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August 14, 2007

Hawks and Weapons

Just to be clear, I never said -- or meant to imply -- that liberal hawks didn't consider the weapons a central reason to invade Iraq. I merely said that their arguments didn't rely on "Iraq's threat to us, or connection to 9/11." Insofar as the weapons were considered important, it was in the context of a Dead Man's Gamble narrative, wherein Crazy Mad Saddam Hussein would threaten to detonate a nuke in Saudi Arabia or Tel Aviv unless we let him invade Kuwait without interference. The reason that's important in retrospect is that Saddam's direct threat to America was the central case made by the Bush administration, and the fact that this rationale was completely non-credible was utterly dismissed by the hawks. The policy was evaluated in a vacuum, rather than in the words and emphases of those who would be carrying it out.

August 14, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

What has been foisted upon us from the beginning as a reason for the war was that the presumed WMD were a threat to the USA. And that proves Ezra's point IMHO. That having WMD implied a threat but only for Iraqi WMD, never mind that there was no way to employ them. It is still used to this day with no mention of the lack of employment method.

Posted by: Fr33d0m | Aug 14, 2007 9:00:17 PM

What has been foisted upon us from the beginning as a reason for the war was that the presumed WMD were a threat to the USA. And that proves Ezra's point IMHO. That having WMD implied a threat but only for Iraqi WMD, never mind that there was no way to employ them. It is still used to this day with no mention of the lack of any employment method.

Posted by: Fr33d0m | Aug 14, 2007 9:01:19 PM

Your point is well-taken Fr33dom, but merely serves to highlight the extent to which Bush's arguments for war were arguments of convenience, adopted, structured and discarded for their strategic usefulness in confusing and disabling critics and opponents.

At no time, did Bush seem to grasp the necessity of articulating genuine national goals and objectives, as Lincoln, Wilson or FDR did.

For Bush, and for the liberal hawks, the central focus of all of the rhetoric was constructing an heroic narrative, and nothing else. A concern for practical means and ends was secondary, at best. Tom Friedman, in particular, wrote extensively about how the war would have to be conducted to be successful, and occasionally noted that Bush appeared to have no intention of actually taking any of his advice, but hope for a narrative always triumphed over experience with reality.

If you see all the world as a stage, and yourself as a theatre reviewer -- as many pundits and political advisers do -- then your attention is focused on the right narrative and attendant dramatic detail, not on analysis of substance and content. Everyone just assumed that WMD existed. The narrative that focused on WMD disabled opponents -- the key proponents could claim secret knowledge that no one could refute -- and it seemed safe: surely something would turn up, which would give the narrative its happy climax.

The aversion to analysis of mechanics did not begin or end with critical examination of the available evidence, or with critical attention to whether a means of delivery existed to go with the invisible but putative WMD. It has continued to this day, in an endless parade of Friedman Units. The Happy Ending is just over the horizon -- ten years over the horizon according to General Casey! -- and the means is a simple matter of pressuring the Iraqis into a "political agreement". That makes lots of sense!

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Aug 14, 2007 9:19:37 PM

I remember fondly the days when the Iraqis had drones capable of delivering WMD to our shores (yet somehow the US only had Predators that could only fly in clear weather with minimal wind and had only recently been fitted to be able to fire one, count'em, one, Hellfire missile at a time).

In the run-up to the invasion, the number of stories about Iraq's incredible weapons cababilities and systems was hilarious for anyone who knew jack about defense weapons. The fact that so many people didn't refute the stories (defense types did, but they were ignored) is a tragic display of a lot of people not stopping for just one second to wonder "is that even possible, I mean, truly possible?"

Crap, there were supposedly terrorist training camps with full-scale Boeing 767s that were used to train for 9/11, there were WMDs, there were drones, there were booby traps, there was the elite Republican Guard, blah blah blah. And all this occurred with the backdrop of over a decade of incredibly oppressive sanctions.

So sad that so many of us get excited about blowing shit up, the only thing we really spend any mental energy on is justifying blowing it up, and any reason that plays well is good enough.

Posted by: abject funk | Aug 14, 2007 9:58:34 PM

The reason that's important in retrospect is that Saddam's direct threat to America was the central case made by the Bush administration, and the fact that this rationale was completely non-credible was utterly dismissed by the hawks. The policy was evaluated in a vacuum, rather than in the words and emphases of those who would be carrying it out.

I still don't see why this point about WMD should have affected the views of the liberal hawks. They dismissed the WMD threat, as well they should have, but they still could see that Bush was serious about getting rid of Hussein and setting up a better government, which is what they wanted.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 14, 2007 11:00:25 PM

sanpete: ". . . they still could see that Bush was serious about getting rid of Hussein and setting up a better government, which is what they wanted."

I think you are right that the liberal hawks, centrally wanted the liberal transformation. I think Bush let them convince themselves that that was his aim, thus cementing their support.

I'd like to know what evidence you might have that Bush was "serious . . . about setting up a better government".

My own, as yet unrefuted hypothesis, is that Bush/Cheney wanted an Iraqi state weak enough to acquiesce in a permanent American military presence and American domination of the Iraqi oil industry. And, as things turned out, an Iraqi state that weak could not hold the country together. The Reconstruction was not a means to a desired end, and so could be sacrificed to patronage and corruption.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Aug 15, 2007 1:16:20 AM

Bruce, I agree that the Administration originally had in mind to have permanent US bases in Iraq, but I don't think they thought that would require a weak government there, only a friendly one. They thought that would be a given, after the gift of freedom, and with someone like Chalabi running things. They thought it was important that Iraq's government work, since the overall plan was that a successful liberal government in Iraq would create a desire among the populations of other countries in the region to have the same. The combination of military presence in Iraq and the attractiveness of Iraq as a model was supposed to help shift the entire region our way. This, at least, was what the neocons with connections to the Administration were pushing for, even before September 11th. And some of the liberal hawks thought that was a great idea.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 15, 2007 1:48:58 AM

Sanpete,

Your analysis sounds plausible as to the rationales involved, and it doesn't appear to me that you personally subscribe to that thinking.

At least I hope not, because that thinking has myriad problems, problems which any reality-based *liberal* should have noticed in about five seconds. Among these are:

1. The idea that there is such a thing as "freedom" or "a successful liberal government" with Chalabi installed from afar by a distrusted power.

2. The belief that any government with the consent of the governed, indeed any "liberal government" in Iraq would agree to permanent military installations of the above-mentioned foreign power.

3. That either the presence of an imposed government led by a loyal exile or a government that permitted foreign military bases would be things that other populations in the region would aspire to or even view favorably at all.

4. The more general fantasy that Democracy can be installed from without, rather than emerging organically from within. This is even more so in a nation like Iraq with many different factions who had shown, specifically contra William Kristol's blinkered analysis, an inability to co-exist without the strong arm of a dictator.

5. Moreover, there is still the moral question of whether such an intervention can be justified.

On this last one, I'm reminded of a passage from a book by Michael Walzer, in which he writes, paraphrasing Mill:

"We are to treat states as self-determining communities, whether or not their internal political arrangements are free, whether or not the citizens choose their own government and openly debate the policies carried out in their name. For self-determination and political freedom are not equivalent terms. The first is the more inclusive idea; it describes not only a particular institutional arrangement - or does not. A state is self-determining even if its citizens struggle and fail to establish free institutions, but it has been deprived of self-determination if such institutions are established by an intrusive neighbor."

As harsh as it sounds, the Iraqis had thus far chosen to live under Saddam's brutality (except when exhorted otherwise by GHW Bush post GW I), unlike the Romanians under Ceaucescu, the Indonesians under Sukarno or the Iranians under Palavi. If they had been in the process of revolting against Hussein, the dynamics might be different.

There is also the law of unintended consequences which said "liberal hawks" ignored, and which Walzer also alludes to:

"A state contemplating intervention or counter-intervention will for prudential reasons weigh the dangers to itself, but it must also, AND FOR MORAL REASONS, weigh the dangers its action will impose on the people it is designed to benefit and on all other people who may be affected. An intervention is not just if it subjects third parties to terrible risks: the subjection cancels the justice."

Also, there are certainly exceptions to #2 and #3, such as Cold War European nations and post-war South Korea. In the first case, governments with legitimacy accepted, sometimes with significant reservations among the populace, military bases as a counterbalance to the Soviet barrell pointing at them from the East. In the case of S. Korea, that acceptance still obtains, albeit with occasional strains, in the face of the threat from the North.

Posted by: Lewis Carroll | Aug 15, 2007 2:56:08 PM

it doesn't appear to me that you personally subscribe to that thinking

That's right. I thought the whole thing was harebrained and immoral, partly for reasons you give. I don't know about the Iraqis under Saddam being self-determining, as I think for most of them he was imposed and maintained in power against their will--rebelling would have been suicidal. Not that this would justify an invasion. The other point from Walzer, about weighing the possible risks to those supposedly being helped, is very important, and something in which the Administration was extremely negligent in.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 15, 2007 11:32:43 PM

Well I think the point that Mill was making, channeled through Walzer, is that merely NOT rebelling against an oppressive government is a conscious decision that constitutes self-determination. That's why freedom is just a subset of self-determination, as he implies.

You can argue otherwise, but the burden of proof would be on you, since the status quo was that they didn't challenge Hussein meaningfully. Would it have been suicidal? I don't know. There have certainly been cases both ways - the successful overthrows of brutal tyrants I mentioned, as well as the ruthless quashing of attempted insurrections.

That's why Benjamin Franklin said "We must all hang together, or surely we shall all hang separately".

Posted by: Lewis Carroll | Aug 15, 2007 11:53:22 PM

"Self-determination" and "freedom" normally mean the same thing, or close enough, and I don't think it's necessary to try to distinguish them in this context, since lack of self-determination isn't a sufficient reason to invade a country, and self-determination in the sense of a functioning democracy isn't a sufficient reason to not to invade on behalf of a persecuted minority.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 16, 2007 1:39:52 AM

Well, you may think self-determination and freedom normally mean the same thing, but to many they don't. Aside from the salient example of the Iraqis choosing to live with some limited freedom, there have been other cases where people have freely chosen a more restrictive society and/or government.

Remember the elections in Algeria which were called off by the military a few years ago when it was obvious a Sharia-law implementing Islamist party would win the election? What kind of government do you think would be chosen by the people of Saudi Arabia in an open election?

For some societies, restricted freedom, rigidly enforced, is the product of self-determination. So self-determination and freedom may be synonymous in our society, but that's not true throughout the world.

Posted by: Lewis Carroll | Aug 16, 2007 10:47:26 AM

I have no objection to calling freely self-imposed restrictions self-determined, especially where those restrictions are still favored afterwards and can be removed if desired. I think it's too broad to call conditions not freely chosen that one can only resist at risk to one's life self-determined. When someone points a gun in my face and demands money, there's not much point in most contexts in regarding my choice as a free or self-determined one because it would be irrational to resist.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 16, 2007 12:11:07 PM

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