Recriminations on Iraq

Revisiting an old posting of mine on the subject.

19iraq2_span-articleLarge

The comment thread on my Paul Wolfowitz: Smart Idiot post had me going through my archives looking for a particular post I’d made years ago. I’ve thus far not found it but did stumble upon an oblique reference to it in a January 17, 2007 post titled Right and Wrong on Iraq.

It begins with some reflections on a post by Andrew Olmsted, an active blogger in those days who was slated to join the OTB team just before himself being deployed to Iraq. He would lose his life fighting a war he had come to oppose.

The conclusion does a good job summarizing my own evolution on the war:

As for myself, my views continue to evolve:

  • I began as an ardent opponent of the neocon argument for the war as advanced by Paul Wolfowitz and others. The “Saddam is a tyrant who used chemical weapons on his own people” argument never struck me as persuasive.
  • I came around to support for regime change, though, after the announcement that North Korea had nuclear weapons and then realizing there was nothing we could do about it. The preemptive war argument suddenly seemed quite compelling.
  • Once it became clear, within a couple weeks or so of toppling Saddam, that there were no substantial WMD stockpiles, let alone a serious nuclear program, my original rationale for supporting the war was over and I acknowledged that pretty quickly. At that point, though, we were left with a fait accompli: What to do now?

I’ve been in some variation of that mode for going on three years now. A lot of it has been spent debating the ancillary issues like the “Bush Lied” and chickenhawk memes or such things as whether passing various casualty thresholds were somehow dispositive. Mostly, though, it has been about whether our goals are achievable-a question on which I’ve become increasingly pessimistic over time-and on the nature of the alternatives.

Was I “wrong” on the war? If the test is whether I’d support invading Iraq knowing what I know now (or even in May 2003), I certainly wouldn’t. On the other hand, I continue to reject the extreme view of some war opponents that preemptive war is always a bad idea.

The old joke that “I thought I was wrong once but I was mistaken” applies to one aspect of this debate. I started and ended the process opposed to the neocon idea of forcing people to be free through the application of military force. For a few weeks or months after the successful election of a permanent government, in the midst of the real risk of death taken by those who stood in line to vote, I begrudgingly admitted that the neocons had been proven right, at least in the one instance. I spoke too soon on that front, sadly.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote the following for TCS:

We owe it to the Iraqi people to do everything we can to help avert a civil war and give their fledgling democracy a chance. Saving them from themselves, however, is both beyond our power and responsibility. If they decide civil war is the only way to settle their longstanding disputes, we must stand aside and let them fight it and then try to salvage a relationship with the eventual victors. While that would be a bitter pill, indeed, after coming so close to achieving the incredibly ambitious vision of the neo-cons, it would nonetheless be preferable to the other alternatives.

My view on that hasn’t changed. The consequences of leaving in defeat would be catastrophic from a humanitarian, moral, and strategic perspective. The only worse option would be losing many more soldiers and then leaving in defeat. Unless and until it’s absolutely clear that we can’t leave behind a stable government, though, we need to do everything in our power to achieve that end.

I can’t pinpoint when I finally decided that it was “absolutely clear.” It wasn’t much longer.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. HelloWorld! says:

    If the test is whether I’d support invading Iraq knowing what I know now (or even in May 2003), I certainly wouldn’t

    This is the kind of statement that frustrates me the most. Before the invasion we had all the information we have now. We knew Colin Powells little vial of anthrax held up at the UN was not the type Iraq could develop if it had a weapons program. We knew Iraq did not have an active weapons program. We knew Condi Rice’s rhetoric about mushroom clouds was bogus. We knew business interests were pushing Republicans to support the war. These items are just the surface issues, there are books written about false reports knowingly submitted as evidence by the Bush administration and faked documents that were called out while the case was being made. Oh well, I guess that’s what happens when the general public does not have to suffer anything but a tax cut to go to war, while it’s our soldiers necks that are on the line….and James, I commend you on your service and admire a soldiers ability to follow orders. It is the civilians who are the creeps here.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I think there’s some historical revisionism going on here from those who think it was all cut and dry. In retrospect, able to cherry-pick and highlight this or that specific datapoint, it becomes clear. But that’s hind sight. In hind sight it was a great idea to to invade Mexico in 1846 because we ended up easily seizing and fully controlling the southwest. It wasn’t clear at the time, and Iraq wasn’t clear at the time, and neither was the first Gulf War. It’s facile, ahistorical and dishonest to pretend that we knew then everything we know now, or that the picture was perfectly clear.

    And liberal opinion on this is straying perilously close to pacifism. A few points:

    1) A world without Saddam and his spawn is a better world. It’s a good thing when evil basta@rds die. No, I’m not saying we have to kill them all, just that Iraq was a sh!thole long before we got there.

    2) The notion that suspecting Iraq of a WMD program is somehow on its face absurd flies in the face of the fact that they did earlier have a nuclear reactor, enjoyed threatening the world with what turned out to be fictitious capabilities, and did in fact develop and use poison gas — two of the WMD trinity.

    3) The idea that IAEA inspections were somehow perfectly reliable is silly. They were one factor, one bit of data, they were not the final word.

    4) The idea that occupations are inevitably doomed flies in the face of our “occupation” of half of Mexico and pretty much every other square foot of our country, and our more recent occupations of Austria, Italy, Germany and Japan. Occupation not only can work, it does fairly often.

    5) For my part, my support for the war was never specifically about existing WMD. Saddam was an aggressive warmonger, a man who had already slaughtered his own people en masse, who had begun a terrible war with Iran, and had invaded Kuwait. He had a great deal of cash and dreams of glory. He was, in short, a mass murderer with money in his pocket and a capacity to seek larger weapons to do more damage.

    6) The notion that this is some transcendent, earth-shattering, paradigm-obliterating catastrophe is nonsense. It’s hell for the soldiers and hell for a lot of Iraqis. But when you look at polls of Iraqis you find the Kurds are generally happy about the US invasion, the Shia less so, and the Sunni least of all, but even with our bungling opinion in Iraq is hardly united. The Israelis – the canary in that coal mine – don’t appear to be too upset. We have not seen some massive eruption of anti-Americanism in the ME, and in fact we’ve seen intra-Arab conflicts in half a dozen nations that had little to do with us, and we’ve seen Gaddafi and Mubarak go down with Assad hopefully to follow.

    In the scheme of things this is a minor event. Spare me the whole, “But the orphans!” thing because we’re talking geopolitics, not humanitarianism at the moment. It was a minor event in US history, a minor event in European history, and if you take a while to start running through the history of the region over the last 5000 years you’ll see it was a minor event in Iraqi history.

  3. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The problem I have with your analysis rests here:

    “The idea that IAEA inspections were somehow perfectly reliable is silly. They were one factor, one bit of data, they were not the final word.”

    Given that the Bush Administration was directing the IAEA where to inspect, finding nothing means either:

    a. there were no weapons of mass destruction where we thought there were. If this is true, then the rationale for war collapses, unless you believe that it is in our country’s interest to, as Jonah Goldberg put it, fling a smaller country against the wall once a decade just to show the world we are the most powerful force around.

    b. the Bush Administration was intentionally directing the IAEA to look in the wrong places. While this seems incredible to me, I could conceive of it. However, it means that the Administration was looking to sucker people into opposing the war so they can have a greater triumph once WMD are found.

    If you see another reason we could not find the WMD in the pre-war inspections, I’d love to hear it.

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The problems with Iraq in many respects were the same as those of Vietnam: insufficient ruthlessness, a milquetoast political class, a biased media (obviously much worse in the 00’s when compared to the 60’s), spacey academia, a dumbed down public.

    With two major and obvious differences, however, of which ironically enough the chattering classes almost entirely are insouciant.

    – Before we ever got to Vietnam it already was a quaqmire. The French had gotten their asses seriously kicked. Kennedy, LBJ, McNamara & Co. somehow missed giant neon screaming elephants in the room.

    – In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the U.S. government no longer could err on the side of restraint.

    In the post-9/11 universe it’s far better to use preemptive military force and be wrong about the reasons than not to use it and then prospectively to watch as a U.S. city goes up in flames. That still applies today, although it goes without saying that lots of zombies out there in Zombieland would not be able to connect the obvious dots.

    If terrorists incinerate a major port city, for example, at that point it’ll be far too late for the political left-wing to sit around at cocktail parties, counting their trust fund money, saying things like: “That really makes me sad.”

    Hopefully we never get to the point at which PC thinking or isolationism winds up killing us again in droves. At the beginning of WWII, and all the way into mid-1943 or thereabouts — our troops largely were cannon fodder because of the isolationists. On 9/11, following the reality coma of the 90’s, we seriously were ripe for the plucking. With even a marginally-sentient government neither scenario will repeat itself. Alas, that’s not anywhere close to being guaranteed.

  5. Mikey says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    In the post-9/11 universe it’s far better to use preemptive military force and be wrong about the reasons than not to use it and then prospectively to watch as a U.S. city goes up in flames.

    Accepting, for the sake of argument, that such was sufficient justification for getting rid of Hussein. That took six weeks, if you count from the initial invasion to the end of “major combat operations.”

    Now what about the next nine years?

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Or it means the IAEA isn’t very good at searching and might have failed to find WMD in large, complex environments like military bases. Or it means the US intel on WMD sites was lousy and we were sending them to the wrong places. Or it means there was no active program but stashes of enriched uranium or poison gas were off in the countryside somewhere. Or it means programs were dismantled and hidden away to be unearthed once the sanctions were off.

    Or the administrations real concern was not current WMD programs but anticipated WMD programs.

    There is also the possibility that the administration was seeking a transformation and merely used WMD as a convenient rabble-rousing issue.

    That’s the problem with the 20/20 hind sight on this. You’re looking for simple dichotomies that will prove you had reason to be right from the start. I think you’re leading the evidence a bit.

  7. Snarky Bastard says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Agreed — I have written elsewhere that I can understand Democratic hawks and mushy moderates signing on for the AUMF in the Fall of 2002 under the logic that coercive diplomacy in the form of a US Army Corps plus several fighter wings on the border would be neccessary to eliminate the uncertainty of an Iraqi WMD program by forcing inspections in. However the UN resolution commanded all UN member nations to provide intelligence and information on the Iraqi WMD program, so by mid-January, the fear and uncertainty case of war collapses as Iraq either had effectively nothing that could be called a WMD program beyond scribbles and poorly maintained archives OR the Iraqi Republican Guard had several students who studied apparation and transfiguration at Hogwarts.

    The US government by January 2003 should have been able to say the following on any given Sunday:

    Sites X, Y, Z are highly probable WMD sites with the following types of evidence that inspectors should be able to find. Let’s task a significant number of recon assets (satellite, drones, manned aircraft, JSTARS, AWACS and probably SF/CIA teams on the ground) to observe these sites for the next couple of days.

    On Thursday night local time the US intel liason gives the inspectors the locations of Site X, Y and Z for inspections on Friday morning.

    If all of those recon assets see no unusual movement out of the compound(s) on Thursday night AND the inspectors find jack shit, then there should be a serious question about either US intel on those particular sites, or the threat assessment of the Iraqi programs in general.

    Either that was never done, or no one gave a flying fig about negative results (I vote B) so we should have seen quite a few wavererers turn against AUMF by late January when the WMD case blows up.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey:

    Tsar never answers questions because he can’t really stand up to cross-examination, but I’ll take the question.

    Once we had invaded we had a responsibility to deal with the aftermath. Would it have been more moral to allow Iran to occupy the south while a civil war between Kurds and Sunni raged, to pick just one possible outcome?

    Would you apply the same reasoning to Germany in 1945? Should we have said, “Well, Hitler’s dead, the German people are destitute, our work here is done?” Use hind sight on that question. We have a stable, peaceful Europe thanks to US occupation. In the 75 years between the start of the Franco-Prussian War and the 1945 surrender we had two world wars and countless smaller wars and skirmishes in Europe. In the 68 years since the American occupation of Europe we’ve had zero major and one minor war in Europe. This is the longest peace in European history, courtesy of occupation.

  9. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “Or it means the IAEA isn’t very good at searching and might have failed to find WMD in large, complex environments like military bases.”

    Not at all likely, given their track record of success.

    “Or it means the US intel on WMD sites was lousy and we were sending them to the wrong places.”

    Which gives no reason to believe they exist at all.

    “Or it means there was no active program but stashes of enriched uranium or poison gas were off in the countryside somewhere. Or it means programs were dismantled and hidden away to be unearthed once the sanctions were off.”

    Both of which should be able to be found by the inspectors.

    “Or the administrations real concern was not current WMD programs but anticipated WMD programs.”

    Which means what? That they have the know-how to build WMD which anybody who spends a few hours on the internet has? So what?

    “There is also the possibility that the administration was seeking a transformation and merely used WMD as a convenient rabble-rousing issue.”

    In other words, they were lying through their teeth. And so we should believe them on anything else because? And we should let them off the hook for the negative consequences of their decision to mislead everyone into war because?

  10. Console says:

    @michael reynolds:

    6 is the most absurd one. You do realize that we invaded Iraq, pushing Iran even harder into developing nuclear weapons (simple calculation, they see that we didn’t invade pakistan or north korea…), increasing the possibility of having to go to war with an Iran that now has a major ally in the region.

    The real question is this. If the war wasn’t fought, would America be better or worse off. The answer, just like Vietnam, is that we’d be better off. Why? Because the history of the world and geopolitics are a hell of a lot bigger than “so and so was a bad guy.” Idealists don’t get to pull the geopolitics card. Besides, you have to get the geopolitics right to throw out the humanitarian angle anyways. The war in Iraq doesn’t even remotely come close to being smart geopolitics… for entirely foreseeable reasons.

    Realists exist because they understand that war is chaotic and unpredictable. Idealists think they can bomb the world into a better place.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    “…In the post-9/11 universe it’s far better to use preemptive military force and be wrong about the reasons than not to use it and then prospectively to watch as a U.S. city goes up in flames. That still applies today, although it goes without saying that lots of zombies out there in Zombieland would not be able to connect the obvious dots…”

    What a bunch of crap. Are you channeling Liz Cheney now? Oooooh….mushroom clouds. Our cities up in flames….oooooh.
    It’s impossible to quantify your idiocy.

  12. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Would it have been more moral to allow Iran to occupy the south while a civil war between Kurds and Sunni raged, to pick just one possible outcome?

    Did we have a moral obligation to prevent a total descent of Iraq into chaos, with the inevitable humanitarian disaster that would have created? I think there’s a strong case in favor.

    Still, even after all those years and all those lives, we didn’t prevent Iran from essentially taking over the south (and with it considerable influence in the Iraqi government).

    I’m not one to apply 20/20 hindsight, either. I now see what a horrible blunder the invasion was, but I got there on pretty much the same road you did.

    I just wish I’d used better judgment, asked more questions, been a little less trusting.

  13. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “In the scheme of things this is a minor event. Spare me the whole, “But the orphans!” thing because we’re talking geopolitics, not humanitarianism at the moment. It was a minor event in US history, a minor event in European history, and if you take a while to start running through the history of the region over the last 5000 years you’ll see it was a minor event in Iraqi history”

    I have a great deal of respect for you, Michael, but this is gibberish on a Tsar Nicholas scale.

    If — God forbid — your wife were shot and killed by a mugger tonight, it would not even qualify as a minor event in US crime statistics or even gun violence. It would register not at all as an event in US history, quite possibly not even in the history of YA literature.

    But for you it would be a life-changing, possibly life-destroying event. It would end all the dreams you’ve built up for the rest of your life. At least, if it happened to my wife it would have this effect on me, and you’ve written so glowingly about your own wife that I can’t bellieve the same of you.

    Well now multiply that by hundreds of thousands. Not just Americans, but all the Iraqis whose lives were ended because some a$$hole in the White House decided that what they really wanted was freedom, more than life.

    It’s really easy to take the God’s eye view when you have no real human connection to the damage being done. Hey, look, the Holocaust was a bad thing, but Germany’s really doing much better now than it was in the 1930s, so in the scheme of things it’s all good.

  14. al-Ameda says:

    The Bush Administration not only used a false pretext to sell the war to the public, the completely miscalculated and misjudged the resources and effort that would be necessary to prosecute the war successfully. And strategically? Ceding power in the region Iran was either not considered at all or …. A big mistake on many levels.

    Recrimination? What else is new? Given the fact that we’re still not over the Civil War, the Civil Rights struggles, or the War in Vietnam, it’s not surprising that there are recriminations over Iraq.

  15. Davebo says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Why do you remind me of the guy who says “I apologize if I offended anyone”?

    Give it up already. Hubris got us into that mess. I’d hoped you’d have at least learned that by now.

  16. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that my disagreements with Michael in this area come down to about two. First, I don’t think it’s possible to be morally pure and, second, I think we’re more responsible for the things we do than for the things we don’t do.

    I opposed the invasion of Iraq from the start for any number of reasons but I think they can be distilled down to

    1) I don’t think the invasion ever met the standard for a just war and
    2) I thought the facts on the ground strongly suggested a bad outcome. Not the facts on the ground in Iraq. The facts on the ground here. I never thought the American people had the stomach for what it would take to pacify Iraq and in the absence of pacifying Iraq, well, what actually happened is what would happen.

    I think we need to take the requirement that war must be a last resort much, much more seriously. As I see it that’s the underlying problem of our conduct over the last 40 years or more.

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    I said “spare me” because it’s something I understand already. It’s a given. I don’t need my heartstrings tugged, I’m a writer and I have an excellent imagination. But unless you’re prepared to take the pacifist point of view that no innocent death is ever acceptable, or you’re going to name some number of acceptable deaths, then I think we have to be able to look at the geopolitical aspects as well as the human tragedy.

  18. swbarnes2 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I said “spare me” because it’s something I understand already. It’s a given.

    I’m sorry, but it’s not. We have to judge your writings based on the evidence of what you actually write, not what we imagine you mean.

    When you just don’t bother mentioning 100,000 Iraqi deaths and a million Iraqi refugees, we have to conclude that you just don’t think they are relevant.

    But unless you’re prepared to take the pacifist point of view that no innocent death is ever acceptable,

    I think you have too much imagination here. Stick with the evidence. Who has made this argument? Stop bringing it up as if it were a major anti-war argument. It’s not.

  19. john personna says:

    The Bush administration successfully gamed US citizens into tribal thinking versus the UN inspectors.

    Who were you going to believe, said GWB, me or those pansy Swedes?

    Too many of you bought that team-think, and deny it to this day. They don’t really understand that they were put to a loyalty test, trust in GWB over inspection.

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I think we’re more responsible for the things we do than for the things we don’t do

    I think that’s probably true, but only to a limited extent and depending on circumstances. Had we been able to push a button and end the Holocaust by killing a million Germans, should we have done it? Could you justify allowing 12 million deaths rather than causing one million? What if the math is 12 million to just a single death?

    I don’t think the invasion ever met the standard for a just war

    I guess that’s a matter of judgment and hard to separate from hind sight. I’m not saying you’re wrong, saying that it’s not an easy call.

    I thought the facts on the ground strongly suggested a bad outcome. Not the facts on the ground in Iraq. The facts on the ground here. I never thought the American people had the stomach for what it would take to pacify Iraq and in the absence of pacifying Iraq, well, what actually happened is what would happen.

    This is the meat of my own error on this war. I said from the start it was 51/49 for me, a close call. I assumed we were all on the same page, that we understood we’d have to take the country apart and build it back up, institution by institution, as we did in earlier occupations.

    As I’ve written on my occasions before, I assumed (again, that word) that the Bush administration was downplaying the troop and cash requirements for political reasons, but that they must know the truth that it would take a very big, very long effort.

    I started freaking out when I saw the looting and heard the chilling statement from our generals that they simply didn’t have the resources to do anything about it. It was hard for me to accept that the administration didn’t understand the consequences of creating a power vacuum in a pressure cooker country like Iraq.

    It’s still hard for me to understand that they could have been that stupid and that ideological. Transforming Iraq would have been a terribly hard job. Hence the 51/49. But to take it on in a half-assed, incoherent, ideological, under-resourced way was insane. I seriously underestimated the stupidity involved.

    Had we succeeded in planting a genuine democracy in Iraq we would have transformed the middle east. We failed.

  21. JohnMcC says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Mr Romanoff, about the VietNam war you are completely wrong. Two facts: 1. The bombs dropped on S E Asia during the American phase of that war totalled approximately 8 million tons, much more that the Allies together dropped in all theaters of WW2. 2. In early ’68 there were 500,000 American GI’s in-country, whereas the American forces that occupied Germany in ’45 totalled approximately 125,000.

    I happen to have been in-country in ’66 and ’67. I can personally assure you that nothing about that war was ‘milquetoast’.

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @Davebo:

    What I’ve learned is not to massage data. The administration did it then, and the left is doing it now. In the future we will face situations where a true picture of this fiasco will be helpful. A true picture, not an ideologically-driven one.

    There are consequences to inaction as well as action. Vietnam phobia with a Somalia booster left us sitting on our hands as the Rwandan genocide proceeded apace. It’s not enough to try and reduce every event to good/evil or simple nostrums like “Don’t ever commit pre-emptive war.” I want the nuance because there’s truth in it.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    In the scheme of things this is a minor event. Spare me the whole, “But the orphans!” thing because we’re talking geopolitics, not humanitarianism at the moment. It was a minor event in US history, a minor event in European history, and if you take a while to start running through the history of the region over the last 5000 years you’ll see it was a minor event in Iraqi history.

    Michael, this where you lose me. To requote Larison from this morn:

    Andrew Bacevich addressed that question here, and suggested that the Iraq war might prove to be no more significant over the long term than the War of 1812 was for the later history of the United States. The Iraq war was unnecessary, appallingly destructive, and extremely stupid, but perhaps the most damning thing that will be said about it one day in the future is that it ultimately didn’t matter very much. The outcome of the Iraq war is much more straightforward: it was a costly, wasteful failure. It advanced no concrete American interests, and instead did real harm to U.S. security. Then again, that was clear to some of us over eight years ago. (my emph)

    tom

  24. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “It’s not enough to try and reduce every event to good/evil or simple nostrums like “Don’t ever commit pre-emptive war.” I want the nuance because there’s truth in it”

    I think you are arguing with someone in your head, because no one here is saying that. You keep bringing up the pacifist argument, as if someone actually is advancing it. I think you need to remove your blinders before you ask the rest of us to.

  25. Ben Wolf says:

    @wr:

    We already possess a rich mine of historical data in which to assess whether the United States sought to minimise human suffering: It imposed sanctions on Iraq which starved a million people to death, half children below the age of five, which was described as “genocide” by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator Denis Halliday who resigned in protest; sanctioned a policy of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and Bagram detention centres; massacred unarmed Iraqi protesters; denied passage out of the shelling of Fallujah to the adult male population fleeing the bombardment; gave orders to shoot unarmed residents in the city after dark; deployed napalm and banned incendiary agents like white phosphorous which have made birth defects and cancer rates among the population soar beyond Hiroshima levels; closed the only hospital in Fallujah treating the wounded against the Geneva Convention; fired on ambulances; justified the deliberate killing of civilians by Blackwater mercenaries; authorised the slaughter of Baghdad residents by Apache helicopters infamously captured on the leaked Collateral Murder tape released by Wikileaks; installed a policy of acquiescence in the widespread abuse of prisoners by allied Iraqi torture squads.

    http://mondoweiss.net/2012/06/sam-harris-uncovered.html

    We’ve lost all moral standing due to this. The world, which increasingly sees the U.S. as a rogue state, doesn’t believe for one second our jabberings about “respect for human rights” because we’ve proven we have none.

    Add to that the war has significantly weakened (perhaps fatally) our position as pre-eminent military power on the planet. The aura of invincibility of U.S. forces was shattered when the world watched rag-tag paramilitary forces without a thousandth of our resources battle our military to a standstill and then force it to retreat in two separate theaters.

  26. ptfe says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: By the standards espoused here by MR, almost no event in Iraqi history is particularly significant. Was the arrival of Islam a major or minor event? Sure, Islamic sects have dominated the area for the last 1000+ years, but by the reach of 5000 years of civilization, brutality, conquerors, and the flood and ultimate retreat of much of the farmland of the area, Islam is maybe a chapter, but not a really big one. In that case, pre-emptive war should be used only in the event of an imminent apocalypse.

    And @michael reynolds, re: “I want the nuance because there’s truth in it.” What you claim as some nuanced position in this case was, in reality, the vastly foreseeable consequence of (a) engaging in an ill-planned, unnecessary war and (b) engaging in that war while simultaneously attempting to fight in Afghanistan. It has nothing to do with “nuance.” Sure, there are layers of complexity in geopolitics, but the events leading up to the Iraq War weren’t particularly complex or difficult to interpret. It was evident for a fwcking year that GW wanted to light off some bombs, and he didn’t give two shits about what the actual consequences of that action were.

    Let’s not forget that this whole enterprise was ginned up with WMDs and terrorists at the forefront because that’s how the administration had to sell it. Iraq was worse than a distraction from Afghanistan, though, it was a neo-con wet dream of selling democracy while securing oil and magically making the ME the Second Happiest Place on Earth. It was a farce. It was less believable than a TV soap opera plot written into a bad romance novel. There was no intention to put in the resources required to rebuild Iraq. The entire process was driven by a series of shitbrained documents produced by “serious thinkers” who were damn sure that somehow the last 500 years of history couldn’t teach us anything about the ME because, gosh darn it, our tanks are big and we have aircraft carriers.

    And anyone paying attention saw that.

    Sorry, MR, but while I often agree with you and find common cause in a lot of arenas, this really isn’t one of them. You need to give up that nuance/truth line and stop self-justifying. Accept that you supported a huge blunder. Accept that you were screwed with from the outset, that the war was unnecessary, stupid, expensive, unproductive, and not properly thought out, and that we’ll be watching the results unfold for decades to come. But don’t piss in my cup and try to sell it as lemonade, because you obviously ate asparagus for lunch.

  27. john personna says:

    Once we move from WMDs, and legitimate defense, the question becomes much weaker IMO.

    So you don’t like a government … I think there is one question which can divide the issue. That is whose life are you willing to risk to change it, for revolution?

    If you live under this government, experience it, and feel so oppressed that you will risk your life, those of your friends, and your family, to oppose it, then we might give you a good listen. You are risking a great deal, it might be for very good reason.

    On the other hand, if you only want to kill strangers, far away, to put a new government upon them … I’m not sure we should trust you much at all. The risk is not your own. The temptation is to write off distant costs, and certainly without understanding the trade-offs. You may know the worst case stories of Iraqi abuse, but you don’t live there, you don’t understand the risk and reward. Any counter-factual you invent might be pure fancy.

    This is in fact what happened. A variety of people who were not Iraqi decided that some number of Iraqis could die to make their western fantasy of a new Iraq.

    Some now claim that the fantasy was not the problem? It was the general contractors hired to build a fantasy with real materials? They just couldn’t hack it? That is too sad. Talk about wrapping yourself in a protective belief system …

  28. john personna says:

    (Remember, the Nazis thought they could make a better and happier Europe … they just had to kill a few million people in the short term. Amortized over a Thousand Year Reich, what was that?

    The similarities to 100,000 Iraqis being a “fair price” for democracy are all to real for me.)

  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    5) For my part, my support for the war was never specifically about existing WMD. Saddam was an aggressive warmonger, a man who had already slaughtered his own people en masse, who had begun a terrible war with Iran, and had invaded Kuwait. He had a great deal of cash and dreams of glory. He was, in short, a mass murderer with money in his pocket and a capacity to seek larger weapons to do more damage.

    Michael, I wish I had time to converse but I have fix dinner for 6 now, but I was thinking about your arguments and something was troubling me. Somewhere between chopping onions and mixing egg and milk I was finally able to put my finger on it. So many of your arguments in this thread boil down to this:

    “Tom, you were right for all the wrong reasons, where as I (Michael) was wrong for all the right reasons.”

    To paraphrase Anton Chugar, if your reasoning led you to the wrong conclusions, what good is your reasoning?

  30. JohnMcC says:

    @michael reynolds: Thank you, Mr Reynolds, for reminding us of the clarity of hindsight vs the fog of war that descended on our country on Sept 11th of 2001. And also a tip of the hat to Dr Schuler for bringing up the issue of ‘just war’ philosophy.

    I found myself supporting the invasion for many of the same reasons that Mr Reynolds has brought up. I changed my position when General Shinseki was fired for telling the Senate Armed Forces Committee the plainly obvious truth that several hundred thousand American soldiers would have to be committed to Iraq for 10 years to pacify and rebuild the country after we invaded it. Part of the ‘just war’ thinking has to do with the necessity of using forces adequate to the task in order to minimize unnecessary violence. This would be the sin for which a Dante would consign Pres GWBush and his war planners to a very deep place in hell and that Dante would have my agreement.

    There is much much more to going to war than the backers of that war knew about.

  31. john personna says:

    @JohnMcC:

    We knew in real-time that Iraq was not involved in 9-11, and was an enemy of Al Qaeda.

    Now, the Bush administration wanted to spin that past you, and talk about “meetings”, but that was absolutely not fog of war.

    That was “sexing up intelligence,” per the Downing Street Memos.

  32. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: Yes, let’s look at both. But if the question is “should we have invaded Iraq,” to answer only based on geopolitics — which in this case comes to “eh, whatever, no biggie” — is simply to duck the question.

    I’m not trying to tug your heartstrings. There are serious moral issues involved in going to war. You do it when it’s necessary. If you declare war for essentially no reason then say “hey, in the global scheme of things it’s not important,” you are declaring those moral issues null and void.

    Going by your logic, it would be perfectly acceptable for the Republicans in Ohio and Alabama to stop trying to deny Democrats the vote and instead to simply kill them to keep them from the polls. Because on a global scale, those deaths are meaningless.

  33. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “unless you’re prepared to take the pacifist point of view that no innocent death is ever acceptable, or you’re going to name some number of acceptable deaths,”

    Oh, and in the case of Iraq, I’ll give you a number: Zero acceptable deaths. Because there was no reason for this war other than the vanity of the neocons and Bush’s decision that God sent him to remake the world.

  34. Andy says:

    Just as a point of fact, it was UNSCOM that did the bulk of inspections in Iraq, not the IAEA which is limited only to verification of nuclear issues through bilateral treaty.

    @Snarky Bastard:

    If all of those recon assets see no unusual movement out of the compound(s) on Thursday night AND the inspectors find jack shit, then there should be a serious question about either US intel on those particular sites, or the threat assessment of the Iraqi programs in general.

    Actually, much of what you list in your comment was done. The Iraqi’s would delay the inspectors at the front gate and truck stuff out of the back gate. Iraq played such games for many years which, unsurprisingly, led to the belief that they were hiding something.

    @john personna:

    The Bush administration successfully gamed US citizens into tribal thinking versus the UN inspectors.

    I think that’s a bit simplistic. I was in the intelligence community all through the 1990s and spent a lot of time looking at Iraq, though not from a WMD perspective. It was pretty much a “settled” issue that Iraq retained chemical munitions in the intel community up until right before the war when the community really began to question its long-term assessments in that area. The reason so many Democrats to include Bill Clinton thought Iraq retained WMD (and said so publicly) was because of those assessments. When these assessments were combined with Iraq’s program of deception and noncompliance with UNSCOM, as well as other factors such as bellicose public statements by Saddam that he would “never disarm,” it wasn’t such a stretch for many people to surmise there were more than just chems in Iraq. And we know now, after inverviews will all the relevant senior Iraqi officials, that Saddam’s strategy was to deny inspectors any smoking gun on WMD while, at the same time, maintaining doubt about whether Iraq had really disarmed. That’s why Saddam destroyed all his munitions but did so in a way that made it impossible to verify. The real intelligence failure was actually the failure to recognize this basic strategy of denying evidence while stoking fears that weapons might still exist. So, on chemical weapons at least, the Bush administration didn’t have to game much.

    On bio and nukes, though, it’s a bit of a different story. The intel community was divided over bio but most were skeptical about claims of an active nuke program. On the latter there was administration bullying as well as the infamous OSP “alternative analysis” cell in Doug Feith’s office putting out flawed, competing assessments.

    @Console:

    You do realize that we invaded Iraq, pushing Iran even harder into developing nuclear weapons (simple calculation, they see that we didn’t invade pakistan or north korea…), increasing the possibility of having to go to war with an Iran that now has a major ally in the region

    Actually you are wrong about that. Iran’s nuclear weapons program began in the 1980’s during the Iran/Iraq war. It was a response to the threat from Iraq. Considering Iran stopped the weaponization of it’s program in 2003 (coincidental?), the idea that we are pushing Iran even harder into nuclear weapons doesn’t make much sense. And, when you think about, the surest way for Iran to get attacked by the US is to try to develop a nuke. We’ve made it pretty clear that’s a big red line that will invite a military response should they try to cross it. The act of trying to obtain a nuke to provide protection from attack will do the opposite – it will invite attack.

    Finally, a comment on counterfactuals, or what might have been had we not chosen a preemptive invasion. While the consequences of the Iraq war were bad for the US (not catastrophic as some allege, but bad), I think it’s wrong to assume the counterfactual would be a decade of relative stability with Saddam contained but still providing a bulwark against Iran. My opinion, however, as one who spent much of the 1990’s dealing with Iraq, is that another war with Saddam was probably inevitable. That’s why, at the time, I was kind of “meh” about going to war in Iraq through preemption. In hindsight, I think it would have been much better to let Saddam make the first mistake and provide a real casus belli.

    But I realize the notion that war was likely regardless is probably controversial to some. Let me just give one example of how unlikely it was that Saddam would, over the long term, give peace a chance: In 1994, just three years after Desert Storm, the US detected a build-up of Iraqi forces along the border with Kuwait. Although the US thought it was a bluff, we rushed forces to theater (including an aircraft carrier I happened to be stationed on) and made it clear to Iraq that we knew about the mobilization and would take active precautions to protect Kuwait. Iraq stood down and its forces returned to garrison. What we didn’t know at the time was that this was not a bluff – Saddam fully intended to invade Kuwait again and was only dissuaded by the rapid build-up of US forces and the fact he’d lost the element of surprise. We found this out after the 2003 war through interviews with Iraqi military commanders and senior officials. When Saddam announced his order to invade Kuwait again in 1994, a few of his generals tried to talk him out of it, seeing it for the folly it was. He almost had several of them thrown in prison for their insubordination. These were brave men as it took some courage to disagree with Saddam – for instance, another general a few years before was tortured and executed for the wrong helpful suggestion to Saddam. His body was chopped up and delivered to his wife and kids. Such brutality was fairly common in the regime and tended to make Saddam’s underlings (to include his own children) “yes” men, at least in front of him.

    Anyway, I think it was only a matter of time before Saddam miscalculated and we should have had more patience and waited for that rather than rely on preemption based on wrong (in the case of chems) and “sexed up” intelligence.

  35. george says:

    @wr:

    Its interesting that even Michael Reynolds, who’s smart, well informed, and hardly interested in supporting the GOP (to put it blandly), can’t put together a good rational for invading Iraq. I suspect that’s because there wasn’t one.

  36. john personna says:

    @Andy:

    I am speaking specifically about the choice the Bush administration set up, pull the inspectors, or keep looking.

    In late 2002 and early 2003, President Bush urged the United Nations to enforce Iraqi disarmament mandates, precipitating a diplomatic crisis. On November 13, 2002, under UN Security Council Resolution 1441, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei led UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. There was controversy over the efficacy of inspections and lapses in Iraqi compliance. UN inspection teams departed Iraq upon U.S. advisement given four days prior to the U.S. invasion, despite their requests for more time to complete their tasks.

    Sure, people had prior concerns, that is why Blix was there.

  37. john personna says:

    (I don’t see any logic to the idea that Clinton-etc. prior concerns about WMDs was reason to suspend UN inspection.)

  38. Andy says:

    @john personna:

    (I don’t see any logic to the idea that Clinton-etc. prior concerns about WMDs was reason to suspend UN inspection.

    Whoever said it was? But you can’t look at that one period right before the invasion in perfect isolation and ignore “prior” concerns. For many, the concerns weren’t “prior,” and as a political matter Iraq’s prior actions and US intel assessments in the 1990’s mattered a great deal in terms of domestic support for a preemptive war. Clinton and most Democrats got behind the war in part because they believed the last decade of intel reports. The Bush administration’s distortions could not have succeeded absent that – in other words, if the Clinton Administration really believed Saddam had actually disarmed they likely would have been much more skeptical about the Bush Administration’s claims. Not to mention the vote to authorize the war came well before the Bush Administration warned inspectors to leave Iraq. And there’s also the fact that everyone knew (at least everyone who had a first-grade education in military operations) the invasion would come in the spring.

  39. michael reynolds says:

    @ptfe:

    You need to give up that nuance/truth line and stop self-justifying. Accept that you supported a huge blunder. Accept that you were screwed with from the outset, that the war was unnecessary, stupid, expensive, unproductive, and not properly thought out, and that we’ll be watching the results unfold for decades to come.

    I do. I have, many, many times, including above, said it was a blunder on my part and on our part as a nation. What I’m insisting on is not self-justification. I’m insisting on truth. I’m insisting that conclusions drawn be based on facts and not on exaggeration, overstatement, oversimplification, 20/20 hind sight and ideological coup-counting.

    Unlike some of the issues we discuss in this space, foreign policy is important because foreign policy kills. I’ve been around long enough to have been through multiple rounds of incorrect conclusions drawn from various debacles and equally from various successes.

    If what you all are saying is that we can never act militarily unless the territory of the United States or its close allies are directly threatened, then understand that you are taking the position that when we said “Never again,” after the Holocaust, we were lying. Understand that we’re saying the next time some lunatic wants to round up millions of men, women and children and gas them for being the wrong religion, having the wrong politics or the wrong sexual orientation, we intend to sit on our hands and do nothing.

    If that’s not what you intend to say, then explain how you get there from where you are.

    These are important matters, too important in my opinion, to reduce it to facile formulas based on a very limited view of history. Iraq was a blunder. We do that sometimes. We should learn from it, but we should learn the truth, not the political spin.

  40. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “If what you all are saying is that we can never act militarily unless the territory of the United States or its close allies are directly threatened, then understand that you are taking the position that when we said “Never again,” after the Holocaust, we were lying. Understand that we’re saying the next time some lunatic wants to round up millions of men, women and children and gas them for being the wrong religion, having the wrong politics or the wrong sexual orientation, we intend to sit on our hands and do nothing.If that’s not what you intend to say, then explain how you get there from where you are.”

    Well to start with, NONE OF THIS WAS HAPPENING IN IRAQ.

  41. john personna says:

    @Andy:

    I cannot see the point. My original comment was about why inspectors were pulled to start the war. How can any concern justify pulling inspection? Inspection was there to prove rhe concern.

    It might be reasonable in retrospect now to say they were pulled to ensure that they would not find “nothing.”

  42. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    Not relevant to the larger question. This is why I’m at pains to point out that this was not our first war or our last, and we need to look at foreign policy in a broader context, not just react emotionally to the most recent problem.

  43. Andy says:

    @john personna:

    I cannot see the point. My original comment was about why inspectors were pulled to start the war.

    Ok, it’s not clear from your original comment that you were only referring to the UNMOVIC inspections and not UNSCOM.

    It might be reasonable in retrospect now to say they were pulled to ensure that they would not find “nothing.”

    Not really. The Congress voted for the AUMF before the inspectors were allowed back into Iraq. Everyone with an ounce of brains knew that the US would attack no later than the spring because that is, climatically, the good time of year to fight a war in that region. And everyone with an ounce of sense knew the administration wanted an invasion, so once the AUMF passed it was only a matter of time. The idea that the timing of the invasion was some conspiracy to prevent the inspectors from finding nothing is plainly wrong – The administration didn’t really care what the inspectors found since the decision to invade was made back in early-to-mid 2002 (depending on who you ask). The only question after that was getting Congressional authorization and the forces in place and ready. Well, the forces were in place and ready in mid-March 2003 and the war started soon after.

  44. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “Not relevant to the larger question.”

    Sorry, but it is, no matter how much you enjoy calling people who think this war was a clusterfnck pacifists, it is.

    “This is why I’m at pains to point out that this was not our first war or our last, and we need to look at foreign policy in a broader context, not just react emotionally to the most recent problem.”

    And I am still waiting for you to find anyone in this discussion who is taking a pacifistic line and saying they are opposed to all wars. When you find someone doing so, you can hit them over the head with your comments. Until then, you are just being unresponsive to what is being said.

    @michael reynolds:

    “If what you all are saying is that we can never act militarily unless the territory of the United States or its close allies are directly threatened, then understand that you are taking the position that when we said “Never again,” after the Holocaust, we were lying. Understand that we’re saying the next time some lunatic wants to round up millions of men, women and children and gas them for being the wrong religion, having the wrong politics or the wrong sexual orientation, we intend to sit on our hands and do nothing.”

    I think that argument fell out the window after Rwanda and Bosnia.

  45. Barry says:

    @michael reynolds: “I think there’s some historical revisionism going on here from those who think it was all cut and dry. In retrospect, able to cherry-pick and highlight this or that specific datapoint, it becomes clear. ”

    Somebody tell Michael that there’s an imposter posting under his name. The imposter even obeys the Iron Law of Right-Wing Projection, accusing liberals of what the right did.

    It was never cut and dried, although the liars who led us into this, and the liars who support this, will say so. There was never evidence worth a rat’s *ss that Saddam had enough chemical weapons to worry about, and the UN inspections could find nothing, despite allegedly being guided by this oh-so-solid US intelligence.

    Saddam never had ties with Al Qaida – those were made up by the same guys who told us and tell us that torture is necessary.

    There was no chance of a good outcome from the invasion, in part because the people in charge couldn’t make the needed preparations, because the US public wouldn’t have supported that war.

    In terms of worrying about Iraqi deaths – you and yours were using humanitarian reasons as one of the rotating justifications for the war.

    Every single objection to the war was raised in early 2003, and every single thing that the administration said was proven to be lies; most of it at that time.

    Anybody who says that these objections are historical revisionism is both lying and engaging in historical revisionism themselves.

  46. Barry says:

    @Moosebreath: and Bahrain, where the ‘duty to protect’ people stood by and watched mass murder in a small country where our fleet was stationed, when a quick one-day battle could have probably worked.

    And also in every single case where the US government could do something domestically to save lives. No Constitutional objection can be honestly mounted, since almost all of these people support the president’s power to wage war at will, and in general support the American Empire.

  47. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m sory, MIchael, but everything you’re posting here is a defense of your support of the Iraq invasion, so of course this is all relevant to the larger picture.

    In fact, I don’t see how you can even raise these questions without acknowledging that a corrupt administration used our concerns about such things to raise support for a war that was about none of them.

  48. LaurenceB says:

    @michael reynolds

    This was my position prior to the war in Iraq and why I opposed it.

    There should be a high bar to war. In my mind, at least the following criteria should be met:

    1. Wars should be legal.
    2. Wars should in the interest of the United States.
    3. Wars should be moral.

    The war in Iraq was probably legal, was probably not in the interest of the U.S. and was probably moral. That wasn’t good enough for me.

  49. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    In fact, I don’t see how you can even raise these questions without acknowledging that a corrupt administration used our concerns about such things to raise support for a war that was about none of them.

    I’ve acknowledged all of that. Many times. I’m trying to discuss FP more broadly, not just engage in another round of Bush = Bad.

  50. michael reynolds says:

    @Moosebreath:

    I think that argument fell out the window after Rwanda and Bosnia.

    So you’re content with a world where we have an overwhelming share of the world’s military capability but will sit on the sidelines and do nothing should a new Holocaust occur? And this is the moral position? There’s no level of atrocity that should compel us to act?

    As a Jew I appreciate knowing that the good guys will be tut-tutting impotently while mouthing platitudes derived from a bloody nose they got once upon a time in a sideshow war.

    The liberal moral position on this is profoundly immoral. It is also utterly hypocritical. If a million people are starving — inevitably because of their government — you’d be all for feeding them. But if a million people are being slaughtered by that same government it’s hands off because Bush lied in 2003?

    This is exactly what comes of refusing to put events in historical context and insisting on seeing everything through a narrow, partisan lens. You’re all so focused on “Bush lied” that you walk yourselves into a policy of tacit support for genocide.

  51. michael reynolds says:

    @LaurenceB:

    I think those are good criteria. But of course we did not know the war wouldn’t be in our interests. Had it been better managed it might very well have been to our advantage. And I’m not sure that 10 or 20 years out we won’t conclude that it was marginally in our interest. A lot will depend on how things turn out in Syria and Iran.

  52. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Please re-read what I said, as you are still responding to arguments not made.

  53. Rob in CT says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I had much the same thought process. Regarding what the American people were willing to stomach, I had a slightly different thought process. Lots of pro-war folks were arguing that the occupation would work out fine, because Germany & Japan did. I pointed out that the occupations of Germany and Japan utilized huge numbers of troops and some form of serious investment in rebuilding (Marshall Plan, whatever). I saw precisely zero evidence of any planning for a Marshall Plan 2.0 for Iraq. I therefore concluded there was none, and the occupation/”reconstruction” phase was utterly doomed.

    Reynolds: you are utterly wrong about this, and I think it’s coming from some misbegotten need to seem tough (not like those namby pampy pacificist lefties you so aren’t like). It’s not a question of toughness (particularly if you’re not signing up). It’s a question of whether or not something is smart.

  54. michael reynolds says:

    @Moosebreath:

    It’s entirely possible that I’m not responding to you as specifically as you’d like, but responding more generally to the thrust of the thread — sorry but there are a bunch of people talking at me.

    That said, the thrust of the arguments are:

    1) Bush lied. (Yes. Given.)
    2) We should have known then. (Not as cut and dry as people now like to pretend.)
    3) Invasion and occupation are always wrong. (Incorrect in my opinion.)
    4) The Iraq war was a major historical event. (I think it was a sideshow.)
    5) In future we must have: a) Absolute proof of need, b) A clear path to success, c) Everything must be legal.

    That last is what strikes me as the pathway to pacifism. There will never be absolute proof that a war is necessary. I can find you people who think Pearl Harbor was insufficient. There will never be complete transparency and honesty in “selling” a war, not just because governments are inherently dishonest but because diplomacy sometimes makes honesty impossible. Nor will there ever be a clear path to success, however defined. War is by nature unpredictable. Finally, the definition of legality is slippery. Congressional support? We had that. UN support? Really, we’re going to be limited by what Chad and Uruguay have to say?

    Apply all those conditions rigorously and you are in effect saying that war is off the table as an instrument of foreign policy. Not a philosophical pacifism, but a practical pacifism.

    I think the reality is that straining for perfection in motive and means is a backdoor way of ensuring inaction. I agree that the emphasis should be on avoiding war, that’s self-evident, but I don’t agree that we should attach criteria that are so limiting that we’re left incapable of action, and that’s what I see coming out of this war.

    It’s interesting that no one brings up Libya. How was Libya different from Iraq? We succeeded and did so with minimal expense and no US casualties. No one hates an easy win. Had Iraq been better-managed, had we succeeded, I very much doubt we’d be having this discussion.

  55. Rob in CT says:

    It’s interesting that no one brings up Libya. How was Libya different from Iraq?

    Actually, when Libya was happening, I did make the comparison. The difference was one of scale more than kind. O’s decision-making process wrt Libya shook me out of a (lightly held) belief that he was serious about moving us in a less-interventionist direction.

    Apply all those conditions rigorously and you are in effect saying that war is off the table as an instrument of foreign policy

    The bar should be set high. Do you want going to war to be easy?

  56. Rob in CT says:

    Oh, and:

    2) We should have known then. (Not as cut and dry as people now like to pretend.)

    No. BULLSHIT. This stuff was being pointed out in real time. You were deaf to it, apparently. That’s on you, not those of us who were arguing against the war.

    3) Invasion and occupation are always wrong. (Incorrect in my opinion.)

    This is not the argument folks are making. It’s sad to see you erecting this sort of strawman.

    In future we must have: a) Absolute proof of need, b) A clear path to success, c) Everything must be legal.

    How about “the casus belli has to be better than an obvious steaming pile of BS”; there must be a clear path to success/end and everything has to be legal? Too much for you?

    You’re going to be suckered again. Wonderful.

  57. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “That said, the thrust of the arguments are:

    1) Bush lied. (Yes. Given.)
    2) We should have known then. (Not as cut and dry as people now like to pretend.)
    3) Invasion and occupation are always wrong. (Incorrect in my opinion.)
    4) The Iraq war was a major historical event. (I think it was a sideshow.)
    5) In future we must have: a) Absolute proof of need, b) A clear path to success, c) Everything must be legal.”

    I’ll give you 1 and 2. I also believe (and don’t think have sufficiently engaged in response to) that while it is not entirely cut and dry that we should have known then, it was very close to being so. It was certainly far more likely based upon publicaly available info before the invasion that the evidence offered in support of war was simply wrong than that it was largely correct.

    3 is where I do not follow you at all. To put it bluntly, no one is saying that invasion and occupation are always wrong. No one. There are lots of people saying that the standards were not met here. But no one is arguing for pacifism.

    4 is a discussion which does not interest me much, and which I have not engaged in. I don’t know what standard you are using for determining what constitutes a “major historical event” and what constitutes a “sideshow”, but I think the excluded middle is likely the correct answer.

    5 is something where you have some support in the discussion above, but not much. You are massively overstating the standards people are using above to determine if we should go to war. If you changed it to “a) fairly strong sense of need, b) A reasonable expectation of success, c) a strong argument can be made that it is legal,” you’d be on the right track. As Rob from CT said, the bar should be set high.

    As to Libya, I agree that it is a very similar case, and had it gone poorly people would regard Obama the way they do Bush the Younger. It would make for an interesting discussion to see why people view them differently. But that is not the discussion at hand.

  58. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Had Iraq been better-managed, had we succeeded, I very much doubt we’d be having this discussion.

    I think that’s correct, and that the lack of discussion would not have been a good thing, because it would have stemmed from a post-facto justification of the war. And that would leave us open to future wars into which our government would plunge with similarly false justifications.

    On the plus side, doing Iraq right would likely have meant far fewer dead and a far more stable country, with less influence from Iran. And that would have been undeniably better than what we’ve got.

    But what we could have had was zero dead and a far-less-damaged view of government by the American public.

  59. michael reynolds says:

    @Rob in CT:

    My argument for war had to do with WMD only tangentially. And of course I never bought the Al Qaeda connection, it was too obvious that Bill Safire for one was being fed bullshit on a supposed Czech connection, etc…

    My argument in support was the transformative one, with a side order of possible future WMDs. So I wasn’t seduced by visions of mushroom clouds or 9/11 hysteria. And no, the arguments against transformation were NOT cut and dry because they weren’t even being discussed for the most part.

    I don’t believe the administration believed in WMD, I think that was public relations. I think they were after transformation. So the question for me was not “Did Bush lie?” I assumed he was lying. Nor was it for me a question of “Will we have mushroom clouds over Manhattan.” That was something to consider seriously down the road, because we had a very rich megalomaniac with a proven track record of starting wars, but it wasn’t imminent.

    What I wanted to put it bluntly was to intervene in a sick part of the world and force transformation as we had done in Germany and Japan. I never thought it would be quick, cheap or easy. But we did have a fifth column in Iraq that would support us — the Kurds. And had we been a bit less stupid we could have leveraged the Sunni-Shia split. Instead we created a power vacuum and we all know what followed.

    Can countries be forced to democracy? Obviously. We have several shining examples. And was the result of transforming Japan and Germany good for the world? Obviously. Before transformation we had seemingly endless wars in Europe and the far east. Since transformation, we have peace. Millions are alive today who would otherwise have died in the next round of war.

    Would you argue that in the aftermath of WW2 with our military goals accomplished we should have packed up and gone home? Would the world be a better place today?

  60. michael reynolds says:

    @Mikey:

    I think you overlook one thing: we were already intervening militarily and economically in Iraq. We had a no-fly zone in place, and harsh sanctions that many believe were starving Iraqi children. And that the left denounced at the time.

    So the result of no invasion would not have been nirvana, it would have been a gradual walking away from sanctions and the no-fly zone with the resultant empowerment of Saddam, and massacres of Shia and possibly Kurds.

    And then? Do you have reason to assume that Saddam who started the war with Iran, who invaded Kuwait, who sent troops to fight against Israel in earlier wars, who built Dimona, who made and used poison gas, would suddenly decide that despite the billions of petrodollars burning a hole in his pocket and a collapse of sanctions and his own endless ambition, to behave himself?

    The likely counterfactual is not happiness and joy but a different form of misery, different wars, different slaughters, but not better wars or slaughters.

  61. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I think you need to re-read john personna”s comment above again:

    “On the other hand, if you only want to kill strangers, far away, to put a new government upon them … I’m not sure we should trust you much at all. The risk is not your own. The temptation is to write off distant costs, and certainly without understanding the trade-offs. You may know the worst case stories of Iraqi abuse, but you don’t live there, you don’t understand the risk and reward. Any counter-factual you invent might be pure fancy.

    This is in fact what happened. A variety of people who were not Iraqi decided that some number of Iraqis could die to make their western fantasy of a new Iraq.

    Some now claim that the fantasy was not the problem? It was the general contractors hired to build a fantasy with real materials? They just couldn’t hack it? That is too sad. Talk about wrapping yourself in a protective belief system”

    Because that is what you are saying should have been our policy.

  62. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But of course we did not know the war wouldn’t be in our interests. Had it been better managed it might very well have been to our advantage.

    And if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle.

    The people who started the war were never people who would have been able to manage it well. So yes, you can say “had we done it differently, it could have turned out differently”, but that’s so trivially true that it doesn’t really tell us anything useful.

  63. Barry says:

    @michael reynolds: “I’ve acknowledged all of that. Many times. I’m trying to discuss FP more broadly, not just engage in another round of Bush = Bad. ”

    The argument is not “Bush = Bad. “, but the inevitable conclusion of facing the facts is.
    That’s what you’re trying to avoid.

  64. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    So the result of no invasion would not have been nirvana, it would have been a gradual walking away from sanctions and the no-fly zone with the resultant empowerment of Saddam, and massacres of Shia and possibly Kurds.

    This is still post-facto justification. Not to mention we had already allowed a great deal of that to happen after Desert Storm, when we stood by and watched the slaughter of the Shia and Marsh Arabs in the south.

    But it’s not necessarily so that Hussein would have been allowed to accrue power indefinitely. There could have arisen, at some point after 2003, a legitimate casus belli to which a military response would have been entirely justified.

    But even that is ancillary to my point, which is: had we succeeded in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, we would be far more prone to get “lied into” subsequent wars.

  65. swbarnes2 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Can countries be forced to democracy? Obviously. We have several shining examples. And was the result of transforming Japan and Germany good for the world? Obviously.

    Is this really your argument? That because two completely different countries, with much different backgrounds, and in much different circumstances could be reformed, that this country, with its history, and resources, would turn out just the same, and this administration, with the money it was willing to spend, and its dishonest arguments, and its stated disinclination for nation building, was going to do a great job at nation building?

    Will you at least admit that there was a hell of a lot of evidence extant at the time to make someone reasonably doubt that a war at that time, lead by that administration would turn Iraq into Japan?

    If so, what exactly was your evidence that overrode all that evidence? Someone advocating war has a moral obligation to be fully aware of all the dissenting information, and you did that, right? So where was all your evidence that invading another country was going to turn out well enough to justify thousands of deaths? I don’t care about your intentions to make Iraq a nicer place. just the evidence you had that going to war was going to accomplish them.

  66. michael reynolds says:

    @Moosebreath:

    This is in fact what happened. A variety of people who were not Iraqi decided that some number of Iraqis could die to make their western fantasy of a new Iraq.

    In order that fewer Iraqis would die a year or ten years down the road. And in order that others — Kuwaitis, Saudis, Israelis, Kurds, Iranianas — would not die in the next round of war. And in order that the sanctions could be removed and the Iraqi people could benefit from some of their nation’s wealth. And that Saddam’s tortures would end. And that the Arab world would see that it could maintain a democracy and could respect individual rights.

    Yeah, for that we decided a certain number of Iraqis would die. Just like we were deciding that a certain number would die under sanctions. Just like we decide today that Syrians can die. Like we decide a lot of things that result in death and horror.

    You seem to believe that we bear no responsibility so long as we don’t launch an invasion. So we are Superman standing on a corner deciding not to rush into a burning building to save some kid and so long as we just stand there we are behaving morally. As long as we don’t participate in the rape it’s okay if we stand and watch because hey, at least we aren’t using force.

  67. michael reynolds says:

    @swbarnes2:

    Will you at least admit that there was a hell of a lot of evidence extant at the time to make someone reasonably doubt that a war at that time, lead by that administration would turn Iraq into Japan?

    I admitted it then and now, which is why I said at the time it was 51/49 for me. I was surprised at the degree of incompetence. Recall that in addition to Mr. Bush we did have a competent Secretary of State and a Secretary of Defense who at that time had not yet demonstrated his incompetence. We also had a Vice President who was clearly evil but not noticeably incompetent.

  68. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    When in doubt, you revert to calling everyone pacifists and assume you are the only one who sees nuances. Fascinating.

  69. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    As long as we don’t participate in the rape it’s okay if we stand and watch because hey, at least we aren’t using force.

    There is, in fact, a difference, both legally and morally, between someone who doesn’t intervene to stop a rape AND AN ACTUAL RAPIST.

  70. michael reynolds says:

    @Moosebreath:

    I think that’s unfair. I have not been calling anyone anything. I’ve suggested that you (in the broader context including the thread) are backing yourselves into a corner intellectually where you basically take the use of force off the table.

  71. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: But no one here has taken the use of force off the table, basically or otherwise. That’s what you keep ducking behind, but there’s no reality to it.

    And PS, there’s one screaming neon elephant in this room that you will not mention, if I may paraphrase that genius of world affairs Tsar Nick:

    The only reason Saddam was in power and able to do all those terrible things to his people was because we kept him there for many years. He was a monster, but for some time he was a useful monster. Then he wasn’t useful anymore.

    But the intentions of installing this dictator were, no doubt, every bit as noble as yours are in planning the next premptive war. It’s just that no one involved in all this “nuance” seems willing to consider the idea that there are unintended consequences to our actions.

  72. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    There’a moral difference, yes. It’s a matter of degree, but only a matter of degree. It’s horrible to starve a person to death. It’s very slightly less horrible to stand around eating a sandwich while the person starves.

  73. Moosebreath says:

    @wr:

    “But no one here has taken the use of force off the table, basically or otherwise. That’s what you keep ducking behind, but there’s no reality to it.”

    +1

    And I might add to Michael that your failure to respond when people do engage you on your terms (such as @here is quite telling.

  74. swbarnes2 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I admitted it then and now, which is why I said at the time it was 51/49 for me.

    Great. So what you are claiming is the evidence that made you 51% in favor of invading another country and killing thousands of Iraqis?

    Where was the evidence that was better that the lies about WMD, and the explicit disavowal of nation building, and the naked oil grab?

    James criticizes Republican policies all the time, and can’t ever cite positive reasons for voting for them, yet he does it anyway. Can you do better?

    What was your positive evidence that invading Iraq was a good idea, that was so good, so convincing, that overwhelmed all the evidence against it?

    I was surprised at the degree of incompetence.

    You were surprised that a president who said he did NOT want to do nation building did not want to do nation building? You were surprised that an administration in bed with oil companies, and think tanks who had been pushing for invasion to get at the oil for years would only be interested in getting the oil?

    You know that Donald Rumsfield was saying that the war would only last 5 or 6 months. How could you be surprised that the administration wasn’t making long term plans when they were saying things like that? The White House was claiming the war would cost tens of billions, and you were surprised that you can’t carry out a Marshall plan with so little money?

    So, where was the evidence that the White House intended to carry out a Marshall plan in Iraq, which is the policy you wanted? How could you be surprised, when you had a moral obligation to be aware of all the evidence that contradicted your pure intentions?

  75. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    I disagree because I think the assumptions you are taking on board lead to a practical pacifism (as differentiated from a principled pacifism.)

    If you say that in future we will need 100% certainty then you’re saying war is off the table. If you’re saying we need less than 100% certainty then what percent? And what percent were we at a decade ago?

    We have never had 100% certainty of our cause, we have never had 100% transparency from the leadership, we have never had a certainty of outcome. Which means we are down in the gray zone. Which means we will once again go to war with some percentage short of 100%.

    So what we need to do, in my opinion, is look realistically at what this war means in context and why we ended up failing. “Bush lied!” is not analysis, it’s just a statement of fact. It’s not proof against some future mistake.

    What is possible and what is not? What is just and what is not? What is a reasonable degree of certainty? How pure must our motives be? To me that is useful, and yelling “You all should have known!” is not. It wasn’t that clear, it wasn’t that simple, and it won’t be next time, either.

    As a matter of fact, we’ve already had the next time in Libya, and guess what? We were bullsh!tted by our government, our motives were mixed, the legality was questionable at best and the end is unclear. Thus always. That’s why the details are important because this will happen many more times and we should know something more than “Bush lied!”

  76. michael reynolds says:

    @swbarnes2:

    Great. So what you are claiming is the evidence that made you 51% in favor of invading another country and killing thousands of Iraqis?

    Dude, I’ve already said this was not about WMD for me, and I’ve conceded the sales pitch was b.s. I’ve said here, and said then, that it was about the possibility of a transformation. And yes, had we pulled it off, it would have been worth killing some Iraqis for reasons detailed above.

  77. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There’a moral difference, yes.

    There’s a moral difference, yes, and an actual legal difference. Rape is a crime. “Failure to intervene in a rape” is not.

    It’s a matter of degree, but only a matter of degree. It’s horrible to starve a person to death. It’s very slightly less horrible to stand around eating a sandwich while the person starves.

    No, those are very different things. In the first case, you are actively murdering another human being. In another case, you are not doing all you can to stop a death, but, morally, we don’t have the same obligation to intervene to stop evil as we have not to commit an evil act in the first place — because, after all, if we did, we’d all be doing nothing else with our time.

    And we all recognize that difference. We make a distinction between someone who deliberately starves someone to death by force, and, say, a writer in California who, if he cared to, could donate every single dollar of his royalties to famine starvation in Africa. The murderer only kills one person, while the writer has not prevented the deaths of thousands, and yet we recognize that there is a moral difference between the two.

  78. michael reynolds says:

    @swbarnes2:

    You know that Donald Rumsfield was saying that the war would only last 5 or 6 months. How could you be surprised that the administration wasn’t making long term plans when they were saying things like that? The White House was claiming the war would cost tens of billions, and you were surprised that you can’t carry out a Marshall plan with so little money?

    I thought they were lying about this, too. I thought this part of the sales pitch was b.s. just as I thought mushroom clouds and Al Qaeda was b.s. I congratulate you on knowing that they were telling the truth here even as they lied elsewhere.

  79. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Yes, I agree. We all participate in immoral behavior. We all sin. We all could do more. Which is why we balance things, why we make difficult choices, trade-offs, set priorities, and why we should not exclude nuance in favor of the pleasure of sanctimony.

    Do we intervene in the next Holocaust? Or do we stand by doing nothing? It won’t be us marching the Jews to the ovens, we’ll just be the ones doing nothing. Are you okay with that? I’m not.

  80. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “I disagree because I think the assumptions you are taking on board lead to a practical pacifism (as differentiated from a principled pacifism.)”

    Given how wrong you have been showing yourself about the assumptions, and how you have proven so unwilling to engage in discussions about them, you probably should stop repeating the same conclusion, especially when you’ve been repeatedly told you are wrong about it. But I guess since you’re the only one who cares about preventing the next Holocaust, you don’t see the need to.

  81. swbarnes2 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I thought they were lying about this, too. I thought this part of the sales pitch was b.s. just as I thought mushroom clouds and Al Qaeda was b.s. I congratulate you on knowing that they were telling the truth here even as they lied elsewhere.

    You seem kind of confused. The administration was saying and showing in 10 different ways that their invasion plan was underwear gnomes;1) invade, 2) … 3) oil profit!

    This is what the evidence was showing. This is why me, and many, many other people, concluded that there was going to be no wonderful Iraq Marshall plan.

    But in the face of this evidence, you concluded the opposite.

    So for the third time, what evidence did you have supporting the idea that invading a country was going to work out so well? We all know you intended well, but what evidence did you have to support the idea that the invasion results were going to match up with your intentions? You’ve already acknowledged the strength of the evidence for opposing war, shouldn’t your pile of data supporting the war be deeper, and more convincing? Sure, Saddam was a monster, but are you going to argue that war and sectarian violence aren’t as monstrous?

  82. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Do we intervene in the next Holocaust? Or do we stand by doing nothing? It won’t be us marching the Jews to the ovens, we’ll just be the ones doing nothing. Are you okay with that? I’m not.

    Get a grip, Michael. Our attack on Iraq had nothing to do with the Holocaust, and invoking that is a pretty cheap rhetorical trick.

    But, to use an actual current and relevant example, are you OK with us not invading North Korea to save millions of North Koreans from starvation and torture? If not, why?

  83. swbarnes2 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Do we intervene in the next Holocaust?

    If by “next Holocaust” you mean: “invade a country that has already declared war on half the world, including us, and who has invading armies in a bunch of other countries”, sure we would invade.

    But if you mean “throw over a government that is killing people, when the overthrow and resulting chaos will likely result in just as many people being killed, and a million refugees, and half the world hating us”, well, sorry, but I don’t see that as being something that is an automatic “Hell yes!” situation. My noble intentions are not relevant to that calculation.

    For one thing, we as a country only have so many resources, and invading Iraq meant that the Afghanistan Marshall plan was definitely off the table. If we were going to remake any country, we had a better chance there than in Iraq. It would have been hard for us to make things much worse then they already had been there, and we weren’t destroying the strong government that had kept sectarian violence in check for two decades. But there was oil in Iraq, and there was after all public support for invading Iraq, so…

  84. Spartacus says:

    @michael reynolds:

    With respect to your first comment above, I’m joining the conversation late and someone may have already addressed these issues, but here’s my response to your points:

    1. I see no evidence that the world (or any sizable part of it) is a better place today as a result of the Iraq war, but even if parts of the world are better off, the US is definitely substantially worse off as a result of the war. It’s true that the current leaders of Iraq are a vast improvement over Saddam, but the mere fact that almost no one in the U.S. today would, in retrospect, support the war means that whatever improvement Iraq has experienced was definitely not worth the price that the US has paid.

    2. Opponents of the war did not argue that it was absurd to suspect Iraq had WMD. We argued that those people who were in the best position (the inspectors) to know whether Iraq had WMD were all saying that it did not or that it was too early to know for sure. I still have very vivid memories of Scott Ritter vehemently making the case against WMD.

    3. Although the IAEA inspections were not beyond criticism, they contained the best publicly known data at that time and no other public reports contradicted them. Also, you will recall that when the war started going bad Congressional Democrats took a lot of flak for not having read the intelligence reports that the govt gave to them because even those reports cast doubt on the existence of WMD. More importantly, even if Iraq did have WMD (as is the case with Korea and other nations), there was no reason to think that containment was not a more effective and less costly way of dealing with that issue.

    4. It’s true that many occupations have not been disasters, but the problem with Iraq that many, many people predicted at that time was a civil war – not occupation. I don’t know enough about the history of Iraq to know how obvious the likelihood of civil war was at that time, but some of the statements about Shias that have been attributed to Cheney show that he clearly was too ignorant on the matter to have an influence on the decision to go to war.

  85. Rafer Janders says:

    @swbarnes2:

    For one thing, we as a country only have so many resources, and invading Iraq meant that the Afghanistan Marshall plan was definitely off the table.

    It’s a good point. Our time, money and manpower are finite, and choosing to do one thing necessarily means that we may not be able to save our resources for a possibly more urgent task down the road.

  86. Rob in CT says:

    My argument in support was the transformative one

    You think this is a GOOD THING?

    Flabbergasting.

    At least the people who really bought the WMD bull were responding to a serious (fictional) threat.

    You were off in f*cking la-la land dreaming about transformation.

  87. Rob in CT says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Actually, I give the WMD justification too much credit in that post. Even if Iraq had WMD, “MAD” would be applicable.

    But anyway, “transformative” invasion/occupation? Yeah, ok, that’s a bright idea. Are you channeling Tom Friedman or something?

    I can’t believe I’m seeing you trot out Germany & Japan in comparison to Iraq. There are *huge* differences that rather obviously meant that transforming Iraq would be harder. From the makeup of the societies themselves to the nature of the conflict (WWII – total, knock-down, drag-out warfare with cities destroyed, etc vs. Rummy’s Lovely Little Limited War)…