Pro-War responses to Orin Kerr
Orin Kerr from the Volokh Conspiracy asks questions of bloggers who were advocates of the war in Iraq. I wasn't a blogger at the time, but I've been meaning to start a blog after my wedding on the 9th of Oct. and finishing law school applications.
And if I waited that long, I'd miss a great chance to be part of the discussion on what is, to my mind, the most important issue of the day. I’m a bit embarrassed about the lack of even a basic blogroll, and the fact that I don’t have trackbacks set up yet, but I guess I’ll just have to grin and beg forgiveness from the blogosphere ;-)
Orin asks 3 questions of pro-war bloggers, which I'll paraphrase as:
- Given you supported the war initially, how do you feel about it today?
- What do you think about the recent spate of bad news?
- Going forward, how should we define and measure success?
Since I don't have a pre-war record available, you'll just have to take it on faith that I was (and am) basically hawkish. My support for the invasion of Iraq was predicated on three things (in order of importance).
First, I believed that it was imperative to prevent Saddam from acquiring nuclear weapons. I was always less worried about him passing those weapons on to terrorists than I was about what a nuclear armed Saddam would mean for the Middle East. A nuclear Iraq under Saddam Hussein would have been able to invade Kuwait, northern Saudi Arabia (i.e. where the oil is) and southwestern Iran (again, where the oil is) with little fear of retaliation from the US or the rest of the world. That would give Saddam direct control of something like 20%of the world's oil production capacity and a huge chunk of the world’s known reserves. Given that the world economy (and the American economy in particular) runs on oil, giving Saddam that big a lever was not an acceptable option.
Second, I believe that Saddam’s regime was a neo-Stalinist dictatorship that had no place in the modern world. Saddam Hussein, his sons, and his goons gassed his own citizens, decapitated husbands in front of their wives, raped wives and daughters in front of their husbands and fathers, brutally tortured people on a whim, and terrorized hundreds of thousands of people. The regime re-sold baby food bought under the oil-for-food program to other countries and used pictures of the children he starved as propaganda. Saddam was a dominant figure in the current pantheon of dictators previously populated with the likes of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Kim Jong II, Slobodan Milosvic and the current leadership in Khartoum. He was evil, and I felt that removing him from power was a moral good.
Finally, I thought that the idea of building a pluralistic, democratic Iraq was a good strategic move in the long-term effort against fanatic Islamic terrorism.
So, with those positions laid out, here are my responses to Orin’s questions:
Would I support the invasion of Iraq today?
Knowing what I know today, I would still support the invasion of Iraq. That’s not to say that I support all of the decisions that the administration has made, or that what we’ve got now is anything like a “best case” scenario—far from it—but I don’t believe that the absence of WMD has invalidated the case for removing Saddam from power.
Whether or not he possessed an active nuclear program, Saddam had demonstrated a long-term desire to acquire atomic weapons. The sanctions had become politically untenable, and given his successful corruption of the Oil-for-Food program, it was only a matter of time before the attention of the world was elsewhere and he would use his ill-gotten gains to quietly start reconstituting his WMD programs.
An argument can be made that we could have dealt with him once he actually did restart those programs, but given the poor quality of intelligence we had about Iraqi weapons programs, I wouldn’t have been comfortable waiting until we knew that Saddam was trying to build nukes. Additionally, even if we had high-quality intelligence, we can see how well the “wait and deter” strategy is playing out at this very moment in Iran.
So, based on my first rationale for the war in Iraq—preventing a nuclear Iraq from gaining regional dominance, and hence a scary and disproportionate influence on the global economy—the invasion has been successful.
As for the moral calculus based on the good of ending Saddam's regime vs. the casualties and damage caused, I believe that we’re ahead. Final success on this count will depend on the long-term Iraqi government being better than Iraq’s Ba’ath party, and whether Iraq more resembles Turkey or Syria. But to date, even if we used the obviously biased estimate of15,000Iraqi civilian casualties, that is many fewer than would have been killed had Iraq spent the last year-and-a-half under Saddam. And I don't think any reasonable observer would assert that Iraqis are less free now than they were.
Iraq’s place in the War on Terror is much harder to judge, given how things are going right now. I continue to hope that 1-5 years from now, Iraq will be firmly on the path to modernity, but right now, it’s far from clear that will be the case.
How do I feel about the recent news in Iraq?
Obviously, I’m not at all pleased with what is going on right now in Iraq. Despite some good news, it doesn’t seem like things are improving in Iraq, and quite possibly getting worse. I don’t really trust the MSM to provide an accurate picture of what’s happening, but I have the feeling that if things were really good, we’d mostly be hearing stories about how bad the economy is under Bush. There’s a reason that the MSM and the Kerry campaign are harping on Iraq, and that’s because it’s where they believe the news is worst. Given their ability sniff out bad news, if they can’t find anything worse than Iraq, things probably aren’t going well there.
I think that a substantial proportion of this bad news is owed to poor planning and mismanagement by the administration. They didn’t think much past the “Hulk Smash” stage of the invasion, and we’re reaping what’s been sown.
I’m also extraordinarily disappointed with Bush’s reluctance to communicate directly with the American people about Iraq. We’re not dummies, we knew that this war would be difficult and that there would be casualties. But we want more than platitudes about “staying the course.” Staying the course is great when you’re winning. When you’re losing, doing the same things that got you behind in the first place is a really bad idea.
I want Bush to do more than say he “trust[s] the American people," I want him to demonstrate his trust and level with us about how things are going. If there’s a set-back, I want him to tell us what happened, what it means, what we’re doing about it, and how we’re going to try and prevent it from happening again. That, so far, he hasn’t done.
How can we define and measure progress?
As to what metrics we can use to know whether or not we’re winning or losing in Iraq, it’s really hard to say. Since my primary reason for invading Iraq was fulfilled when Saddam was captured, I want to be able to measure how the government in Baghdad compares to Saddam, and how likely Iraq is to help in the War on Terror.
For both of these, it will be fairly clear in the long term whether we’ve won or lost. If Iraqi society remains relatively open, doesn’t tolerate terrorists in it’s midst, and begins to modernize, our actions will have been successful and ultimately helpful. If the central government turns out to be oppressive and corrupt, or if Iraq collapses into civil war and becomes a breeding ground for terrorists, then we’ve clearly lost.
Whether or not Iraq able to hold elections in January, and to what degree they are viewed as free and fair will be good indicators which of these two situations we’re closer to.
Continued participation in the Iraqi economy is another potential indicator of success. If there are opportunities for people and they are taking them, it pushes Iraq towards modernity. A growing economy also provides jobs, which drains the pool of people willing to plant IDEs for a couple hundred bucks.
The successful disbursement of reconstruction aid and the completion of infrastructure projects are also potential metrics. If aid is being successfully given out, and infrastructure rebuilt, it demonstrates that the insurgency isn’t preventing Iraq from moving forward.
The efficacy of the new Iraqi army and the police who have recently been trained are also critical ingredients to avoiding a collapse into chaos.
What I don’t think are good measures are US casualties, Iraqi civilian casualties caused by coalition forces, insurgent casualties, or number of violent attacks on coalition forces. These all have some effect on the final outcome, but while declining casualties probably means that things are going well, increasing casualties doesn’t necessarily mean that things are getting worse. This will be particularly true when we try to clear out Fallujah. Unfortunately, the casualties are more readily countable, and, in the absence of battles where MSM can report a clear win/loss, they're what we end up using to judge the direction of the war in Iraq.