WINNING DOESN’T MAKE IT RIGHT

Heh. Just after blogging on concession speeches from the Other Side, Michael Kinsley weighs in with, Unsettled – Victory in the war is not victory in the argument about the war.

To start with an obvious point that may get buried in the confetti of the victory parade, the debate was not about whether America would win a war against Iraq if we chose to start one. No sane person doubted that the mighty United States military machine could defeat and conquer a country with a tiny fraction of its population and an even tinier fraction of its wealth—a country suffering from over a decade of economic strangulation by the rest of the world.

Well, actually, a whole lot of people on the Other Side did indeed argue that the war would be much harder to win and would cost thousands upon thousands of Iraqi lives. It didn’t.

The serious case involved questions that are still unresolved. Factual questions: Is there a connection between Iraq and the perpetrators of 9/11? Is that connection really bigger than that of all the countries we’re not invading? Does Iraq really have or almost have weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States? Predictive questions: What will toppling Saddam ultimately cost in dollars and in lives (American, Iraqi, others)? Will the result be a stable Iraq and a blossoming of democracy in the Middle East or something less attractive? How many young Muslims and others will be turned against the United States, and what will they do about it?

But, certainly, the evidence continues to mount that Saddam was actively supporting terrorism and terrorists actively support him. That he was a principal sponsor of 9/11 was never a significant part of the pro-war argument, anyway. We’ll soon know the answer on the WMD question, but the evidence sure looks to be coming down on our side. Showing that we can respond aggressively and effectively to threats against us sure can’t hurt our fight against Middle East terrorists, who were certainly gunning for us before the war. And neither can television coverage of Muslims liberated by America and its allies.

Political questions: Should we be doing this despite the opposition of most of our traditional allies? Without the approval of the United Nations? Moral questions: Is it justified to make “pre-emptive” war on nations that may threaten us in the future? When do internal human rights, or the lack of them, justify a war? Is there a policy about pre-emption and human rights that we are prepared to apply consistently? Does consistency matter? Even etiquette questions: Before Bush begins trying to create a civil society in Iraq, wouldn’t it be nice if he apologized to Bill Clinton and Al Gore for all the nasty, dismissive things he said about “nation-building” in the 2000 campaign?

Certainly, many of these questions remain despite the war, as they are philosophical and thus not subject to falsification. Again, though, the images of Iraqis yanking down Saddam’s statue with a little help from the USMC goes to making the UN, France, and Co. contemptible; it doesn’t add to UN legitimacy and thus detract from our victory. And Clinton-style nation-building tried to operate while leaving tyrannts in power. It was despicable as it was ill-conceived.

Kinsley’s broader point–that one can simultaneously root for our troops to win, be glad Saddam is out of power, and yet have philosophical misgivings about the war effort–is certainly true. I remain rather dubious about our intervention in Kosovo, for example, despite the undeniable success of the operation. And, yes, one could simultaneously oppose Saddam without favoring a war to oust him. That positon doesn’t make you pro-Saddam; it just makes you a fool. Or a coward.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
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. John Lemon says:

    …or a cowardly fool. Kinsley is the classic case of a guy who only complains about stuff. I cannot remember him once prescribing some useful suggestions on how to deal with problems.

  2. John Lemon says:

    Maybe we should change the title to “Whining Doesn’t Make It Wrong.”