A different pro-war argument

Kevin Drum says thinking about the war in Iraq: that there was a perfectly sensible case for war, and wonder why the Bush administration didn’t use it:

  • We can’t keep up sanctions forever, and they’re hurting the Iraqi people anyway.
  • Saddam’s past history is pretty unambiguous, and if we lift sanctions there’s not much doubt that he will begin developing WMDs again and might very well use them in a regional war.
  • Therefore, the only reasonable course of action is to forcibly remove him from power.
    It’s funny, that’s exactly why I (most of time) think the Iraq war was the right thing to do, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard that argument from any pundits or bloggers or the like.

    Actually, I think I know why that is.

    The government weren’t prepared to argue that way, because they would then be arguing against sanctions, which was their policy.

    Likewise, all the hawks, or rather all opponents of the far left position of simply ending sanctions were emotionally invested in defending the sanction policy, and weren’t prepared to attack it too.

    In the minds of both hawks and peaceniks, “sanctions are bad” was the peacenik argument. They “owned” it.

    It’d be cognitive dissonance.

    Also, if they would have argued along those lines, I suspect the media would have decided it was a bad argument. Simplism is the new being persuasive, to (very poorly) paraphrase Josh Marshall. The hawks may ahve made a good call in going for the “wrong” arguments. (Of course, I’m fairly certain their “right” argument weren’t this one, but PNAC’s.)

    In fact now that I think about it, I remember a writer in the NY Review of Books, raising the argument just to dismiss it by saying something like “not even the hawks have the gall to argue like that. He only raided it to mock the hawks. I’m like: Yes I have you tool, try to refute it.

  • 36 thoughts on “A different pro-war argument

    1. Wow, I think I spent literally a half an hour trying to get the blockquote thing right before I give up. I must be the dumbest person in the world.

    2. Well, I was in favour of this war, and I’m pretty certain I’ve at least alluded to that argument on occasion. Be that as it may, I’ll tell you why it wasn’t made by the administration: such an argument lacks urgency. Election times are staggered for various members of Congress, so everybody who’s up for re-election soon (and doesn’t want those re-election chances jeopardised by being associated with body-bagged GIs) is going to be not so much against it, but will advocate holding off until after he’s been re-elected. By that time, the next bunch is up for re-election, so the whole rigmarole is repeated.

      So, you combine that with the familiar wisdom that “it’s easier to gain forgiveness than it is to get permission” and the reasons really come together.

    3. Blockquote is less complicated than the damned lists are, so take heart.

      “Left carat blockquote right carat”t e x t”left carat forward-slash blockquote right carat”

      Insert carriage returns as needed. You don’t need to put a CR in front of or behind the blockquote tag.

      I was against this war because I thought it was the wrong enemy at the wrong time; seemed to me Afghanistan should have been finished first.

    4. er, I think that argument was used by plenty of pundits (Friedman in the NYT, Aaronovitch and Burchill in the Guardian, Cohen in the Observer, Hari in the Independent, Mark Steyn in the Daily Telegraph and dozens of other papers, not to mention plenty of bloggers: Hurry up Harry, Normblog, Oliver Kamm,…). And in the US govt, Rumsfeld was apparently against trying to sell the invasion on the basis of hidden WMD.

    5. Actually the main cause for cognitive dissonance would be point 2:

      “Saddam’s past history is pretty unambiguous, and if we lift sanctions there’s not much doubt that he will begin developing WMDs again and might very well use them in a regional war.”

      A possible reaction to this is “So what”?

      Take Pakistan, for instance. Pakistan is a dictatorship, has nuclear weapons, is known to be a proliferator of WMD technology, has been embroiled in several regional wars with the democracy of India, and yet not only is Pakistan not being targetted, it has recieved $600 million in aid and $350 million in military aid from the US, as well as about 5 billion dollars in extra credit. The reason for the US’s alliance with Pakistan is pragmatic: Musharraf is an ally in the US’s campaign against al-Qaeda. Giving money and arms to Pakistan is however clearly not in India’s best interests – it is in fact from the Indian point of view, aiding and abetting the enemy.

      The problem with all this is the apparent need of some pro-war pundits to take the moral high ground with respect to the Iraq war. Can’t be done. You can’t claim to carry out a foreign policy motivated solely out of concern for the threat one dictator may pose to his environment, while pumping arms and money as fast as possible to others. It makes perfect pragmatic sense if such policy is considered as ensuring American interests are protected.

      There’s nothing wrong with a country pursuing foreign policy out of self-interest, but it becomes farcical when others are expected to abandon self-interest and support that country out of some sense of moral obligation.

    6. First of all: hi “fistful of euros”, I have been lurking around for a while, but this is my first comment:

      David Weman: Let’s check out that argument:

      – “We can’t keep up sanctions forever, and they’re hurting the Iraqi people anyway”

      That would be a reasonable (and accurate) statement if it came attached with a very thorough mea culpa. The proponents of the near total embargo of Iraq were indifferent to the massive humanitarian catastrophe on the ground for *twelve years* and argued that it was Saddam that was to blame for this (*partially* true but a rather weak moral argument). A redesign of the sanctions in a way that would weaken Saddam militarily was never considered, because, IMHO, the sanctions’ target was not so much Iraqi miliary might but (and we can argue about this) a control over the availability and quantity of Iraqi oil hitting the world market and the destruction of the infrastructure of a possible upstart regional power. Let’s face, it, even without Saddam (especially without Saddam) an independent nationalist Arab power, secular, with a well educated population and huge resources, could not be allowed to emerge in the Middle East, as it would “complicate” the US dominance of the region.

      – “Saddam’s past history is pretty unambiguous, and if we lift sanctions there’s not much doubt that he will begin developing WMDs again and might very well use them in a regional war.”

      Saddam’s past history *is* truly unambiguous: He came to power and slaughtered every last one of his possible political opponents. Chief among those were supporters and officials of the rather large communist party of Iraq, which he practically anihilated, applauded by the West and the US government who saw in him the perfect thug to manage their cold-war and other interests in the area. Thus he was urged to start a war with Iran (a war with casualties on both sides that probably reached one million) and he was offered political coverage when he attacked the Kurdish insurrection in Iraqi Kurdistan, including an official shroud of silence over the events that transpired in Halabja. It is pretty much unambiguous that his invasion of Kuwait was attempted under the impression that he had an implicit OK from the US government, or at least that there was a willingness to bargain.
      By the time the second gulf war started there was only one of the countries neighbouring Iraq that perceived it as a threat: Kuwait, and even they expressed their concerns *after* the US had decided to invade Iraq. How the US was more threatened by their erstwhile ally than, say, Iran, which had actually fought a war with Iraq rather recently, is beyond my comprehension.

      Concerning WMD: first of all it is now quite obvious that the inspections were indeed working (as no WMD have been found) and the focus on Iraq’s WMD capabilities is rather hypocritical as there seems to be no trouble with Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Israel owning such weapons -to name but a few of Iraq’s non-democratic neighbours.

      So the argument wouldn’t fly, not only because, as you note, it would require acknowledging the catastrophic impact of the sanctions, but because it would be as easy to debunk as the reasons actually used, which I remind you, were quickly discarded anyway immediately after the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

    7. Elliott “There’s nothing wrong with a country pursuing foreign policy out of self-interest, but it becomes farcical when others are expected to abandon self-interest and support that country out of some sense of moral obligation.”

      I tend to agree with your entire comment. I don’t think moral obligation should be the imperative.

      An argument might be said that an alliance, such as NATO, provides an imperative. But it did not.

      Personally, I’d like to see NATO dismantled, or at least some nations expelled, in favor of a more realistic alliance.

    8. Talos: a completely biased argument, based on anti-American bigotry. You’ve forgotten to leave out many salient points; a more balanced approach might have been helpful.

      But don’t take that the wrong way: in blogdom, every viewpoint is essentially welcome. I encourage you to write more.

    9. Markku, I do take offense on the “anti-American” part of your description. A good percentage of the politics, science, literature and art that I love and grew up with *are* American. So unless one is confusing America’s ruling elites, and the way they are projecting their power and interests around the globe, with an abstract “America”, I can’t see how I can be thus described.
      I might also mention that a good part of what I wrote above are viewpoints shared by many *americans*. BTW, I have hardly any more love for European imperial and quasi-imperial policies at home an abroad.
      Would you say that someone opposing the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan was anti-russian? Or, those that fought French colonialism in Algeria, were they anti-French?

      As far as bias is concerned I’m always ready to admit to it – as soon at it is concretely pointed out.

    10. Elliot, glad nobody said “so what?” about Hitler.

      I don’t see how anti-war supporters can take the high moral ground either. If they’d succeeded in stopping the invasion, Saddam would still be there and mass graves for murdered kids would still be being dug today.

      I was pro-war and I haven’t sold a catapult to Iraq and other dictatorships, never mind a cruise missile. What you’re arguing applies (pretty badly) to the US and the UK and the other countries that were in favour of invasion (Denmark? Is Denmark hypocritical?)

      You may be right about Pakistan, but does being indifferent about 99 appalling dictatorships and furious about one rank worse than being indifferent to 100 appalling dictatorships? Just on arithmetic, I prefer to have 99 to 100 appalling dictatorships.

      Furthermore, if hypocrisy ruled out invasion by the West (or at least some of it), why should anything have been done about Hitler? The countries who fought Hitler had some pretty bad episodes in their history.

      Talos: you can’t have it both ways. First you say that the sanctions could have been designed to weaken Saddam militarily and then you say that the inspections worked and there are no WMD. So which is it? The sanctions did target his military or they didn’t?

      And face what? Which do you think would seriously be preferable to the US? A rich, peaceful, industrious Arab power or a lunatic dictatorship? Why on earth would the gas-guzzling US want Iraq not to be producing oil at full throttle? Yeah, they really want higher prices and a stronger OPEC. If you’re right and it’s the latter, why on earth have they let Europe become so successful since WWII?

      Forget WMD, you should be glad for the Iraqi people that they have a chance now, without the long and bloody shadow of Saddam over them.

    11. Elliot writes: ‘A possible reaction to this is “So what”?’
      We’re talking about the Persian Gulf here; it’s where the majority of the world’s proven oil reserves are, and the source of over 80% of the petroleum requirements of western Europe, Japan and South Korea. A conventional war in this region would have significantly further-reaching effects on the world economy than a conflict between Pakistan and India, even if the latter went nuclear.

      talos writes: ‘Chief among those were supporters and officials of the rather large communist party of Iraq, which he practically anihilated, applauded by the West and the US government who saw in him the perfect thug to manage their cold-war and other interests in the area.’
      Bollocks. The United States did not even have diplomatic relations with Saddam until the Iran-Iraq War was well underway. The causal relationship was that Iran being the common enemy caused the US to improve realtions with Iraq, not vice-versa. During the 1970s, the superpower Iraq was more aligned with was the Soviet Union. This is evident from the fact that the vast majority (over 2/3) of the hardware fielded by the Iraqi armed forces was of Warsaw Pact origin. The Iraqi security services learnt torture techiques from the KGB and the Stasi.

      ‘It is pretty much unambiguous that his invasion of Kuwait was attempted under the impression that he had an implicit OK from the US government […]’
      Again, bollocks. Ambassador Glaspie told Saddam in July 1990, and this is a direct quote:
      “Frankly, we can see only that you have deployed massive troops in the south. Normally that would not be any of our business. But when this happens in the context of what you said on your national day, then when we read the details in the two letters of the Foreign Minister, then when we see the Iraqi point of view that the measures taken by the U.A.E. and Kuwait is, in the final analysis, parallel to military aggression against Iraq, then it would be reasonable for me to be concerned.”
      Freely translated from diplomatic language: You’re gearing up for war, and we’re not happy about it.

      ‘The proponents of the near total embargo of Iraq were indifferent to the massive humanitarian catastrophe on the ground for *twelve years* […]’
      Again, bollocks. The US and UK pushed for “smart sanctions” in the late 1990s, which were intended to relieve (to some extent) the deprivation suffered by the Iraqi people while tightening the vise on the Iraqi leadership. Alas, certain elements in the UN Security Council, notably the Russians, weren’t dead set against it. The only conceivable explanation for this is that the Russians wanted the sanctions to become untenable to the point that they would have to be dropped, at which point they (the Russians) would be able to resume business as normal with Saddam.

      ‘first of all it is now quite obvious that the inspections were indeed working’
      Again, bollocks. The purpose of the inspections was not to force Iraqi disarmament, it was to verify that Iraq had disarmed per UNSC resolution 687. The “inspections were working” only in the sense that they showed that the Iraqis, after twelve years, were still not complying with 687. That the Iraqis agreed (or rather, claimed to agree) to destroy the al-Samoud IIs was not a good thing, because they shouldn’t have even had the things in the first place. The foot-dragging alone was a clear breach of UNSC resolution 1441, with which the Iraqi government had agreed to comply, which demanded immediate and unconditional cooperation with the inspectors. In short, the burden was on Iraq to prove it had disarmed, not on anyone to prove it had not. And by 19-Mar-2003, Iraq had failed to do so, as it had for the twelve years previously.

    12. John,

      (1) Comparisons between the second world war and present day Iraq are facile, not in the least because while Germany attacked the UK, Iraq never attacked the US.

      (2) I cannot speak for anti-war supporters, but I am not personally interested in taking the moral high ground.

      (3) The US is not “indifferent” to dictatorships like Pakistan, it is actively financing and arming them. You might want to direct some outrage there as well.

      (4) The most important point, and it is one too many people seem to miss entirely, is that dictatorships do not exist in a vacuum. Saddam is not superhuman: these mass graves were not filled by him personally, but by the millions Iraqis from all strata of society who found the power structure in Iraq at the time expedient enough to want to maintain it. Saddam is in many respects a mere figurehead: the strongest man at the heap of a pyramid of power. This is a pyramid constructed from and reinforced by three main socioeconomic factors: (i) a poor society with large income disparities (ii) a single main source of wealth – oil – that tends to worsen such disparities, and (iii) a heterogeneous culture in which tribal loyalties are foremost. If this structure remains unchanged then all the current war in Iraq will have accomplished is that a few thousand extra graves will have been filled, and in twenty years time pundits will still be moaning about “those ungrateful Arabs and their penchant for dictatorships”.

    13. Jurjen,

      I am well aware that a conventional war in the Middle East will have far reaching effects on the rest of the world, and it was precisely my contention that such pragmatism, rather than the wishy-washy humanitarianism propagated by many, belied the invasion of Iraq.

    14. John Sheehy: I was pointing out that, were the sanctions’ true aims to simply weaken Saddam’s military, they could have been designed to do that – and only that. But more than the sanctions it was the presence of a UN body of inspectors that effectively prevented Saddam from re-arming. A point that seems to escape the neo-con hawks in Washington.

      “Which do you think would seriously be preferable to the US? A rich, peaceful, industrious Arab power or a lunatic dictatorship?”

      Based on the region’s historical experience (and assuming that by “US” you mean the US ruling elites) I’d say a lunatic dictatorship… I can’t remember the last time a US government (or indeed any western government) supported a democratic regime in the Arab world over a despotic one – or indeed pressured for any sort of democratization in these countries. It’s a simple fact, AFAIK, that all secular, nationalist or left, Arab movements (except for the Iraqi Ba’ath after Saddam ascension to power) were opposed by the west. I might be wrong but can you point me to a counter-example? Unless one thinks that a democratic Iraq will use its oil wealth to further US interests it’s pretty clear that a group of corrpt self-enriching thugs are much more easily coerced/bribed than an accountabe democratically elected government.
      As for the oil angle: though I don’t see oil interests as having percipitated this war (in fact they were probably antithetical – see the following excellent and prophetic Monde Diplomatique article from this past April:
      http://mondediplo.com/2003/04/03oil ), I would suggest that, following the US sanctions against Iraq and Saudi Arabia’s eagerness to please the west, two things have happened: OPEC has lost a great deal of its power; and large oil companies have been in control of the price of oil for the past decade or so.

      (Western) Europe was (and is) a US *partner*. It was needed as an ally and it was crucial in the financing of these imperial efforts. There is no comparison with Iraq or any third world country.

      Finally about the Iraqi people and their happiness at the demise of Saddam’s regime: Besides the fact that the celebrations should be left to the Iraqis themselves – it is hardly a real choice that’s being offered between a foreign invader and a local tyrant. The only Iraqis that might conceivably be *happy* right now are the Iraqi Kurds, and I am very afraid that the reason for this happiness (the hope of an independent Kurdistan) might be very short lived.

    15. C’mon, John. Saddam’s regime in Iraq was a self-serving despotism with a horrifying track record of external aggression and murderous internal repression all thinly glossed with Baathist “socialist” ideology. By several accounts, Saddam adopted Stalin as his personal role model. The regime had and has few apologists beyond its immediate beneficiaries.

      Last year’s fashionable pretext for pre-emptive war against Iraq – with or without UN approval – was the threat from Iraq’s WMD but fashions change and this year’s spring fashion was the liberation of Iraq, perhaps because it was emerging that that the evidence for the claimed WMD threat just didn’t stack up. We are suppose not to have noticed this sleight of hand yet by this eerily prescient news report of December 2001, the Bush administration was already then internally committed to the Iraq war: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,610461,00.html Presenting a rationale for the war for public consumption was an incidental consideration.

      At least until recently, 70% of the American public evidently believed Saddam and Iraq were somehow connected with al-Qaeda and the terrible events of 9/11 when most of those directly implicated were Saudi citizens. Saddam had good reason to be especially wary of al-Qaeda’s fundamentalist Islamicist aspirations least al-Qaeda sought to take over Iraq in much the way the Taliban and al-Qaeda had taken over Afghanistan as that would have terminated his self-serving despotism. Just who was duping whom and why?

      How much have Iraqis gained from their liberation so far with the threats to their personal security from mounting crime, the disruption to public services, dysfunctioning hospitals and, by web estimates, more than 6,000 civilians killed with 20,000 injured as the result of the war?

      The inescapable questions are whether the traumatic downsides of the war for the Iraqi people are worth the prospective gains in the future and just who or what was entitled to make that decision on their behalf?

      As Tony Blair said in a speech to the Chicago Economic Club in April 1999: “If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation then we have to support the UN as its central pillar.” – from: http://www.ndol.org/ndol_ci.cfm?cp=4&kaid=128&subid=187&contentid=829

      It seems through force of circumstances – meaning the frightening projected costs to American taxpayers of the operations in Iraq and the risks to the lives of its troops – President Bush has now come to agree with that or almost. Too little, too late?

      Btw please spare me the familiar complaints about anti-Americanism. I know the scam of dubbing any criticism of the Bush regime as an Unamerican activity and I know too from reading American blogs and the American press that there are more than a few Americans who opposed the war from the start. Hi there!

      “A new poll indicates, for the first time, that a majority of Americans disapprove of President George W. Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq. The weekly news magazine Newsweek, in a poll released Saturday, finds Mr. Bush’s approval rating on Iraq had fallen 6 percentage points since last week, to 46 percent.” – from: http://www.voanews.com/article.cfm?objectID=7780912C-67EA-4954-A00FE2860D218B06

    16. ” but I am not personally interested in taking the moral high ground.”

      I agree with Eliott completely, both posts.

      “Elliot, glad nobody said ‘so what?’ about Hitler.

      I don’t see how anti-war supporters can take the high moral ground either. If they’d succeeded in stopping the invasion, Saddam would still be there and mass graves for murdered kids would still be being dug today.”

      Oh, come on John, this is silly. Above all because Eliott wasn’t anti-war.But just think about it for a moment: we sat back and watched massacres in the ex-Yugoslavia for more years than I care to remember, Idi Amin died in his bed in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia now is threatening to develop nuclear weapons (probably coz it wants to be re-invaded: ie not lose the US troops). We are out of control here. Nobody on this site doubts who Saddam was. Nobody is crying because he’s gone (although he hasn’t quite gone yet). But some of us don’t like the way it was done. And the way it was done is what is now causing a lot of the problems.

      My best guess was that this was done to try to bring a peace between Palestine and Israel, a peace which I would wholeheartedly support. But this is being derailed, and Bush doesn’t seem to have the capacity to enforce it. There could be no peace in the middle east with Saddam, so he had to go. As they say, for this and for many other reasons. But now we have the ‘bridge too far’. Without the I-P peace, the US position in Iraq is not sustainable. You just have to think about this for five minutes. In Iraq, the US is perceived as Israel’s ally, if not, indeed, as a power ‘controlled by the Israelis’, I mean lets remember anti-semitism does exist.

      On top of this you have three ethnic communities who don’t really want to be in the same room together. We can’t have a list of all the multicultural problems in Europe on one post, and pretend this won’t be much stronger in Iraq on another. On top of which, we have the Turks breathing down the necks of the Kurds, and the Iranians supporting the Shiites. This is the Balkans multiplied by ten.

      So it was an enormous gamble. A gamble I was prepared to support because of Blair and the WMD argument. Now it appears that this argument has been blown apart, so where does that leave us?

    17. Edward’s post reminds me that I may seem ambiguous about my position. Let me clarify:

      I’m all for war when it is in direct defence of my petty, provincial interests. If war is needed to protect me against WMDs, by all means wage it. If it is necessary to ensure that the price of oil remains stable so that I don’t have to pay more than 1 euro per litre at the pump, go right ahead. This does not give governments the right to wage war frivolously on my behalf, however, or lie, or make huge mistakes and expect no consequences whatsoever. It certainly does not spare them from criticism.

      It’s a different matter when war is waged for so-called humanitarian reasons. In such a case I am asked to conscience the short term slaughter of civilians in order to empower a greater, long term good on the behalf of those who survive. I have no doubt that the short-term slaughter part will go just wonderfully, Western countries being adept at that sort of thing. It’s the long-term aspect that worries me. Astounding as it may seem, the collapse of a dictatorship can lead to more death in the long term. See Russia after the fall of communism. See Ethiopia after the overthrow of Haile Selassie. See Zaire after the death of Mobutu Sese Seko. See the long-term low-grade misery West African countries have been subject to since their independence from European occupation.

      Sometimes, as with the Balkans, I see no alternative, and suspect that the proximity of the Balkans to the EU will ensure that Europe maintains a long term interest in the stability and welfare of these regions.

      But with Iraq, as with Afghanistan, I saw short-term thinking, a total lack of objective analysis, little international support, divisiveness within the US leadership itself, and an unwillingness to go further than sloganeering in examining the root causes of poverty and unrest in the Middle East. This bodes ill for the long-term (10-30 year) future of Iraq.

      And short-term slaughter without long-term gain is not my idea of “humanitarian”.

    18. Jurjen:
      “The United States did not even have diplomatic relations with Saddam until the Iran-Iraq War was well underway.”
      Saddam become leader of Iraq on July 1979 and the war with Iran started september 1980, so your claim and mine are not necessarily contradictory. One could imagine that Saddam was only then introduced to the CIA, but I don’t think it’s plausible:


      As for the communists, Saddam reversed Ba’athist alliances with the communists with the help of the US:
      “But the agency quickly moved into action. Noting that the Baath Party was hunting down Iraq?s communist, the CIA provided the submachine gun-toting Iraqi National Guardsmen with lists of suspected communists who were then jailed, interrogated, and summarily gunned down, according to former U.S. intelligence officials with intimate knowledge of the executions.”
      from: http://www.plp.org/comm03/1saddamncia.html

      – Glaspie: This is a full quote apparently:

      excerpt: “I admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”

      – Smart sanctions:
      This is the CASI evaluation: http://www.casi.org.uk/guide/smartsanctions.html
      The smart sanctions “proposal” was not, as far as I am aware proposed, in the late 90s but rather in the early zero’s. I stand by my “twelve years” of indifference, even if one takes the desperate face saving attempts of British spin doctors seriously (and yes I am well aware that the Russians were looking out for their own dirty deals – what makes you think they’re unique?)

      – “The “inspections were working” only in the sense that they showed that the Iraqis, after twelve years, were still not complying with 687.”

      Oh come on! The inspections were working in the sense that Iraq by 2003 was a military midget that none of its neighbours considered as a plausible threat. They worked in that Saddam Hussein was not then (if he was ever after Kuwait) a threat to anyone but the Iraqi people. And let’s not start a discussion about how seriously the US takes UN resolutions in other circumstances, and whether it supports their spirit – never mind their letter- because that would require a whole new discussion.

    19. Elliot, the comparison is not facile. Germany didn’t attack the UK, at least not until after war was declared. In any case, if Germany had never invaded anyone else (which, like Iraq, they did), do you think concentration camps and the final solution should have been treated as Germany’s domestic business?

      I’m not seeking the moral high ground, just trying to avoid been labelled as immoral scum for supporting war.

      I am outraged by inaction towards other dictatorships, but this post was about Iraq.

      Your final paragraph seems to suggest that the problem is basically that the Arabs aren’t up to being democratic. That’s not my view.

      Talos: on UN sanctions see Jurgen above.

      Perhaps the US has not supported democratic regimes in the Arab world before. But the same could have been said when the US took control of Japan in 1945. The point is that you are treating this as the continuation of past policies whereas I see it as something new. And when you say that the US (elites) would prefer corrupt, self-enriching thugs to democrats, you have to ask yourself whether that’s not a good description of Saddam, yet the US couldn’t control him.

      Western Europe didn’t finance the US’s “imperial efforts”. That’s just the point. That’s why Bush is at the UN trying to get others involved in Iraqi reconstruction.

      I agree that the Iraqis should decide for themselves whether they are better off now. However, I cannot believe for one moment that Iraqis are worse off now than under Saddam. But don’t pretend that Saddam would have been toppled by popular uprising. The invasion, very imperfect as it was, was the only chance for regime change in Iraq.

      Bob: WMD may have been the fashionable pretext, but it was never mine so I’m not going to defend it. And the idea that supporting the war for any reason was somehow fashionable is incredible. Being anti-war has been the fashionable thing to do.

      The link between Al Qaeda and Saddam? Well, on that I’m agnostic. But I certainly don’t believe your argument that because of their different world views, there could never have been links between Saddam and AQ. The same could have been said about the US and AQ, but there were plenty of links because they had a common enemy; much like Saddam and AQ had a common enemy in the US.

      I just cannot believe that Iraq is not better now for most people than it was under Saddam. All the problems you describe remind me of the old justification for Mussolini – at least he made the trains run on time. Hmmm…

      I’m not going to call you anti-american. I’m European, so don’t really care whether you are or not.

      Edward: I thought it was the right thing when something was finally done about ethnic cleansing in ex-Yugoslavia. It happened later than it should have, but it was still the right thing to do. I think the same about Iraq. You seem to argue that because the West was slow to act, it should have never done anything. Where’s the logic in that?

      What other way could Saddam have been deposed?

      And you don’t think Saddam’s treatment of his own people was anything to be concerned about? Hmm…

    20. John,
      “do you think concentration camps and the final solution should have been treated as Germany’s domestic business?”

      Maybe my understanding of the history of WW2 is different from yours. A war was fought against Germany. In the end, six million Jews died. There are almost no Jews left in Northern Europe. What exactly did World War Two accomplish, from a humanitarian perspective?

      I don’t understand why you keep bringing it up for comparison, as WW2 was a war that resulted in the deaths of 50 million people without preventing a single humanitarian disaster from happening. It was not fought for humanitarian reasons, and 1930s Germany was a wholly different beast from 2003 Iraq. Do you think less people would have died if Britain had attacked Germany in, say, 1938?

      “Your final paragraph seems to suggest that the problem is basically that the Arabs aren’t up to being democratic. That’s not my view.”

      No, my last paragraph suggests that social and economic conditions in Iraq at the moment are not conducive to democracy, and if this is not recognized and dealt with then Iraq will end up with an oligarchic kleptocracy at best. Or more likely another “benevolent” (read: Western-friendly) dictatorship like Pakistan or Egypt, with uprisings being quelled, and order being maintained in much the same vicious way as it is now.

    21. Elliot, I don’t see why Iraq under Saddam and Germany under Hitler are so different.

      By asking what WWII accomplished given the humanitarian catastrophe that it failed to prevent, you do seem to be arguing that it shouldn’t have been fought. Don’t you think we’d be worse off now if Europe had ended up ruled by fascists? Don’t you think that the human catastrophes would just have gone on and on if Hitler had been unopposed?

      Would less people have died if Britain had attacked Germany in 1938? Almost certainly. Even less if Britain had attacked even earlier, none if Britain had attacked the day after Hitler came to power.

      On Iraq, you are basically saying that conditions are just no good for any attempt at liberation. Nothing should have been done. I hope you are wrong because it’s a deeply depressing point of view. But I’m sure the same argument could have been made at the end of WWII about Germany’s social and economic conditions – in ruins, traumatised,…

    22. The problem with Kevin Drum’s thesis is

      (1) U.S. presidents of both parties have willingly kept up sanctions against Cuba/Castro for far longer than we have against Iraq/Hussein.

      So why exactly can’t the sanctions be kept indefinitely ? (or until said leaders die)

      (2) Invading for ‘humanitarian reasons’, while possible in some cases, implies an assumption of responsibility. Taking Responsibility is not the Bush administration’s forte.

      Remember how they kept saying that invasion and the reconstruction was supposed to pay for itself, thanks to Iraq’s Oil Wealth ? It was an article of faith rather than a product of solid analysis.

      (3) Making no moral judgements between war and sanctions though both are putrid; Sanctions have the advantage of having been proven feasible for the long haul, and War has the disadvantage of having been proven infeasible for the long haul (e.g., the philipines, and Vietnam).

    23. “I don’t see why Iraq under Saddam and Germany under Hitler are so different.”
      John: Germany in the thirties was a world military superpower. Iraq in its hayday was a country that couldn’t defeat an internationally isolated and devastated Iran after the revolution there had wrecked its army.
      Germany started a war of world conquest. Iraq didn’t. Iraq couldn’t even if it wanted to. *Turkey* had by any reasonable standard a more sophisticated and strong army than Saddam’s at its strongest.
      Also, as far as I know, the USA was *not* supplying Hitler with cyanide to use in Auschwitz:


    24. “On Iraq, you are basically saying that conditions are just no good for any attempt at liberation.”

      Look John. I don’t think most of us are saying that. I don’t know whether Iraq is ready for democracy, I really couldn’t say. I don’t think the two societies are comparable. On the other hand, I don’t think the Germans would have accepted liberation at the hands of a technologically proficient group of Slavs. And that is what is being asked of the Iraquis, that they accept liberation at the hands of the ally of their deepest enemy. This can’t work like this. We need the UN, we always did, and Blair got it wrong, taking me and many others with him.

      We weren’t told we went to liberate. We went because we were told that Saddam might attack us or our allies, and in particular using terrorism as a vehicle.

    25. John,

      To prevent being tiresomely repetitive I will say this for the last time:

      As a “humanitarian” war, World War Two was an utter failure. It did not save 6 million Jews, it resulted in the deaths of 50 million people.

      As a “defensive” war (which it in fact was on the part of the Allies), WW2 was a reasonable, if costly success. Germany’s army was halted and the Nazi regime was completely destroyed.

      Please stop using WW2 as an analogy for a humanitarian war: WW2 was the worst humanitarian war in history. Please do stop using WW2 also as an analogue for a defensive war: Iraq is no Germany.

      “On Iraq, you are basically saying that conditions are just no good for any attempt at liberation. Nothing should have been done.”

      No, John, that’s not what I am saying. I’m saying that conditions are such that democratizion is a difficult and costly job, which has to be done properly if grief in the long run is to be minimized.

      Let me give you an example of what I would have liked to see. Occupation and reconstruction costs for Iraq will be in the ballpark of $500 billion spread over 10 years. If the Bush Administration had been serious about the long-term humanitarian task lying ahead in Iraq, for instance, they should have asked the US Congress for an appropriation of $100 billion in October 2002. That’s the amount they are now trying to scrounge from Congress, allies and UN donors to cover operational costs for this year.

      If you are serious about liberation, you make sure you are prepared beforehand, and you make sure you are up front and open about it to the people who are going to have to pay for it. Because if you don’t, and the taxpayer boots you out and replaces you with an anti-war administration, that’s lives and money down the drain, and the country that’s to have been liberated remains as much of a hellhole as ever.

    26. So Talos, countries should only fight wars if they’re equally matched? It’s all a matter of etiquette? Actually, I still think that Hitler’s Germany and Saddam’s Iraq are comparable because both leaders were responsible for humanitarian catastrophes and if war against Hitler was therefore justifiable, then so it was against Saddam.

      Your point about US cyanide may be true, but I’m not suggesting the US are angels, just that they offered the Iraqis the only chance of getting rid of an appalling blight on their lives.

      I’m sorry Edward if you needed to feel your life was threatened in order to support the war. Myself, I always simply thought it was a terrible way, but the only one, to offer the Iraqis a chance of a better life. And from what I’ve read of Iraqi opinion, they mainly see it that way too. The bombs etc seem to be the actions of Baathists or non-Iraqi Jihadis.

      Elliott, on the WW2 comparison I stick to what I’ve said to Talos. On your other points, I … agree! Certainly, the war was never enough alone to transform the situation and things could definitely go wrong. Iraq does need something like the Marshall Plan and it may not get it. I suppose I don’t agree that that was enough of a reason just to leave the place alone. Anyway, who knows, with US taxes coming down even though the government deficit is growing, maybe the Chinese or the Japanese or Americans not yet born will pay for the war and Iraqi reconstruction, not today’s US taxpayers.

    27. Bob: I take issue with your claim that 6000 civilians were killed during the war in Iraq.

      Actually, the number is less than 500, – as estimated by the Baathists themselves. And this number was cited to try to IMPRESS the Western press corp on the number of civilian casualties.

      In any case, all civilian casualties are nothing but the fault of Saddam Hussein, and can be added to his lengthy list of war crimes. Every responsible government plans for the protection of its population during war time. Saddam simply used them as a shield.

    28. “Actually, the number is less than 500”

      This website shows alternative estimates of the civilian fatalities in Iraq resulting from the war with citations to the sources on which the estimates are based: http://www.iraqbodycount.net/bodycount.htm

      Current estimates of the fatalities range from a minimum of 7,346 to a maximum of 9,146

    29. Bob: Just as I suspected. The data on that site is faulty.

      And so is the data for the first AP “news” estimate, which was 3000, based on a count of reported casualties in Iraqi hospitals. Later Reuters had raised it to 5000. A bit later an anti-American columnist cited 10,000. And on and on it goes, following the tendency Bjorn Lomborg, – the Danish scientist known for his criticism of environmental statistics – claimed was the real reason environmental data had become shoddy: people inflate one source’s report, citing new data as a justification for rounding up the numbers; another one takes those numbers in turn, inflates them a bit more…

      But all the “data” that all the “news” organizations gathered regarding civilian casualties in Iraq fall apart for one quite simple reason: they never give a breakdown of how many women and children were killed. If we were to know the number of women and children killed, then yes, most likely a stray shell had hit a civilian site. But, if the majority of casualties are men, then it can be assumed that they were soldiers and other combatants who had dressed in civilian clothing (already a war crime, by the way). We can safely assume, for example, that a family seeking to escape the crossfire might have men with them, but in that case the number of male civilians who had died should be roughly equal to that of women. No such breakdown is given by all the various “news” services.

      I believe that AP, AFP, Reuters and all the others were quite cognizant of this. It suited their aim not to report the number of women and children killed, as someone would eventually make that point: that most of the thousands who died were enemy soldiers, dressed in civilian clothing.

      It is dangerous, though, to minimize the number of civilian casualties, especially as political considerations can come into play. Holocaust deniers are one example of how this kind of thinking can run amuck. But in the case of the Holocaust, the Germans left us excellent records of the fate of every one of their prisoners. The identity and existence, or non-existence, of these people could be easily established. Perhaps one day some historian will be able to actually identify by name all the Iraqi civilians who had died during the war. But at this point in time such a count will probably not be able to surmount the political obstacles in the way.

      So whom do you trust? In the early part of the war, there were indeed cases where coalition ammunition might have hit civilian sites (although this can’t even be corroborated for sure – it could have been done by the Baathists themselves). During a news conference towards the end of the war, when Western newspapers began to ask for the numbers of civilians killed, the Baathists finally came up with an estimate that was probably closer to the truth: “as many as several hundred civilians have been killed.”

      Given the immense care the coalition forces took in not targetting civilian sites, it is quite plausible that the number is closer to the estimate of the Baathists, – in other words, about 500.

    30. Markku:
      “But all the “data” that all the “news” organizations gathered regarding civilian casualties in Iraq fall apart for one quite simple reason: they never give a breakdown of how many women and children were killed.”

      Have you seen any such statistics for Chechnya or even the Russian invasion of Afghanistan? Can you find a source that lists all of the names of the dead in Rwanda?
      And to believe that *Reuters*, *AP* and *AFP* (not to mention the scores of minor news-services that are listed in IBC’s database) are politically motivated by *”anti-americanism”* is really conspiratorial thinking – one small step removed from black helicopters and UN invasions.

      Can you come up with a direct (web) source for your Ba’ath statements? (of course the regime was claiming internally that they were *winning the war easily* so I tend to take Reuters as a more unbiased source than the Iraqi minister of information.)

      Anyway the argument that since demographic breakdowns don’t exist for the total number of bodies they *must* be faked (by a vast conspiracy of independent news agencies nonetheless) is… flawed.

      But IBC have started creating a full list of civilians killed by name and location. On May 27, they released the first 100 names of the dead:


      From that report:
      “…A comprehensive census of civilian deaths may take months or even years, and may perhaps never be so complete that each and every individual is named and registered among the war?s victims. But this makes it all the more important that every available name is recorded, so we know the extent of the task that lies ahead…”

      Others are working with the same goal as well:


      Also from the anti-american communists/islamists/ba’athists of Christian Science Monitor we get this obviously biased story:


      Excerpt: “Evidence is mounting to suggest that between 5,000 and 10,000 Iraqi civilians may have died during the recent war, according to researchers involved in independent surveys of the country.”

      You might also want to check out this piece by the Saddamites running the L.A. Times:


    31. Talos: Believe it or not, I base my observations on how the media operates in constructing its own realities on the principles of French Marxist deconstruction theorists – most notably Derrida, Baudrillard, even Louis Althusser, the one-time chief ideologist of the French Communist Party.

      The media must not be seen as a mirror to reality; rather it has to be seen as always supporting its own existence. I don’t want to go into the details of this body of theory, as it is quite vast, but I will try to paraphrase it for the present argument. AP, Reuters, BBC, AFP do not comprise a vast conspiracy, – rather, they must be seen as organic entities (just like corporations are for Marxists) intent upon their own survival.

      Their survival is assured when they control the reality that they are able to generate on their own. For those purposes, they need to be able to manipulate their audiences. And to achieve that, they draw upon tactics of theatricality that have evolved from Greek drama all the way to Hollywood. Just like actors, journalists draw upon tactics to move an audience – most specifically, they alternate with concrete action and fact with an appeal to the emotions. But, – as Baudrillard has pointed out – unlike actors, journalists believe that they are not acting, that they are providing real facts, other than a simulation which contains some facts (often simulations themselves).

      The data might be correct: there are dead bodies in Iraq. But how did they become dead? This is where the media can use the facts to create the drama that assures its survival. Because there are dead bodies also in Rwanda, and Nepal, and other trouble spots of the world, yet since those dramas don’t include a chief actor (the US), the media would die of irrelevancy if it pursued those dramas. If the body count in Iraq was not significant enough, – if only 500 civilians died – then the drama would also lose its power, and the role of the media would be diminished. So it is to the media’s advantage to inflate the numbers in a plausible way. And they do this by combining the number of civilians with those of combatants.

      Only dry, historical, scientific analysis – the sort of dialectical thinking championed by Marxists themselves – can truly reveal the number of civilians who died in the Iraqi war. Methodology becomes key. I would match the hospital, coronary and other state records with the detailed logs kept by American artillery and air support forces as to the location of fire and the amount of ammunition used. I would seek out family members of each casualty to support the claim that they died during the coalition offensive. And I would use empirical thinking in arriving at certain assumptions, outside of the assumptions of the media.

      As an exercise, – from this point in time and this far away in distance (!) – let us assume that 7000 civilians died in Iraq. If they truly are civilians caught in the line of fire, then 3500 should be women. I would assume most of them would have died of artillery or air bombardment gone astray, as women would most likely flee the front lines for safety, rather than be subjected to small arms fire. And then I would try to match the action of large caliber bombardment to the location of the fatality, if known. Hospital records can also indicate the type of fatal injury received, so these can be matched to the date and location of major action. All in all, a long-term, tedious process, but one that would finally come closest to the approximation of the truth.

      All rests on the number of women who died. This is the lacuna, – the blind spot – that the public is given to view – we see the numbers, but we don’t see the numbers that matter. This is where the media seems to be practicing its own brand of censorship. And for good reason. If the number of women who died only amounts to a few hundred, then it follows that most of those 7000 were enemy combatants, not civilians.

      But what do we do now? Assume what the media tells us? My own instinct is to use the enemy’s estimate, since the enemy had every reason to inflate these numbers, but was also not enough a part of the Western media apparatus (as Althusser would say) to understand that they had great leeway to lie about the numbers. Perhaps they were afraid that the journalists would ask them to see the dead bodies. So they decided to give an estimate that was closer to what they knew to be the truth, that several hundred had died. For the sake of approximation, we might be able to round that number up to 500.


    32. Markku:
      So as not to derail the thread I’ll just note that as far as I’m concerned Deridda and Beaudrillard are intellectual impostors and Althusser is a self-admitted fraud.
      (see here: http://www.hereinstead.com/sys-tmpl/miserablealthusser/). (Yes I’m a physicist & Sokal admirer!)
      Your analysis suffers from seeing mechanisms outside of context: these news agencies have masters and are dependent on the same media oligrachies and the same economic interests as any other industry. Let me be the anglo-saxon empiricist for a second and suggest we follow the media money and see if we can get some kind of institutional picture of their alliances and biases. That systematic bias if traced can be seen to be extremely and painfully pro-“establishment”.
      Look at the western media’s reluctance to show dead bodies. Look at the eagerness with which they covered the staged events of the “toppling of Saddam’s statue”, see how they have been (most of them) deeply silent on the history of western colonialism in that same country and the complicity of the US in creating Saddam. There is bias alright but from where I’m sitting, most US news agencies during the war were comparable in their reluctance to displease their masters as Iraqi state TV.
      As for the numbers and demography of the dead: I provided some links showing that this is work in progress already. The images I have (unfortunately) seen are of scores of dead children. The reporters (and Greek TV reporters were all over the place immedietly after a bombing) were showing old men and women screaming digging the ruins with their hands. Sleight of hand? Trickery? What?
      But the most obvious flaw in your resoning is that it would be possible to have any but the most general of casualty statistics – it isn’t. We do, however, have reports from individual bombings that are quite telling:



      I left for last the story that shoots down your point about the supposed 500 civilian casualties suggested by the Iraqi government:


      The relevant excerpt:
      “The British have adopted the American approach. ??We don?t do head counts,?? said Group Captain Al Lockwood, a British military spokesman, ??and we certainly don?t publicize them.?? Iraqi officials do not release estimates of their own troops killed, although every day they produce figures on civilian deaths and injuries from allied bombing and other military action. *That figure is now above 500*. On Monday, that number grew by between 7 and 10 people after soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division opened fire on a van carrying civilians that failed to stop at a checkpoint.

      A group of professors and peace activists in England and the United States is trying to compile credible accounts of civilian deaths and keep an updated estimate of the total at a web site called iraqbodycount.net. **The group?s current figure, based chiefly on media reports, is between 493 and 652, which is not much different from the tally from the Iraqi Information Ministry.**”

      So when the Iraqis made the claim you mention they were in agreement with IBC! This means that both were relying on similar sources. Let me repeat this: As long as the Iraqi regime was counting (and you suggest that it would *understate* the casualties) it was in agreement with the figures provided by IBC.
      I rest my case.

    33. Pardon the interruption but in the latest poll for Saturday’s Financial Times:

      “Half the British public believe Tony Blair should resign, according to a new opinion poll illustrating the extent to which the UK prime minister has lost public trust as a result of the Iraq war. . .”

      Go see at: http://news.ft.com/home/uk

    34. Talos: ‘That systematic bias if traced can be seen to be extremely and painfully pro-“establishment”.’

      Again, it’s very endemic of a European, reared in the principles of the welfare state, to equate businesses with being “establishment”.

      There is a huge gulf between the European and American notions of what constitutes the establishment.

      As to the rest of your examples, they still refer to biased sources. For example, I wouldn’t trust for one second a study conducted by “professors and peace activists”.

    35. Markku:
      You missed both my points: in order to see whose interests the press serves you must check where it is making its money from – its part of an industry and is far more likely to further business interests than anti-imperialist groups… Again: follow the money.
      Please do not generalize about “American” opinions and attitudes. There is a vast range of opinion in the States of which the libertarians and the neo-cons are but a small group.
      Also on the matter of casualties: These “proffessors and peace activists” *are* the Iraq Body Count people whose numbers we were debating. I pointed out that, at the time the Iraqi government made the statement you are apparently quoting – about the 500 dead, it was *in agreement with the assesment of the IBC*. Ergo the IBC and the Iraqi government were basing their results on *similar data*. It’s hardly a leap of logic to assume that were the Iraqi government not to collapse they would still be in agreement with the IBC.

    Comments are closed.