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Thursday, February 05, 2004

There is, sadly, a lack of cross-blog debate. We tend to read stuff that we "like" (whatever that might mean), and I know I often cringe when reading certain things because of how wrong they sound to me. So, in the spirit of engaging the other side in friendly debate here's a list of reasons why the war with Iraq is justified, put forth by Sound and Fury, and here are my replies to each one:

1. Saddam Hussein was in violation of the cease-fire agreements that put the 1991 Gulf War on hold by firing at British and American airplanes in the no-fly zones.

This is substantially true. However, the U.N. language does not give the U.S. or anyone else immediate authority to invade Iraq without U.N. approval. Instead, there is a right to defense which the U.S. and British air forces have exercised numerous times since 1991.
This of course brings up another question -- why does the U.S. need the support of the U.N.? My simple answer is this -- the decision of the U.S. to invade Iraq affects everyone, therefore everyone should have a say in whether or not they think this is right. If the U.S. goes against that judgement (which it did), then it runs the risk of losing world-wide support for its actions (which it has). The result? The U.S. is a weaker power than it was before the war. Bush's actions have weakened U.S. influence around the world, both militarily and diplomatically, and the U.S. will suffer negative cosequences as a result. The check might not come due tomorrow, but it will come.

2. Saddam Hussein was in violation of more than a dozen UN Security Council resolutions, including one that threatened the use of force if he did not immediatly surrender all relevant documentation to Hans Blix regarding the production of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

So far it appears that Hussein mostly complied. Sure, his compliance wasn't complete but he nevertheless was more compliant than, say, Israel and all the U.N. resolutions calling for their withdrawl from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The point here is, do we enforce this standard for all U.N. resolutions? If so then the U.N. needs to have a military capacity which it doesn't currently possess, and that is something I'm sure many folks on the political right in the U.S. wouldn't want to see. The U.S. already balks at being subject to the international criminal court, imagine what would happen if the U.N. were granted a military force. Heck, I'd even argue that the U.N. _shouldn't_ maintain a standing army or even a rapid-response force because not having one means everyone has a say in whether or not force is necessary in a certain situation. In the case of Iraq, I still think the answer was "no". Things are different now, but at the time it was not necessary for the U.S. to invade Iraq until _after_ the U.N. concluded that there were no options left.

3. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator guilty of genocide and other crimes against humanity.

True, but not a reason to invade his country without the support of the international community. This standard of judgement poses all sorts of problems -- was the U.S. responsible for crimes against humanity in Vietnam? How about in World War 2, when hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians were killed in massive firebombing campaigns? All of these are past actions that a.) could be judged to be crimes and b.) could still be prosecuted if this standard were applied across the board. If the U.S. is willing to accept this reality, then yes we can use this standard (never mind the issues involved with defining it) and there are those in the U.S. who could be found guilty of such crimes.

4. Saddam Hussein publicly threatened to finish Hitler’s job by destroying the state of Israel.

As have many others in charge in the Middle East at one time or another. The case of Ghadafi in Libya springs to mind here. His transformation (which has recently received some attention) is an interesting case of what can happen over time. Which brings up the issue of preemptive action -- what about preemptively deciding that someone isn't really a threat? We speak of preemption in terms of stemming evil, but it also has an application in deciding who might turn around some day. I'd say we should preemptively determine that Arafat will come around and be quite happy if Israel respects the U.N. resolutions against it and cedes the occupied territories to a Palestinian state. You, on the other hand, may make the judgement that Arafat is a threat and must preemptively be stopped at all costs. Historically, the U.S. has done better by assuming the former rather than the latter. Another case in point -- was Fidel Castro a real threat to the U.S. in the 1960s? You bet, even more of a threat than we thought at the time. Nevertheless, Kennedy correctly predicted that Kruschev wanted a way out and that Castro wouldn't go too far outside the Soviet tent on the issue. The resulting peaceful preemptive action prevented a war which would have killed millions of people.

5. Saddam Hussein was an obstacle to long-overdue political liberalization and democratization in the Arab Middle East.

This is another case of "one of these things look like the other". So are all the other despotic, autocratic regimes in the Middle East, many of which are allies of the United States. Singling out Saddam requires more than a hazy charge of being an "obstacle" to political liberalization. The way Pervez Musharraf played the last election cycle in Pakistan was very undemocratic, as was his coup in 1999. The Saudi royals aren't going to hold elections any time soon, and neither will the other kingdoms in the Middle East. Everyone has some dirt on their hands, so even when this charge is taken in context of Saddam's past actions it still does not, to my mind, justify a precedent-setting preemptive war that threatened (and still threatens) global stability.

6. Saddam Hussein’s support for Palestinian terrorists made a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict impossible.

Again, no reason to single out Saddam. We'd find many folks among the group of U.S. allies in the region who quitely do the same thing, directly or indirectly.

7. Saddam Hussein was an ongoing threat to Saudi Arabia, and due to Saudi support for Al Qaeda and Islamic fascism generally, the United States was not able to continue protecting the House of Saud indefinitely, nor could the world afford to have Saddam Hussein in control of Saudi oil and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina if we abandoned the Saudis to their fate.

I don't see how this plays into the picture. Iraq wasn't really that much of a threat to Saudi Arabia -- everyone would agree and probably support an overwhelming application of U.S. force against Iraq if Iraq had ever attempted to invade the kingdom. Theoretically, if we connect the dots here we get a picture like this: Saudi Arabian Princes supported Al-Qaeda, who was alleged by the U.S. to have ties to Iraq. So, who is allied with who? If anything, Al-Qaeda disliked the secular leanings of Hussein _and_ the Saudi royal family. If the U.S. were really serious about the threat of Al-Qaeda to Saudi Arabia, it would have made much more sense to a.) force Pakistan's military to sever ties with Al-Qaeda, b.) prosecute the Princes who supported Al-Qaeda, and c.) focus all efforts on finding and apprehending Osama Bin-Laden. If anything, the invasion of Iraq puts Saudi Arabia in a more precarious position; an ill-enforced border between it and Iraq may provide opportunities for Al-Qaeda to slip into Saudi Arabia and attack American interests there. The seeming expansion of U.S. "Imperialism" (whether or not its intended to be that way) does not play well to the Saudi population, and raises the specter of U.S. actions elsewhere. This in turn puts U.S.-allied governments into uncomfortable positions, such as those Princes in Saudi Arabia who secretly support Al-Qaeda (so word gets out that they're on the side of the general public) but also support the U.S. efforts to stop Al-Qaeda.

8. In the post-911 era of apocalyptic terrorism, mass-murdering anti-American dictators who align themselves with terrorists and who have produced and deployed the weapons of genocide are too dangerous to be allowed to remain in power.

I'm afraid the U.S. doesn't even begin to know what the phrase "apocalyptic terrorism" means. The attacks on New York were horrendous, terrible crimes and should be punished thusly. No one disagrees about the necessity to find, incarcerate, and possibly execute Osama Bin Laden and those responsible. However, 5,000 dead doesn't even come close to "apocalyptic". Compare it with the millions of Jews killed in World War 2, or the hundreds of thousands of Japanese, or the 800,000 who died in Rwanda, or the millions of others around the world who have died as the result of "terrorist" acts. That term, "terrorism", is a bit tricky. Who's a terrorist? Are the folks in Iraq fighting against the U.S. terrorists or just very nationalistic Iraqis? Is it terrorism when a U.S. soldier busts down a door, enters a house, and kills everyone for no apparently good reason or because of bad intelligence? It might not be terrorism to the U.S., but those who suffer would disagree. It's not that terrorism can't be defined, but it's a consesus definition -- everyone agrees (save a few folks who perpetrated the attacks) that 9/11 was a terrorist attack, deliberately aimed at innocent civilians in the hope of furthering a political agenda. That consesus is what gives the charge its power. Without consesus it's a matter of opinion and anyone or anything can be determined to be a terrorist or a terrorist attack by someone. Does firebombing abortion clinics count a a terrorist attack? I think it does, but there are others in the U.S. who would disagree with me. Thankfully (from my point of view), the government also agrees and prosecutes these cases as domestic terrorism. This view isn't me trying to be wish-washy, it's the process that really happens in real life, i.e. people think about what is bad and what is good, and that is how you get a general sense of things. I think, for instance, that most people would agree that having Hussein out of the picture is good. However, this viewpoint does not exclude the view that a preemptive, unilateral (or bilateral or trilateral) military action carried out without the consent of the U.N. is a "bad" thing. Yes, "good" consequences can follow "bad" actions, but more often than not the "bad" actions produce unforseen negative consequences down the road.

I hope my comments spark some debate, because we need it. I often go back over things I've said and realized I was wrong or I generalized or there where logical problems with my arguments. It's the back-and-forth of debating that helps everyone move closer to the truth, and we could use a lot of it in the process of making sense of, and figuring out how to pursue, the War on Terrorism.

Andrew 5:27 PM : |


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