Monday, October 24, 2005

Sullivan's Bloggings

From Andrew Sullivan:
Who would want to be the president who gambled (in retrospect, correctly, of course) that Saddam was no WMD threat, and then discovered that some terrorist detonated a Saddam-linked chemical weapon in a major U.S. city? Do you think that president would now be popular? It's easy to know now, not so easy to have known for surethen. Scowcroft prides himself on always asking about the potential downside. Well, there wsa [sic] a pretty major potential downside of trusting Saddam Hussein in 2002. The question was never simply whether we knew the WMDs existed or not. The question was whether, without being able to know for sure, we could trust Saddam to keep such weapons away from terrorists. There's a realist case for the Iraq war: that the risks of inaction were too high, and that the threat posed by the entire region demanded a radical departure from the acquiescence to autocracy of the past. Scowcroft's hindsight is a little too easy. He should enjoy it while others deal with reality; and try to change the world for the better.
I often appreciate Sullivan's moderate conservative stance, but his assertions here are specious. Ignoring Sullivan's snarky end-sentence, let's deal with the meat of his argument, which is that there is, or was, a "realist case" for the Iraq war.
For a brief summary of the falsehoods propogated in the lead-up to the war, head over to "Ten Appalling Lies We Were Told About Iraq."

For a much more comprehensive detailing of the events and evidence, go to "Building the Case for a New War," which is decidely less partisan-seeming.

And with due respect to Sullivan's obvious intelligence, his comment regarding "
a radical departure from the acquiescence to autocracy of the past" is remarkably naive. Our acquiescence to autocracy continues unabated. Current autocrats Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong remain undeposed. Despite catalogued abuses of power, dangerously active weapons development and stockpiling, and sinfully poor treatment of their respective peoples, I doubt we'll be liberating those folks anytime soon.

High-and-lofty notions of democratic liberation aside, the war in Iraq was poorly justified, planned and executed. You don't need hindsight to see that.

But then, to be fair, I've always believed that the people of THIS country come first. I find the wasteful expenditure of monies on trying to build a democratic state in a region steeped in thousands of years worth of bloodshed, despots and kings to be misguided. And the continually shifting rationale for doing so is something I find intellectually insulting.

Here's where I show my sorta callous side. It's nice and well and good that maybe, in a hundred years, Iraq will have a functioning democracy. But frankly, I'm more concerned with problems closer to home. If we're willing to spend this kind of dinero on an ideological war in another country, shouldn't we be willing to spend some of it on the education of our own country's children?

It strikes me that it would be considerably less costly and, ultimately, beneficial to our economic standing and global relevance.


15 Comments:

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

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At 1:53 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

Posted a comment, but had an afterthought that I had to add:

Here is where you and I differ. But let's, at the very least, get the argument on proper footing.

Since I don't have time to address all points, let me get to what I think is the most basic: the relative merits of setting up Iraq as a functioning democracy.

The reason you cannot put "[h]igh-and-lofty notions of democratic liberation aside" is that those notions, while certainly good in themselves, are believed to be (by me and many others) in THIS nation's long term best interests. I do not think anyone believes that Iraq was intended to be merely some sort of grand magnanimous gesture.

That's why talking about Iraq as if it was just an example of potential education funds poorly spent is a non-starter. The primary function of government is based on the very simple premise that dead kids can't read. Which is to say, in order for the government to provide any of the functions we've delegated to it, it must first protect its citizens. We call that "security." Then the government can take your money and give it to whomever is deemed worthy of it.

Now that we have separated the wheat from the chaff, we can discuss what is most important: whether it was in this nation's best (security) interests to invade Iraq. I don't think we'll ever know.

To assume it would be "considerably less costly and, ultimately, beneficial to our economic standing and global relevance," not to have invaded Iraq requires certain assumptions that seem too generously made.

What would have happened to Iraq had we not invaded? Would Saddam have reconstituted his nuclear arsenal? What would he have done with it? His chemical arsenal? How might his connections with terrorist organizations have impacted us in a real sense?

Barring insight that is beyond my capability, I think those questions are only answered with great difficulty. But the assumptions seem too often to be that all our present difficulties would merely disappear were it not for Iraq. I think that grossly underestimates the level of damage a failed totalitarian state can do without engaging in overt hostilities.

Now, recalculating, I personally have serious reservations whether invading Iraq was in this nation's best interests. But discounting the benefits of estblishing a representative government or minimizing the potential hazards of a rogue tyrant does not seem the best way to begin that analysis.

 
At 7:22 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

Never let it be said that you do not possess a keen mind, brother. I've tried to respond to your individual points as best i can.

"“The reason you cannot put "[h]igh-and-lofty notions of democratic liberation aside" is that those notions, while certainly good in themselves, are believed to be (by me and many others) in THIS nation's long term best interests. I do not think anyone believes that Iraq was intended to be merely some sort of grand magnanimous gesture."

The acceptance of liberation as being in our best interests requires, I think, various assumptions that I don't think one can make with any degree of surety.

We have to assume that a liberated country, once given the opportunity to be democratic, will cease to be an enemy of the United States.

We have to assume that democracy, and more specifically, our form of it, is a cure-all for the danger (terrorism) we ostensibly got in this to fight, despite its largely existing outside of organized government.

We have to assume that it is the business of the United States to be a watchdog over despots, and that those despots need not pose a current threat to our country, as long as they pose a potential future one, and that the best response in the face of future threats is to rework the global landscape. Call me isolationist, but the White Man's Burden updated for the 21st century just doesn't get my hoo-ha quiverin'.

"That's why talking about Iraq as if it was just an example of potential education funds poorly spent is a non-starter. The primary function of government is based on the very simple premise that dead kids can't read."

Well, then we have a disagreement on the primary function of government. While security is, I agree, one of the most important priorities for any country the primary function of a democratic government, to my mind, is to improve the lives of its citizenry. That's certainly the stated reason given now by the administration for this whole shindig. The Iraqi people are "better off" in a democracy, where they can have a say, and have a government that does not oppress/kill them.

But let’s say that preventing lil' kids from dying is the primary function of democracy. While its legitimate to argue that kids can't read if they're dead, its a straw man argument in this instance - because those kids were not in any ascertainable danger from Saddam. That danger did not exist before the war, except in a vague future sense. Saddam did not have the capabilities to harm us. Other countries very much do. Why aren't we there, instead? Why Iraq? If it’s our dead kids we're worried about, why aren't we someplace where that danger is already a reality? Iran? Saudi Arabia? North Korea? We hit Afghanistan, and there's not one bad thing I can say about that decision, because the threat there was real and present.

And to clarify my argument: Iraq is not simply an example of education funds poorly spent, it’s an example of funds, manpower, lives, and political capital poorly spent. The sort of time, effort and money being poured into Iraq at this time has no perceptible benefit to us, or the hopefully-not-dead-kids, except for the unrealized possibility that we have stopped Senor Hussein from someday, somehow hurting us.

From a cost/benefit standpoint, that's a slim thread on which to hang an argument for full scale war and the rebuilding of a country's government.

"What would have happened to Iraq had we not invaded? Would Saddam have reconstituted his nuclear arsenal? What would he have done with it? His chemical arsenal? How might his connections with terrorist organizations have impacted us in a real sense?

Barring insight that is beyond my capability, I think those questions are only answered with great difficulty. "

The sort of questions you ask cannot be answered because they are speculative to the point of un-answerability. Given all we knew, pre-war, it was seriously unlikely that Iraq posed any threat to the security of the United States. No one has been able to prove otherwise. Were this not the case - if Saddam and his government HAD posed a danger - then I would have supported the war from the get go.

And speculation on the potential future threats of Saddam ignores very real, present, and significant dangers. Instead of asking "Would Saddam have reconstituted his nuclear arsenal" we could be asking "Will Kim Jong continue to develop nuclear weapons? Will Putin put the vast stockpiles of nuclear missiles at his disposal back on their launch pads? Will Saudi Arabia’s elite continue to fund schools of terrorism?" In lieu of dealing with any number of other despots or totalitarians who we know to possess weapons we chose instead to concentrate on a country which had no real ties to 9-11, and which - according to what is essentially a global battery of sources - posed no significant threat to "what we call security."

"But the assumptions seem too often to be that all our present difficulties would merely disappear were it not for Iraq. I think that grossly underestimates the level of damage a failed totalitarian state can do without engaging in overt hostilities."

I've never argued this, nor would I. We’ve got a lot of problems, and if it weren’t Iraq, you and I would be good-naturedly arguing over something else.
Empirically speaking, our efforts in Iraq have if anything increased the threat of global terrorism. This would be inevitable even if the war were justified and the planning sufficient. But the planning was very much insufficient. Inexcusably so, given the manpower, time, money, and political capital spent on it. As a result, we have increased the dangers to our country in a manner that's unnecessary and erodes our safety. This is a problem to me, and it is a problem that could and should have been avoided.

"...discounting the benefits of establishing a representative government or minimizing the potential hazards of a rogue tyrant does not seem the best way to begin that analysis."

I'm a little confused by this last part, because I haven't done either of those things to my knowledge. Minimizing the potential hazards of a rogue tyrant (whom we've seen fit to work with before without any particular moral qualms) and questioning the reality of those potential hazards are not the same thing. Pointing out that other rogue tyrants hold far more actual danger to our country is, if anything, a pretty reasonable assertion.

As far as discounting the benefits of establishing a representative government? I've not done that at all. I just don't see how having one in Iraq benefits us to the extent that the cost, in human lives and in billions of dollars, is worth what we receive.

And that...is the longest response I've ever typed in a comments section. Gimme a cookie!

 
At 7:38 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

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At 7:39 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

Well phrased, my friend.

If my too poor of an argument serves as nothing else, let the record reflect that it seems to at least serve to help you further clarify yours. And your argument is well served in the process, and very strong as a result.

Consequently, I cannot respond as I often do, with arguments at the ready. Instead, it requires further thought and clarification of my own.

Make no mistake, I have more to say. But I would not dare juxtapose a hastily prepared response after such a thoughtful and thorough analysis. In doing so, I would only succeed in lowering the level of debate, which you have so carefully raised, and embarrass myself in the process.

I, sir, will do no such thing.

 
At 9:39 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't deeply flattered by your post.

Will you go out with me?

 
At 9:56 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

How could a girl say no? Assuming, of course, that you'll be paying...

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

Ok. I'm back. You've made over a dozen points, each worth responding to. But since I cannot respond fully to each point, let me attempt to address one point. It's all the time I have, unfortunately.

One of the points you have made has been made ad hominem, by many on the left, and several on the right. That we should employ a blanket inflexible consistency toward our foreign policy without regard to changing circumstances and/or prevailing realities. The first way this is manifested is in the question: Why Iraq? Why not Iran? North Korea? Why not Saudi Arabia?

I'm assuming that you are not doing what so many others do, and employ the second grade maxim that if you don't have enough gum for the whole class, then there should be no gum for anyone. In other words, "if you can't attack them all, don't attack any of them." That ridiculous straw man has been bantered about for way too long. As if we should sacrifice realism for consistency's sake.

Arguments can be made for attacking all of those countries. But even the United States military would have difficulty attacking all of them. We're having enough difficulty as it is holding on to one of them. But you have to start somewhere (assuming you have to start at all).

Let's get rid of North Korea first, because it's the easiest. Most people would likely agree that North Korea is the biggest threat. They HAVE nuclear weapons. They sell their weapons technology to terrorists. Kim Jong Il is a very bad man who runs a system of concentration camps rivaled only by the Nazis (as if Parker and Stone did not make that clear in Team America). The problem is, you cannot attack them. You just can't do it. Every military commander who has been asked about it will tell you in the first three minutes of attacking North Korea, Seoul would be destroyed. Gone. And who knows how many others would be killed by North Korea's nuclear bombs. We're talking millions of deaths. It can't be done. So, what happens then? You can't attack North Korea, so all further military action must cease? Of course not.

Iran. Iran just happens to be in the middle of a democratic revolution (although it would never be publicized in our media). This revolution unfortunately is progressing very, very, slowly. But nevertheless, it would clearly and unequivocally be against our interests to attack a country in the process of democratizing with the single most pro-American populace in the Middle East (discounting Israel). Almost any policy guru will tell you that there is more to be gained by waiting out Iran's revolution than attacking it.

Then there's Saudi Arabia. What to say about those jokers? I don't know, for my money, I wouldn't mind attacking them. But I can see the arguments against. Not the least of which being that they have no nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, any capacity for making them, any history of attempting to procure them, or using them. But yes, the Saudis are fuckers, and will get no sympathy from me should they be attacked in the future.

I won't get into the relative merits of attacking Iraq, since they've been gone over more than a thousand times. What we do know is basic. Saddam did not appear to have nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons when we attacked him. He had them in the past. No solitary individual I have ever met believes he had given up on procuring them in the future. And he was a violent megalomaniac who supported terrorism.

And the idea that "we've seen fit to work with [him] before" is also a non-starter. What does that mean? That we should continue to work with him because we've done it before? Should we fail to remedy our past mistakes for the purposes of consistency? Consistency for consistency's sake? Of course not. We were wrong to have supported him and we are now right to oppose him.

At the end of the day, since we now know he did not have weapons when we attacked, I think you'd be hard pressed to say that it was clear we should have done so. But I think insofar as this point is concerned, there are better arguments to make against attacking Iraq.

That's all I have for today, but at some point in the future, I would like to get to several points you made, including, but not limited to: (1) the danger Saddam posed, and with that, the danger that an entire region of tyrants spawning suicidal nihilists pose; (2) whether democracy is the answer to suicidal nihilism, and to what extent a represenative government can be used to counteract the prevailing psychopathology that creates suicidal nihilism; and (3) whether the purpose of the government is to protect us or make our lives better.

I think we're starting to break down the issues a little bit.

 
At 1:01 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

I've been trying to answer your last post since yesterday, and I keep erasing and starting over.

Excellent points, all, and I definately want to comment on them. Apparently, my brain disagrees at the moment. I'll try again tonight.

 
At 1:21 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

My mind tricks are working....

These are not the droids you're looking for. They can move along.

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

Translated from Huttese:
"Your mind powers will not work on me boy."

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

Nevertheless, I am taking Captain Solo and his friends. You can either profit by this or be destroyed. It's your choice, but I warn you not to underestimate my power.

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

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At 12:55 PM, Blogger codemorse said...

Okay, let's do this thing, Vader.

The reason, I think, that it's taken me some time to respond to your points is that fundamentally, I agree with all of them. The argument that if we attack one, we need to attack all of them is fallacious, logistically impossible, and morally questionable.

It's not an argument I'm attempting to make, nor do I think any person with any grasp of reality can make it with a straight face.

But despite the fact that Saddam was a tyrant, and a man who most definately would have continued acting in a despotic and despicable fashion, the plain-as-day fact remains that he posed no credible threat - and that we attacked anyway. This is problematic for me on a number of levels. When I ask, hypothetically, "Why not Korea? Why not Iran?" I am not literally advocating that our force should have been deployed there instead.

What I'm saying is that in terms of actual danger posed, Iraq was small fish. Absent that element, attacking for reasons of national security makes no real sense to me.

The posed argument that Iraq would have posed a danger to us at some undetermined point in the future is problematic on philosophical levels, as well as practical ones.
It's my personal belief that it is bad military policy to unilaterally strike a target that "may" become a threat in the future.

It's too close to Britain's Empire-building, or Rome's Pax Romana for my tastes. While it may be desirable to spread the democratic values of the West, to do so through force renders much of the point of democracy moot. Which is to say, that its about choice. Now, obviously, I'm no fan of dictatorships, and the argument that "if the people were GIVEN a choice, they'd choose democracy" is a valid one. But I still can't justify our country as a crusading spreader-of-democracy through the use of military power.

Because, not only is it philosophically problematic, its also practically, a poor idea. In an increasing global economic and political environment it does our country no good to unilaterally spread our hearty democratic seed in the face of world-wide incredulity and anger. Does this mean that the US should bow to global public opinion? Of course not. But it does mean that doing an unpopular thing necessarily requires good reasons for doing so, and moreso than in the past. If we invade a country, we had better be doing it for the reasons stated, and have the necessary evidence to back it up.

 
At 9:32 AM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

kThe force is strong with you, sir. Your midichlorians are off the chart (note: I hate the idea of midichlorians).

I think these postings will likely be coming to an end soon, at least on this topic, because we fundamentally agree on the basics.

Let me just follow up on some outstanding issues:

Codemorse: "If we invade a country, we had better be doing it for the reasons stated, and have the necessary evidence to back it up."

I could not agree more, frankly. The single biggest problem attacking Iraq without the supporting evidence is that our intelligence aparatus (and the entire nation as a result), has a very bad credibility problem. Those mistakes will take generations to recover from. Taking that into account, I think attacking Iraq was most likely a mistake. A mistake, however, that may have opened up valuable opportunities for sowing the seeds (and "hearty" ones at that) of democracy.

Ordinarily, I'm inclined to agree; America should not swagger around the world in a crusade turning tyrannical governments into democracies. There are several reasons, however, why I think we MUST strongly advocate (if not by force) for representative governments all around the world:

1) Unlike the times during Britain's empire building and Rome's Pax Romana, the United States is dealing with credible and real threats toward the security of its citizens manifested all across the globe. The expansion of Rome and Britain were induced by desires of wealth. Here, the expansion of democracy is precipitated by real security concerns. These tyrants cannot survive just being tyrants to their own people. In order to maintain power, since there is no elected legitimacy, they have to funnel the anger of their peoiple elsewhere. Namely, here. And this is no longer the times of Rome and Britain, where crossing the world was achieved only with great difficulty. Hundreds of disaffected people can travel around the world with merely $500. In short, there is no such thing, anymore, as a local threat. Virtually all threats have the possibility of being global. Which brings me to my second point, the real clincher for me.

2) How big does a threat have to be? How long can one wait while threats gather? My single biggest concern about adopting former theories on what constitutes a "threat" and waiting until that threat becomes all too real is that the threats we are dealing with are so much greater than anything contemplated before. The reason that the United Nations has become so quickly obsolete is that it was created to deal with threats like a German Panzer division. "Aggression" is the single biggest concern of the world body (not including oil-for-food kickbacks). But as nuclear technology becomes widely available, the biggest threat currently faced is from weapons of mass destruction. One suitcase bomb can do what fifteen German Panzer divisions could never do, destroy entire cities in one second, without any other overt "aggressive" acts. This is what makes the calculus on acting on threats so delicate. The danger of the slightest mistake in either ignoring or failing to confront gathering threats is nothing short of catostrophic. And unfortunately, the technology to destroy is spreading faster than the enlightened decisionmaking that prevent countries from employing those weapons. (E.g., see the jokers in Iran and North Korea).

You are right in the thought that bringing democracy by force seems inimical to everything we understand about democracy. But it can be done. Britain's empire helped create the single largest democracy today, India, by providing (if accidentally) the institutions that help establish democracies. India did end up throwing out the Brits. And hopefully, one day the Iraqis will throw us out while holding on to some of the democratic institutions we have helped form.

In my humble opinion, the single biggest action that helped aid the security of the American people over the last 10 years was when the Iraqi people voted in a referendum to approve their Constitution. Most of the people (unfortunately, not all) laid down their guns and tried to force change through the ballot box. An action that was unprecedented in that part of the world, and hopefully a sign of more to come.

 

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