Monday, July 07, 2008

Being serious about Iraq

Over at Pundit Nation, Michael Mathias argues that the "peace activists" were right about Iraq. Before nodding in agreement, I recommend this article by Arthur Herman in Commentary. I read this on my deck the other night over a nice Oregon Pinot Noir and was struck by it's evisceration of the conventional wisdom of the "peace activists." Herman reminds us - but Mathias forgets - that the Iraq Liberation Act making regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States was passed and signed into law in 1998 by President Bill Clinton. In December of 1998, Clinton said the following about Saddam:

Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons. . . . Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference: he has used them. Not once, but repeatedly. . . . I have no doubt today that, left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.

The Act did not call for the use of force - it said that it was not speaking to that - but Clinton used force anyway. Shortly after its passage, he asked all UN inspectors to leave Iraq and then launched Operation Desert Fox - a four day campaign of bombing Iraq.

Mathias argues that Saddam didn't support terrorists - save a little money for the families of Palestinen suicide bombers. Of course, the Clinton administration - not just George W. Bush - identified Saddam as a major state sponsor or terrorism. That's not surprising, because he was:

We now know, thanks to captured Iraqi documents, that American intelligence seriously underestimated the extent of Saddam’s ties with terrorist groups of all sorts. Throughout the 1990’s, it emerged, the Iraqi intelligence service had worked with Hamas, the Palestine Liberation Front, and Yasir Arafat’s private army (Force 17), and had given training to members of Islamic Jihad, the terrorist group that assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Saddam also collaborated with jihadists fighting the American presence in Somalia, including some who were members of al Qaeda. It may be that al Qaeda had no formal presence in Iraq itself, but the captured documents show that it did not need such a presence. Saddam was willing to work with any terrorists who targeted the United States and its allies, and he reached out to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups (and vice-versa) whenever the occasion warranted.

Mathias implies that UN inspectors thought Saddam had no WMDs, but that's not quite right. All they knew is that he was not complying with the inspection regime so they were unable to draw any conclusions.

Again, from Herman's article:

On November 25, 2002, under the terms of 1441, UN inspectors re-entered Iraq. They came back empty-handed. On December 7, Iraq dumped thousands of pages of documents on UNMOVIC. Even Hans Blix recognized that this mountain of materials, some of them over a decade old, contained nothing to clear up the question of what had happened to Saddam’s stockpiles. All the same, Blix asked for time to sift through the document dump, knowing the task would consume months.

As Bob Woodward notes in Plan of Attack, his account of the run-up to the war, Bush so far had been “a study in patience.” (It is also true that General Franks was not yet ready for offensive operations, and needed time for the buildup of American forces in Kuwait that was the leverage behind the implicit threat of force.) The President held back until Blix’s interim report on January 27, 2003, which even the New York Times labeled “grim.” There was nothing in it to suggest that Iraq had accepted the principle of complying with UN resolutions or intended to take any of the steps that, in Blix’s words, “it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace.”


Every intelligence service thought he still had - or was reconsituting his WMD program. While it is possible, in hind sight, to argue that this bit of evidence should have been discounted or that information should have been given more significance, the fact remains that two administrations - one Democrat and one Republican - and a host of international intelligence agencies thought that he was back in the game.

But, in a sense, whether he had WMDs in 2003 may not even be the right question. They were certainly something that he wanted to have and was willing to use. If he had been dissuaded, it was because of a sanctions regime that was on its last legs.

Mathias argues that the "peace activists" opposition to sanctions was based on the fact that they had failed and they had. Saddam was perfectly willing to let Iraqis starve and the UN was perfectly willing to allow him to do so. He could not, as John Kerry argues, be kept in that box. The "peace activists" would have let him out and we can only speculate on what would have happened. His track record doesn't suggest that it would have been good. What Michael doesn't recognize is that part of the justification for the Iraq war was the failure - abetted by the UN and certain of our allies - of sanctions. Even if Saddam was in check in 2003, it seemed unlikely that he could be kept there.

I don't cite Herman's piece as necessarily establishing that the Iraq war was the right decision. I remember, at the time, being very uncertain about whether it was. But it - along with so many other post war reviews - reminds us that the demonization of Bush reflects, at best, a refusal to face difficult facts and, at worst, a cynical manipulation of a complicated issue.

And, of course, the question of whether the Iraq war was the right decision is not the same question as what to do about Iraq now. Obama seems committed to abandoning Iraq because he would not have gone their in the first place and damn the consequences. That doesn't strike me as change we ought to believe in.

19 comments:

Seth Zlotocha said...

Your attempt to tie Clinton to Bush on Iraq policy is pretty weak. Agreeing with the general policy of regime change is one thing, but the key is the actions taken as a result of that belief, and a four-day bombing campaign is hardly comparable to a five-year (and counting) war. There is general agreement on the desired outcome of just about every policy issue -- drug use, crime, unemployment, health care, etc. -- the disagreement almost always pertains to what to do about it. I'm not interested in defending Clinton's decade old actions as the standard bearer of Democratic Party policy moving forward, but, on the issue of what to do about the policy set forth in the Iraq Liberation Act, there's little debating that Clinton and Bush were quite different.

And the connection between Iraq and terrorist groups is also pretty weak. Those terrorist groups were almost entirely secular, as opposed to the radical jihadists the US was fighting in the War on Terror, and they were entirely regional, as opposed to the radical jihadists the US was fighting in the War on Terror. Herman's statement that "Saddam was willing to work with any terrorists who targeted the United States and its allies, and he reached out to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups (and vice-versa) whenever the occasion warranted" is a clever attempt to use the word "willing" and the ambiguous phrase "whenever the occasion warranted" to cover for the scant (and entirely unsuccessful) terrorist attacks on the US that Iraq actually sponsored (and all those were around the time of the Gulf War, and all within the Middle East). What's more, the State Dept. currently lists five (and at the time of the Iraq invasion seven) nations that sponsor terrorism, including Cuba, the Sudan, and North Korea; is the policy going to be to invade all of these nations b/c of that sponsorship? More details on all of this here.

Anonymous said...

Alas, another defense of a needless war five years on. You've conveniently avoided addressing the fact that Saddam's neighbors were no longer vulnerable to an Iraqi invasion. Unless you count Israel. Lobbing cruise missiles might come off as wimpy to the crowd who wants to march on Tehran, but Iraq was incapable of doing much more than brutalizing its own people. And US policy has given a green light to that for many, many years.

Seth Zlotocha said...

And, speaking of being serious about Iraq, "Obama seems committed to abandoning Iraq because he would not have gone their in the first place" is a gross misstatement of reality.

In reality, Obama wants out of Iraq precisely b/c the problems that he predicted going into it have occurred (and that judgment absolutely is an important issue to consider). As he stated in his famous anti-Iraq War speech in '02: "I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda."

The only option for reversing those trends is getting out. And, at least at one point, McCain agreed, explaining in 2005 that he opposed permanent bases in Iraq because "I think one of our big problems has been the fact that many Iraqis resent American military presence." Unfortunately, McCain no longer thinks that's important.

Rick Esenberg said...

Seth

It's not really possible to say what Clinton would have done post 9-11. It's almost certain that he would have abandoned the law enforcement approach that he took to terrorism. It undoubtedly would have - as it did for Bush - change how uncertainty about terrorist threats were regarded. That may have influenced decisionmaking on Iraq.

My point - and Herman's - is that the claims that Bush made about Iraq and the need for regime change were not not new to him. I think reasonable people can differ on whether Iraq was a good idea. But I don't think its reasonable to accuse the President of the United States of lying, etc.

gnarlytrombone said...

claims that Bush made about Iraq and the need for regime change were not not new to him

Indeed.

It's a curious line of argument: "Clinton and Bush both argued ethanol subsidies were a critical component of 'energy security.' How dare you call it a boondoggle!"

Seth Zlotocha said...

It's almost certain that he would have abandoned the law enforcement approach that he took to terrorism.

Part of my point, Rick, is that not all terrorism is the same. The terrorists that changed the ballgame after Sept. 11 -- i.e., radical jihadists -- are not the same as the terrorists who were sponsored by Iraq under Hussein. I think Clinton (and Gore) would've recognized that.

But I don't think its reasonable to accuse the President of the United States of lying, etc.

Except that whether Bush lied is a separate question than whether he was the first to propose the goal of regime change. No one said he lied about that being a goal (although it was, in many ways, a secondary justification to WMDs); what people say he lied about (and I think there's at least a strong case to be made for deception on his part) is the justification for going to war as a means for regime change.

joe stalin said...

Don't worry Seth, our troops will keep you safe. You are corrct Bush and Clinton are quite different. Clinton was busy getting his knob slobbed. America paid for his inattention to threats.
Have a nice day.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Don't worry Seth, our troops will keep you safe.

I'm not worried about that. I think the troops, on the whole, have done an amazing job at every turn in this war; I have never doubted the effectiveness, dedication, or honor of our military. The issue I have is with the policymakers in the Bush administration. And, as it happens, plenty of troops agree with me.

Dad29 said...

The terrorists that changed the ballgame after Sept. 11 -- i.e., radical jihadists -- are not the same as the terrorists who were sponsored by Iraq under Hussein.

You know this with moral certainty, Seth?

Further, your conclusion does not necessarily follow. You state:

I think Clinton (and Gore) would've recognized that.

All one needs to do to recognize the flaw in that assertion is to review the proximate cause of WWI.

Recall that Clinton/Gore were advised by (largely) the very same CIA/NSA bureaucrats which served Bush/Cheney. Even forgetting US intel, the world's opinion of SH was not too rosy.

Methinks you speculate a bridge too far.

krshorewood said...

In the words of John McEnroe, "you can't be serious."

You can trot out all of those fine folks who maintained that Saddam had WMD but there is one significant difference -- Bush invaded the place.

The timing is what makes this adventure very suspicious. The US was heading into a mid term election in 2002, and like all midterms the GOP was going to be looking at a loss of some seats in Congress, especially with the slowing economy and Bush's intimate connection with Kenny Boy and the Enron scandal.

So what better than the threat of an invasion of Iraq to say to people, don't look over here, look at this mushroom cloud.

After all, it was Andy Card who said ""From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

As far as the possibility of Clinton going to war a post 9/11 world, I even doubt if the attack would have been launched in the first place.

It was the incompetents in the Bush administration who ignored the warnings running up to that fateful date. They wanted to continue a cold war tactic because hell, with all those hungry mouths to feed among our contractor friends we need those conventional weapons.

Besides Rick, if the surge is working and al Maliki pressing for a time table, isn't it time for us to plan an exit. Or do we have some oil contracts on our minds?

Seth Zlotocha said...

You know this with moral certainty, Seth?

I left a link to the Council on Foreign Relations above as evidence, Dad29. Here it is again if you want to check it out.

Recall that Clinton/Gore were advised by (largely) the very same CIA/NSA bureaucrats which served Bush/Cheney.

This is where the deception that I wrote about comes into play. You can blame the grunts, as the White House has gladly (and conveniently) done, but color me skeptical.

Even forgetting US intel, the world's opinion of SH was not too rosy.

As I said before, wanting someone out of power and waging a preemptive war using faulty justifications are two very different things.

Anonymous said...

FYI -

Subject: Fw: Just the facts - From Congressional Report

Interesting reading and info –


The source for the data is a report prepared for Congress, link at the
bottom. Please take time to read the email and the source document.

Military Losses, 1980 thru 2007


Whatever your politics, however you lean, and however you feel about the
current administration, this report should open some eyes. Military losses,
from 1980 through 2007. The annual fatalities of military members while actively

serving in the armed forces from 1980 through 2006 - by any cause…as

tragic as the loss of any member of the US Armed Forces is, consider the

following statistics:

1980 .......... 2,392 ( Carter Year )
1981 .......... 2,380 ( Reagan Year)
1984 .......... 1,999 ( Reagan Year)
1988 .......... 1,819 ( Reagan Year)
1989 .......... 1,636 ( George H W Year )
1990 .......... 1,508 ( George H W Year )
1991 .......... 1,787 ( George H W Year )
1992 .......... 1,293 ( George H W Year )
1993 .......... 1,213 ( Clinton Year)
1994 .......... 1,075 ( Clinton Year)
1995 .......... 2,465 ( Clinton Year)
1996 .......... 2,318 ( Clinton Year)
1997 .......... 817 ( Clinton Year)
1998 .......... 2,252 ( Clinton Year)
1999 .......... 1,984 ( Clinton Year)
2000 ...........1,983 ( Clinton Year)
2001 ............. 890( George W Year )
2002 .......... 1,007 ( George W Year )
2003 .......... 1,410 ( George W Year )
2004 .......... 1,887 ( George W Year )
2005 ............. 919 ( George W Year )
2006.............. 920 ( George W Year )
2007............. 899 ( George W Year )


Clinton years (1993-2000): 14,107 deaths
George W years (2001-2007): 7,932 deaths

If you are surprised when you look at these figures, so was I. These
figures mean that the loss from the two latest conflicts in the Middle East
re: LESS than the loss of military personnel during Bill Clinton's presidency; when

America wasn't even involved in a war! (Unless you include Bosnia or the disgrace

of Mogadishu, Somalia when Clinton failed to respond to terrorists; Remember

“Blackhawk Down"?)

And, I was even more shocked when I read that in 1980, during the reign
of President (Nobel Peace Prize winner) Jimmy Carter, there were 2,392 US
military fatalities! From what? How? I think that these figures indicate that

many members of our Media and our politicians will pick and choose the

information on which they report. Of course we all know that they present

only those 'facts' which support their agenda-driven reporting.



But why do so many of them march in lock-step to twist the truth?

Where do so many of them get their agenda? Obviously there is one

shared agenda. Could it be from the most powerful Democratic family of the decade?

Do you want further proof? Consider the latest census of Americans. It
shows the following FACTS about the distribution of American citizens,
by race:

European descent ...........................69.12%
Hispanic......................................12.5%
Black .................... ........................12.3%
Asian............................................ 3.7%
Native American............................1.0%
Other.............................................2.6%

Many media lead us to feel the military death ratio is off balanced
compared to the distribution by race in America . Here are the fatalities by

RACE over the past three years in Iraqi Freedom. Do the comparison yourself.

European descent (white) ............74.31%
Hispanic....................................10.74%
Black ......................................... 9.67%
Asian........................................ 1.81%
Native American....................... 1.09%
Other........................................ 0.33%

I was surprised again. Our mainstream media continues to spin these figures

(for political gain)…Nothing more. It's all about politics.

I hope that during the time between now and November, intelligent
Americans can decipher: the facts from the spin, the spinners from the leaders,

those who seek even more power from those that seek justice, and the dividers

from the ‘uniters’.

Over the next months let's be good listeners and see and hear who tries to
divide our nation; and who wants to unite our nation. Who wants to control how

our money is spent and who wants our money spent the way we would spend it.

Who seeks power and who seeks justice? Who spins the facts and who is genuine.

(These statistics are published by Congressional Research Service, and
they may be confirmed by anyone at: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32492.pdf)

"History does not entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid."

Dwight D. Eisenhower



http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32492.pdf

Seth Zlotocha said...

You should really check the facts cited in those email forwards, Anon.

Page 10 on the very document that the email claims is its source -- the one it says anyone can check for confirmation -- lists "US Active Duty Military Deaths, 1980 Through 2006, Total Military Personnel," which is the only table in the document that matches up with the list included in the email.

Unfortunately for the original author of the email, the numbers in the email list and the source list don't match up -- and it's not even close.

Below are the actual numbers from the source list, and for easy comparison I put the numbers from the email list in parentheses:

1993 - 1,213 (1,213)
1994 - 1,075 (1,075)
1995 - 1,040 (2,465)
1996 - 974 (2,318)
1997 - 817 (817)
1998 - 827 (2,252)
1999 - 796 (1,984)
2000 - 758 (1,983)
Clinton Total - 7,500 (14,107)

2001 - 891 (890)
2002 - 999 (1,007)
2003 - 1,410 (1,410)
2004 - 1,873 (1,887)
2005 - 1,941 (919)
2006 - 1,875 (920)
(No info is given for anything past '06, so I'm not sure where the email author is getting the numbers listed for '07).
Bush Total - 8,989 (7,033)

So there have already been nearly 1,500 more military deaths under Bush than Clinton without even including the last two years of the Bush administration; and that gap would triple if you project out into '07 and '08 simply using Bush's annual average of 1,498.

The email forward counts on recipients already susceptible to believing the information it presents not actually checking up on it, even going so far as to giving you the document that debunks that info and claiming it as a source. It's as amazingly brash as it is sad that it actually works.

Snopes has more here.

Anonymous said...

Seth -

I've tried to access the website only to find access forbidden.

It would appear from this that you are relying on snopes as you are criticizing others for relying on the email.

I also noticed that you didn't argue the death rate among different races. Is this because snopes didn't have anything on this?

Even using your figures it appears that exaggeration by the left is a big issue.

By the way Seth, how does it feel to see your guy Obama self destructing?

Seth Zlotocha said...

I've tried to access the website only to find access forbidden.

I'm not sure why this link isn't working for you. It is a pdf file, so maybe that's causing a problem. Here it is in HTML format, in case that helps; otherwise, you can just type "American War and Military Operations Casualties" into a search engine and it'll come up.

It would appear from this that you are relying on snopes as you are criticizing others for relying on the email.

No, I got my numbers directly from the source document. You'll see that for yourself when you get the document opened. I only checked Snopes afterwards to see if they caught it, which they did.

Nice attempt to cover the fact that you got completely snowed, though.

I also noticed that you didn't argue the death rate among different races. Is this because snopes didn't have anything on this?

No, I just saw it as a non sequitur. I don't really see the racial make-up of people killed while actively serving in the military as a big issue on the Dem left (as opposed to the Green Party or Nader left). Do you have evidence to the contrary? Did any of the presidential contenders for the Dem nomination ever mention anything about it? That would be a pretty decent sign about the issue's importance in Dem circles.

Even using your figures it appears that exaggeration by the left is a big issue.

Huh? Are you saying the left is making too big a deal out of military deaths due to the Iraq War b/c only 1500 more military deaths had occurred under Bush by '06 than during the entire Clinton administration?

Besides, I'm not the one that brought military deaths in relation to who's in the White House into this conversation -- that was you.

By the way Seth, how does it feel to see your guy Obama self destructing?

What polls are you following?

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