Thank you, sir.

A question was asked over at BFD and I have the time (just began my vacation!) and the inclination to answer it…more fully than in my driveby comment. Question is: “Oh Critics of the war in Iraq, where are you now?”

Right here, Jonathan. All over the place. Just because there is a purple finger syndrome doesn’t mean we’re all Joe Lieberman now. You can count me as a critic of the war who did not evaporate after a seemingly successful Iraqi election. The first criticism I have is that we should not have invaded in the first place. I won’t rehash the plethora of evidence, but it has been handily proven that the original justifications for invading were not valid.

I really don’t remember the POTUS standing up and saying, “We need to invade Iraq because their people deserve democracy and we also need a base of operation in this critical area of the world. ” I’m sure that speech would not have gone over quite as well as the fear mongering mushroom cloud ones we all heard pre-invasion.

I bet you and others are very glad when there is a shift of focus on how we got there. That argument does not suit you quite as well as a focus on purple fingers. I could not be more direct or vitrolic than Russo when he says: “take your purple finger and shove it up your you know what.”

Do I hope for a better Iraq? You bet I do. I just realize our continued occupation and “enduring bases” in the country will not help. Don’t kid yourself that Iraqis don’t want us out – they want us and the terrorists we brought both out!

Understand the bait and switch game that has been played. The worry is (at least for me) that an administration can (and did) have ulterior motives, sell us a line of bull to get us behind going to war, and then conveniently switch the discussion to some universally accepted concept like “freedom” or “democracy”. It is wool being pulled firmly over our eyes.

So that’s where I’m at Jonathan. Thanks for asking.

Update: This nugget from among the comments in the BFD thread:

(from Niko) Yet the biggest crime in this war, in any war is not the devastation we all see! It is the fact that it perpetuates the false notion that such ends justify the means and in doing so the dark forces that create such means strip humanity from true hope in resolving its problems through peaceful cooperation.

…uh, damn. Very well put.

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  • Jonathan

    Eric, sorry to have missed this one in the moment last week, but it’s a thoughtful post and I wanted to respond. As I have written, I did not support the invasion of Iraq, so we’re in agreement there. I believe Bush 1 should have finished the job when we had the justification and international support following Sodom Hussein’s brutal invasion and rape of Kuwait. I think he got cold feet when he realized that removing Sodom Hussein would result in chaos, and he lacked the backbone to deal with reconstructing Iraq. I believe Bush 2’s invasion is partly some father-son need to rectify that, but I’m not a psychiatrist or shaman and don’t have any special ability to peer into the soul of other humans, so I’ll leave that belief unexplored. Suffice it to say, I was uncomfortable at the time of the current invasion about the justifications being used to undertake the war; they didn’t “feel” right.

    I believe and have always believed that there is always a moral justification for removing murderous brutal dictators like Sodom Hussein, but also that the U.S. cannot undertake to be the moral police for the entire world. I’m not surprised that, with the benefit of hindsight, we have discovered that some of the justifications for the invasion have not been supported.

    However, I would argue with your premise that “it has been handily proven that the original justifications for invading were not valid,” specifically your use of “handily proven” and “evidence.” The only evidentiary proceedings of which I am aware were held in the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the findings of that series of hearings were that intelligence was not slanted by political figures, it was just bad intelligence. All of the other information about the justifications for the war (which is what I presume you mean by “evidence”) is not, in fact, evidence, but media reports of various people’s recollections, opinions, and political agendas. Media reports do not meet the test of being “evidence.” I find it to be troubling that accusations made by political opponents of any administration, once reported in the media, somehow become the truth for many people. It is abundantly clear that the media is gullible, easy to manipulate, hasty, and sometimes downright sloppy. So I won’t accept your position here and would ask you to examine if you accept media reports as “evidence.” If your answer is “Yes,” do you accept all media reports with equal credulity, or just those that agree with your own opinions and beliefs? (See how we do that; we accept as truth that with which we agree, and dismiss that which does not comport with our world view.)

    The debate over how we got to Iraq is all good and well, but there we are.We can’t reverse the past. What do we do now? I think we have two choices: withdraw and let the Iraqis murder each other, or stay and work to form the democracy that the Bush team envisions for Iraq. I don’t find either choice to be particularly palatable, but those are the choices we have. I prefer the second outcome, even if the road to it is messy and costly, to the first, which I would consider to be a cowardly and morally reprehensible course of action.

    The democratic process is taking hold in Iraq. Is that bad?

  • Eric

    We may just have to leave it at disagreeing on what is cowardly and morally reprehensible. I find the “we’re there now” argument particularly specious. It allows way too much room for corruption of power and we are witnessing it.

    My entire argument of bait and switch goes untouched by you. If we fall into the “we’re there now” trap, the misleading administration wins. But let’s back up on evidentiary proceedings for a bit. I would ask who the burden of proof falls on in this case. Would you say the plaintiff? Or the defense? Should not proponents of war have to PROVE their case beyond any doubt and the defense merely have to prove a reasonable doubt? If we apply your legal analogy in this case then I think it safe to say there is reasonable doubt cast on the original justifications for war. Even more than reasonable.

    So where does that leave us? The war was wrong and you either do not support it regardless of the related positive effects for democracy in Iraq or you make the mental switch and say it turned out OK afterall. I prefer to not make such a switch and would also point to the fact that democracy in Iraq was never a reason for going to war – nor would have been supported by the majority of the American people.

    My conclusion: Get the fuck out, stop building enduring bases, and fess up to the real reasons for war in Iraq – none of which we were given initially. That bad feeling you got, my man, was that it was WRONG from word go. And you know it. Don’t be the weak willed person that goes along with the shell game. Be the strong one that stands up and says ENOUGH!

    It is morally reprehensible to violate international law, unilaterally and pre-emptively invade a foreign land, sell your country a bill of goods based on fear of the unknown, and then make the switch to something seemingly universally accepted (democracy and freedom).

    We were misled into a war that has been in the works since before the Bush administration. Is that good?

  • Jonathan

    Your argument has internal logic, unlike those of many of the finger pointers. It just leaves us with nothing to do except trying to undo the past–a physical impossibility.

    I don’t necessarily accept your corruption of power argument. There are plenty of checks-and-balances in place; temporary imbalances tend to adjust over time, but the basic structure is robust. The executive has recently exercised some powers that had been dormant or restrained post-Watergate in response to some extraordinary circumstances; the courts and Congress are responding, and so goes the never-ending refinement of separation of powers. Do I agree with everything the executive has done? No. Do I agree with everything Congress has done? No. Do I agree with everything the courts have done? No. I guess that’s what balance looks like. If you want to talk about corruption, though, I think you have to look at the cesspool that Congress has become (or maybe always has been).

    Regarding your “bait and switch” argument, here are a couple of thoughts. I can’t peer into the soul of another human, but if the President really believed his reasons at the time, it wasn’t “bait and switch,” no matter the wisdom that hindsight provides. You may believe you can peer into his soul and discern his motive and that he was “lying,” as so many people insist; I don’t grant myself that wisdom. So, I’m left with the belief that overthrowing a murderous dictator and replacing him with a democracy was a good decision, even if taken for the wrong reasons (though I will grant the President the possibility that the reasons seemed to be good ones at the time and he felt compelled to action based on incomplete information). Now that the wisdom of hindsight has undermined some of the original reasons for war, I don’t object to him later using additional, good reasons to provide better support for the decision. Hindsight operates in both directions. If you’re going to permit it to undermine the original reasons, you can’t dismiss it to bolster the decision.

    Regarding your burden of proof concept, nicely thought out and presented. In situations of international terrorism, however, I don’t know how your test for taking action will ever be met. If absolute proof is required, we either have to never go to war, or wait until we are attacked….Oh, wait, we were attacked! We may have based the response in Iraq on faulty intelligence, but it was a response to the 9/11 attacks and no further attacks have occurred on U.S. soil since.

    By the way, I’m using the legal construct to challenge those who believe the case against the Bush administration has been proven–as you previously claimed. You have reversed the concept to avoid responding to that challenge. I think that, at least in the realm of public opinion, we are in grave danger of returning to something like Roman law, under which an accusation was deemed to be proof of guilt. Is that something you desire?

    Regarding the rightness or wrongness of the war, I think war is always wrong at some level, but is sometimes necessary. More than once when I was growing up, I felt compelled to fight bullies, both on my behalf and on behalf of others who couldn’t or wouldn’t stand up for themselves. I didn’t like fighting and didn’t always win, but I felt compelled to take action because I believe that inaction would only embolden the bullies. I think the inaction of the U.S. following the bombings in Lebanon, Khobar Towers, USS Cole, etc. is analagous: the failure to fight radical Islam at its source has emboldened it and it has gained force over time. This is why we can’t get out of Iraq, no matter how emotionally satisfying it might be to think that we can. If we were to withdraw, we would only be delaying the inevitable confrontation with radical Islam; in futile hopes of returning Islam to a golden period from the past, they want to restore an Islamic caliphate that incorporates the Balkans, Budapest, most of Spain. Stop them now or stop them later, but stop them we must and, I’m afraid, physical confrontation will be necessary to do so.

    I don’t really agree that we violated international law in invading Iraq. I think Clinton’s decision to bomb Serbia was much more legally questionable, though the results there were positive in many ways. For the reasons given above, I’m not willing to conclude that we were misled, though I will accept that it is a(n unproven) possibility.

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