13:42 12 Apr 2003

I’ve posted a rather lengthy rebuttal to a Friday WaPo op-ed by Michael Kinsley. He argues that there are many unanswered questions about our involvment in Iraq, and the fact that they remain unanswered justifies opposition to it. I argue that his questions aren’t unanswered at all, and his justifications are an illusion that he would rather see than the real world around him.

In Friday’s Washington Post, columnist Michael Kinsley had a piece on the op-ed page entitled “No Quagmire, but Still Some Questions.” I’ve read quite a few of Mr. Kinsley’s columns, and I’ve found most of them to be well crafted and thought provoking. But in this one he explains why those opposed the war in Iraq are right, and he asks many questions which he claims go unanswered. He claims that this lack of answers to these questions proves his case.

The psychological challenge of opposing a war like this after it has started isn’t supporting the American troops but hoping to be proven wrong. That, though, is the burden of pessimism on all subjects. As a skeptic, at the least, about Gulf War II, I do hope to be proven wrong. But it hasn’t happened yet.

So those that oppose a war “like this” are noble souls, honor-bound as dutiful citizens to dissent and protest, but secretly “hoping to be proven wrong”? And that position is admirable? Mr. Kinsley, the skeptic, will have to forgive me if I’m skeptical.

And he’ll also have to forgive me if I offer my humble comments about his unanswered questions.

“Is there a connection between Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11?”
There is definitely connection between Iraq and terrorism in general. There is a fair amount of evidence that direct connections between Iraq and al Queda exist now and have for some time. They are definitely on the same side (against the U.S.) even if they aren’t formal allies. The president said we would wage war against terrorists and those that aid and harbor them. Iraq plainly fits the criteria, and anyone who doesn’t see it just doesn’t want to.

“Is that connection really bigger than that of all the countries we’re not invading?”
Almost certainly not. But there’s not a chance that Saddam would have assisted us in any way. Some countries with close connections to terrorism, like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, are making at least some efforts to police their own nation and assist us in our war. But let’s take a look at Syria. If this question really means, “Why are we invading Iraq and not Syria?” the answer is simple. If we choose to wage a war against Syria, we would probably like to attack from two major fronts, exactly like we didn’t in Iraq when Turkey refused to allow the 4th Infantry Division to enter Iraq from the north. If fighting one means potentially fighting the other, and it does, Iraq comes first. If we must fight Syria, we will have two fronts, from the Mediterranean in the west and Iraq in the east. So, even if Syria’s connection to 9/11 is greater than Iraq’s, it doesn’t necessarily mean they must be attacked first. Perhaps the “easier” military victory in Iraq will reduce the risk of war with Syria.

“Does Iraq really have or almost have weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States?”
To be honest, to call this an “unanswered question” seems pretty silly to me. Iraq absolutely, positively had huge stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and would have been able to produce weapons-grade plutonium long ago if their nuclear reactor hadn’t been pre-emptively and unilaterally destroyed by Israel in 1981. If Saddam wasn’t working on WMD in 1998, and everyone –everyone– believed he was, why were the UN weapons inspectors kicked out? And if he had them in ’98, why would he have destroyed them in the five years since? Even if he had destroyed them, why can’t he produce ANY evidence that he has done so? To give him any benefit of the doubt at this point is simply foolish.

“What will toppling Hussein ultimately cost in dollars and in lives (American, Iraqi, others)?”
The cost in lives has been INCREDIBLY low so far. That doesn’t help those that have died, or their families, I realize. And I don’t really put much faith in claims of 100,000 dead Iraqi soldiers; that is the same number that was thrown around for a while after the ’91 war, but it turned out to be wrong. But I would venture a guess that there are many other three-week periods in Saddam’s history that had a far higher cost in human lives. And these spikes on the graph would have recurred periodically for as long as Saddam remained in power. We know this, because he was personally responsible for them. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end. And the cost in dollars? That’s the most ridiculous argument against the war that I’ve heard, and I don’t know why it get so much exposure. Maybe because so many of the other arguments are groundless? If the war is right, it’s right. And every dollar spent on every cruise missile and every bullet will be more than paid back with interest if the Middle East finds more stability and the flow of oil is freed. Never mind the priceless peace of mind that could possibly be bought, for us and for those in the region, if our efforts are successful.

“Will the result be a stable Iraq and a blossoming of democracy in the Middle East or something less attractive?”
It will probably be less attractive than a “blossoming democracy.” Iraq has several different ethnic groups who see things quite differently and often disagree about nearly everything. If the bar to be reached is perfection, they will come up short. If they simply need to fashion a workable government of the people, by the people, for the people, they have every chance to succeed. If we’re lucky, they may merely have to deal with a harsh, never-ending, bitterly fought struggle between rival factions resorting to every low, demeaning, dastardly trick they can invent in a constant battle for national supremacy. And the local media, biased to one side or another, will probably fan the flames and leave the average citizen woefully unable to make informed decisions. Mobs of protesters will march and try to cause havoc when they don’t feel that they’ve received the government they were promised. Definitely far less attractive than a “blossoming democracy,” perhaps, but much like us. As they say, democracy is the worst possible form of government ever devised, except for all the others.

“How many young Muslims and others will be turned against the United States and what will they do about it?”
This is a favorite of the anti-war types. It implies that the US is to blame for the fanatical hatred that its enemies harbor. While US policy has often traded short-term gain for long-term risk, and not all of our decisions have been wise, the other options are to withdraw into a shell and hope that they suddenly stop hating us and everything that we stand for after we’ve left, or to give up everything we stand for in the hopes that they’ll like us more when we stop being us. Another question could be “How many young Muslims and others will be turned away from hatred and lawlessness when they have a chance to live in a world filled with things besides poverty, fear, and death?” If we stay the course, they will far outnumber those turned against us.

“Should we be doing this despite the opposition of most of our traditional allies? Without the approval of the United Nations?”
Who would this mean? France? These two questions are really different ways of asking the same thing. You’ll notice that one of the questions in Mr. Kinsley’s piece is not “Isn’t this all about the oil?” Considering all the talk over the past six months or so, I find that pretty incredible. But for those who are familiar with the TotalFinaElf connection between Baghdad and Paris (and Quebec) it isn’t surprising. If anything has been “all about the oil,” it has been France’s (and Canada’s, maybe?) position, not ours. A large part of “old” Europe is right in there with France, economically more interested in the status quo than in a free, democratic Iraq. A large number of American citizens can trace their history back to Europe, and a large number of American families have members who fought and died in Europe in two world wars and held the line against the USSR in a shotless third. But the fact that they’re Americans and not Europeans is very significant. Their forefathers didn’t cross the Atlantic on a whim. As for Germany, Russia, and China, they certainly aren’t “traditional allies.” And opposition in the United Nations lies chiefly with these same “traditional allies.” If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. We’re going to do something different, whether old Europe wants to or not.

“Is it justified to make “preemptive” war on nations that might threaten us in the future?”
I’ll agree that this is a tough question. But look at it this way. We would not have been justified in attacking Japan in the mid-1930s just because they opposed our interests and were building a large, powerful navy. But we would certainly have been justified if we had discovered their plans and intent to attack Pearl Harbor and Anglo-American forces in the Pacific. In fact, we DID fire the first shots in the Pacific War when we attacked and sank a Japanese sub attempting to sneak into Pearl Harbor several hours before the attack. They didn’t fire at us, but we killed them. Was THAT pre-emptive? Obviously not. Today, Pearl Harbors no longer require massive fleets or immense armies. Weapons of mass destruction have changed the rules of warfare, and efforts to develop them for or distribute them to nations or groups determined to destroy us are certainly within the realm of national defense. And as 9/11 demonstrated, the bombs won’t necessarily drop on military targets. If the threat is real, we are obligated to remove it by whatever means are necessary.

“When do internal human rights, or the lack of them, justify a war?”
I would argue that wars against regimes like Saddam’s Iraq, even if waged only to free the poor souls under the iron fists, are pretty easily justifiable to citizens of honorable, lawful nations. But freeing the people of Iraq isn’t the primary objective in Iraq, no matter how good it makes us feel to see the obvious joy in the faces of those freed. We are there to protect our own nation and those nations that would be free, even the Frances and Germanys of the world. Happy, well-fed Iraqis, like the increased flow of oil, aren’t really more than side benefits of changing the Iraqi regime.

“Is there a policy about preemption and human rights that we are prepared to apply consistently? Does consistency matter?”
I think there needs to be a policy covering preemption, and there needs to be a separate policy covering human rights. I think they both need to be applied as consistently as possible. The human rights issues are nothing new, and I don’t really expect this administration to fare any better than the previous ten or twelve have, but that doesn’t affect justification of our attack on Iraq. The policy about preemption, on the other hand, is something new and still under development. There is probably a lot more room to maneuver, depending on the particular circumstances, as shown by the different approaches to Afghanistan, Iraq, and North Korea. Iraq isn’t the end of our policy on preemption. It’s barely the beginning. And just because we invaded Iraq shouldn’t mean we’re obligated to invade Iran, Syria, and North Korea simply to remain consistent.

“Before Bush begins trying to create a civil society in Iraq, wouldn’t it be nice if he apologized to Bill Clinton and Al Gore for all the nasty, dismissive things he said about “nation-building” in the 2000 campaign?”
It probably would be nice. And if anyone in politics ever did anything for the sake of being nice, Bush might actually do it. Maybe. But in 2000, remember, we were all looking back at Haiti, at Kosovo, and at a humiliating withdrawal from Somalia after many lost the stomach to win. We weren’t looking ahead toward four hijacked airliners and thousands of dead American citizens in September of 2001. President Bush, and the rest of America, has learned some hard lessons in the past year and a half, and our eyes are opened to the possibilities, even the probabilities, of more terror in the years to come. Bush would probably have used different words if he had known then what he knows now. Regardless, the question doesn’t explain anyone’s opposition to the war in Iraq. It’s merely partisan, which is just politics, and petty, which is just pedestrian.

Of course, opponents have been on the defensive since the day the fighting started, forced to repeat the mantra that we “oppose the war but support the troops.” Critics mock this formula as psychologically implausible if not outright[ly] dishonest, but it’s not even difficult or complicated. Most of the common reasons for opposing this war get more severe as the war grows longer.

I disagree. First of all, many opponents of the war don’t even claim to “support the troops.” Second of all, as the fight in Iraq grows longer, and it’s dragged on for three whole weeks already, public support has GROWN as more and more of Saddam’s sadism has been revealed to the world and the joy of liberated Iraqis makes the evening news. This is just one of many necessary campaigns in the “War On Terror” (just a marketing name for World War 4) like North Africa in WW2. All of these questions are not “unanswered.” Mr. Kinsley and other opponents of the war just don’t like the answers and what those answers imply, so they dismiss them.

Most of the common reasons for opposing this war are evaporating in the light of day, like a mirage on the horizon that is revealed to be no more than empty wasteland along the road to a promised land.