Maggie Goes Wobbly

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And Tina Brown—yes, she's still alive—gets an actual, real-life scoop! Even if it's an annoyingly presented, Woodwardian second-hand quote, presented as the verbatim truth:

The former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, Lord Palumbo, who lunched with Mrs. T six months ago, told me recently what she said when he asked her if, given the intelligence at the time, she would have made the decision to invade Iraq. "I was a scientist before I was a politician, Peter," she told him carefully. "And as a scientist I know you need facts, evidence and proof—and then you check, recheck and check again. The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof. As a politician the most serious decision you can take is to commit your armed services to war from which they may not return."

Love that "carefully." The Independent (UK) follows up:

Lady Thatcher's office did not dispute her reported remarks but said she had been—and remained—in full support of the decision to oust Saddam by military means, which she always believed would be the only way to remove him. Aides said she wished that had been achieved by the first Gulf War, prompted by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which took place shortly after she was forced to resign as Prime Minister after losing the confidence of her cabinet.

In the National Post way back in March 2003, I explored the historical revisionism of the "Finish the Job" coalition, and the far-stronger public backing for Gulf War II than I. I will now violate the second rule of Fight Club by quoting myself:

Despite a UN mandate, 33 coalition partners (including Syria and Saudi Arabia), and a clear-cut rationale, domestic support for Gulf War I paled in comparison to its sequel. Four days before hostilities, the U.S. Senate approved military force by the razor-thin margin of 52-47, compared with the 77-23 vote in favour of Gulf War II last fall. Public opinion polls in 1990-91 showed deep ambivalence toward the conflict and a desire to maximize diplomacy, followed by a last-minute spike of two-thirds support; the same pattern held in 2002-03, only higher.

NEXT: Faa' for Fake?

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  1. Why does Margaret Thatcher hate Britain?

  2. When did Margaret Thatcher become a terrorist-loving liberal?

  3. Were I a war supporter, I would be furious with Bush. His political behavior in the runup to the war has cut the legs out from under the effort.

    His phoney WMD argument handed every supporter-turned-wobbly an excuse to jump off the ship while saving face.

    And the demonization of his political opponents, and the conflation of supporting the troops with supporting his great adventure, ripped the country in half – on purpose, as a deliberate strategy – just as a few hundred thousand people in uniform were being sent into harm’s way.

    Because he was so sure about what had to be true, and he we so certain that it was going be a splendid little war, and boy were his opponents going to look stupid.

    Cripes, I never thought I’d be wishing Margaret Thatcher was the president.

  4. yep… Maggie: There’s a mensch.

  5. I have consistently opposed the war. My most dire fears have come to fruition and we find ourselves nearly in the same position that Lloyd George found himself in during his Middle Eastern adventures in the three years following WWI.

    joe,

    That would be a bit hard, given that she is British. 🙂

    Matt Welch,

    …and the far-stronger public backing for Gulf War II than I.

    That depends on when you measure the backing for a second war. Hell, once the hostilities got underway even a majority of Brits favored the war for a time (which was a much trumpeted thing on pro-war blogs).

  6. Those numbers are distressing, though unsurprising, and they demonstrate two sad facts :

    – the classical realists have pretty much lost the battle for the core of American foreign policy (I mean, Gulf I was an absolute slam-dunk – oil, regional balance of power – what more could you ask? II was a speculative shot in the dark – it might still work, but you have to think the payoff’s not been worth the cost and risk.)

    – when it comes to war, as with most things, democracies vote with their balls and not their brains; if you can paint demon horns on the other guy, you’ve got yourself a war… otherwise, too damn bad

  7. Hell, once the hostilities got underway even a majority of Brits favored the war for a time

    Sure, based on false evidence.

    Joe, as for what you said, I’m curious (not arguing, just curious): why would war supporters be mad at Bush for derailing their effort? Without Bush there would be no war in the first place. I can see FORMER war supporters being furious because they supported the war when they thought Saddam was a threat, but the only people who still support it at this late date tend to be the same types of people who think we would have won in Vietnam if only Jane Fonda had never been born. (And when we finally admit defeat in Iraq, it will be entirely the fault of Michael Moore.)

  8. Jennifer,

    I was using the term to refer to those who supported Bush’s war in March 2003, including those who have changed their minds, those who are currently changing their minds, and those who will change their minds in the future.

  9. but joe – didn’t our prez-e-dent appear in his maverick costume and said that everything was accomplished? but but… ohno.

  10. Remember folks, WMD was the ONLY reason given for the war!!!

  11. That would be a bit hard, given that she is British. 🙂

    Hasn’t Blair applied to be 51st state yet — or would that not sufficient to run Thatcher here?

  12. It just hit me – the hawks were right all along. The “war” is over, and has been. It was a cakewalk. “mission accomplished” and turn that carrier around for a good photo-op.

    Now we’re just nation-building.

    Now, which recent presidential candidate stated that nation-building isn’t a proper function for our military? Can somebody help me here?

  13. J1-

    Wrong. WMD were not the only reason given, but they were the primary reason. Full compliance with WMD inspections was cited as the issue that would determine whether or not we would go to war. Humanitarian concerns were mentioned as benefits of going to war, including Democratic Domino Theory (DDT). Sure, they were not mentioned as sufficient to determine whether or not we would go to war, but they were discussed.

    If you were being serious in your comment, I’m correcting you to pre-empt any hawks who might swoop in for the low-hanging fruit that you offered. And if your statement was sarcastic, mocking us doves for our naivete in thinking WMD were the only reason given, I’m here to tell you that I know other reasons were given, but I also know how things were prioritized and what we were told about how the issue would be decided.

  14. Jennifer, “Sure, based on false evidence.” I disagree. The start of hostilities didn’t change anybody’s beliefs about WMDs. What we saw was a classic “rally round the flag” event.

    “Remember folks, WMD was the ONLY reason given for the war!!!” Remember, folks, the mutterings about “and it’s gonna be all happy and democratic” have totally prevented the country from feeling lied to about the war. You can see this from the stratospheric levels of support it still enjoys.

    Someone please choose the right answer:

    We cannot let the world’s worst tyrants…

    A. Be all undemocratic and shit.

    B. Squeese the Charmin.

    C. Threaten us with the world’s most dangerous weapons.

    D. Walk around with a big cop mustache like they’re all that.

  15. Hakluyt: What did you think of “Firepower?” Does the guy know what he is talking about?

  16. Dave W.,

    Hasn’t Blair applied to be 51st state yet — or would that not sufficient to run Thatcher here?

    They are waiting until 2020 to spring that on the British. 🙂

    Ron,

    I assume you mean that book we were discussing earlier. I have to admit that I’ve been distracted by some other books like Shorto’s The Island and the Center of the World and Colin Jones’ relatively recent history of Paris. When I get back to N.C. I’ll pick it up and read it straight off. Many apologies.

  17. Ron,

    That Shorto book is part of the dramatic reassessment of the Dutch influence on colonial British America. Quite different from what I learned as an undergraudate and graduate student.

  18. Screw teh Dutch. They sold us New York State for beads. Beads!

  19. Hak:

    besides New Amsterdam and the Dutch activities in the Carribean, what has the influence been?

    I used to have a great hypercard based game for my mac classic called “Pirates” where you sail around 1670s Carribean and can plunder etc. I used to like taking over Havana and San Juan and make them Dutch, “to change history”.

    (wasn’t that you in that really cool afternoon discussing medieval europe? or am i misremembering?)

    cheers,
    drf

  20. Hakluyt: No problem. I’ll have to look at Shorto’s book, since I’m focussing right now on American colonial period/rev war. Right now, I’m reading Dubois’ recent books on the slave revolts in the Carribbean circa French Revolution. Interesting stuff, but his style turns me off a little. Do you know of any good ones?

  21. A picture of Saddam with his arms around a bucket full of anthrax giving the thumbs up and holding a current newspaper might just be an unreasonable standard for the application of military force.

    If you discount deployment based on probabilities in any case, you are accepting that first strike goes to your opponent in all cases where he chooses to do so. Intelligence isn’t anywhere near perfect. Police don’t always get their man. Spy satellites can be avoided. It just doesn’t work that way.

    Absolutely reasonable cost benefit analysis and a hard look at probabilities could tell a perfectly reasonable person that, given the known unaccouted for material and the history of the suspect, a WMD stash was hidden somewhere.

    Bush is guilty of overselling the certainty of specific pieces of intelligence, but the whole idea that a majority wouldn’t have supported an armed response if presented with a fear of the unknown scenario instead strikes me as wishful thinking on the part of those who need to see a smoking gun. Yes, the American people should have been presented with only quality intelligence. Yes, I acknowledge that we’ll never know now, will we? I just think that the context of support at the time of the decision was much broader than what is now being suggested by some folks.

  22. Two distinctions I would wish into our collective consciousness.

    1) The difference between the reasons the President gave for going to war and the reasons the American people supported the war.

    2) The difference between the existence of WMD and the threat WMD actually poses to the American people.

  23. Jason: I’m probably in the minority, but for me the way the justification for war was pitched to the world was far worse than launching the war itself. If you know all intelligence is uncertain, why would you hang everything on it, since the consequences of being wrong would then undermine any other justifications you might have? I think I know the answer, which was that the administration thought the other reasons wouldn’t be enough to garner public support. So, I agree that we’ll never know whether the public would have supported the war if WMD weren’t at the top of the menu, but it seems clear enough to me from their behavior that the Bush Administration didn’t believe the public would. Or maybe they did, and they’re just stupid.

  24. Jason Ligon,

    An honest argument based on probabilities wouldn’t have gotten us an invasion of Iraq in 2003. It would have gotten us a robust, coercive inspection regime, which would have done just as much to protect us from Iraqi WMDs as this invasion had, but at a much lower loss of life.

    Any regime change war that came out of an honest discussion of the issues would have been later, more broadly supported at home, carried out with a broad coalition that fully isolated Iraq (Syria was on our side last time, remember), would have had a realistic plan to secure the nation and win the peace, and would have resulted in an advance, not a decline, in our international power.

    I’m not a member of International ANSWER, and I reject your indefensible assertion that the options available to us were limited to the partisan, unilateral, dishonest, incompetant, rushed, poorly planned quagmire we charged into on the one hand; and “accepting that first strike goes to your opponent in all cases where he chooses to do so.”

    Bill Clinton, by successfully carrying out Operation Desert Fox, refutes your false dilemma. We didn’t have to run around like idiots to protect ourselves; in fact, we would be a lot more protected if we hadn’t run around like idiots.

  25. “A picture of Saddam with his arms around a bucket full of anthrax giving the thumbs up and holding a current newspaper might just be an unreasonable standard for the application of military force.”

    Tony Blair certainly agrees with you: “If they look guilty, fine ’em, and it’s THEIR responsibility to prove they’re innocent.”

    Pshaw. It’s about personal responsibility.

    One of the risks of living in the world is that criminals might commit a crime. Just like the risk that lightning might kill you. Or a hurricane. Or a flood.

    If you kill an innocent, you’ve killed the innocent. Noone forced you to act. You can be justified when an imminent threat is posed, but you can’t say a threat is “grave and gathering” and go out and kill innocent people and say it was for their own good. And if you’re wrong, you’re held responsible for your action, unlike government who just writes it off as “collateral damage” and keeps on chugging along.

    It’s the difference between a. self-defense and b. risk management. You can use agressive force in self-defense, but for risk management. It’s this idea of government risk management that brought us the welfare state and the war on drugs.

  26. Ron, “If you know all intelligence is uncertain, why would you hang everything on it, since the consequences of being wrong would then undermine any other justifications you might have? I think I know the answer, which was that the administration thought the other reasons wouldn’t be enough to garner public support.”

    Might I suggest another answer? Bush wanted this war to be highly partisan and unilateral, with the American people and other countries forced to either line up behind him, or against him. Then, when the spendid little war went off spendidly, and he bestrode Mesopotamia as a conquering hero, boy, were the liberals and the UN and the French and the bureaucrats at the State Department going to look like idiots.

    How do you get a mandate to invade Iraq, without actually buiding up the bipartisan and international coalitions you need to justify a war? Why, you threated the American people with visions of mushroom clouds, and tell the world that you either support our invasion, or you’re on the side of the terra-ists.

  27. Jason,

    You sound like a drug cop who just shot the wrong man in the wrong apartment.

  28. joe:

    You mischaracterized the delimma. What I said is, if you reject the notion of deploying military force based on probability rather than certainty, you are surrendering first strike to your opponent. I said every time, but I would revise that to, ‘unless you get lucky’. The argument consistently being made is that we needed proof dammit! No, we didn’t.

    I also didn’t say we needed to run around like idiots every time we were un sure. What I said is that uncertainty is not a deal breaker.

  29. joe:

    “You sound like a drug cop who just shot the wrong man in the wrong apartment.”

    Because you are hearing what you want to hear. I might sound like a cop who had probable cause to go look at an apartment but not certainty of what was going on, who gave notice at the door that I wanted to search right now, who was told to wait, then who kicked in the door and exchanged fire.

    Or something like that. It is strained, but I didn’t start it …

  30. “…if you reject the notion of deploying military force based on probability rather than certainty”

    Nobody’s doing that, Jason. The case was extraordinarily weak. There are levels of proof below philosophical certainty.

    Not having the main pillars of your argument – aluminum tubes, Nigerois uranium, flying drones of death, mobile weapons labs, 45 minutes – thoroughly demolished within two weeks, for example.

  31. Joe: Your first argument begs the question. If I didn’t care about public support and I just wanted to show the world that taking out Saddam and creating a democracy was easy, why would I try to sell WMD as the main reason, if it might turn out the intelligence was wrong? The fact is, they did care about public support, they knew that the WMD threat was the way to get it, and they thought they would be golden as soon as our forces uncovered the hidden chemicals and nukes. I know “they’re incompetent” isn’t as exciting as “they lied”, but there you are. Your second argument is the one I made.

  32. Jason,

    Let’s say that all of the evidence in Colin Powell’s speech added up to probable cause. The cop gets his warrant. Except that he had already been told, before he even applied for the warrant, that the tubes couldn’t be used to enrich uranium, the trailers probably weren’t mobile labs, the drones couldn’t even reach Israel, and the uranium documents were fakes. Do you kick in somebody’s door?

    Only if you’re determined to kick in that guy’s door. Problem is, if you’re wrong, and you shoot an innocent guy, it’s burn baby burn all over the city.

  33. Ron,

    “If I didn’t care about public support and I just wanted to show the world that taking out Saddam and creating a democracy was easy, why would I try to sell WMD as the main reason, if it might turn out the intelligence was wrong?” Because you’re just so goshdarn sure that Saddam had to have WMDs, because you’re such a great judge of character, and you don’t need no Ivy League snobs in the CIA and State Department telling you different. The same reason you set up Richard Perle on a “Team B” inside the Pentagon to “take another look at the intelligence” and draw the conclusions that anybody with a lick o’ common sense knows is true.

  34. “Nobody’s doing that, Jason. The case was extraordinarily weak. There are levels of proof below philosophical certainty.”

    Plenty of people are doing that. Tons of unaccounted for WMD material and a decade of obfuscation constitutes probable cause. Where we will differ is the level of certainty that another round of inspections provides vs. the level of certainty provided by an invasion – and what attaining a level of certainty is worth.

  35. Ron,

    They lied about their evidence. They said they were sure Iraq had WMDs, because they had the proof. They didn’t have the proof, the weren’t sure. They just figured.

    But they didn’t tell us the figured Iraq had WMDs. They lied, and told us they knew. Then they lied again, and told us that the evidence they presented proved it, when they knew, and had been told, that it did not.

  36. Joe: Hak is right after all! You just changed your position to mine.

  37. Joe: I’ll revise that. You’re just saying they lied about their evidence. I don’t think that’s established yet.

  38. Jason, “Tons of unaccounted for WMD material and a decade of obfuscation constitutes probable cause.” I disagree – it is cause for suspicion. It’s not enough to get a cop a warrant (justify and invasion). It’s enough to start an investigation (get inspectors in the country, with some nice gentlemen in tanks to sweet talk uncooperative guards).

    Neither of these factors – “tons of unaccounted for WMD materials” and “a decade of obfuscation” is strong evidence of a WMD threat. Fire produces smoke, and every time we thought we saw smoke (tubes, drones, trailers) we realized – we realized! – that it wasn’t. After a certain point, the repeated debunking of what you think is your strongest evidence, the failure to uncover any other evidence, and the emergence of counter-evidence (such as the defecting general who told us the materials had all been destroyed or discarded) adds up to a very strong case against your hypothesis.

    Bush knew this case was weak – the administration knowingly lied about the defecting general’s statements, evidence of awareness in any court of law – and chose to lie to us.

  39. Ron,

    I’ve agreed with you from the beginning. I was offering a complementary theory, not a refutation.

  40. Neither of these factors – “tons of unaccounted for WMD materials” and “a decade of obfuscation” is strong evidence of a WMD threat.

    2) The difference between the existence of WMD and the threat WMD actually poses to the American people.

    —-Comment by: Tom Crick at October 14, 2005 02:33 PM

  41. joe:

    It occurs to me that we find ourselves in an interesting parity. Remember your feelings about the random bag searches on the subway system? i generally oppose them because I don’t think they are really effective. I am skeptical in general of security posturing on the domestic front because it is static and easy to work around.

    Going overseas, our positions flop. I am comfortable doing whatever we need to do to ensure the known wack job running Iraq doesn’t have a secret stash of big weapons intended for us, and I think invasion is the only way to find out for sure (and I think there is a big deterrence aspect to the invasion that can’t be accomplished other ways). I believe your position is something either along the lines of searching the bag = inspections or a higher standard applies in cases where a search will certainly result in conflict.

  42. “2) The difference between the existence of WMD and the threat WMD actually poses to the American people.

    —-Comment by: Tom Crick at October 14, 2005 02:33 PM”

    3) The difference between actual threat to the American population posed by WMD and the willingness of the American population to endure even the suggestion that such a cost will be borne.

    The latter is what drives a country to war in this case.

  43. Jason,

    I can see the point about the subway searches vs. invasion. But there is a very significant distinction: we could always stop the subway searches, and everything goes back to normal.

    When it comes to invading another country, once you’re in, you can’t undo it. Therefore, you need to operate on a whole higher level of caution.

    Now, coercive inspections – that’s something you can undo if you’re wrong. You just stop the coercing and inspecting. But pulling the trigger on a country is final.

    “I am comfortable doing whatever we need to do to ensure the known wack job running Iraq doesn’t have a secret stash of big weapons intended for us” Costs, Jason. If such certainty could be accomplished with minimal costs, yeah, sure, let’s do it all over the place. But there are 2000 soldiers we could really use right about now, and they’re never coming back. Maybe 60,000 Iraqi civilians, most of whom were killed by us. $200 billion and counting. And based on what? Some “we don’t know what happened to this and that,” some “Saddam’s been acting squirrelly,” and a whole lotta nothing where something would be, if there had been ongoing WMD programs.

  44. “After a certain point, the repeated debunking of what you think is your strongest evidence, the failure to uncover any other evidence, and the emergence of counter-evidence (such as the defecting general who told us the materials had all been destroyed or discarded) adds up to a very strong case against your hypothesis.”

    What I’m suggesting is that the Bush administration threw everything related to the topic out there to see what would stick. They did so because they wanted to resolve the uncertainty issue, and, it is fair to note that no intelligence agency was willing to go public with an analysis that said probability says he didn’t have them. The range of uncertainty ranged from “I dunno,” on the conservative side to “He is hiding something,” on the more aggressive side.

    The repeated refutation of what we think was our best evidence is not something that happened because Bush decided to throw the kitchen sink out there. There was very little firm evidence one way or another. That was the problem.

  45. The latter is what drives a country to war in this case.

    Once again, a year after we invaded Iraq, a majority of polled Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was complicit in 9/11. …There was an anthrax attack at the same time. …A very weak one.

    Please tell me we didn’t invade and occupy Iraq because 1) some third party country initiated an attack against us, 2) someone released some anthrax spores that killed a few people and 3) the righteous anger of the American people can be easily hitched to any available wagon.

  46. drf,

    Well, the notion of a public prosecutor comes from the Dutch; before them there was no such concept in Anglo-American law. You had to get your own attorney to enforce the criminal code if you were wronged.

    Shorto argues that the tolerant, commercial mid-Atlantic colonies were a result of Dutch influence. You’d have to read the entire book to make up your mind whether you believe him. I don’t go that far, but I am convinced now that Dutch influence was far more expansive than was taught in university seminars on colonial British American twenty or even ten years ago.

    Ron,

    The French Caribbean is an area of study that has received very little play over the years (especially amongst English speaking researchers). Part of that is because so much of the documentation went up in flames in St. Domingue, etc. Oddly enough I wrote a research paper in my French Rev. graduate seminar on the revolution in St. Domingue and I had a devil of a time finding sources to do the work with.

    One of the more fascinating books I’ve read on St. Domingue is this one:

    James E. McClellen III, Colonialism and Science: Saint Domingue in the Old Regime

  47. “Costs, Jason.”

    Yes. I would be very comfortable with an exhaustive and exhausting public debate about costs and benefits – even if my analysis were not the dominant one. We have not had that from either side. I object only to what I see as:

    a) absurdly high standards prior to any military action

    b) treatment of a foreign military and a foreign state as though it were a prosecutable entity

    c) misapplication of the non initiation of force doctrine

  48. Tom Crick:

    1 and 3 yes, with some qualifications around what you mean by ‘available wagon’. Maybe 2.

  49. absurdly high standards prior to any military action

    More like high standards prior to having the military invade and occupy another country.

    Of course, next time there IS a legitimate threat somewhere it will be much, much harder for us to use our military to deal with it, because of the “Boy who cried wolf” doctrine.

  50. a) absurdly high standards prior to any military action

    When it turns out that an enemy isn’t the threat hawks made it out to be, it’s hard to imagine anti-war logic that wouldn’t make use of that fact.

  51. …also, it’s one thing to argue for a preemptive strike, but, even in retrospect, it’s still unclear to me what the Iraq War preempted.

  52. Tom Crick,

    Remember we have a positive duty to liberate the unliberated (according to that guy on “battleline” at least).

  53. Tom,

    Your retrospection is colored. You are now operating from a position of certainty granted by the invasion.

    What I’m saying about high standards is that the nature of modern conflict is that people don’t wear uniforms and wave flags of the countries they represent when blowing you up. There is a somewhat low level of knowledge you can ever reasonably expect when operations are carried out that way.

  54. “absurdly high standards prior to any military action”

    The coercive inspection that were underway, that were answering the question of whether we faced a threat, and that the antiwar contingent at home and abroad wanted to continue, were military action.

    The inspection program that destroyed Saddam’s WMDs in the 1990s was military action.

    Operation Desert Fox (the fist behind “containment”) was military action.

    But that wasn’t good enough, because we had an empire to build and some cheese-eater to humiliate. Do you remember some of the crap that got flung at Nobel Lauriate el-Baradei when he started to tell us the truth he was finding out?

  55. the nature of modern conflict is that people don’t wear uniforms and wave flags of the countries they represent when blowing you up.

    Maybe so, but if we absolutely had to have another invasion after Afghanistan, the evidence against Saudi Arabia was a hell of a lot better than the evidence against Iraq–even after the State Department blacked Arabia’s name out of the 9-11 commission report.

  56. a) absurdly high standards prior to any military action

    Um, this is war we’re talking about. The standards should be very, very high.

  57. Jennifer,

    Well, in March of 2003, during the height of Bush’s arrogance, there was talk in the WH about Saudi Arabia.

  58. thoreau,

    Especially in the case of preventative warfare.

  59. “misapplication of the non initiation of force doctrine ”

    as opposed to the selective application of the non-initiation of force doctrine favored by libertarian hawks. “YOU can’t initiate force when you’re irrationally scared, but don’t you dare tell me I shouldn’t initiate force when I’m a pissin’ my pants because of those phantoms over there!”

  60. “misapplication of the non initiation of force doctrine ”

    as opposed to the selective application of the non-initiation of force doctrine favored by libertarian hawks. “YOU can’t initiate force when you’re irrationally scared, but don’t you dare tell me I shouldn’t initiate force when I’m a pissin’ my pants because of those phantoms over there!”

  61. Go read Barak Moore’s link. Seriously. That thar’s some mighty fine thorough debunking.

    Barak, as a war opponent, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    I hope that doesn’t sound suspiciously like far-left talking points.

  62. I’ve been saving this for a while, waiting for the right thread to come along:

    My take on the various justifications for invading Iraq:

    (And before Jason Ligon asks “Why does there only have to be one really BIG one, instead of several small ones that add up?”, I’ll get to that at the end when I weigh everything.)

    1) WMD: Believe it or not, I’d like to cut the hawks some slack on this one. Sure, we didn’t find the WMD, but Saddam Hussein did everything in his power to make it look like he was hiding something. I understand those who argue that when the stakes are so high the burden should be on the brutal dictator, and that with such high stakes we should have a very low threshold of risk tolerance.

    My biggest problem with the WMD is not the fact that the WMD were not found. If the case were as simple as the one I made above, I might accept that a genuine mistake was made. But our leaders apparently cherry picked the intelligence to get the result that they wanted. And I cannot justify letting people lie to start a war. If the people pushing for war were sincere in their mistakes I’d say that the burden belonged with the brutal dictator. But these people were willing to deceive, knowing it would lead to a huge, deadly mess. Those people do not deserve any benefit of the doubt. So I’m forced to conclude that the WMD factor was not an honest mistake but rather a deliberate deception of the American people.

    2) Saddam Hussein may have had ties to Bin Laden and/or other individuals planning or engaging in terrorism against the US: Let’s face it, if such ties were clearly demonstrated then it would be an unequivocal demonstration that the invasion of Iraq was a defensive war. I’ve heard a lot of things suggestive of that, but it was always vague. Now, as I said above, maybe the burden of proof should be on the evil dictator, not on us. But the Administration would have a lot to gain from substantiating such ties, yet they never did. They always spoke in generalities rather than “Look, the 9/11 hijackers trained at a facility sponsored by Saddam Hussein!” or some similar announcement. Yes, some people on this forum have pointed to allegations of such things, but if the evidence were so firm, so damning, why didn’t the people with the most to gain say more about it?

    Now, I will grant that the terrorists operating in Iraq right now are engaging in terrorism against the US. But that doesn’t really make the case that we invaded to remove a threat, unless you believe the next reason:

    3) The flypaper theory: The basic idea is that we’re attracting them to Mosul so we won’t have to fight them in Maryland. Except, does it hold water? Not everybody fighting over there would have come here otherwise. Some of them wouldn’t have fought at all. Meanwhile, some terrorists are trying to operate in the West anyway. And the terrorists operating in Iraq are still killing a lot of innocent people. So it’s not entirely clear just how many innocent lives are being spared by our policy.

    4) Democratization and regional transformation: By establishing a bastion of freedom in the Arab world, we are preventing more young men from taking up arms in the long-run. A nice idea, but will it work? I am skeptical, and here’s why:

    First, liberalization is not an easy thing for a foreign army to achieve. An army can topple a regime, destroy weaponry, kill or capture soldiers, and destroy terrorist training camps. These are all achievable military objectives. But liberalization requires internal efforts. Yes, we’re giving them an opportunity to achieve it for themselves with some help, but the jury is still out on that one. And the mechanism of the domino theory is even more fuzzy, IMHO. However successful we are in Iraq, it is not obvious to me that the positive result will spread inexorably.

    It’s also worth noting that if we fail to liberalize and instead create an illiberal client state (something we’ve been known to do), the terrorist threat facing us might actually get worse. Is it really a coincidence that some of the most ardent and anti-American fundamentalists are found in Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, countries whose dictators enjoy cozy relations with the US?

    Finally, even if liberalization occurs, will it matter? As we’re learning from Europe, a lot of Islamic terrorists weren’t even raised under dictatorships. They grew up in comparatively liberal societies. We can debate the reasons why European men are turning to terrorism, but lack of freedom doesn’t seem to be the defining variable. Even the US has spawned its own share of violent radical movements: The KKK, the Weather Underground, the anarchists (who assassinated President McKinley, among other vile acts), and of course Tim McVeigh. Of course, I admit that the Middle East is also spawning a lot of terrorists, but those guys aren’t all from down-trodden backgrounds. A lot of them are from the upper classes in their oppressive countries. So it’s not clear that liberalization, be it in Iraq or even the wider region, will stop a handful of psychopaths from engaging in violence.

    Granted, the case for freedom is strong irrespective of whether it stops terrorism, but don’t try to claim that a free Iraq will stop violent young men from becoming terrorists unless you have evidence of that. Given that terrorist groups have sprung up even in the US at different times in our history, I am skeptical on that point.

    5) Freedom for its own sake: I will not challenge this rationale, because no decent person can disagree with liberating people from tyranny. I will only suggest that war should also have a strong self-defense component in addition to a humanitarian component. My previous points addressed the self-defense component, and I have one more thing to add along those lines:

    6) Making an example of a dictator: Some on this forum have argued that it was necessary to take down a dictator to establish a credible threat. I will observe two weaknesses in this argument: The first is that we invaded Afghanistan after 9/11. Didn’t that send a signal? Now, some will argue that it wasn’t enough, and we needed a second war to show just how serious we really are, to send a signal and get the appropriate response.

    This brings me to the second weakness: If the hawks are going to defend a war based on how people overseas might respond to it (intimidated dictators, a democratic domino effect), is it OK if I suggest that there might also be some blowback? Yes, I know, the mere existence of blowback is not necessarily enough to mitigate against a war if the national security benefits are substantial. But if you’re going to account for one set of responses (intimidated dictators, people dancing in the streets), I’m going to account for another set of plausible responses (dictators feverishly working to get WMD to develop their own credible threat, angry young men seeking revenge, etc.).

    Now, let’s add this all up: The strongest case seems to be the humanitarian one (5). The WMD and ties to Al Qaeda (1 and 2) involved a lot of deceptions by our leaders. The flypaper theory (3) is highly suspect. The Democratic Domino Theory and credible threat theory (4 and 6) are of questionable merit. And the humanitarian case, as I said, should not be made in isolation. Self-defense should always be a component of the decision to fight a war. When the stakes are so high, I cannot acquiesce to adding up a bunch of dubious benefits and hoping that the net total is worth it.

    So, after due consideration of all of the various justifications for war, I am forced to conclude that, even if taken in aggregate, they did not add up. Face it: Our leaders lied about war. Not about blowjobs, not about pork projects, not about money. No, they lied about WAR. They made decisions that have resulted in a lot of deaths. And they led us into a mess that will take a long time to get out of.

    I am truly incapable of fathoming how anybody can stand behind this mess. I know that many of the hawks are intelligent and thoughtful people. I am forced to conclude that even the best of people can make horrible mistakes of judgement and be unable to admit it. I wish I could say something nicer, but we’re talking about a bloody, bloody mess, and I cannot mince words when so many corpses are involved.

  63. thoreau,

    …but Saddam Hussein did everything in his power to make it look like he was hiding something.

    There was at least some evidence (before the invasion) that he was doing so in an effort to hide his weaknesses.

    But these people were willing to deceive…

    I believe its more of an issue of groupthink, sort of like how Montgomery and his crew were willing to ignore evidence of German tanks (the II. SS-Panzerkorps) that would have put a serious dent into the decision to go ahead with Operation Market-Garden. That the British 1st Airborne Division was destroyed in Arnhem was thus more due to arrogance and the like and I think the same sorts of things can be seen re: DS-II.

    …knowing it would lead to a huge, deadly mess.

    I don’t believe they “knew” this, or even really contemplated it much.

    RE: links to AQ, see my comments above on Operation Market-Garden.

    RE: liberalization, historically speaking, “civilization” efforts have been proven to be fiascos at least when undertaken by the West.

    RE: the signal, the Iraq war has made us in many ways appear weaker than we would have liked I imagine. It certainly makes it appear that we are bogged down in some spots that limit our ability to act.

  64. I believe its more of an issue of groupthink

    That’s a good point. There may have also been a failure to even think about checking assumptions. It’s one thing to look at a situation and note that it sure seems like something is going on. But before you do anything really drastic about it, it’s a good idea to go and check your assumptions, ask how much confidence you can really have in this matter. There doesn’t seem to have been much of that.

    I think I should have given more weight to those aspects and less to deliberate deception. I just cut-and-paste something I’d been saving for a while, and I should have done some editing before posting.

  65. thoreau,

    Well, outside of blog ranting( 🙂 ), its hard to know if someone was really perpetrating a lie. Also, from my perspective a lie isn’t as bad as outright incompetance.

    Of course its all water under the bridge at this point (I’m not talking about a real bridge with water rushing under it mind you). As I wrote a number of times before the war started, if you make this decision be prepared to be in Iraq for decades. We better be prepared for that. over the past two centuries the average length of insurgencies has been ~11 years. Or to be more prescise, consider how long the IRA operated and that at any given time it only had ~1,000-2,000 members actively engaged in “combat activities”; and of course the British weren’t dealing with a wholely alien society, thousands of miles distant, in a region holding hundreds of millions of people potentially hostile to its efforts, etc.

  66. oh my goodness Thatcher wanted to remove suddam from power becouse of reasons a through d…while bush removed suddam for reasons b through f…its a political black hole that now seperates british war supporters from the american war supporters that will never be bridged.

  67. “RE: the signal, the Iraq war has made us in many ways appear weaker than we would have liked I imagine. It certainly makes it appear that we are bogged down in some spots that limit our ability to act.”

    uh??!?!

    Yeah cause having 100,000+ troops that are nearly invincible (ie very low body count) put in by a nation that seems to have no economic fall back looks like a sign of weakness. I really don’t know where you guys get this stuff……I mean i am sure the muslim world knows what a bogged down super power looks like, afganistan (soviet ocupation) chechnia, yogoslovia (western europe and nato being the super power) and iraq does not in the least look similar.

  68. thoreau:

    There is a distinction in my mind, quite a clear one, between “Is this war justified and was it reasonable?” and “Did the Bush administration display arrogance, deception, and/or bloodlust in the particular case they made to the UN?” In your criticism of the WMD angle, you indicate sympathy for the issues raised by hawks with regard to the first question, but then go on to assert that your analysis of the second question somehow invalidates or trumps those issues. The argument made by the Bush administration have no bearing on the credibility of the WMD questions that matter. The second question does not matter except as an indictment of the performance of the Bush administration, about which I couldn’t possibly care less.

    Can a reasonable man argue the WMD angle? Yes.
    Was that the argument made? Perhaps not, but who cares now?

    Can a reasonable man argue the feedom angle? You seem sympathetic there. It is far down my list, but so am I.

    As for the democritization angle, the argument is often framed by doves as something desirable, but not enforcable from the outside. People have to want democracy to actually have it. Perhaps. I’m even willing to concede that an external democratization like this has never worked (not that there have been many attempts). My concern is that there is an implied cavalier view of what living with an oppressive internal security force is like, and what that does to the probability of democratic reform. i submit that while we pay lip service, we’ve never seen a real unchecked monopoly of force in action in our daily lives. May it in fact be necessary to blow the oppressive lid off so that something may be able to grow? Bold is not the same as dumb if a democratic end state is something desirable.

    Also, left unrecognized by many doves is the cost of having no regional democratization. With a solid wall of dictators in the region, diplomacy means absolutely nothing. The dictator cares about the dictator. He will be the last person with food, he will use every dime on personal wealth and shoring up his power, and he doesn’t give a crap what you promise him. He is deterred to the extent he feels he might die or lose everything. What this means in an international relations sense is that your relationship with the entire region is one dimensional – credible threats to dictators’ personal well being. They would like to be rich, sure. But that means them personally, not the country as a whole. It is not lost on Saddam that his poor country provided him more money than he could ever spend while a developing liberal economy would provide him much less. Creating a regional democracy means creating other, non aggressive ways of interacting with the region. There would suddenly be a connection between the interest of the government and the interest of the governed. It creates the possiblity, completely absent before, that a cooperative police mission to get rid of terrorists might be in everyone’s interest.

    I too find the flypaper rationale implausible.

    I find the deterrence angle extraordinarily important. Imagining that Saddam would feel deterred due to our actions in Afghanistan is like saying Shaq should be deterred because he saw me block a 10 year old’s jump shot. Saddam felt utterly secure behind a wall of UN ineffectiveness, the threat of regional and oil supply instability involved in any attack, the implication that WMD would be used, and the ability to cry holy war. Saddam and his neighbors needed to see consequences close to home. Deterrence is incredibly important if you are not dealing with democracies because, again, it is the only thing you have when dealing with a tyrant.

    I think the notion of regional goodwill and not making anyone angry with us is completely unrealistic and unimportant to the case. The angry young men will come out. They add to the cost. The focus on these as evidence of increasing the problem is misguided in my view, however. It is a tactical analysis of something that is strategic in scale. This is a fundamental difference in the the way we perceive this conflict. The problem isn’t the angry young man, it is that those who recruit him, the ones who never seem willing to blow themselves up but who have the checkbook to help young men meet Allah, are completely unaccountable to anyone. They have found a shield that protects them completely from retribution from anyone who must see a uniform or requires a smoking gun before any action will be taken. They don’t wear uniforms and they have complicit governments that shield their activities behind a wall of sovereignity.

    Finally, I think that the consequences of inaction are not broadly appreciated. Home base for the ideology just happens to be located smack in the middle of a region only addressable by credible threats – and we will have taken those off the table. There is no plausible story that results in democracies rising in the middle east anytime soon. There is a completely unknown WMD situation and no way to resolve it. The guys behind the wall of sovereignity I mentioned above? They do whatever they want whenever they want.

    I think that reasonable people can disagree on likely outcomes and on costs and benefits. There is nothing obvious about this situation to me, and it is because I perceived both that moral justification for acting against a dictator is automatic and the costs of inaction were too high that I supported the war.

  69. thoreau,

    You leave out the most important argument for the war. Without state sponsors of terror, there is essentially no possiblity of nuclear terror. Ultimately, the removal of Saddam was carried out to remove one state sponsor of terror, and deter others. This was always the rationale for the war I heard the administration expressing, and the one I supported, and support.

  70. I really don’t know where you guys get this stuff……I mean i am sure the muslim world knows what a bogged down super power looks like, afganistan (soviet ocupation) chechnia, yogoslovia (western europe and nato being the super power) and iraq does not in the least look similar.

    In your opinion, right now, could we, say, invade and occupy Iran if necessary?

    …without a draft, that is?

  71. Ultimately, the removal of Saddam was carried out to remove one state sponsor of terror, and deter others.

    Except that there’s little evidence that he was ever involved with groups engaging in or planning terror against the US. If some other country was threatened by Iraqi-sponsored terrorists, that country should have sponsored the war.

    Jason-

    The WMD rationale is only as credible as the evidence supporting it. Uncertainty rising to the level of intolerable risk is different from cherry-picked intelligence. And I put that “rising to the level of…” caveat in there because there’s always some degree of uncertainty. I said that things in Iraq certainly looked dubious on the surface. But leaders making a really big decision like going to war are obligated to look at more than just the surface. They’re obligated to ask whether a closer look backs up their initial impression. They decided to cherry-pick their closer look. That hardly leaves us with enough credible information to support going to war over potential WMD.

    I’ll respond to the rest of your post when I get a chance.

  72. “Except that there’s little evidence that he was ever involved with groups engaging in or planning terror against the US. ”

    There’s mountains of evidence, including ties to al-Qaeda. Hearing a thing repeated ad infinitum does not make it so. It was a well known and accepted fact before it was obvious to those opposed to the Iraq war that they would need to say that it wasn’t to remove a leg from the justification for the war.

    For example, the man responsible for building the bomb used in the first WTC bombing fled to Iraq in 1994, where he was reported by ABC to be living at his father’s house and walking around freely. He was interviewed in 2002 by Leslie Stahl, in Baghdad. I can’t see this as anything other than irrefutable proof that he was involved in terror against the United States.

    The state of Saddam’s WMD programs are not the drop dead argument many think, to me at least, since I never believed that they had nuclear devices, or that they would in the immediate future.

  73. “And I put that “rising to the level of…” caveat in there because there’s always some degree of uncertainty.”

    There is little uncertainty now. That certitude was expensive, but we do have it.

  74. “They’re obligated to ask whether a closer look backs up their initial impression. They decided to cherry-pick their closer look. That hardly leaves us with enough credible information to support going to war over potential WMD.”

    The cherry picking is completely irrelevant to my case. I don’t care what the Bush administration said in this context. I care about what was not known, the risks inherent in having absolutely no idea what was going on, and how knowledge could be attained.

  75. I can’t see this as anything other than irrefutable proof that he was involved in terror against the United States.

    Are you suggesting that the WTC bombing in ’93 was sufficient cause for war?

    …’cause eight years later, on September 10, 2001, I don’t remember hearing anybody citing the ’93 bombing and calling for war.

    Also, do you consider the terrorist situation in Iraq better or worse now that we’ve occupied the country?

  76. “Are you suggesting that the WTC bombing in ’93 was sufficient cause for war?”

    No, I’m suggesting my example of evidence, and copious similar evidence disproves the statement:

    “Except that there’s little evidence that he was ever involved with groups engaging in or planning terror against the US.”

    Which should be obvious from what I wrote.

    “Also, do you consider the terrorist situation in Iraq better or worse now that we’ve occupied the country?”

    Better, since I believe it less likely now that terrorist groups will attack the US with nuclear weapons in the future.

  77. “I just think that the context of support at the time of the decision was much broader than what is now being suggested by some folks.”

    Polls taken after the invasion started showed support for the war above 50% *even if no WMD were ever found.*

  78. I care about what was not known, the risks inherent in having absolutely no idea what was going on, and how knowledge could be attained.

    I think there were legitimate reasons–at the time we invaded–for well meaning, thinking people of integrity to support the War, given what we knew at the time. …and I agree in principle with the idea of preemptive war, assuming there’s a credible threat. I also think–as I wrote above–that there’s a difference between the reasons that the President said we were going to war and the reasons people supported the war.

    …But I also think that if the reasons the President gave for going to war turned out to be bogus, that well meaning, thinking, people of integrity should seriously consider jumping up and down and calling the President’s bullshit.

    …and I’m not convinced the President–or Colin Powell–lied so much as were misled by the people they trusted. Even so, incompetent management practicies are no excuse for making incompetent decisions. …like giving the American people a bogus causi belli.

    I confess, it’s hard for me to seperate the the people who bought the President’s–intentional or unintentional–bullshit from the people who would have supported the War in Iraq regardless. …I guess it would be easier to seperate the two if I understood the latter’s case better, but I just don’t get it.

    I find projects and fund them with investors’ money for a living–people judge me by the bottom line. …One of the rules I have is to never enter into a project without a clear exit strategy. …In an unsure world, there’s no substitute for an exit strategy. If a project has no clear exit strategy, then I just don’t do the project–it’s that simple. The President had no exit strategy. He didn’t think we needed one.

    …and regardless of whether he knew the facts then, we should judge him and the war he championed by the bottom line. …if the election goes well and a new and peace-loving, free and prosperous Iraq blooms like a new Garden of Eden, removing any potential threat to the American people from terrorism out of that part of the world, perhaps I’ll understand the pro-war position better. …but right now, I don’t see much upside. …I just see a lot of dead people.

  79. joshua corning,

    Yeah cause having 100,000+ troops that are nearly invincible (ie very low body count)…

    If your sign of success is a low body county, well, so be it. 🙂

  80. “…But I also think that if the reasons the President gave for going to war turned out to be bogus, that well meaning, thinking, people of integrity should seriously consider jumping up and down and calling the President’s bullshit.”

    I guess the entire argument here based around the public case for war doesn’t necessarily register with me, since I don’t think the public case for anything any politician says has much to do with their actual reasons for supporting it.

    I don’t remember seeing a sophisticated case for anything being made to the American people by anyone. War, taxes, education, supreme court nominees. I’m guessing they assumed, as all politicians assume, that they had to find a case they think would sell. I doubt they realized how weak the WMD case they made was because I don’t think the immediate state of the WMD program is what they were interested in.

  81. But yes, we should be jumping up and down about the state of politcal debate in this country on this and every other issue.

  82. I was in the the “Finish the Job” coalition during Gulf War 1. My problme with John Kerry and others who have more recently joined the coalition is that they do not recognize that if we had finished the job in 1991, we still would have had:

    1. Brutal, ammoral resistance from deposed Baathists.
    2. Prisoner abuse scandals.
    3. “Antiwar” protests by people actually on the other side, wanting American soldiers to be defeated and killed.

  83. I don’t know if the BS comes straight from Bush or not. I just think in retrospect, somebody was BS’ing about Iraq. Maybe Hak is right and it was just group think.

    I admit I didn’t read enough until later to find out the facts that a) Saddam didn’t want to look weak to his neighbors, and b) there had been attempts on his life. Sure Saddam was hiding somethng — himself, among other things.

    Whether it was Bush or not that BS’ed us, Bush has proven himself so catagorically inept that I can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on Iraq.

    There is/was reason to believe Saddam had WMDs. I am not opposed to pre-emptive war in principle, but this just looks like pure stupidity in retrospect. Because, there was no plan to rebuild after combat, in a war where reducing terrorist threats was the crux of the biscuit.

    Bush is a nightmare I wish we didn’t have to live through. But now we are in Iraq and the question is, now what? I still come to the conclusion that running out now is the wrong answer, because then Iraq will very probably become the threat we invaded to prevent.

    Suppose we said “to hell with the Iraqi people, US security comes first”. Tom Crick says

    I find projects and fund them with investors’ money for a living–people judge me by the bottom line. …

    I want THAT attitude working the exist stratagey. But when you say

    if the election goes well and a new and peace-loving, free and prosperous Iraq blooms like a new Garden of Eden….perhaps I’ll understand the pro-war position better

    You seem inconsistent here. You’re going to base your consent to invade on results in the future? Hmmm. Have you read Machiavelli?

  84. Okay, think about it. What are our biggest probelms with Iraq?

    1) It costs a fortune.

    2) We can’t allow terrorists to get their hands on all that oil revenue.

    Hak is right, the West has never been good at creating democracies overseas. Well, if we continue to do things the way we always have, we will probably continue to get the same results.

    I will now propose an approach that’s sure to offend somebody. 🙂

    Oil is the answer. Take the goddamned oil. We invaded, we won, it’s ours. The End of oil problem.

    Forget fighting the “insurgents”-who-are-terrorists. All we have to do is keep them away from the oil fields and pipelines. And that can, in fact, be done reasonably well with technology. It’s called unmanned aerial combat vehicles. It wouldn’t be so very difficult to develop them for this mission.

    Take the oil fields, protect these assets, and start making money off them. Oil revenues are used to pay for all US expenses related to Iraq. Including funding all Iraq gov’t start up efforts, which we have a lot to say about the outcome of.

    The rest we put in a big bank account, and we tell the Iraqis: as soon as you get your shit together let me know, and I’ll give you the account number. Not until then. Not until you come up with a gov’t structure the US likes and believes will last.

    Meanwhile, we help the Iraqis muddle along down the road. Maybe someday they’ll figure it out, or maybe they won’t. Either way the oil is not in the hands of terrorists, the US isn’t going broke in Iraq, and the world is a better place.

    The net cost will then be reduced to US blood. Given the threat of letting terrorists get their hands on all that oil, I think this war has now become something justifiable — in spite of the idiotic start.

    I’ve tried to talk along these lines around here before, but it seems nobody wants to do anything but debate whether or not we should have gone in to start with.

    I understand the rage against Bush. I even share the sentiment. But it doesn’t change the fact that Iraq remains a big question mark staring us all in the face.

    That question mark will still be staring us in the face even if we politically filleted Bush alive and impeached him tommorrow.

  85. “In your opinion, right now, could we, say, invade and occupy Iran if necessary?

    …without a draft, that is?”

    depends, do you mean occupy with intent of establishing a democracy in iraq? or just occupy?

    also depends if you mean physicaly capable or politicaly capable…and under what cercumstances if it is politically capable.

    No we could not just invade iran…if iran nuked us then yes…we could not create a democracy there but we could occupy it..(what for? i have no idea.) and politically we could be taking so many casualties that our counrty would have to become a dictatorship in order to continue to occupy it…or the president would get impeached.

    but if you are asking straight up is our military capable of invading iran and occupying it? yes very much so yes.

  86. “For example, the man responsible for building the bomb used in the first WTC bombing fled to Iraq in 1994, where he was reported by ABC to be living at his father’s house and walking around freely. He was interviewed in 2002 by Leslie Stahl, in Baghdad. I can’t see this as anything other than irrefutable proof that he was involved in terror against the United States.”

    “Involved in terror against the United States…” is a deliberately broad and misleading term. For all the furious searching, the only evidence of any collusion between Saddam’s regime and international jihadis comes down to the paid provision of refuge for wanted terrorists. Of all of the terrorist attacks on the United States over the past decade and a half, including those like the Cole that occured overseas, no evidence has been found that Iraq was involved in any planning, support, or provision of equipment for any of them. Saddam’s regime had refused to provide even explosives, but we’re to believe, based on the fact that he allowed in active terrorists to pay for refuge, that he was going to provide them with nuclear weapons? It’s just not credible, and our intelligence services told the president so.

  87. Jason, you are still foisting a false dilemma:

    “I care about what was not known, the risks inherent in having absolutely no idea what was going on, and how knowledge could be attained.”

    Our options were not limited to remaining ignorant and this invasion. Inspectors were on the ground – nuclear engineers, former UNSCOM people, the people who effectively uncovered and dismantled Iraq’s WMD capabilities in the 1990s – backed by military forces readay, willing, and able to compel cooperation. They were well on their way towards confirming that there were no WMDs, that there was no ongoing nuclear program, that there were barely “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities” at all.

    Bush didn’t launch this war from a position of ignorance, because there was no other way to find out what was happening. He was learning that answer to the questions, and hurried up the start of the war because the answer wasn’t the one that would provide him with a legitimate reason to invade.

    If you were offering this argument as a justification for beginning coercive inspections, it would be irrefutable. But instead, you are offering it as a reason to end the coercive inspections.

  88. joe:

    What I’m trying to convey is that there is a perfectly reasonable case that a dictator who lords over a bazillion square miles of desert and wants to hide WMDs can hide them. I have absolutely no reason to believe that inspectors were even theoretically capable of resolving the uncertainty. They were not well on their way to confirming anything. Saddam was interested in not having the issue resolved and he had no reason to believe anyone was going to force his hand.

    They were still being frustrated by the regime all the way up to Blix’s last report to the UN prior to the invasion.

    Where you see me positing a false delimma, I see your proposed resolution as relying on completely unrealistic expectations about what inspectors in a huge desert owned by a dictator primarily interested in obfuscation can confirm.

  89. Jason,

    I don’t want to sound triumphalist here, but…

    I remember what was said about Blix. I remember what was said abou El Baradei. I remember what was said about the impossibility of the inspections teams being able to do their job. And in my opinion, while your “it’s impossible” thesis is plausible on its face, after what we have learned over the last two and a half years, the fact that you are still making this same argument, without revision or reservation, as you were in February 2003, indicates that you aren’t making a reliable, fact-based judgement about the capabilities of a robust inspection force backed by a broad coalition willing to use military means to further the inspections.

  90. joe:

    Think about the argument you are making here. You are saying that because we now know for certain what was the case becuase we invaded, we should look back to guesses at the time as though they had the same level of certainty. What has been demonstrated conclusively over the last two years is that the invasion absolutely answered a question that had not been answered to anyone’s satisfaction (including Blix’s) after a decade of on again off again trying.

    The only reason anyone knows enough now to even hesitantly approach a triumphalist tone (you did a good job there :)) is the invasion.

  91. “I think there were legitimate reasons–at the time we invaded–for well meaning, thinking people of integrity to support the War, given what we knew at the time.

    If I had that sentence to write over, I would have written, “…given what we thought we knew at the time.”

  92. “You are saying that because we now know for certain what was the case becuase we invaded, we should look back to guesses at the time as though they had the same level of certainty.”

    This is the best constructed sentence of all time. Really. I really need to edit these things, but I can’t seem to avoid reflexively hitting Post as soon as I can.

  93. “…we should look back to guesses at the time as though they had the same level of certainty.”

    They were not “our guesses.” They were reports from experts on the ground, who were in the best position to know what was really happening.

    And yes, based on the fact that they got it right, we should recognize that it was stupid and ignorant to assert that they could not be trusted to answer the questions. Of course they could, we all know that now, and those of you who were running them down got it wrong.

    We sould look back on those who answered the question correctly, against all the political pressure and bile the bloodthirsty contingent could hurl at them, with a great deal of respect.

  94. joe:

    You are advocating bad epistemology. I don’t know how else to see that particular argument. Appeal to authority does not trump empirical confirmation, especially when the authorities can’t refer to anything conclusive when making their case.

  95. Yes, I know that the empirical sword cuts both ways, by the way. I am arguing here that an accurate description of the state of WMD information prior to the invasion is “very, very poor” and now it is very, very good. Blix had no way of proving anything without Saddam’s consent, which he didn’t have. That is not a dig on Blix, it is just a recognition of theoretical limitations.

  96. I’m not appealing to authority, Jason, I’m appealing to the facts of the case. We shouldn’t have taken Hans Blix’s word for it because he was Hans Blix – we should have accepted his reports because they were backed with solid evidence.

    “Blix had no way of proving anything without Saddam’s consent, which he didn’t have.” Blix got the story right. All of your excuses why he couldn’t possibly get the story right serve only to draw attention to the fact that your predictions don’t old water.

    If the predictions that follow logically from your outlook don’t match up with what has been empirically demonstrated, it isn’t the facts that you need to jettison.

    The description by the Blix team of that state of Saddam’s WMD program was not “very, very poor.” It was very, very good.

  97. joe:

    His evidence was that he hadn’t found anything but that he’d consistently been hampered in his attempts. You are applying your current state of confidence after the fact to Blix’s case.

    “If the predictions that follow logically from your outlook don’t match up with what has been empirically demonstrated, it isn’t the facts that you need to jettison.”

    The prediction is that Saddam could hide things from Blix and we didn’t have any way of confirming that he hadn’t done so. That we invaded and gained empirical knowledge strengthens the second claim and says nothing about the first. I’m certainly not claiming that Saddam had WMD. There are no facts I’m seeking to jettison.

    Blix was right on a yes/no question. Tossing coins would result in a right answer to this question 50% of the time. I’m not saying that his confidence was no better than 50%, but by his own account, his confidence is no where near what we have now. Because we invaded.

  98. “His evidence was that he hadn’t found anything but that he’d consistently been hampered in his attempts.”

    You forgot to add, however, that he was still confident enough to draw the conclusion that there probably weren’t WMDs in Iraq. However you might wish to argue that he couldn’t possibly have been able to answer the question…he answered the question. He answered it correctly, and the non-cooperation he was getting, contra your theory, did not prevent him from doing so.

    “There are no facts I’m seeking to jettison.” You are attempting to jettison the fact that Blis and el Baradei were, in fact, able to provide answers without an invasion. Correct answers. His confidence interval was quite a bit higher than 50%, and was growing every day. So fast, in fact, that Bush had to set an early start date for the war in order to avoid having his cassus belli conclusively disproven.

    These objections that Blix didn’t have philosophical certainty are unconvincing, in light of the fact that he was right. We pissed away 2000 of our soldiers so that our confidence could be 99% instead of 95%?

    And frankly, I don’t want to hear from those who were threatening with mushroom clouds about the credibility of evidence and confidence in conclusions.

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