working from memory, so I may have (more) details (than usual) wrong.)

Andrew:

And anyway, "bad actor" more correctly refers to Tom Cruise.
I thought I heard a rattling noise from my closet the other night...

As for Moqui, I'll reiterate Hilzoy's question: How, exactly, was she wrong about the current war?

Pooh: I think these are all minor blips in humanity's continuing war against insects for dominance over the earth.

Pooh: I think these are all minor blips in humanity's continuing war against insects for dominance over the earth.

I for one welcome...oh nevermind.

Yes that is roughly my point...

"SH, two wrongs rarely make a right. Arguing that GWII was simply a continuation of GWI may persuade you and CB, but it's not an argument that has a lot of traction with us war skeptics. "

I wasn't addressing that at all. I was suggesting that as a general rule you shouldn't go to war against a regime for doing a bad thing and leave the regime intact. If you find yourself in the position where that is likely you probably shouldn't go to war. Bush was foolish and wrong to promise not to finish Saddam off if he was willing to go to war over Kuwait.

In related failures, the failure to kill non-surrendering troops (i.e. not continuing with the highway of death and with the stupid characterization by some in the media of that as a war crime) was also very bad. This contributed directly to Saddam's ability to remain in power as did the ridiculous authorization according to the peace treaty that he could use military helicopters inside Iraq. (We couldn't ground them without violating the terms of the truce agreement). Even without going 'to Baghdad' we could have done those things, but did not because of our commitment to "the alliance". The problem with that formulation (as with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the anti-genocide protocol) is that alliances are supposed to have a purpose. Sacrificing that purpose to have an alliance completely perverts the purpose of having alliances.

"Bush was foolish and wrong to promise not to finish Saddam off if he was willing to go to war over Kuwait."

The claim was that the Saudis were essential to the GW effort and they predicated their help on that promise. (I'd guess the grand coalition wouldn't have been possible without similar reassurances - and without the allies the effort would have been much more expensive and would have hurt our rep instead of enhancing it.)

If that can be shown, I take it then that you would think the war was a mistake?

When was the promise made? My understanding is that it wasn't clear until sometime around "The Highway of Death".

"If that can be shown, I take it then that you would think the war was a mistake?"

Sure. If the Saudis were willing to withhold help against Saddam despite the fact that they were generally acknowledged to be the next target the war wasn't worth fighting. They wouldn't have withheld help on that basis in reality. Bush gave in on the point too easily. He sacrificed the point of having an alliance to having an alliance. By being willing to do so he got a much worse deal (on the alliance) than he otherwise would have.

Hilzoy: I think that we had given assurances to others that we would not go to Baghdad, and keeping our word is both morally and tactically right (see principle 4 above.)

But destroying Iraq's infrastructure - in a pattern that looks like it was a prelude to invasion - was wrong. If we call the 15 years since 1991 one continuous war, then the strategy of the US through most of that period was to deprive Iraqis of the necessities of life and sit back and watch as the weakest/most vulnerable died: a war strategy aimed at killing children, mostly.

Couldn't we just as easily say that this is the continuation of the Iran-Iraq war by other means?

Why yes, see Chalabi, Ahmed.

Seb: I think that GW1 was right without finishing off Hussein, and that this is so even if the Saudis did predicate their support on our not going to Baghdad. What absolutely needed to happen was to roll back the invasion: no country should be allowed to invade another, take it over, and get away with it.

One point of having an alliance, besides the financial and logistical support, etc., is to get as many people/governments as possible invested in the success of one's mission, on the theory that if they are so invested, they will not only do the obvious, but will also do things they might easily get away with not doing, behind the scenes, that are immensely helpful. (Likewise, refraining from doing harmful things.) You want as many people as possible to buy in.

Again, I'm working from memory, but iirc the Saudis were at the time (like most times in the recent past) very worried about Iranian influence in the Gulf region, and did not want Iran's main adversary to simply fall apart. That Hussein be toppled in a coup by some less dreadful and less threatening person: good. That Iraq collapse into civil war: bad. I do not think that this is a nutty position for them to take, nor do I think that we should have refused to cooperate with them in kicking Hussein out of Kuwait unless they gave it up.

Total speculation: I cannot believe that the outcome: Hussein in power, lots of Shi'a dead, etc., was the best we could have achieved without going to Baghdad. Even if we hadn't encouraged the Shi'a to revolt and then abandoned them, thus greatly reducing the 'Shi'a dead' part of it, I am not at all sure that we could not have done something to expedite the removal of Hussein from power, had we been defter and wiser. This is based solely on what the outcome was, and my general take on these things; but I think we could have done a lot better, given how total the Iraqi military collapse was.

Jes: Sanctions suck. The sanctions should have been smarter, and we should absolutely have run Oil for Food in a manner that left less room for Hussein to skim off it. That said, I have heard (and do not have the source on this handy) (though I think it was Rolf Ekeus) that in the north, where the sanctions/OfF were applied without Hussein being able to skim money off, the civilian suffering was much, much less. Which, if true, would mean: that suffering was not due to the design of the sanctions so much as to the Iraqi government.

Saying "Saddam was bad" is enough to show that it would be justifiable to remove him from power by waving a magic wand.

If it were just saying that "Saddam was bad", that would be fine. The issue was about what Saddam did, and on those grounds, keeping him in power after kicking Iraq out of Kuwait was a horrible mistake. By then, he had established a long record of being a person who could not be trusted as a head of state.

Of course, Bush I had made explicit promises to his coalition allies that he would not do so. "You f--ked up. You trusted us." is not a good way to build long-term alliances.

Those promises were Bush 41's mistake. He should never have made them.

hilzoy: one of the little-discussed aspects of the Oil-for-Food skimming scandal is that there is strong evidence that UN staff briefed the major powers a number of times that Saddam was skimming. But (apparently) because the oil contractors were politically connected, the powers never opened any significant investigations.

Hilzoy: that in the north, where the sanctions/OfF were applied without Hussein being able to skim money off, the civilian suffering was much, much less.

As I read, in the North, the sanctions bit less because the borders were porous - materiel and food could be imported illegally with reasonable ease. Further, I think it has been established that the amount that was permitted to be imported was deliberately made not enough to keep Iraqis alive. And in any case, under a blockade with deliberate shortages, no matter what the regime, the richer/more powerful will manage a black market to get more than their fair share: this is vile, of course, but to attribute this to "Saddam skimming money off" is pure face-saving.

And certainly, medical and other life-saving materials were not permitted to be imported on extremely twisted excuses. Having bombed the Iraqi water-supply infrastructure, in preparation for invasion, there could be no ethical excuse for not making its repair a humanitarian priority.

CB / SH: re Bush's promises to Saudi Arabia.

Please remember that Gulf War I started as Operation Desert Shield, in which US troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia to protect against Iraqi tanks rolling into the major SA oil fields near Kuwait. (wiki is here.) Iraq invaded in August 1990. We started building up troops in Saudi Arabia almost immediately. But the counterattack wasn't launched until January 1991.

so we were supposed to ignore the conditions imposed on us by the very ally whose ground we were protecting?

" I cannot believe that the outcome: Hussein in power, lots of Shi'a dead, etc., was the best we could have achieved without going to Baghdad. Even if we hadn't encouraged the Shi'a to revolt and then abandoned them, thus greatly reducing the 'Shi'a dead' part of it, I am not at all sure that we could not have done something to expedite the removal of Hussein from power, had we been defter and wiser. This is based solely on what the outcome was, and my general take on these things; but I think we could have done a lot better, given how total the Iraqi military collapse was."

But the helicopter agreement was made to facilitate the needs of the alliance and the "Highway of Death" (destroying the fleeing but not surrendering Republican Guard) was discontinued because of the needs of the alliance. The failures you identify took place because the dsire to have an alliance was placed above the goals behind having an alliance. I'm all for having an alliance support certian goals. I'm not for sacrificing the important goals just so you can have an alliance.

Having all the major countries in the UN sign the protocol against genocide means nothing if the entire alliance refuses to act against genocide. The people of Darfur would have been much better off with any major country willing to take unilateral action (be it the US, UK or France) than they were being slaughtered in the face of alliance driven inaction.

And back to it being obvious that the First Gulf War was justified--why did so many elected Democrats get it wrong if it was so obviously part of liberal thinking? What was it about the Democratic Party and the politics associated with the Democratic Party that made it so appealing to resist something which is alleged to be such an obvious part of liberal thinking?

Seb- I don't recall the "highway of death" stopping because of alliances. IIRC it ended because it 'looked bad' on TV. You have a cite?

And back to it being obvious that the First Gulf War was justified--why did so many elected Democrats get it wrong if it was so obviously part of liberal thinking? What was it about the Democratic Party and the politics associated with the Democratic Party that made it so appealing to resist something which is alleged to be such an obvious part of liberal thinking?

IIRC, the democratic party line back then was "give the sanctions more time to work." I don't recall them (or at least not the majority of them) putting out a position along the lines of "No war against Iraq ever."

And, along the lines of Frank's comment, I also don't recall the "highway of death" being called off because of alliances, from what I recall, Colin Powell called it off because he considered it akin to a slaughter (i.e., the retreating troops were not engaging in the battle, posed no threat and couldn't defend themselves against American air power).

before i concede that elected Democrats got GWI "wrong", could I get some evidence, like roll call votes in opposition to Desert Storm?

Sebastian wrote:
In the circles in which I travel, nearly all the liberals got the First Gulf War wrong. In the circles in which I travel, nearly all the conservatives got the Balkans wrong.

Accepting this arguendo (though clearly, Sebastian travels in far different circles than I do) provides an interesting thought experiment. Who is being more true to their principles? Again, we can't interview the liberals who Sebastian asserts got the first GW wrong (though I like to think of myself as a liberal and I don't recall opposing the liberation of Kuwait in the same way that Tom Delay opposed the Balkans), but I am assuming that the liberals who Seb is referring to felt that it was not worth the effort to support the monarchy in Kuwait or in Saudi Arabia. I also assume that the conservatives of Seb's circle got the Balkans wrong because...they didn't like Clinton. This Saleten column hits the high points of conservative dissent about the Balkans. If this is about 'general principles', this suggests what general principles are operating for whom.

lj- I seriously doubt that the Russians offered you millions of dollars to cut funds for American troops, so you your situation on the gulf war was very different from Tom Delay's position on the Balkans.

Roll call.

Francis: In the House, 250-183. Republicans were 164-3, Democrats 86-179. In the Senate, 52-47; Republicans 42-2, Democrats 10-45. On due considereation, I think it's fair to say that if you think the first Gulf War was justified, then the Democratic Party was overall wrong on it.

I do think that expelling Hussein from Kuwait was a good idea, so I'll concede Democratic failure there. On the other hand, in the light of events since then, I don't think that distrusting Bush Sr. was a bad idea.

And unlike Sebastian, I think it's intensely desirable to leave an existing ruler in power if the nature of his offense is such that it can be fixed without overthrowing him. Everything that encourages people to hope for limits in warfare is likely a good idea at this point, when fear of unrestrained superpower response drives so much bad stuff.

I've got no particular problem with Charles' suggestion of it being one four-part (so far) war. I'd call the first part well conceived and well executed, despite what we now know to be very culpable propaganda in building support for it. Gross immorality comes in during the second part. I agree with Hilzoy: a strategy that causes half a million children to die of starvation, disease, etc., isn't worth it. Or at least it can be worth it only under very remarkable circumstances, which I don't think existed then and there. (No, I really can't envision any cases right now where I think it'd be warranted. I'm just hesitating in case I'm forgetting something.) The third part was bogus and unnecessary, and the fourth part is just the travesty and tragedy continuing.

I'd be more impressed with counter-charges like "So what would you do about Saddam?" if they came with explanations of what we ought to be doing about North Korea, Tibet, Thailand, and a bunch of other tyrannies too, or an explanation of why Saddam has to be at the top of the list. I don't have much of a clue about what's good to do about a lot of these tyrants and monsters, which is why I favor acting slowly and carefully, and with as much room to reverse course as possible - when I find out I've committed myself to something terrible, I favor the "first do no harm" stance of stopping that and then seeing what to try next.

In any event, I don't see how one can construe Saddam as a greater threat to the world's peace and prosperty than the House of Saud and the rulers of Pakistan.

On the Joint Resolution (S.J.Res.2 )

Nays

Adams (D-WA)
Akaka (D-HI)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bentsen (D-TX)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boren (D-OK)
Bradley (D-NJ)
Bumpers (D-AR)
Burdick, Quentin S (D-ND)
Byrd (D-WV)
Conrad (D-ND)
Daschle (D-SD)
DeConcini (D-AZ)
Dixon (D-IL)
Dodd (D-CT)
Exon (D-NE)
Ford (D-KY)
Fowler (D-GA)
Glenn (D-OH)
Grassley (R-IA)
Harkin (D-IA)
Hatfield (R-OR)
Hollings (D-SC)
Inouye (D-HI)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kerrey (D-NE)
Kerry (D-MA)
Kohl (D-WI)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Metzenbaum (D-OH)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Mitchell (D-ME)
Moynihan (D-NY)
Nunn (D-GA)
Pell (D-RI)
Pryor (D-AR)
Riegle (D-MI)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sanford (D-NC)
Sarbanes (D-MD)
Sasser (D-TN)
Simon (D-IL)
Wellstone (D-MN)
Wirth (D-CO)

Not Voting - 1
Cranston (D-CA)

That would be all but 9 Democratic Senators.

"I think it's intensely desirable to leave an existing ruler in power if the nature of his offense is such that it can be fixed without overthrowing him."

Sure. If you can get him to stop with diplomatic tut-tutting that is better. If you can get him to stop with threats that is better. If you can get him to stop because of sanctions that is better. But once you have committed to killing lots of people in war, leaving him in place isn't a wise choice. If you don't think it worth trying to get rid of him, you shouldn't choose war. From that perspective, the Democrats who voted against the Joint Resolution were correct if they didn't support actually overthrowing Saddam. If going into Kuwait isn't enough to support overthrowing him, it isn't worth going to war over.

Notice how everybody obsesses over Hussein and Iraq, after 9-11?

Bush Jr. was very successful, indeed.

I find that bizarre, Sebastian. That's like saying that only the death penalty is worth the effort of trying a criminal. But in fact when we find people stealing stuff, we catch them (if we can), get the stuff back (if we can), and then lock them up for a while...and then we release them and we get on with our lives. We take trespassers and the subjects of restraining orders and make them go away, rather than killing them unless they put up a whole lot of resisting. Hussein's troops didn't belong in Kuwait, and the alliance removed them. To me, that's a success.

Lots of things are worth doing to bad people short of their destruction.

"Lots of things are worth doing to bad people short of their destruction."

Sure, but war very rarely is about just doing things to bad people. Since you end up killing and maiming lots of conscripts and random civilians you shouldn't just engage in it and then leave the person who provoked it standing.

Sure, but war very rarely is about just doing things to bad people. Since you end up killing and maiming lots of conscripts and random civilians you shouldn't just engage in it and then leave the person who provoked it standing.

With respect to Afghanistan: OBL.

With respect to Iraq: another familiar three letter acronym that I leave as an exercise to the reader.

Total war or nothing, eh, Sebastian?

If BushI had stuck to the stated war aims completely, i.e. not invited the Shia and Kurds to rise up, without any intention of offering them support, then I would admit that Democrats in Congress and I were wrong about Gulf War I.

But we weren't.

BushI hoodwinked the Saudis into allowing the insertion of U.S. troops and bases by showing them phony satellite pictures of Iraqi troops massed on their border. Then those troops never left (until the 2003 invasion of Iraq). That worked out great for everyone, eh?

I will concede that that most of my party did not represent my viewpoint in the leadup to GWI.

just to tease this out a little further though. To what extent was the vote, at the time, seen as payback for Republican votes on the use of airpower in the Balkans and Republican statements on the cruise missile strikes launched by Clinton against Iraq?

(yes, i think that payback votes tend to be stupid. but i also think that a lot of Democratic Congresspeople are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. ye gods both sides need better candidates.)

...the "Highway of Death" (destroying the fleeing but not surrendering Republican Guard) was discontinued because of the needs of the alliance.

1) The Saudis weren't just members of the alliance; without their support it would have been practically impossible to eject the Iraqis from Kuwait.

2) There were lots of other reasons to halt the attack, including the fact that it had degenerated into a turkey-shoot.

3) According to any accounts I've seen, the Iraqis on the Highway of Death were mostly conscripts and such, people Saddam considered expendible. Most of the Republican Guard was deployed north of Kuwait and had already escaped.

"To what extent was the vote, at the time, seen as payback for Republican votes on the use of airpower in the Balkans and Republican statements on the cruise missile strikes launched by Clinton against Iraq?"

I would say very little as the GWI vote was in 1991 and the Clinton Missile strikes were in 1998.

Despite the fact that the vote wasn't influenced by those particular instances, I'm generally willing to believe that the votes on Gulf War I and the Balkans were payback/anti-President-of-the-other-party votes.

But I'm totally with you on: "ye gods both sides need better candidates."

:)

"There were lots of other reasons to halt the attack, including the fact that it had degenerated into a turkey-shoot."

You can kill fleeing armies because they can attack you later, that is why we encourage surrender.

Francis, I'm confused. You start out talking about Gulf War I. But then, with this:
To what extent was the vote, at the time, seen as payback for Republican votes on the use of airpower in the Balkans...

Are you referring to the 2002 vote?

Because then my answer is: to no extent at all. Democrats voting against the Iraq war resolution were in districts safely and thoroughly Democratic enough to be insulated from 'soft on terrorism' smears, and they were responding to their constituents (who, sanely enough, saw the war as a diversion from the anti-al-Qaeda effort and a massive mistake in the making).

And back to it being obvious that the First Gulf War was justified

except it wasn't, and while I appreciate most of hilzoy's elaborations, it is beyond facile to suggest that SH's invasion of Kuwait automatically created a moral imperative to drive him out again, that we simply can't afford to allow such things - because we do

while the anti-war meme "if Kuwait was growing bananas nobody would have given a sh#t" seems a bit tired, there is an undeniable kernel of truth in it: 800.000 dead in Rwanda, 3.8 million dead in Congo and god knows how many in Darfur - that all this wasn't caused by a classical invasion in the nation-state sense, but rather by less clear cut territorial and ethnic conflicts doesn't make our almost complete inaction in these cases any better

so please hilzoy, the next time you are presenting GW1 as a clear-cut case, as something we simply had to get right if we were global citizens, please explain how we could have gotten it so wrong in so many other places and why no one's really bothered about it either

cheers

i apologize for the utter brainlock of my 5:42 post. since Clinton hadn't been elected yet it would be difficult for votes on GWI to be predicated on how he was treated by the opposition party. not enough caffeine.

You can kill fleeing armies because they can attack you later, that is why we encourage surrender.

There is a difference between an army which is retreating with some semblance of discipline and a bunch of conscripts who are just trying to escape. Surrendering under fire from tanks and AH60s is a bit tricky I believe. My recollection of an interview with Colin Powell is that he felt the rout was turning into a massacre and he suggested it be stopped. He wasn't such a softie that he would have passed up the chance to destroy the Republican Guard, but they had mostly escaped the trap. (The idea had been that they would be sucked in to support the troops in Kuwait and their retreat cut off, but in the event the Iraqi front line collapsed too quickly for that.)

Sebastian, it seems that whenever the US backs away from the use of force, contrary to your wishes, you perceive the malign influence of alliances. Your version of the Highway of Death and its aftermath fits that pattern, but it doesn't fit the facts as I recall them.

I will also say, in defense of Congressional Democrats of 1990-91, that this Bush I drive to war came not as some out-of-the-blue crisis that obviously called for our intervention, but against a background:

Bush's deep involvement in the Iran-Contra mess, which was never fully dealt with. ("out of the loop", my ass!)

A "demonstration war" the year before against mighty Panama, which killed thousands of Panamanians to nab friend-turned-official-enemy Noriega.

The remarkable parallel to Saddam, a much larger-scale friend-turning-official-enemy. No one had forgotten Reagan and Bush's coziness with Saddam of only a few years before, when it seemed that Iran might win the war Saddam had started.

Bush's ambassador green-lighting Saddam in April on the Kuwait encroachment.

The Hill & Knowlton PR gambit, which was exposed as such before the Gulf War resolution vote. Lies to hype a war on behalf of oil buddies? Nothing suspect there....

Sebastian, I hope this helps answer a few questions about what Democrats were thinking. Hilzoy, it was not obvious then, and it's not obvious now in retrospect.

The Bush's are an amoral lot...or at least all morality is relative to family buisness.

And they have an army of right-wingers to support the Family causes.

General note: I did not say that the Democratic party got it right (they didn't), nor that it was obvious; just that Beinart's "gee, everyone got it wrong; if you look for people (and specifically liberals) who got all 3 wars right you'll have to look for a long time" complaint isn't accurate. It would be accurate if liberal internationalism had actually started in the mid 90s, but oddly enough it didn't.

novakant: "while I appreciate most of hilzoy's elaborations, it is beyond facile to suggest that SH's invasion of Kuwait automatically created a moral imperative to drive him out again, that we simply can't afford to allow such things - because we do."

I said that the invasion and conquest of Kuwait created a justification for the war. Whether it created an imperative is another matter. To my mind, the case for a war in response to an invasion is defeasible. If the -- well, not invasion, but if "it" were the de facto conquest of Eastern Europe after WW2, I would think that the costs of intervening, especially given the war that had just concluded, were too high.

That said, I think that there is always a (defeasible) case for trying to roll back an invasion. (On reflection, I think I meant something more than 'troops stray across a border'; taking territory is, I think, part of what we should not countenance absent a serious reason not to intervene. The fact that we do not always live up to it does not, as far as I can see, show that I'm wrong to say that we should.

About the dead Rwandans: I'm on record as saying that I think it was appalling that we did not intervene to stop the Rwandan genocide.

Is "defeasible" a word I don't know, or just an odd double typo above?

As I use it, a defeasible case establishes its conclusion prima facie, but can be defeated. -- In a moment of "oh no, what if I made it up?", I googled, and found the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on defeasible reasoning:

"Reasoning is defeasible when the corresponding argument is rationally compelling but not deductively valid. The truth of the premises of a good defeasible argument provide support for the conclusion, even though it is possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false. In other words, the relationship of support between premises and conclusion is a tentative one, potentially defeated by additional information. "

Ooh, new word! But it's close enough in both spelling and meaning to "defensible" that I, as a non-philosopher, probably couldn't use it without its being taken as a mistake rather than as a sign of superior vocabulary.

Regarding GW1, I believe I felt much the way that I did about the Afghanistan war, that is to say, ambivalent and highly distrustful of the administration. My memory is that most on the Left (meaning everyone left of the center line, not the extreme left) was not wholesale in opposition to the war but wanted to give sanctions a try first; obviously this doesn't mean there was unanimity.

I don't remember what the liberal pundits were saying at the time -- if the major media representatives of liberals were all against the action at the time, I think that would make Beinart's assertion more, um, defensible.

To make more explicit what Nell has hinted at, it's rather arrogant to just assume that "getting it right" means adopting the liberal-interventionist position. One alternate reading of the last 15 years, for example, would say that

(a) if we'd cynically shrugged and let Saddam keep Kuwait, 9/11 would likely never have happened, the US would have been a lot safer generally, and probably a lot fewer people worldwide would have died; as bad as he was Saddam was no threat to us, with or without WMD, and the notion that he was gunning for Saudi Arabia next was a lie, pure and simple, cooked up by the Bush I administration to sell the war

(b) our intervention in the Balkan wars was a corrupt, stupid thing to do-- we took the side of one gang of barbarian ethnic-cleansing thugs against another, and ended up covering ourselves in inglory by bombing TV stations, embassies, etc, again to no discernible gain in our security

(c) humanitarian arguments for intervention in general ring hollow; bombing N innocents to death in the hope that you might save 3N or 10N in some uncertain future reeks of hubris and colonial hegemonism

and thus being "right" about the three wars in question would mean being firmly opposed to all of them.

Now all of the above propositions are debatable. But why just implicitly reject them out of hand without argument?

"and the notion that he was gunning for Saudi Arabia next was a lie, pure and simple, cooked up by the Bush I administration to sell the war"

That just isn't true. Saddam talked about Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as having all the same problems (border, war reparations, illegitimate monarchies, Arab nationalism).

From the Wikipedia entry on the Gulf War:

"Iraq had a number of grievances with Saudi Arabia. The concern over debts stemming from the Iran-Iraq war was even greater when applied to Saudi Arabia, which Iraq owed some 26 billion dollars. The long desert border was also ill-defined. Soon after his victory over Kuwait, Saddam began verbally attacking the Saudi kingdom. He argued that the American-supported Kingdom was an illegitimate guardian of holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Saddam combined the language of the Islamist groups that had recently fought in Afghanistan with the rhetoric Iran had long used to attack the Saudis.

The addition of "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Great") to the flag of Iraq and images of Saddam praying in Kuwait were seen as part of a plan to win the support of the Muslim Brotherhood and detach Islamist Mujahideen from Saudi Arabia."

for example

Nicholas Weininger: "But why just implicitly reject them out of hand without argument?"

Honestly? The reason I just accepted Beinart's views about what 'being right' amounted to was not just that I agree with him on that, but (more importantly) that I was primarily interested in his claim that it's an awful lot to expect that a liberal internationalist could get all three wars "right", as he defines it. And for those purposes, I could just accept his view about what 'getting it right' amounts to.

As I said before, I don't think that the case for what he calls 'right' is totally obvious, or that no one with half a brain could differ, or anything. I do think, however, that getting all three 'right' is not beyond the capacities of an ordinary, well-informed person. Someone who gets to edit TNR, write op-eds for the Washington Post and the LATimes, etc., is supposed to be better at this stuff than your ordinary well-informed person.

Sebastian: nonetheless, Iraq had no claim on SA , nor any grievance against them, remotely *as strong* as their claims + grievances re Kuwait. And (though wikipedia doesn't mention it) the satellite photos purporting to show Iraqi forces massing for an invasion of SA in fact showed no such thing.

Not that an Iraqi invasion of SA would have been any real threat to us either-- but that's a separate point.

I was opposed to GW1. I didn't understand why it should be any of our business that Iraq should redraw what I understood to be very recent borders. I thought it very strange that such a massive war effort should be mobilized for such abstract goals. I was in seventh grade at the time, mind you.

taking territory is, I think, part of what we should not countenance absent a serious reason not to intervene.

please hilzoy, take a hard look at recent and not so recent conflicts in Africa: they are almost all characterized by one group backed by country A "taking territory" from country B or some variation thereof; again, the fact that nobody is trying to raise a foreign flag in the capitol of the country thus attacked is irrelevant - indeed it is vital to understand that fighting wars through proxies and keeping inconclusive mid-level conflicts alive for profit is the face of most modern warfare

The fact that we do not always live up to it does not, as far as I can see, show that I'm wrong to say that we should.

I kinda knew this was coming, but still am a bit disappointed by it. How many dollars were spent, how many soldiers' lives were risked and how much ink was spilled in the case of the Iraq conflict? Now please ask yourself the same question when it comes to the conflict in Congo, in which 3.8 million people have perished.

Describing this incongruency as "sometimes, for whatever reason, not living up to our oh so precious moral standards" is naive at best.

novakant: "Describing this incongruency as "sometimes, for whatever reason, not living up to our oh so precious moral standards" is naive at best."

Had I so described it, this would be on target.

I'm more used to a different definition of "defeasible", which involves the possibility that title to land can be lost due to future events (e.g, a will providing that my property passes to my eldest daughter upon the condition that she marry within 2 years after my death, and if not, then to my next eldest daughter). As with much of real estate law that is taught in law school, it's a concept which may have made some sense in an agricultural society with no free right to transfer land without consent of the feudal lord, but has not been used in centuries.

Please--no hilzoy-bashing. I disagree with her too, in some ways, but have no time for polite ranting right now.

I will freely admit that part of what is enraging about someone like Beinart being taken at all seriously, much less given book deals, is to be talked down to about history that I've lived through and he hasn't.

This isn't just middle-aged crankiness, though there's an element of that. I've been a political activist for a long time, often working closely with much younger people. I've learned plenty from them, and had my assumptions and perspectives challenged. It's not always comfortable, but it's ultimately helpful.

But Beinart is not bringing a new way of looking at things to the scene. He's just parroting a version of history he's absorbed from ideologues rather than studied -- to people who directly lived it. It's beyond galling. That's why Mark Schmitt's takedown of Beinart's portrayal of Scoop Jackson is so satisfying, because it's a productive channeling of the deep irritation PB generates in left liberals of my g-g-generation.

Hilzoy talking about estates in title? that is a threadjack.

oddly enough, i was drafting an agreement transfering an interest in title (water rights) with a defeasibility clause just a few weeks ago.

these ancient doctrines of ancestors controlling the land uses of their descendants still have uses today, DtM.

Francis,

"these ancient doctrines of ancestors controlling the land uses of their descendants still have uses today, DtM."

If you say so. I thought it was us tradition-bound Easterners who still had such hoary concepts on the books at all, even if one can be a real estate lawyer out of school 15+ years and never have had to deal with them, while Western states had generally abolished them by statute. Next you'll be telling me that your water rights passed by fee tail and were determined by where the thread of the stream lay.

hilzoy, by your own description you didn't care about the motives for GW1 and you didn't seem to care all that much about the consequences either; all you seemed to care about in this regard, was the upholding of a quite narrowly defined norm; yet we see that this norm is in one way or another disregarded without sanction all the time; sanctions are only to be feared when the motives of those with the big guns coincide with the enforcement of the norm, yet those motives tend to be amoral in general

to put it mildly: not caring about those motives and not caring all that much about the consequences either makes having a morally coherent position very hard and I think it shows, which is a pity since there is also a lot to agree with in your post

novakant: I don't see where I said that I didn't care much about the consequences. I did say that I thought it was the right thing to do if we didn't unseat Saddam Hussein. I would actually have had more of a problem with it had we tried to topple it, since I care enough about the consequences that I think that sufficiently bad ones can defeat the case for rolling back an invasion, and I thought that the consequences of rolling on to Baghdad would be bad, in some foreseeable and (probably) many unforeseeable ways.

Again, I think that we are wrong not to be consistent about this.

Next you'll be telling me that your water rights passed by fee tail and were determined by where the thread of the stream lay.

such talk! it brings back the horrors on... The Quincunx. aiieee!

Well one thing we have definitely established is that agreeing with the First Gulf War isn't a clear case for some liberals on ObWings.

i thought GWI was stupid, at the time. but, i was 20 at the time, and was more interested in being 20 than in worrying about wars in far away places.

Whereas I was, in the words of Lord Peter Wimsey, noble and nude and antique.

Or something.

"Whereas I was, in the words of Lord Peter Wimsey, noble and nude and antique."

Pictures, please.

"Well one thing we have definitely established is that agreeing with the First Gulf War isn't a clear case for some liberals on ObWings."

Also for some conservatives (do you self-identify as conservative?) - at least depending on a fact in contention.

KenB well articulates my only disagreement, which considering it depends on "getting all three right" is nonetheless significant, with this post. I want to agree with the post in principle, that there are often very good reasons for the realism of not favoring force, and that those of us who are relatively skeptical about using force are not reflexively or thoughtlessly against it in all circumstances. But the frame this imposes: for legislators, whether they voted for or against some military action, often a vaguely-worded resolution of support, and for the rest of us whether we "supported" it, is too confining.

Yes, there are put-up-or-shut-up times, and we cannot expect everything to be in order before we assent, but speaking for myself, both GW1 and Afghanistan were situations where strong responses backed by force were called for, but not those, not led by them. I think both Bush administrations had earned my deep mistrust of their capacity, and the degree to which I could rely on their word.

Had I been asked to support what you seem to remember, a war with the limited purpose of ejecting Iraq from Kuwait, as in the UN Resolution, I believe I would have supported it. But it wasn't presented that way in my recollection; it was presented as an all-out war of good against evil. Once presented that way, then regime change, assassination, bombing the infrastructure of the enemy country at whatever long-term cost, and the encouraging of insurrections follow logically. And that, Saddam-as-Hitler, babies-ripped-from-incubators, the whole bit, was what I remember being asked to assent to, and I dissented.

Now I know that there were many reasons for this ends/means dichotomy. Not least was the determination of the armed forces not to allow themselves to be committed without a clear goal and overwhelming force — although I would have thought the goal was not at all clear, and perhaps the opposition of Powell reflected this — which needed to be accomodated. But if all the factors, and I've only named one of them, meant that Bush Sr. and Scowcroft were embarking on an all-out war with a limited purpose, then they bear a heavy burden of responsibility for the consequences. They should have known what they were getting into, and that their rhetoric, and the take-no-prisoners tone of their supporters would tie their hands. I do not regret the decision to stop at Kuwait, I did not oppose it then. But by then they had sown the wind. The wretched consequences, the crushed uprisings we did not deter, the impoverishment of Iraqi society, which meant malnutrition and death, under the sanctions, in my opinion flowed from their choices, and should have been forseeable.

I did not feel free, in 1990-91 or in 2003, to be supporting the war I wanted or would have preferred, as those who claimed they were supporting Tony Blair's war, seemed to me to be doing. I felt my up-or-down decision had to be based on my best estimate of the risks and consequences, under the leadership, with the aims and the resources and the priorities we actually had. I don't regret either choice.

But I do recognise an implicit corollary to my position. I supported the Kossovo intervention. It's broad coalition, strictly-limited scope, and humanitarian purpose were the reasons for my support, although like you I feel the means of military action left much to be desired. But I know that many people profoundly distrusted President Clinton's morality, the degree to which his word could be trusted, or his fitness to make such decisions. In this I believe they were wrong-headed. Nonetheless, opposition based on this, to the degree I believe it sincere, is understandable to me.

I thought it was interesting that there was more opposition to GW1 than I remembered (though I was in Japan on my first stay), and I found this, but the fact that a Democratic controlled Senate gave Bush 1 authorization suggests that Sebastian's "Dems oppose repubs and vice versa" is a bit too stark. Also, looking back at the debates and the discussions, it seems that the Dems were less voting against the use of force, and more voting so as to not be blamed for what was predicted to be a quagmire.

"Also, looking back at the debates and the discussions, it seems that the Dems were less voting against the use of force, and more voting so as to not be blamed for what was predicted to be a quagmire."

Well, our elected representatives are so well known for their noble nature.

:)

(See also crass Republican votes against action in the Balkans in case you think I'm just attacking Democrats).

BTW, it should be remembered that the Resolution was to be authorized so that Bush I could threaten Saddam with war if he did not leave Kuwait by the United Nations deadline of January 15. Despite calls from Democrats to "exhaust diplomatic channels", a vote taking the threat of military action off the table would certainly have been bad for diplomacy given a leader who might have been open to it.

Well, our elected representatives are so well known for their noble nature.

:)

(See also crass Republican votes against action in the Balkans in case you think I'm just attacking Democrats).

Certainly, but I do think that worries about getting involved in a quagmire in the Balkans were much less than getting into one in Iraq, as events have borne out.

And I know it's de rigeur to complain how base our elected reps are, but if you keep telling a student they are stupid, you are likely to be unsurprised when they think that licenses a range of unhelpful behaviors

Despite calls from Democrats to "exhaust diplomatic channels", a vote taking the threat of military action off the table would certainly have been bad for diplomacy given a leader who might have been open to it.

And this is why we have not one, but two debating chambers to discuss this, eh?

a vote taking the threat of military action off the table would certainly have been bad for diplomacy given a leader who might have been open to it.

As we found out in 2003?



DtM, you do NOT want to get me started on pueblo, pre- and post-1914 appropriate and overlying water rights. I'd end up having to bill you.

on the larger discussion, i still think that ejecting Saddam from Kuwait without taking Bagdad was probably the best option.

On one hand, our international institutions have to have some credibility and Iraq's invasion was about a gross a violation of UN principles as you can get.

on the other, our allies were unwilling to deal with the consequences of a destabilized Iraq. Since we couldn't establish that leaving Saddam in power would endanger us (the US), I think we properly deferred to the will of our allies in the neighborhood who didn't want to deal with the mess.

not the perfect solution, but the perfect solution probably would have required managing the end of the Ottoman Empire very differently. as I've argued before, some policy mistakes simply must be endured.

"As we found out in 2003?"

Are you suggesting that the Bush who wouldn't go into Baghdad after prosecuting the war over Kuwait would have attacked Saddam in Baghdad if Saddam had withdrawn from Kuwait?

I guess I don't understand your point?

Well, I was opposed to GW I, but I was wrong. I'm wrong quite often, actually. So I sympathize with Beinart's desire not to be ignored because he's been wrong in the past. But Beinart and TNR have been dismissive of antiwar types for as long as I can remember (pretty long, actually, until I finally stopped reading them), so I'd like to see a lot more groveling on his part.

Now though I was wrong about GWI, I was wrong for exactly the reasons that "I don't pay" lists in his 4:02 post. I also agree with most of what novakant says (though he's being unfair to hilzoy). In a somewhat more ideal world, we could trust the American government to go to war for the purposes hilzoy outlines and use approximately the amount of force needed and not indulge in air campaigns designed to destroy civilian infrastructure, for instance. And we'd try much harder to be morally consistent--we wouldn't pretend to be shocked by Saddam's behavior when we'd been supporting him for ten years while he launched a war of aggression against Iran and slaughtered his own people when they rebelled, because we just wouldn't get in bed with murderous dictators unless (as in WWII), the stakes are extremely high and we have little choice. We wouldn't have supported Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor for over 30 years and then pretended to be shocked by the invasion of Kuwait. We don't simply fail to live up to our professed principles--we often do the exact opposite. When we do live up to our professed principles, it's out of self-interest. That's the problem with supporting the US government even when it is probably going to war on the right side--nuance gets drowned out and we end up cheerleading for people who were perfectly happy supporting Saddam until he misunderstood what we'd let him get away with. It's very hard to tolerate the kind of swill that gets dished out when this country is going through one of its prowar frenzies and I don't see how anyone could have supported Gulf War I without being a little sickened by the hypocrisy of it all.

In practice wars are always going to be like that, I suppose. You can't get people roused to go to war if you start pointing out the moral ambiguities, which is why liberals are always going to be accused of being softheaded.

Damn, Donald....a-freakin'-men.

It takes a man/woman to be honest about the evil within and without...it takes a child to label everything that confuses him/her as evil.

"lily: I thought of emailing it to Beinart, but couldn't find an email address. After reading your post, I looked harder, but still couldn't find an email address."

I kinda bet Kevin Drum could give it to you, or forward the link/text to Beinart.

Sebastian: "You shouldn't go to war just to stop the immediate problem. War isn't that precise. If someone's regime is doing something bad enough for you to go to war over, you need to finish off the regime if you can--otherwise you shouldn't bother with the war."

We didn't have all that many "total wars" in history prior to the 20th Century. I think arguing that the only war worth doing is a total war is a terrible idea.

To take just one example, this was Douglas MacArthur's view on North Korea, and as a result, he brought China into the Korean War and snatched stalemate from the jaws of restoring the status quo ante, in a war in which we wound up only with restoring the status quo ante, and in which if your advice had been followed, we'd either still be fighting with China in a ground war in Asia, or we'd have placed a nice game of thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union as well.

It's hardly the only example in which a war for limited goals was a vastly better or more realistic idea than a war for Unconditional Surrender. Should we have tried to overthrow King George III? Did the fact that WWI ended with Kaiser Wilhem abdicating work out well? Was it a mistake that we didn't continue the War of 1812 until Canada was ours?

And so on and so forth.

Gary: You think the war of 1812 is over? In reality, we are just waiting until Canada becomes well and truly complacent. Those of us in the yet-to-be-triggered sleeper cells have been brainwashed to ignore the fact that she is no longer a British colony, and wait for our orders.

Of course, Hilzoy. We Remain Prepared. (Jim Henley has been doing advance work all week.)

Incidentally, yes, terrific post.

And if you don't hear from Kevin for some reason, I also bet that the Tapped folk can also forward your post to Beinart; I second Lily's suggestion both specifically, because it's possible he might reply, and I'd like to see what he has to say, and generally about her point that people don't do enough direct communicating with each other, on the assumption that they'll never respond to us, which often is not the case, and even when it is, they still might read what one wrote.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad