So, a year ago I posted my thoughts on the war in Iraq – whether it’s justified or unjustified. The bottom line conclusion is that the only case in which I felt war was justified is if Iraq was a threat to us. Period.
Knowing what we know now, not having found significant weapons of mass destruction it becomes difficult to conclude that Iraq was a threat, and therefore that war was justified. Of course, I guess this issue is not over yet. There are still searches and investigations as to whether they exist, and certainly people regardless of party had at one time believed they existed. I supposed one could argue it doesn’t matter whether or not we thought they existed, or who thought that they existed, only that we today see no proof of the fact.
Looking back over the last 2-3 years, my question is this: if you were president, what would you have done?
Not too long after 9/11 a firestorm of theories came out about Bush knowing about what was going to happen. How was he supposed to have known? Intelligence. The US supposedly had intelligence that should have tipped us off to the 9-11 attack so we could do something to prevent it.
Now what’s the biggest thing Bush is being attacked on for the war in Iraq? Intelligence again. This time rather than being criticized for ignoring his intelligence, he’s being criticized for using it.
So this is the dilemma I have. Intelligence appears not to be an exact science. It is not 100% reliable. So what do we do with it? If it’s not reliable, and we can’t act on unreliable information, then it’s not producing information that’s actionable. If it’s not producing information that’s actionable, then isn’t it worthless? Can it be made better? Does anyone really think the intelligence is any better under one administration versus another? One bloated bureaucracy to the next?
As a sidebar, I really think the Democrat-Republican role reversal is interesting in this case. When Clinton was president, the Democrats were big fans of humanitarian military efforts. Republicans groaned at the spending. Now here we are with Iraq, and the strongest arguments for the war Republicans currently have are humanitarian arguments. We freed them, we stopped the killing, etc. Republicans are actually using these arguments. Democrats have taken the opposite position and complain about the spending, with apparently less of an interest in the humanitarian aspect. The two parties never cease to amaze…
(1) “I felt war was justified is if Iraq was a threat to us.” The big question comes about in defining “threat.” Lots of countries are threats to us: Iran, China, North Korea, Palestine (assuming it’s a country). The middle two have nuclear weapons. The USSR was a threat to us. But does that justifying a preemptive invasion? Would we be justified in taking over North Korea now? If we would be justified, would it be sound policy to do so? Can a country be a threat to us if they haven’t attacked us or haven’t at least said they’d attack us (or our allies). I don’t think that our war with Iraq was entirely preemptive, since I think it was, to some extent, a logical outgrowth of Iraq invading Kuwait (our oil buddy). Now, I think that we were justified in invading Iraq, though I think it was unwise to do so. Iraq, as condition to surrendering in 1991, agreed not to possess weapons of mass destruction and agreed to inspections. They routinely booted the inspectors out, which justified us in invading (one can quibble about whether we should’ve used more international institutions or negotiations prior to doing so). Saddam was a goddam moron. We gave him 48 hours to leave the country; he didn’t—what I can’t understand is that if he didn’t have WMD, why wouldn’t he let the inspectors in; it probably came down to hubris. Now, the invasion was unwise because it is highly doubtful that Iraq would attempt to attack the US—it would be obliterated if it did—Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 (talk to the Saudis for that). Furthermore, since we’ve now made Iraq our 51st state, it’s f’ing expensive (both economically and in terms of American causalities). Not to mention pissing off our allies in Europe. Many will say, Who cares what France (and Germany and China and Russia) think, but it’s not so much about this time but the next and the next and the next. Put simply, it is in America’s national security interest to have friends (especially friends with nuclear weapons like France, Germany, China and Russia). Was alienating them over a third world country like Iraq, combined with everything else, worth it? Intelligent people can disagree on the costs and benefits of the war, but I’m inclined to think that the US would’ve been better off without invading at that point.
(2) With regard to the Democratic v. Republican humanitarian intervention, I think that it would’ve been one thing if the Republicans had come out and said, We’re liberating Iraq to free the Iraqi people from Saddam’s brutal dictatorship. This they did not (and would not have done so). Their primary (and overwhelming) justification was WMD. Now that WMD have not been found, they seem hypocritical in saying, ex post, WMD did not really matter since we did a good thing anyway. They’re trying to have it both ways, and that’s the problem.
(3) With regard to the spending, it’s not the spending amounts per se, just what we’re spending the money on. I’m inclined to think that Republicans have become the “limited spending” party because for a long, long time they were in the minority in Congress, and it was easier to be fiscally conservative than to fight the democratic programs (Medicare, social security) on the merits. Now that Republicans are in power, like your Libertarian houseguest suggested, it’s their turn to spend away (a couple of billion here promoting marriage, a couple of billion there going to churches for faith based services, etc.).
I agree with the bulk of what you’ve said. A lot of this is political bullshit. Hypothetically, if the President had come out and said something like the following, how would you react?
“Our intelligence was not accurate and we need to improve it – had it been accurate this entire encounter may have gone differently. In the end though, the war was not entirely a mistake. We saved a lot of lives as evidenced by the mass graves we discover on a regular basis, and rid the world of a dangerous and powerful person.”
It seems to me that’s what it really boils down to. I’m just not sure whether people would accept an explanation in those terms.