Well, it would be a bit of a cop-out if I didn’t answer the questions posed by the anti-war side of the Iraq Debate, wouldn’t it?
And so, sliding in just before tonight’s deadline, here are my own personal answers.
1. Attacking Iraq has been publicly called a “pre-emption” of a threat from Saddam Hussein’s regime, whose sins include launching regional wars of aggression. Do you think there is a clear and reliable difference between pre-emptive and aggressive warfare, and if so, what is it?
War to depose Saddam Hussein would be a pre-emptive action to prevent his future misdeeds. But it would also be a simple continuation of the war which he initiated over a decade ago. Hussein invaded his neighbor, and was rightfully repelled by force by a coalition led by the United States. He signed a cease-fire agreement meant to end that conflict, and since, has consistently failed to fulfill his obligations under that agreement.
It would be nice if the United Nations would formally recognize that he has done so and clearly authorize further military action, but it looks like that’s not going to happen. But the United States has already stuck its neck out in this conflict: we are the ones who bore the burden of the first war, and it’s consequences — now, we’ve got Iraq pissed at us, as with much of the Arab world. So, given that we are likely to pay the price for Hussein’s violations of the cease-fire, I don’t feel any obligation to wait for further U.N. blessing . Perhaps under international law the cease-fire agreement was technically with the U.N., and therefore only the U.N. can follow up on it. But that’s nonsense, in reality: the cease-fire was agreed-to by Hussein to stop American forces from deposing him, and for no other reason — and therefore, I think it is reasonable for the United States to reserve the right to determine, on our own, if the cease-fire has been violated — and take action based on that decision.
As for the difference between pre-emptive and aggressive: it is a difficult line to draw, and one that can only really be identified by examining the motivations of the parties involved. I’d say a just pre-emptive action is one taken where a major motivation is to remove a danger to the attacking country, and any material gain to the attacking country is a minimal consideration. I do not consider a war to depose Saddam Hussein to be aggressive, because I believe our motivations are a) To remove a threat to us b) To liberate an enslaved people and c) To set in motion a chain of events that will remove other threats to us in the region (and liberate other peoples). I’m not even convinced material gain enters into the equation; it sure seems like we may well run a loss on this gig.
If you really want to know my explicit theory of when war is justified, then you should read The Bear Doctrine, an old post where I explain the rules I think should be followed to determine if war is just. Briefly, I believe the U.S. should consider military force against a foreign power when:
1) That power has demonstrated that they are hostile to the U.S. and its citizens, either by directly attacking us; by threatening or planning such an attack, or by supporting other actors who have executed or have threatened such an attack.
2) All of the following are true:
a) We have the means to decisively execute such a military operation without significant casualities, to our own forces or to innocent civilians.
b) Deposing the regime is clearly in the best interest of its citizens, and our intention is to establish a democratic government upon completion of the operation.
c) Such an operation is in the selfish best interest of the United States (economically; politically, etc.).
I think Iraq clearly qualifies under both sets of tests.
2. What do you feel are the prospects that an invasion of Iraq will succeed in a) maintaining it as a stable entity and b) in turning it into a democracy? Are there any precedents in the past 50 years that influence your answer?
I don’t know whether a U.S. invasion / occupation of Iraq will succeed in maintaining it as a stable entity. But I challenge the assumption that Iraq being a stable entity is by definition a good thing. The Kurds in the north would almost certainly prefer to have their own homeland (although they are being browbeaten into accepting less). The Shia in the south might well prefer to be part of Iran.
From a strictly humanitarian standpoint, it seems to me that allowing self-determination among all the people of Iraq might lead to it breaking up. On the other hand, the geopolitical realities in the neighborhood may provide reason for the U.S. to prefer Iraq remain intact, at least for the near future. Thus far, it seems reasonable (given the statements and actions of the Kurds, as my primary example) to expect that Iraqis will be willing to remain together in a single nation, if they are encouraged to do so by the U.S. and its allies.
And yes, I think that’s legitimate, at least for the near term. Setting up some kind of federal, democratic Iraq with large doses of self-determination for the northern and southern regions sounds just fine, particularly if it is made explicit that perhaps five or ten years down the line the union might be re-examined (at which time independence for those regions might be considered).
As for the prospects for democracy, that’s easy: I absolutely believe democracy can succeed there. As for examples, look to the north and see the society the Kurds have established once Saddam’s boot was removed from their throat. Or, look to the east, and see the vast progress being made in Afghanistan.
3. How successful do you think the military operations and “regime change” in Afghanistan have been in achieving their stated objectives? Does this example affect your feelings about war in Iraq in any way?
Mostly, although not completely, successful. The primary objective was to eliminate Afghanistan as a base of operations for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. I think Afghanistan has been significantly reduced as a base, but not completely eliminated. I’m dismayed that we haven’t gotten better cooperation from the Pakistanis, and that the lack of full support from them has allowed Al Qaeda/Taliban remnants to continue to operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Capturing or killing bin Laden was also clearly an objective, and frankly it’s rather hard to know whether we achieved that one. Lots of folks seem to think he’s dead; but then again, we’ve got these wacky tapes coming out every now and then. I don’t claim to know, so I can’t really say if we succeeded in this one.
Another objective was shifting Afghanistan from a virulent theocracy to a stable democracy: and there, I think the progress is excellent. More needs to be done, for sure, and it will take decades to truly repair Afghanistan’s society. But I challenge anybody to argue that the current government is not far, far better for the people of Afghanistan.
My bottom line assessment? I’d give Afghanistan a “B”. We achieved many of our goals — but it’s important to note that we did so with very little negative impact at all. Yes, there were civilian casualities, but arguably far fewer than would have died under the Taliban anyway. And the “Muslim backlash” never materialized. So given that we racked up quite a few positives — a liberated people, significant decrease in use of Afghanistan as a base for al Qaeda, bin Laden either dead or in hiding — I’d say the experience was quite a positive one.
As for how this affects my feelings on Iraq: it certainly makes me feel that it is possible to remove a vicious government by force and replace it with a popular, semi-democratic one. I think we could take a lesson from Afghanistan that we still aren’t great at continuing focus on countries like this after the fighting is over — while I disagree with those who say we are “ignoring” Afghanistan, I do think we could and should do more to help their recovery.
4. As a basis for war, the Bush Administration accuses Iraq of trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear), supporting terrorism, and brutalizing their own people. Since Iraq is not the only country engaged in these actions, under what circumstances should the US go to war with other such nations, in addition to going to war with Iraq?
Glad you asked! See my doctrine above, under Question 1. But the quick answer is: when we can do so without causing more harm (casualties to our military, to our civilians, and to other nation’s civilians) than we’d be preventing. I don’t know why folks who oppose war against Hussein keep bringing up North Korea and asking why we don’t invade them — because a) They can flatten Seoul with artillery, killing hundreds of thousands, and b) They might just have nukes, so they could do it even faster. Military force is not an option, there — or at least, it’s a really dangerous one.
When you stop and think about it, the anti-war folks should take note of this. If those who supported war against Hussein were truly the insane, risk-seeking warmongers you make us all out to be, we would be calling for massive invasions of North Korea and whoever else pissed us off. But we’re not — because believe it or not, we do understand risk, and we only support war when it genuinely is the least risky alternative.
5. The Bush Administration has issued numerous allegations about the threat represented by Iraq, many of which have been criticized in some quarters as hearsay, speculation or misstatements. Which of the Administration’s allegations do you feel stand up best to those criticisms?
Well, this is a weirdly phrased question, but I guess if you filter out the biases in the phrasing, the question really is “What are the best arguments that Iraq is a threat”?
Look, the history that Iraq has been developing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons for decades is clear. If you don’t accept that, I can’t really help you; stop reading now. If you do accept it, however, you have to assume one of two things. Either Hussein has had a sudden change of heart, after a full decade in which we know he deceived weapons inspectors, and is now honestly and truly committed to disarmament. Or, he’s not, and he’s still the same liar he always was, and he’s still committed to getting these weapons.
I believe the latter. And I do not believe that weapons inspections will be sufficient to prevent him from retaining the weapons he has — or developing new ones.
Further, I don’t believe that Hussein is “deterrable” in the traditional sense. Or, to be more precise: I’m not willing to bet my life on it. I do not feel comfortable that , hey, Saddam will never give weapons to al Qaeda, because he’s secular, and al Qaeda’s Islamic! By that logic, Hitler never would have collaborated with the Japanese, because they weren’t part of his master race. Enemies put aside their differences to fight what they perceive to be a greater enemy: and guess what? We’re the greatest enemy in town these days.
So just on that basis alone — the possibility that Hussein would provide weapons to terrorists — I’m not willing to let the guy stay in power. It’s just not worth the risk.