Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 16, 2003
WAR: Cross-Blog Iraq Debate
N.Z. Bear is hosting a Cross-Blog Iraq Debate; he's got 5 questions for pro-war bloggers and 5 for anti-war bloggers. As I'm in the "pro" camp, I thought I'd take on the challenge. If you're new to the site, full disclosure: I'm not a military veteran or a national security expert; I'm a lawyer. But I was there on the front lines when this war started, a few blocks from my office in the World Trade Center. It's an experience I hope not to re-live.
I've put my answers out of order, but they're numbered as the Bear has them numbered:
4. As a basis for war, the Bush Administration accuses Iraq of trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear), supporting terrorism, and brutalizing their own people. Since Iraq is not the only country engaged in these actions, under what circumstances should the US go to war with other such nations, in addition to going to war with Iraq?
This is the main question at hand. I think the question has, in one sense, too many parts, and too few. But to give you the short answer of "where does this take us?," I think there are a number of other states we may need to go to war with, but none others that clearly demand war yet as Iraq does.
The test for whether we should seek regime change should be whether a regime has (1) the desire to attack civilian targets outside the context of an openly declared war and (2) has or is working on the means to do so, or to give aid and comfort to those who do so. Number (1) is the key, and it’s not always susceptible to hard proof, but the best evidence of a regime’s desire to attack American or other civilians is the level of anti-American vitriol in its official statements. It amazes me that people debating the merits of these things always tell us to ignore what the other guy says. Evidence of past complicity in terrorism, or past aggressive wars by the same basic regime (by which I mean the guy in power or predecessors in the same unelected junta, not ancient history) are also key. Try a little common sense, and it's not hard to figure out who our enemies really are. There are a million little ways that a regime shows itself to be unwilling to abide by the basic norms of international behavior (by which I mean standards other nations actually live by, not pie-in-the-sky ideals like Kyoto), and when you add them up it's easy to discern the difference between countries with weapons of mass destruction ("WMD") that merely disdain us but would never do violence to us (i.e., France) and places like Iraq and North Korea and Cuba and Syria and Iran that don't respect the rights of their own people or anyone else's in the day-to-day commerce of nations. Look for countries that don't allow free foreign press, just as a sample.
The fact that a country brutalizes its own people is obviously one of the measuring sticks, and it always adds weight to the scales in judging the morality of force. But it's not an essential factor.
But that doesn't answer the core question: once we've committed to a policy of regime change -- which to me means at a minimum the removal of the heads of state and either democratic elections or some reckoning with past sins by the regime -- we have to ask whether (1) war is likely to accomplish our goals, (2) at a price we can bear compared to the harm we seek to avoid, and (3) we have a reasonable prospect of getting what we need by other means. Iraq satisfies all three: we can easily overpower Saddam's conventional military (don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise, although I recognize that "easily" can still include substantial American/Allied casualties), the risk of WMD attacks is easier to deal with now while we're at a hightened state of alert and dictating our own timetables, and there's no realistic chance that Saddam will step down, be forced out by diplomacy with his neighbors, or be overthrown internally. The calculations in the case of, say, North Korea or Iran or Saudi Arabia is different -- the Iranians and Saudis may be vulnerable from within, and our options with North Korea are limited by its nuclear capacity, its quick-strike ability to hit Seoul, and most of all by China, the 1 billion pound gorilla in the North Korean situation that has to have a role in any diplomatic resolution.
1. Attacking Iraq has been publicly called a "pre-emption" of a threat from Saddam Hussein's regime, whose sins include launching regional wars of aggression. Do you think there is a clear and reliable difference between pre-emptive and aggressive warfare, and if so, what is it?
Clear and reliable, yes; easy to summarize in a pithy slogan that can be chanted in the streets, no. Ultimately, much of the difference depends on whether or not you believe the attacking party’s argument. Which is part of the problem: people keep demanding that we reduce the rules of international law to maxims that even dope-addled peaceniks can understand, and – more importantly – that can be evaluated at face value by “the international community” without any attempt to figure out who is right and who is wrong, or to distinguish between democratic regimes that are bound domestically by the rule of law and respect for basic human rights, and those that rule their own people unilaterally and by force. The real distinction requires actually making sense of the facts of individual situations.
The core of the difference is that a preemptive war is premised upon the assumption that, sooner or later, the other guy intends to attack you. In Saddam’s case, we know he has the motive – he hates us and sees us as the prime obstacle to his ambitions – we know he has been pursuing the means, the types of weapons of mass destruction that are our sole true vulnerability – and we know that the existence of international terrorists who would have no qualms about using such weapons gives him the opportunity. We don’t have to see where the threat is coming from to know it’s coming. (You could even say, we don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing).
3. How successful do you think the military operations and "regime change" in Afghanistan have been in achieving their stated objectives? Does this example affect your feelings about war in Iraq in any way?
The prime objectives of the operations in Afghanistan were to (1) destroy the infrastructure of Al Qaeda staging grounds; (2) kill as many America-hating terrorists as possible; (3) make an example of the Taliban regime for its support of America-hating terrorists; and (4) deny safe haven in Afghanistan for terrorists in the foreseeable future. We have accomplished all of these. In addition, we exposed the fraud that is Islamist theocracy, by showing the joy of its subjects when loosed from its grasp. We also obtained lots of useful intelligence by getting in on the ground to places where terror attacks had been planned and terror networks coordinated.
Long-term, we would like to establish a secure government in Afghanistan that will consolidate the victory over theocracy and prevent re-establishment of havens for terror. But if we fail in that aim, as we still may, the war will no more be a failure than it is a failure to weed your garden in spring and, the following year, discover new weeds. The task is never done so long as the hatred that breeds our foes is loose in the world.
Does this influence my view of war with Iraq? Yes. War with Iraq will likewise break the back of the threat, and (at worst) long delay its reemergence. And, of critical importance, it will again make an example of how we treat our enemies, and why it is wise not to choose to become one.
2. What do you feel are the prospects that an invasion of Iraq will succeed in a) maintaining it as a stable entity and b) in turning it into a democracy? Are there any precedents in the past 50 years that influence your answer?
Hmm, “past 50 years” seems designed to take Japan and Germany out of the picture, no? I think the most useful lessons will be those of Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Philippines, and Nicaragua, with the former Soviet and South-Eastern European states – longest under tyranny and with the least tradition of self-rule – as the best models. The record in each of those places is mixed – but in all but a few cases, obviously better for our own interests than the aggressive despotism that preceded it.
Democracy? It’s worth trying, as long as we’re not expecting it to look like New Hampshire overnight. The upside of establishing a state like Poland or Russia or Albania in Iraq would be huge, and an American presence in the country ought to help in that project. But the odds on success . . . well, the jury’s still out on democracy in Russia, too, isn’t it? I’d at least say there’s a very substantial chance of failure.
Stability? Not a prayer, in the short run – there will be huge dislocations, which is why we need the U.S. military around. The forces of democracy may well tear the country into shreds, but maybe that’s as it should be. But what I don’t foresee is a descent into the Balkans. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to be from Tikrit when Saddam's regime is gone.
5. The Bush Administration has issued numerous allegations about the threat represented by Iraq, many of which have been criticized in some quarters as hearsay, speculation or misstatements. Which of the Administration's allegations do you feel stand up best to those criticisms?
First of all, I’m a litigator, so I see an awful lot of hearsay and speculation, and I’ve got some idea of the difference. Hearsay is a rule of evidence that gets bent, misshapen and disregarded all the time, most notably in the area of conspiracy, which is mostly what we’re talking about here. But it would be foolish to treat this dispute as a court case subject to rules of evidence, some of which, after all, are prophylactic rules (i.e., designed to prevent future misconduct in gathering evidence) that have little to do with the search for truth.
Speculation, similarly, is suspect in the court system because we do not wish it to be too easy to impose criminal or civil liability without hard evidence. The social cost is that wrongdoers sometimes go free.
Here, the stakes are much higher; if we have good reason to believe, as I’ve set out above, that Saddam wishes ill of us and has the motive and means to carry out attacks that can’t easily be traced to him, then we ought to deal with him now.
That said, let’s look at just a few of the facts that are hard to argue with:
(A) Saddam is working on weapons of mass destruction. I find the evidence of this to be fairly overwhelming; we have the testimony of defectors and other intelligence to show that Saddam has pursued these avenues.
(B) Saddam has not revealed everything about his WMD programs to the UN inspectors. Again, I find the evidence of this overwhelming. Just look at the discrepancies noted in the State of the Union Address, between large known stocks of weapons developed in the past and the paltry disclosures he’s provided of what happened to them.
(C) Saddam supports terrorism. Let’s start with the obvious: Saddam supports terrorism against Israel. I know some people think that’s different – it’s “only” Jews, y’know – but it shows the willingness to advance his objectives through groups that share membership, tactics and ideology with anti-American terrorists and are often the same groups.
(D) Saddam hates us. Q.E.D.
(E) Saddam has violated innumerable U.N. resolutions and the terms of the cease-fire that ended the last war. I won't quote chapter and verse on the public record, but he still shoots at our planes, doesn't he?
(F) Saddam is not subject to conventional deterrence. I buy this argument because conventional deterrence assumes that we can prove who attacked us. Saddam won't launch ICBMs at our cities -- but the anthrax investigation shoulbe be proof enough for anyone that a terror campaign can remain unsolved, and unavenged, for a very long time.
Is Saddam connected to Al Qaeda? Here, I'd agree that the evidence remains speculative. But we are at war with an enemy whose ideology is fiercely anti-American, as is Saddam's. With an enemy unafraid to use weapons and methods that most civilized nations have abjured, as is Saddam. Saddam cheers on our enemies, and they cheer on him.
Here's the bottom line: We are at war with an enemy, and that enemy was created by and prospers in a region of the world where tyranny breeds desperate men, where states oppress their own people, breed hatred, suspicion and paranoia, and can not be trusted to cooperate in the international law enforcement apparatus that is needed to make terrorism just a law enforcement problem. To the contrary, they use terror as an instrument of policy, and glorify it in their culture, and state sponsorship is necessary for terror networks to thrive as they have. The result is a nest of hornets who will continue to target us. We can't stand back on our heels forever, wrapping our houses in Hefty bags. Before we can again be safe, and can again make free people safe the world over, we must go on the offensive, undermining and if necessary forcibly removing the regimes that create these conditions. Iraq is the logical place to start for many reasons, some of them related to unfinished business from other conflicts.
Does that mean I support removing another nation's government for reasons of American national interest, rather than in satisfaction of some transnational legal rule that would apply equally to the foreign policy of Zambia or Luxembourg as it does to America? You bet I do. We do play by our own rules; we must. Might may not make right, but it makes responsibility. We alone have the power to drain this swamp, to the short-term benefit of ourselves and the civilized world and the long-term benefit of its inhabitants, which -- like our allies in Eastern Europe -- will someday be happy to join that world. Woe betide us if we fail.