Tuesday, December 05, 2006


What We Knew and When We Knew It.

As I listened to the Robert Gates Senate confirmation hearings this morning, I was struck by how strange it to hear someone supposedly close to Bush telling the truth. I didn't listen to the whole hearing, nor do I doubt that he occasionally polished some apples ( Iran Contra ). But he did say, in direct contradiction to Bush, that we are losing the war. He said our current efforts suck (my word). He denied that Iraq was the central front on terror (he called it one of many--a fact that has become true since the invasion). He wouldn't even confirm that invading in the first place was a good call. If he were running as a Democrat for Congress in Ohio's Second, Bush would call him a traitorous liar ratfink chickenshit. But, alas for the man whose confectionary reality once lured Americans away from actual reality, now he must appoint traitors like Gates to the Department of Defense.

I wonder if in thirty years we'll still be debating Iraq the way we continue to debate Vietnam now. (In 2004, a decorated Vietnam vet lost that debate and the White House.) The debate now is "could we have known then what we know now?" Possibly we will move toward a national consensus on the question--no. It pacifies those who weren't paying attention and who now feel complicit. If we couldn't have known, who can now be blamed for the catastrophe. Tens of thousands dead, hudreds of thousands wounded, but it's a blameless war. We struck a similar bargain after the Indian wars and now we venerate Andy Jackson on our $20 bill.

All well and good, except that it's not true. In the months before becoming a blogger, I wrote a document I tried to pawn off on friends and relatives that pretty much got everything right. I was not a genius of war planning with special insight; just someone relatively familiar with the region and history and not blinded by the neocon dogma. After hearing Gates, I went and looked at that document (linked to the right of this post). Periodically, I go back and look at that to see how close I got things. Keep in mind that Bush and his brain trust at the Weekly Standard got it all wrong: no WDM, no joy from the population, no democracy, no peace, no oil, no regional stability, no new markets for American companies.

I broke things down into three categories on which Bush had based his invasion plan--strategic, legal, and moral--and rebutted them. Here are sections from I wrote:
Strategic Rebuttal
Bush implicitly offered a number of assumptions I identified and disputed.

Hussein can be killed.Will the Iraqis support the invading forces? Not a shred of evidence has been offered to support this. Instead, we have a society twice oppressed—first by their leader, and second by unwanted US intervention which has left the country impoverished for the past dozen years.

Invading Iraq Will Stabilize the Middle East. In fact, there is almost no scenario one can imagine in which an invasion of Iraq does anything but further destabilize the region.

Iraq, which Bush declares is in possession of WDM, will not use them during a US invasion. Err, okay.

World Opinion is Irrelevant. While world opinion would not translate into any kind of overt action, it is clear that continued US “interventions” are dependent on soft support, at a minimum. Wave bye-bye to all that, particularly in Muslim countries.
I argued that getting Hussein would be difficult and while it was, it turned out to be far easier than I expected. So I was off on that one. Three out of four ain't bad.
Legal Rebuttal
But in the case of Iraq, there [hasn't been] a shred of evidence that any of Iraq’s activities—tyrannical though they might be—could be considered to present a threat to the US or its interests.They might be called terrorism, but so far, Hussein had only employed them against his own people.No one has ever made the connection between Iraq and global terrorism.
This is one of the areas in which we're most quick to cling to the gray areas about what the intelligence said, but if that's the case, how did a pre-blogger in Oregon know there was no serious argument to be made? (Oh, and then there were all the other countries who opposed this at the UN. We forget about them, too. Poor, doddering old Europeans.)
Moral Rebuttal
No one has mentioned that attacking a sovereign nation—however corrupt the leader—leads to many deaths. Dubya has mentioned frequently his compassion for the Iraqi people. He cites it as one of his principal motives for wishing to attack—“Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause and a great strategic goal.” One even imagines that he’s sincere.... In prioritizing invasion above non-militaristic approaches, he’s made a clear distinction: American lives are more important than Iraqi lives. Most US citizens would agree with him, but the rub is that Americans aren’t at risk. For the Iraqis it’s damned by the hand of Hussein or damned by the hand of Bush—does anyone think they find Bush’s platitudes just compensation for their lives?
The most passionate argument was also the most arrogant. In placing themselves inside great narratives of liberation--Bush as Washington, Rummy as MacArthur, Wolfowitz as Paine--the neocons forgot the Iraqis. They offered Iraq the shining democracy of their own fantasies in exchange for Iraqi blood. It is not surprising that the neocons were mostly lifelong civilians--for them it was a wonderful way to play hero with no actual risk. The shushed us with their florid talk of freedom (with fingers tipped in ink), believing the argument beyond moral reproach. At the dawn of the fourth year of the war, is it still so moral?

Finally, I offered this observation about what might happen if we did invade, thinking further ahead than anyone in the White House or, apparently, Pentagon:
Sixty percent of Iraq is comprised of Shi’ites who have never held power in the country. Kurds comprise another 19%, and have, of course, never held power. The ruling Baath Party represents a Sunni minority of just 17% of the population. Hussein’s regime gained and maintains control through intense violence, which has left the country seething. If the warlords of Afghanistan are proving more difficult to manage than the American military predicted, how will the US or even the UN manage a post-Hussein Iraq? It is guaranteed to be a mess....

If the US invades Iraq—either with or without world support—there will arise situations we don’t currently envision.... Obvious other issues, such as the place Baghdad holds in the Muslim world, the Israeli conflict, tensions in Saudi Arabia, the Musharraf government’s stability, effects on terrorist support—all these Bush has ignored.
It's nice that some truths are getting told in Washington. But not nearly enough. Anyone paying attention knew this invasion was an illegal catastrophe waiting to happen. Sweeping that foreknowledge under the rug would be yet one more in a long line of casualties of this war.


A little bird said...

Sometimes it sucks to be right, no? :) Good call. I regret ever thinking the Bush administration might know something I didn't about why this was a "good idea." I kept thinking, "Hey, Tony Blair is onboard, surely there's something to this." Wishful thinking on my part. I'll always regret it.

Anonymous said...

Stupid publishers. All this could have been avoided if they'd only listened.
One of your best blogs to date...