Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Keeping an open mind re the Iraq war

I pride myself on keeping an open mind. At the risk of shocking my liberal readers, here's a chance for me to illustrate the point.

For many months now, in comments on various blogs, I have been describing the Iraq war as "a colossal blunder". Now I'm having second thoughts. I may have been wrong in that judgement.

That admission should surprise you, because I am decidedly left-leaning in my politics. But some time in the last ten years I embraced the motto, truth over ideology. My policy comprises these two major principles:
  1. follow the evidence wherever it leads;

  2. be receptive to new information even after you have reached a conclusion.
I have already changed my mind about Iraq once. I supported the war back when I still trusted President Bush not to lie to the American people (and the rest of the Western world).

In the aftermath of 9/11, I was prepared to support the American invasion of Iraq if Saddam Hussein constituted a real security risk. President Bush told us that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. I had no way of verifying the allegations, but President Bush's solemn assurances were confirmed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Despite the strenuous objections of the United Nations, I concluded that the invasion of Iraq was justified.

Like everyone else, I was startled when no weapons of mass destruction were ever found. At the same time, allegations began to surface that the American administration had distorted the intelligence information available to it. Some critics have not minced words:  they say that President Bush lied to the American people.

It is very difficult to prove that someone has lied when their assertions were based on classified information. But sufficient evidence has emerged to suggest that "lied" is not too strong a word. Over at Toner Mishap, blogger On the Mark offered these examples (in a comment here):
here are a few [of President Bush's lies] without even having to give it much thought:

"the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" in the State of the Union address in 2003; which his administration had concluded was bogus in March 2002.

"We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda." Aboard the USS Lincoln. Actually, they didn't remove one, they created one.

"We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in." In press conference with reporters on July 14, 2003. In fact, after a Security Council resolution was passed demanding that Iraq allow inspectors in, they were given complete access to the country.

His citing of a United Nations International Atomic Energy report alleging that Iraq was "six months away" from developing a nuclear weapon; and that Iraq maintained a growing fleet of unmanned aircraft that could be used, in Bush's words, "for missions targeting the United States." There was no such report by the IAEA and these aircraft lacked the range to reach the U.S.
The list is quite damning, and I am sure that others could add to it. President Bush's credibility has been damaged, perhaps beyond repair, which makes it very difficult for me to support the war in Iraq.

But my policy is to be receptive to new information. Here is what I have learned in recent weeks.

First, Saddam Hussein may have collaborated with Osama bin Laden. The evidence is found in the article Case Closed written by Stephen Hayes. (The article was first published in 2003, so it isn't actually new — it's just new to me. Hat tip to Ralphie over at Kerckhoff Coffeehouse):
OSAMA BIN LADEN and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda — perhaps even for Mohamed Atta — according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was written in response to a request from the committee as part of its investigation into prewar intelligence claims made by the administration.

Intelligence reporting included in the 16-page memo comes from a variety of domestic and foreign agencies, including the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources. Some of it is new information obtained in custodial interviews with high-level al Qaeda terrorists and Iraqi officials, and some of it is more than a decade old. The picture that emerges is one of a history of collaboration between two of America's most determined and dangerous enemies.

According to the memo — which lays out the intelligence in 50 numbered points — Iraq-al Qaeda contacts began in 1990 and continued through mid-March 2003, days before the Iraq War began.
Hayes indicates that the report is very specific at certain points. For example, it states that officials in the Iraqi military visited Osama bin Laden's farm in Khartoum in Sept.-Oct. 1995, and again in July 1996. In 1999, according to the report, Saddam Hussein personally sent Faruq Hijazi (deputy director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service and later Iraq's ambassador to Turkey) to meet with bin Laden at least twice, first in Sudan and later in Afghanistan.

If we can trust the US administration when it leaks such classified information — which admittedly is a big "if" — then On the Mark was wrong in one of his allegations. President Bush may not have been lying when he said, "We have removed an ally of Al Qaeda."

The difficulty is that we are again relying on classified information. If President Bush's credibility were unimpeachable, that wouldn't be an issue; but I continue to have lingering doubts.

The second item of new information is found in an article published by the Washington Post. (Hat tip to Jack at Random Thoughts):
The United States has obtained a letter from Osama bin Laden's deputy [Ayman Zawahiri] to the leader of Iraq's insurgency [Abu Musab Zarqawi]. …

U.S. officials said the letter was captured during counterterrorism operations in Iraq, but they were unwilling to specify how or when, and would provide only two quotes from it. The senior official said it has been authenticated "based on multiple sources over an extended period of time." They released information about the letter to four news organizations — saying word of its existence had started leaking out to reporters — on the same day that President Bush delivered a speech about the war on terrorism.

The letter of instructions and requests outlines a four-stage plan, according to officials:  First, expel American forces from Iraq. Second, establish a caliphate over as much of Iraq as possible. Third, extend the jihad to neighboring countries, with specific reference to Egypt and the Levant — a term that describes Syria and Lebanon. And finally, war against Israel.

U.S. officials say they were struck by the letter's emphasis on the centrality of Iraq to al Qaeda's long-term mission.

[update: a translation of the letter is available here]
Iraq may not have been central to al Qaeda's long-term mission before the USA invaded it. But surely the shift in priorities is to the US administration's credit. President Bush wanted to ensure that the front line of the battle was elsewhere, not on US soil. He has succeeded, if the information cited by the Washington Post is trustworthy.

Once again we are relying on classified information, with the same caveat as before.

But I am impressed by these two pieces of new information. If Saddam Hussein was collaborating with Osama bin Laden, that is sufficient justification for the invasion of Iraq. And if the invasion has diverted al Qaeda's attention, so that Iraq has become the front line in the "war on terror", then President Bush deserves our commendation. (I never thought I'd hear myself say that.)

Am I fully persuaded on either point? No. But the above data are causing me to reconsider my earlier conclusions. I admit it:  in my earlier characterization of the Iraq war as "a colossal blunder", I may have been wrong.

32 Comments:

At 11:08 PM, October 11, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Case Closed" was disavowed by the DoD almost as soon as the Weekly Standard article appeared(emphasis mine):

"The provision of the classified annex to the Intelligence Committee was cleared by other agencies and done with the permission of the intelligence community. The selection of the documents was made by DoD to respond to the committee’s question. The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it drew no conclusions."

If the Weekly Standard conclusions were true, I see no reason why they would not have been openly embraced by the DoD and the White House.

As far as the current letter goes, al-Qaeda NEEDS us in Iraq. If we leave two things will almost certainly happen in short order:

1. The al-Qaeda backed Sunni insurgency will be butchered by the 80% of non-Sunni Iraqis who have long memories and little mercy.

2. al-Qaeda will lose their number one recruiting poster. They need us in Iraq for the same reason most Arab nations deny Palestians citizenship and keep them in camps -- they need something to keep people focused on external grievances.

 
At 1:14 AM, October 12, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

I wonder if there is some sort of coincidence that this [dis]? information is being leaked around the same time the president's poll numbers are practically flat lining?

 
At 3:08 AM, October 12, 2005, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Why would you post such information anonymously? I am not trying to be a pain in the butt, but if you feel so strongly about this why hide.

I think that the hardest thing about this is the lack of trust in the information that we have received.

It is smart and reasonable to be skeptical, but there are times that I find myself frustrated because of this.

 
At 8:32 AM, October 12, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

I commend you on your openmindedness, but...

I'll leave the first poster's analysis on the pre-war evidence. It also seems to me to represent a colossal jump to go from the limited degree of collaborating described in the dubious memo to full justification for invasion, as your penultimate paragraph does.

FWIW, even though the memo says the collaboration existed up until mid-March 2003, detailed points the article identifies are all in the 1990s. So it's not clear how much, if any, of the alleged collaboration took place after 9/11. This is significant as evidenced by what the US did with respect to Afghanistan, namely, the US didn't invade Afghanistan until it refused to stop harboring the Taliban. In other words, it was given a chance before the invasion. One would think that assuming that collaboration can be used as a justification for invasion, the secondary country should have been given at least as much chance to disavow the Taliban as the primary country. Of course, that was impossible, given that the justification you cite to is an after-the-fact rationalization.

As for the observation of moving the front line, even assuming the captured letter is authentic (and reliable, something the July 7 Tube bombing calls into question), is it ethically acceptable to invade a different country so that the enemy won't invade your own? I understand the desire to protect one's own, but with respect to the Iraqis, the logic you're endorsing seems akin to pushing someone in front of you to take the bullet originally intended for you. Such an approach troubles me.

 
At 10:52 AM, October 12, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I read the disavowal link a little differently than anonymous.

First, the White House continued to point inquirers to the "Case Closed" article after the DoD disavowal. The article is prefaced with the following paragraph:

Editor's Note, 1/27/04: In today's Washington Post, Dana Milbank reported that "Vice President Cheney … in an interview this month with the Rocky Mountain News, recommended as the 'best source of information' an article in The Weekly Standard magazine detailing a relationship between Hussein and al Qaeda based on leaked classified information. Here's the Stephen F. Hayes article to which the vice president was referring."

As for the Department of Defence, they are only saying, "We neither confirm nor deny the information contained in the report". The key sentence is this,

The items listed in the classified annex were either raw reports or products of the CIA, the National Security Agency or, in one case, the Defense Intelligence Agency.

In other words, they have not provided a substantive analysis of information that originates from their department; and they can't confirm the accuracy of intelligence gathered by other agencies (the CIA and the National Security Agency). They are not saying that the information is inaccurate.

But I will go this far: anonymous has reinforced my hesitation to accept the information at face value.

Sorry, Jack, but the trust issue isn't easily brushed aside.

Aaron, your critique of the concluding portion of my post is well taken. You're right, limited collaboration between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein would not necessarily have been adequate to justify the invasion.

Until now, I was convinced there was absolutely no such collaboration. Now we have some evidence that there was some collaboration. Sufficient justification for war? — maybe, maybe not.

As for moving the front line elsewhere — speaking entirely selfishly, I'm glad the front line is over there and not (in light of 9/11) here in North America. But that doesn't make it any more moral, of course.

So let me add this. There is universal agreement on the fact that Saddam Hussein and the upper echelon of his government were truly horrible people. It is possible, if the USA can keep the situation from degenerating into civil war, that the Iraqi people will ultimately benefit from the invasion.

If it benefits us, and it ultimately benefits them, mightn't it be morally acceptable? Not that the humanitarian concern was President Bush's primary reason for invading Iraq.

Let me ask you this: why do you think the Bush administration invaded Iraq?

I don't buy the left-wing explanation, it's all about the oil. I don't think President Bush is evil; and only an evil person would invade another country for such a shallow reason.

Please, all of you who disagree with the invasion — what do you think motivated Bush and Co. to act?
Q

 
At 11:06 AM, October 12, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

Q... You don't mind a bit of controversy do you.....

As Aaron right points out - even if there is any credence in the link between Bin Laden & Saddam (which I doubt since they hated each other) is that reason enough to invade Iraq?

Anyway - wasn't the 'justification' supposedly to do with WMD & the Clear & Present Danger to US Interests? That didn't exist... and never did...

Looking at it another way... whatever the so-called 'justification' for the war take a glance at the balance sheet:

On one side a brutal dictator has been removed leaving (does the math) a whole lot more in the world.

On the other side we have tens of thousands of people dead. A country barely functioning before the invasion is now drowning in chaos & blood and on the edge of civil war. Billions of dollars a month is being spent (IMO) a now vain attempt to save some kind of face before the inevitable pull out.. and when the country collapses into Cival War does anyone think that Iran is going to sit by & let thousands of people of its own religious sect be slaughted? I think not. This will, naturally, make the whole region politically unstable for years to come.

Not only that - by the act of Invasion & now prolonged Occupation the US and its few remaining Allies have provided a cause & training ground for every anti-Western terrorist group in the world. Was the world a safer place before or after Gulf War 2?

The Invasion was a mistake of incalcuable proportions compounded by the fact that the whole thing was predicated on a lie. Personally I am suprised and not a little disgusted that the US & UK leadership are still in power after such a cynical treatment of their electorates.

I could go on (and on) but I'm becoming concerned about my blood pressure.....

 
At 11:55 AM, October 12, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

This white house gang has a huge credibility problem. To paraphrase a hero of the Republican Party (Ronald Reagan), I would only trust them with verification.

Why did we attack? I think there were a few reasons, revenge for Sadam threatening father Bush; stubbornness of Cheney and Rumsfeld that father Bush ignored their advice to go after Sadam during the first Gulf War and instead listened to Powell; it was the easiest way to show the U.S. was doing something regarding the 9/11 attacks because bombing a mountain range in the middle of nowhere would not result in anything; there was the case of reelection; and of course oil. China has an increased appetite for oil and we wanted that oil on the free market. Most people on the right don't buy that, but military bases that were set up in Iraq were named after oil companies and they were also set up to defend the oil production facilities so Sadam couldn't blow them up as he did last time. Also, they probably believed they could make a difference, but they ignored history and you know what they say about those who ignore history.

 
At 12:28 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

There is universal agreement on the fact that Saddam Hussein and the upper echelon of his government were truly horrible people. It is possible, if the USA can keep the situation from degenerating into civil war, that the Iraqi people will ultimately benefit from the invasion.

If it benefits us, and it ultimately benefits them, mightn't it be morally acceptable? Not that the humanitarian concern was President Bush's primary reason for invading Iraq.

Let me ask you this: why do you think the Bush administration invaded Iraq?

I don't buy the left-wing explanation, it's all about the oil. I don't think President Bush is evil; and only an evil person would invade another country for such a shallow reason.


I find the juxtaposition of your analysis here quite fascinating. Why isn't it about the oil? If Bush invaded with the hope of providing a stable source of oil for American demand, and the Iraqi people would simultaneously be freed of a brutal dictator, it arguably would benefit both the U.S. and Iraq -- by your own terms, it doesn't sound that evil.

Another possible reason:
Bush had a grudge against Saddam stemming from Saddam's attempted assassination on Bush's father.

Regardless of the justification, stories came out after the invasion that Bush and his team had been planning to invade Iraq for some time, and that when 9/11 took place, the immediate response of this group was to "find some way of tying Saddam to 9/11." Early BA attempts to justify invasion did link to 9/11, among other reasons. The reason WMD was used is because that was the justification that stuck/struck a chord.

In looking for cites to back up my memory from above, I came across this quite interesting website:
http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/timeline.jsp?timeline=complete_timeline_of_the_2003_invasion_of_iraq
I've just skimmed it so far, but it seems like it should be required reading for having this conversation.

Incidentally, the "word" I needed to type to enter this post, when pronounced just right, seems quite appropriate to the subject matter: awwfooc.

 
At 1:54 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Cyberkitten:
Billions of dollars a month is being spent (IMO) a now vain attempt to save some kind of face before the inevitable pull out.. and when the country collapses into Cival War does anyone think that Iran is going to sit by & let thousands of people of its own religious sect be slaughted? I think not. This will, naturally, make the whole region politically unstable for years to come.

According to just war theory, one of the criteria for a just war is a reasonable prospect of success, and your comment illustrates why it's a relevant consideration.

I don't know whether the situation in Iraq will go as you describe (it's certainly a real possibility) or whether democracy can be established in Iraq, one tiny step forward at a time.

If the USA has overreached, the consequences will be disastrous and the war will be recognized as manifestly unjust.

If the USA succeeds, everyone is going to feel damned good about it fifty years from now.

• Misanthrope:
military bases that were set up in Iraq were named after oil companies

You've mentioned that at Toner Mishap; can you provide me with a source? It astonishes me that the US administration could be so stupid as to do it, thereby furnishing their political enemies with the means to discredit them.

Am I surprised that American oil companies are rubbing their hands with glee at the opportunity to grab Iraq's oil? No, of course not. But from a purely logical point of view, it doesn't prove that an oil grab was the reason for going to war.

• Aaron:
[Q is bandaging his feet, which Aaron has been holding to the fire]

Obtaining a supply of oil is in no way morally equivalent to protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.

Benefitting the Iraqi populace while protecting the American populace from harm still seems like a reasonable equation to me. But benefitting the Iraqi populace while grabbing Iraqi oil does not.

The two arguments may be formally equivalent, but I think there's a valid moral distinction between them.

That said, I should have responded differently to your first comment. If the sole purpose of invading Iraq was to create a new front in the "war on terror" I would absolutely not defend it.

I presented the evidence in my post in a specific order for a reason. If Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were collaborating, then invading Iraq is a win-win scenario. It removes an al Qaeda ally and establishes a new front in the "war on terror" simultaneously.

In addition to which, it has the potential to benefit the Iraqi people long term — although I do not believe that was a primary motivation on the part of the Bush administration.

stories came out after the invasion that Bush and his team had been planning to invade Iraq for some time, and that when 9/11 took place, the immediate response of this group was to "find some way of tying Saddam to 9/11."

This part of your argument goes to Bush's credibility, once again. For me, this is the central issue. For you, I'm not so sure it is.

If I could believe President Bush: that he honestly (if mistakenly) believed there were were WMD in Iraq; and that there was, in fact, collaboration between Saddam and Osama — then I would support the war in Iraq.

Would you? Or would those reasons still not suffice for you?

(Never mind about benefitting the Iraqi people and also accessing oil for the American economy — both of those are peripheral matters.)
Q

 
At 1:54 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

Q said: Please, all of you who disagree with the invasion — what do you think motivated Bush and Co. to act?

As Aaron said there were probably many reasons why Bush & Co decided on the Invasion - but I doubt very much if probably preferential access to Iraq's oil reserves wasn't one of them.

War's are also very profitable to those companies tied into the Military-Industrial Complex.. that's something we really shouldn't forget.

..and maybe, just maybe, they actually thought they might be doing some good....

..and then there's the denial on who actually gave him the 'Green Light'.

"Never believe anything until it's been officially denied."

 
At 2:10 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger 49erDweet said...

Q, it strikes me once again how many of us benefit intellectually from your postings on subjects that strike your fancy. Thanks, again, for hosting such a neat blog.

It is "Simply" a pleasure to visit.

 
At 2:43 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

Sorry this comment goes two directions, first it addresses Oil and war, and secondly my opinion on the decision to go to war in general, not entirely taking into account the documents referred to but mostly on the principle of it.


Oil and War
I think it may be possible to base the decision to go to war on the economic need to control oil, even if you were not entirely an evil person. That said, I think it would require a degree of separation from the feelings of people other than those you were sworn to protect. Is this possible in George Bush, I am not sure? I am sure however, that his degree of commitment to Americans above all else is extremely high. If he protects Americans and in turn the American economy, with a decision we might consider evil, it may be possible he would go that rout. This however is based on perception not documents like those discussed in Q’s article.

War and Peace

That said, regardless of how it was decided my problem is how easy was the decision?

Bush has often talked about how hard the decision was as if choosing war was more difficult than choosing peace.

In choosing war he states;
Failure to act would embolden other tyrants, allow terrorists access to new weapons and new resources, and make blackmail a permanent feature of world events. The United Nations would betray the purpose of its founding, and prove irrelevant to the problems of our time. And through its inaction, the United States would resign itself to a future of fear.

The apparent fear of being perceived as a coward is evident.
However, if the perception of cowardice was a rational considered, then remember it takes more bravery to die unarmed in front of a firing squad as a conscientious objector then in a fully load battle tank. Sorry for distilling that down, I realize there are different types of bravery being compared here, but I value higher the bravery that leads to the martyr than the one that leads to the war hero (although to some degree I respect and question both).

I am concerned that because there seemed to be a rush to war the decision may have been too easily decided. When a UN decision on the matter may not have been far away, unilateral decisions were made that hastened the onslaught.

If Bush thinks that the choice of peace is easy, here is an interesting quote from the Rev. J. Bryan Hehi head of Catholic Charities USA that illustrates the opposite;

Peace is difficult to achieve, Hehir said. It is not a "soft-headed idea." "Everyone recognizes that war is hard: It requires courage, bravery, risk and sacrifice," he added. "But peace is hard, also; it takes the same qualities of courage, bravery, risk and sacrifice. ... War has a beginning and usually a definitive end. There are victories, treaties, [and] settlements. Peace is an ongoing effort; we achieve it, then we have to solidify it."

Though I do not often think in absolutes, I am absolutely convinced that war is wrong.

 
At 2:50 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

If I could believe President Bush: that he honestly (if mistakenly) believed there were were WMD in Iraq; and that there was, in fact, collaboration between Saddam and Osama — then I would support the war in Iraq.

Would you? Or would those reasons still not suffice for you?


One of the reasons I provided that link is to show the large amount of evidence showing that the reason for invading Iraq was never about WMD, that WMD was simply a rationale that could be used to justify an invasion.

So even though I don't think it's possible that Bush honestly believed in WMD, you've asked a hypothetical. My answer is no, belief is not enough. War should always be a last resort, and it was obvious even then that it was the BA's first course of action. I understand the desire to prevent attacks on the U.S., but there was very little evidence to suggest that even if they possessed WMDs, that Iraq was capable of launching an attack on the U.S. in the short term. Given that the danger was not imminent, the BA had time to verify the threat's legitimacy, and so it was incumbent on the BA to do so. Given the circumstances, belief (even if it was premised on faulty but unbiased intelligence) is insufficient.

As for collaboration, I've spoken to it a bit, but I'll expand. If (a) collaboration had been the stated reason for the invasion, (b) said collaboration had been significant (sanctuary/base of operations, large amounts of money, joint operations), particularly post-9/11, and (c) Saddam had been given the chance to stop such collaboration prior to any invasion and said no (or said yes but didn't keep his word), then I would have been much more comfortable with an invasion (which is about as good as you're going to get from a pacifist).

BTW, sorry about those hot feet, but if you're determined to use your blog to play with fire.... ;)

 
At 3:08 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

I think Q's attempt is not to play with fire but to engage in the age-old Amman ritual of 'thee midhi' or fire-walking. However I am convinced he likes to feel the fire beneath him.

(-:

 
At 3:21 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Cyberkitten:
If all of you are convinced that the oil grab was at least a major factor in the decision, I certainly can't prove otherwise.

I don't have a very high opinion of the President, but I can't ascribe such a base motive to him. As a result, it has always been a puzzle to me. If not because of WMD, and not because of an al Qaeda connection, and not because of oil — then why?

With Aaron, I think there's a certain personal animus at work, going back to the first Gulf war. But I feel like I'm still missing a vital piece of the puzzle … unless the al Qaeda connection is more real than we know.

• 49er:
Thank you for the kind words.

• Aaron:
I didn't realize you were a pacifist. As in, there's no such thing as a just war, under any conceivable circumstances?

As for your analysis, I think your reasoning is sound on both points. Your argument is likely superior to mine.

• btw, all:
I have mentioned this post in a comment at Kerckhoff Coffeehouse, and I hope the bloggers over there will join the dialogue at some point. Then the fur will really begin to fly! So stay tuned.
Q

 
At 3:44 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

Q said: According to just war theory, one of the criteria for a just war is a reasonable prospect of success, and your comment illustrates why it's a relevant consideration.

I don't think for a second that the US military thought that they had anything like a fair fight on their hands (not withstanding that there isn't anything like a fair fight in a real war) when taking on Iraq. They where already a defeated nation using old technology. The US fully expected 'a walk in the park' and that's exactly what happened.

However, I remember reading and listening to discussions about the aftermath. There was a 'worse case' scenario which was pretty much like what we have now - except the reality is much, much worse. The US in particular expected to be welcomed with open arms as liberators. Maybe they were to begin with, but then things got very ugly very quickly. The incompetence in the planning of 'winning the peace' was quickly evident in the widespread looting. From then on it only went one way - downhill.. and since 'combat operations' ceased the speed of the downhill race has only been increasing day by day. The Americans really, I mean REALLY, failed to understand the political and cultural situation in Iraq. This is hardly surprising when it appears that an over-arching belief in probably large sections of the American people is that, at heart, everyone wants to be just like them. "Inside every Gook is an American just wanting to get out." This simply isn't true.

I think this helps explain the hurt and confusion of some of the American troops I've seen interviewed. They really can't understand why the locals (and the so-called Insurgents are largely locals) are attacking them. If an occupying army had killed some of your friends or family.. how would you feel.. and if you could strike back.. wouldn't you?

Q also said: If the USA succeeds, everyone is going to feel damned good about it fifty years from now.

Well, I think the American Government might feel 'pretty damned good about it' but will the Iraqi's? Will the families of all those people killed (on both sides) feel 'pretty damned good about it'? Will they think it was worth the cost?

How many lives is Iraqi democracy worth? Can you really bomb people to the ballot box and what if they chose a style of government that you don't agree with? Do we invade again until we get a government we like? Do we REALLY want to do this again in another country? Is this the future - perpetual war?

 
At 3:48 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

Q, I think it could be Jarhead or another one that I read, which I will have to check when I get home tonight, but I will give you the source.

 
At 3:56 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

This from By Michael Klare, Tomdispatch.com. Posted September 23, 2005.

Oil was certainly not the only concern that prompted the American invasion of Iraq, but it weighed in heavily with many senior administration officials. This was especially true of Vice President Dick Cheney who, in an August 2002 speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, highlighted the need to retain control over Persian Gulf oil supplies when listing various reasons for toppling Saddam Hussein. Nor is there any doubt that Cheney's former colleagues in the oil industry viewed Iraq's oilfields with covetous eyes. "For any oil company," one oil executive told the New York Times in February 2003, "being in Iraq is like being a kid in F.A.O. Schwarz." Likewise oil was a factor in the pre-war thinking of many key neoconservatives who argued that Iraqi oilfields -- once under U.S. control -- would cripple OPEC and thereby weaken the Arab states facing Israel.

Still, for some U.S. policymakers, other factors were preeminent, especially the urge to demonstrate the efficacy of the Bush Doctrine, the precept that preventive war is a practical and legitimate response to possible weapons-of-mass-destruction ambitions on the part of potential adversaries. Whatever the primacy of their ultimate objectives, these leaders shared one basic assumption: that, when occupied by American forces, Iraq would pump ever increasing amounts of petroleum from its vast and prolific reserves.

This sense of optimism about Iraq's future oil output was palpable in Washington in the months leading up to the invasion. In its periodic reports on Iraqi petroleum, the Department of Energy (DoE), for example, confidently reported in late 2002 that, with sufficient outside investment, Iraq could quickly double its production from the then-daily level of 2.5 million barrels to 5 million barrels or more. At the State Department, the Future of Iraq Project set up a Working Group on Oil and Energy to plan the privatization of Iraqi oil assets and the rapid introduction of Western capital and expertise into the local industry. Meanwhile, Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi -- then the Pentagon's favored candidate to replace Saddam Hussein as suzerain of Iraq (and now Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister in charge of energy infrastructure) -- met with top executives of the major U.S. oil companies and promised them a significant role in developing Iraq's vast petroleum reserves. "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil," he insisted in September 2002.

Aside from the purely pecuniary benefits of seizing Iraqi oil, administration officials of all persuasions saw another key attraction: once Iraqi fields were pumping oil again, the resulting revenues would essentially pay for the war and the costs of occupation. "We can afford it," White House economic adviser Larry Lindsey said of the planned U.S. invasion, because rising Iraqi oil output would invigorate the U.S. economy. "When there is regime change in Iraq, you could add three to five million barrels [per day] of production to world supply," he told the Wall Street Journal in September 2002. Hence, "successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy." In one of the most striking comments of this sort, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told a congressional panel, "The oil revenue of [Iraq] could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

Clearly, gaining control of what Wolfowitz once described as a country that "floats on a sea of oil" was one of the Pentagon's highest priorities in the early days of the invasion. As part of its planning for the assault, the Department of Defense established detailed plans to seize Iraqi oil fields and installations during the first days of the war. "It's fair to say that our land component commander and his planning staff have crafted strategies that will allow us to secure and protect these fields as rapidly as possible," a top Pentagon official told news reporters on January 24, 2003. Once U.S. troops entered Iraq, special combat teams spread out into the oil fields and occupied key installations. In fact, the very first operation of the war was a commando raid on an offshore loading platform in the Persian Gulf. "Swooping silently out of the Persian Gulf night," an over-stimulated reporter for the New York Times wrote on March 23, "Navy Seals seized two Iraqi oil terminals in bold raids that ended early this morning, overwhelming lightly armed Iraqi guards and claiming a bloodless victory in the battle for Iraq's vast oil empire."

This early "victory" was followed by others, as U.S. forces occupied key refineries and, most conspicuously, the Oil Ministry building in downtown Baghdad. So far, so good. But almost instantaneously things began to go seriously wrong. Lacking sufficient troops to protect the oil facilities and all the other infrastructure in Baghdad and other key cities, the military chose to protect the oil alone -- allowing desperate and rapacious Iraqis to go on a rampage of looting that fatally undermined the authority of the military occupation and the U.S.-backed interim government. To make matters worse, the very visible American emphasis on protecting oil facilities while ignoring other infrastructure gave the distinct -- and not completely inaccurate --impression that the United States had invaded Iraq less to liberate it from a tyrannical regime than to steal, or at least control, its oil. And from this perception came part of the anger and resentment that constituted the essential raw materials for the outbreak of an armed insurgency against the American occupation and everything associated with it. The Bush administration never recovered from this disastrous chain of events

 
At 4:57 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I have said on a number of occasions that I think that it is highly possible that the war was predicated on multiple things, with bad intelligence being a primary source.

I am not sure what is more upsetting. The idea that Bush took us into war with good faith in bad intelligence or the opposite of that.

Q,

I agree that the trust issue cannot and should not just be brushed aside.

 
At 5:04 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

About the Intelligence...

The question is: Why did they choose to believe it. From what I've seen of the 'quality' of the information they worked with a 10 year old child could've torn it to pieces. I think they saw what they wanted to see. The decision had already been made - and the information needed to make it sound like a good one wasn't exactly 'manufactured' as such... but was given far more credibility than it deserved.

 
At 6:05 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Cyberkitten:
If democracy takes root, I think the Iraqi people will look back on these tumultuous events and conclude that it was worth it.

Yes, many Iraqi civilians have died, but people are willing to pay a very high cost for freedom. Whether the USA can succeed in establishing freedom remains to be seen; but we know for certain that Saddam Hussein didn't provide it. "Brutal dictatorship" is an apt description by all accounts.

The article you posted is very informative and seems to be balanced in its assessment. No doubt the USA remembered that Saddam's army had set fire to the oil wells of Kuwait as it retreated, and they weren't about to let it happen again.

But it appears to be the only part of "winning the peace" that they thought through in any detail.

• Jack:
I'm going to update my post to provide a link to the translation of the letter. (For those who haven't seen Jack's post on the subject today, it is here and it's worth a look.)
Q

 
At 6:36 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

Q said: If democracy takes root, I think the Iraqi people will look back on these tumultuous events and conclude that it was worth it.


Unfortunately we'll only know this from an historical perspective. Maybe in 50 or 100 years.... That can't really give people going through various shades of hell right now a warm fuzzy feeling about it all.

Personally I just think it was a mistake of HUGE proportions.

Q also said: Yes, many Iraqi civilians have died, but people are willing to pay a very high cost for freedom.

..and they are certainly paying that price. I actually don't think you can deliver democracy at the point of a gun. The people themselves need to decide what kind of country they want to live in. However much we value democracy we cannot impose it on other people. What gives us the right to do that?

Anyway, as I keep saying - Gulf War 2 was not about bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq. It was supposedly to do with eliminating a threat that did not even exist. That alone is unforgivable. War should always be an activity of final resort. This was not the case in the Gulf.

 
At 11:34 PM, October 12, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

Q, here is the passage:

With stupefying obtuseness, the military had named the FARPs(Forward Air Refueling Point) for oil companies, despite Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s insistence that he invasion of a country with 112 billion barrels of confirmed reserves had “nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil.” Exxon would located near Nasariyah, in southern Iraq; Shell was to go southwest of Najaf. Conoco, the FARP now being rehearsed, would be built three hundred miles into Iraq, less than a hundred miles from Baghdad. Soldiers had laid out dozen nozzles and fuel hoses connected to tanker trucks. (page 85, In the Company of Soldiers, "A Chronicle of Combat" by Rick Atkinson)

 
At 7:17 AM, October 13, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

An allegory told in the vein of a Mary P. post:

George says to me, "I've lost my shovel."

"What color is it?" I ask.

"Yellow."

"Well," I said, "Let's go look for it." I say this even though I have no memory of George ever having brought a yellow shovel.

Soon the two of us are looking everywhere for his shovel -- in the basement, the kitchen, the backyard, even my study.

At one point Darcy asks what we're doing, and I tell him. George chimes in, "You can help us look for it."

Darcy says, "I don't want to look for your shovel."

"If you don't help me, then you're not my friend."

"George," I said, "That's not very nice."

Reluctantly, Darcy joins in, but Harry, who'd overheard the exchange, chimes in, "Then I guess I'm not your friend," and goes off to play with the blocks.

We continue our search for a solid hour -- it's an activity that keeps them occupied, so I don't mind, but after an hour of searching that fails to turn up the shovel, I gently suggest we call off the search.

"George, I'm sorry we didn't find your shovel."

George isn't upset by this at all. Instead, he holds up a shiny penny and says, "That's ok Mary, I found this instead."

 
At 10:05 AM, October 13, 2005, Blogger Mary P. said...

Oh. I've been immortalized! LOL

 
At 10:46 AM, October 13, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Misanthrope:
Thanks for hunting down that reference for me; I've been curious about it since I first read about it on your blog.

I'll accept the information at face value, since it appears to originate with a soldier who was on the ground.

But what does it tell us? Rumsfeld surely didn't order them to name the military camps after oil companies. My guess is, it was a rather cynical joke on the part of the soldier who named them.

I'm sure you think I'm naive on this point. It's certainly true that many wars have been started primarily over economic interests. And the information you provide tips the scales a little further in the direction of the "oil grab" explanation. But it doesn't constitute definitive proof.

• Aaron:
A few hundred years ago, the citizens of Europe began to migrate to North America to make a better life for themselves. Sometimes they pursued economic opportunity: e.g. those who fled the potato famine in Ireland. But for many, religious freedom was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I wonder what those men and women would say if they revisited the USA today.

Religious freedom has become freedom to have no religion: where the separation of church and state is a much vaunted constitutional principle, where courts forbid the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, where evolution is taught to American children in the public school system, where "freedom" has become license to violate traditional Christian mores.

Meanwhile secularists grind their teeth because religion is still too prominent a facet of public life.

What would those first immigrants say? — who came here in search of a yellow shovel and instead unearthed a penny.

But what would you say? You're glad they migrated here and founded this great nation, aren't you?
Q

 
At 11:23 AM, October 13, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

Hmmm, perhaps I shouldn't have gone down the allegory road -- I was only trying to be tongue-in-cheek, but on this site you never know what you're going to unleash. ;)

Your questions risk completely redirecting the thread away from the original subject (though, given it's your blog, is your prerogative), and were I to completely address your post, my immediate response would take issue with your characterization of the historical role of religion in the United States. Rather than follow along that side road just yet (which could easily turn into an entirely new thread), I'll simply point out that those immigrants were promised religious freedom, and received it, no matter how we differ in our characterization of what that meant then and what it means now. They didn't come to the U.S. in search of something that they had no reason to believe existed.

Some of course came for financial opportunity instead (though the Irish emigration due to the potato famine didn't take place until the 1800s, and they suffered from ethnic, and religious, discrimination), but they also benefited from religious freedom to the extent they wanted it.

 
At 11:45 AM, October 13, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

My goodness, Aaron, you were quick to respond! I came back to clarify what I meant, because Mary P. was concerned that my remarks would be misinterpreted. But I think you understood what I was driving at.

No, I don't want us to get sidetracked into a discussion of the role of religion in American history. I am aware that, among the founding fathers, two streams of thought were represented, and Jefferson, for one, presumably would be well pleased with the way things have worked out. Or maybe he'd side with those who think religion is still too prominent in public life.

But I think you will concede that many of the people who migrated to North America from Europe were of the mindset that I have described.

My point is that history unfolds in unexpected ways, and we end up in places we hadn't intended to go. And sometimes it all turns out for the best.

Very pragmatic of me to be so complacent about it, I know — rather like George in your allegory.

I was responding a bit to you and a bit to Cyberkitten, who thinks Iraqis will never be happy with the outcome of this war, even if democracy is successfully established.

those immigrants were promised religious freedom, and received it, no matter how we differ in our characterization of what that meant then and what it means now.

They wanted religious freedom; what Americans have achieved is a secular society. They are not the same thing, not by a long shot.

Not that I want to be misunderstood as a fundamentalist (which was Mary P.'s concern). I agree that the creation of a secular state was the only way to make freedom of religion practicable. I agree that the USA is a great nation.

But it isn't at all what those first immigrants aimed to achieve. I am sure they would be shocked and appalled.
Q

 
At 1:27 PM, October 13, 2005, Blogger aaron said...

They wanted religious freedom; what Americans have achieved is a secular society. They are not the same thing, not by a long shot.

They aren't the same thing, but they are compatible. The religious freedom we have here enables one to pray and worship according to her/his faith, and live by the tenets of one's faith. In my book, religious freedom does not entitle one to ram one's religion down the throat of someone who doesn't share it. One example is using an interpretation of religious law to ban activities that some (but not all) adherents of the religion believe go against their religion, e.g., homosexuality. Another is a teacher in a public school leading a Protestant prayer that offends Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc.

 
At 1:59 PM, October 13, 2005, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

Q, I agree it's not definitive proof, but it's just one of several reasons, none of which have to do with 9/11. Atkinson is not a soldier, I think he was a reporter for the Washington Post who covers military issues.

 
At 4:01 PM, October 13, 2005, Blogger CyberKitten said...

Q said: I don't want us to get sidetracked into a discussion of the role of religion in American history.

They wanted religious freedom; what Americans have achieved is a secular society. They are not the same thing, not by a long shot.

Maybe we could discuss the apparent American slide (or is it being pushed) towards Theocracy at another time?

Just a thought..

Q also said: I was responding a bit to you and a bit to Cyberkitten, who thinks Iraqis will never be happy with the outcome of this war, even if democracy is successfully established.

I didn't say (and certainly didn't mean) that the Iraqi people will never be happy with the result of the war. I was calling into question the (hopefully short-term) cost v the long term benefits. Is even the best case scenario worth all this pain?

 
At 6:19 PM, October 13, 2005, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Aaron:
I've already said, I agree that the creation of a secular state was the only way to make freedom of religion practicable.

I'm not telling you my view. I'm trying to put myself in someone else's mindset. I expect the first immigrants to North America from Europe expected to live in a Christian country. You could be Protestant or Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, or Reformed, without fear of persecution.

But they didn't envision a secular state, and they didn't envision multiculturalism.

In any event, I think we've strayed from my original argument. I am still not sure that I support the war in Iraq. The conclusion to my post was, in my earlier characterization of the Iraq war as "a colossal blunder", I may have been wrong.

It's true, I may have been wrong, but you folks have put forward some solid arguments suggesting that I shouldn't be too hasty to switch my position.

Here's a recap of our dialogue. In the original post, I argued as follows:

• If there was collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden — and I now amend that to substantial collaboration, in light of Aaron's argument — and
• if the war has created a new front in the war on terror and thereby prevented further terrorist attacks on American soil; and
• if Iraqis also ultimately benefit from the American intervention —

then the invasion was justified. But that's a lot of ifs.

Formerly, I did not believe there was any collaboration between Saddam and Osama, but now I wonder. And I didn't realize that Iraq has become central to al Qaeda's plans, but perhaps it has.

In response, Misanthrope and Cyberkitten have argued, with some force, that the Bush administration was motivated primarily by its lust for oil. I still don't agree, but my resistance to the argument is purely subjective. I can't bring myself to ascribe such a base motive to President Bush.

Cyberkitten added that there is every likelihood the situation in Iraq will deteriorate rather than improve — and I agree, it is entirely possible.

And Aaron has argued
(a) that even if there was some collaboration between Saddam and Osama, there's little evidence to suggest that it was substantial; and
(b) that the use of force should have been a last resort, which it manifestly was not.

Is that a fair summary? I don't think anyone has changed his position, but I hope we've all been challenged to sharpen our thinking.

I know I have; so thanks, all.
Q

 

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