Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why did they get it right?*

Jim Henley explains why it was blindingly obvious that the Iraq war was a bad idea from the start:
You didn’t have to be all that bright to oppose the Iraq War in advance. Heck, polls suggest that most Americans were dubious about the idea until the war became obviously inevitable. Real enthusiasm was confined to the elite media, the bipartisan defense-policy establishment and a bunch of Republican quasi-intellectuals who had spent ten years casting about for different countries to have a war - any war - with. I mean, for crying out loud, at one point our rulers declared that Saddam Hussein might attack America with remote-controlled model planes. You didn’t have to wait to bounce that one off the folks at your next MENSA meeting to judge its likelihood. Nor did you have to puzzle overlong, if someone tried to put that one by you, how much stock you should put in anything else that came out of their mouths.
Typically, there is a single overriding reason to go to war. We went to war in Afghanistan because Al Qaeda had destroyed the World Trade Center and they were effectively the military arm of the Taliban. Everybody understood that and Americans overwhelmingly supported the decision to attack Afghanistan because of it. Freeing afghani women from oppression, bringing democracy to the country, ending their own brutal decades long civil war - those were all incidental to the cause and nobody argued they were casus belli in themselves.

On the other hand, we were given dozens of reasons to go to war against Iraq, some of them contradictory, some of them silly and some of them patently false. And when you know for a fact that any of the arguments for war are absurd, you don't need access to secret intelligence to realize that the rest of them are probably bogus too.

Of course, it wasn't easy to hear voices speaking against the Iraq war in 2002. Here's the Washington Post (in 2006), illustrating why.

The day after the House vote, The Washington Post recorded that 126 House Democrats voted against the final resolution. None was quoted giving a reason for his or her vote except for Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.), who said a military briefing had disclosed that U.S. soldiers did not have adequate protection against biological weapons.

"As a veteran, that's what hit me the hardest," he said.

Lee was described as giving a "fiery denunciation" of the administration's "rush to war," with only 14 colleagues in the House chamber to hear her. None of the reasons she gave to justify her concerns, nor those voiced by other Democratic opponents, was reported in the two Post stories about passage of the resolution that day.

So to acknowledge some of those who got it right from the start:

Scott Ritter (July 20, 2002):
I bear personal witness through seven years as a chief weapons inspector in Iraq for the United Nations to both the scope of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs and the effectiveness of the UN weapons inspectors in ultimately eliminating them.

While we were never able to provide 100 percent certainty regarding the disposition of Iraq's proscribed weaponry, we did ascertain a 90-95 percent level of verified disarmament. This figure takes into account the destruction or dismantling of every major factory associated with prohibited weapons manufacture, all significant items of production equipment, and the majority of the weapons and agent produced by Iraq.

In direct contrast to these findings, the Bush administration provides only speculation, failing to detail any factually based information to bolster its claims concerning Iraq's continued possession of or ongoing efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. To date no one has held the Bush administration accountable for its unwillingness - or inability - to provide such evidence.

Al Gore (Sept 23, 2002)

I am deeply concerned that the policy we are presently following with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.

The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized. I do not believe that we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than predicted. Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another.
Russ Feingold (Sept 25, 2002):
I remain extremely troubled by the Administration's shifting justifications for going to war in Iraq. I remain skeptical about the need to take unilateral action now and to accept all of the associated costs of that decision. I remain unconvinced that the Administration has thought through the potential costs and challenges of post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, or even thought through how to address the issue of weapons of mass destruction once an engagement begins.
Shibley Telhami (Oct 7,2002):
One of the most appealing thoughts about a possible war with Iraq is that it could help spread democracy, transforming a rotten political order in the Middle East. But more likely, such a war would render the Middle East more repressive and unstable than it is today. Democracy cannot be imposed through military force, even if force is used successfully to oust antidemocratic dictators. And our vital aims in fighting terrorism, securing oil supplies and protecting the lives of American soldiers will, in the context of the Middle East, almost certainly ensure that the spread of democracy will again take a back seat to our national priorities.
Nancy Pelosi (Oct 10, 2002):
There is no political solution on the ground in Iraq. Let us not be fooled by that. So when we go in the occupation, which is now being called the liberation, could be interminable and the amount of money it costs could be unlimited - $100 -$200 billion, we can only guess.
Barack Obama (Nov. 25, 2002):

If (the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam) has happened, what the debate's really going to be about is; what's our long term commitment there? How much is it going to cost? What does it mean for us to rebuild Iraq? How do we stabilize and make sure that this country doesn't splinter into factions between the Shias and the Kurds and the Sunnis?

What I would have been concerned about was a carte blanche to the administration for a doctrine of pre-emptive strikes that I'm not sure sets a good precedent.

David Obey (Dec. 12, 2002):
The decision to prepare for military action against Iraq forces us to make difficult choices about the use of our assets, choices that further complicate our offensive against al Qaeda. Good military strategists and planners, for instance, are always in short supply, and when we do two things at once, they are very badly stretched. Our capacity to observe and listen for enemy activity through the skies and over the airways is finite. Our skilled Arabic translators are extremely limited in number. We have shortages in a number of specific types of equipment that are needed in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In short, our growing focus on Iraq will unquestionably degrade our efforts against al Qaeda and even official sources are already acknowledging those efforts are faltering. And if you doubt that one has an impact on the other, I invite you to talk to some of the people deep in the agencies who I've talked to.
*in response to Slate's series of a similar title

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