The case for war

by John Quiggin on November 27, 2004

Norman Geras presents a central part of the argument for war, arguing that war can be justified even when it is predictable in advance that it will do more harm than good, and that even aggressors aren’t fully responsible for the consequences of the wars they start. Here’s the crucial bit

in sum, those in the anti-war camp often argue as if there wasn’t actually a war going on – the real conflict on the ground being displaced in their minds by the argument between themselves and supporters of the war. Everything is the fault of those who took the US and its allies into that war and, secondarily, those who supported or justified this.

Except it isn’t. As I said in the earlier post, the war has two sides. One counter-argument here is likely to be that those who initiate an unjust war are responsible for everything they unleash. But first, this begs the question. Much of the case for the war’s being unjust was that it would have bad consequences. Yet, many of those bad consequences are the responsibility of forces prosecuting a manifestly unjust war – in both its objectives and its methods – on the other side. Secondly, it’s simple casuistry in assessing the responsibilities of two sides in a military conflict to load everything on to one of the sides – even where the blame for having begun an unjust and aggressive war is uncontroversial. Were the Japanese themselves responsible for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Adolf Hitler was responsible for many terrible crimes during the Second World War. But the fire bombing of Dresden? This is all-or-nothing thinking.

To respond, I’ll begin by asking a question. Suppose those of us on the Left who opposed the Iraq war had prevailed. To what extent, if any, would we have been responsible for the crimes that Saddam would undoubtedly have committed while he remained in power?

Based on the above argument[1], Geras’ answer would have to be “not at all”. Opponents of the war did not (with a handful of exceptions) support Saddam’s regime or assist it in committing its various crimes. And it’s clear here that Geras requires absolute and direct complicity. When Hitler fire-bombed London, it was obvious that, if the British ever got the chance they would in Churchill’s memorable phrase “give it all back, in good measure, pressed down and running over”, as of course they did. But since the bombing of Dresden was an unjust action, Hitler was not, in Geras’ view, morally responsible for it.

There’s a sense in which this is right, but it’s not the relevant one in asking the question “Should we have opposed the war”. In deciding to oppose the war, it was necessary to take account of all the consequences[2] of the decision insofar as they could be foreseen[3]. Those consequences included Saddam’s continuation in power, which would have cost thousands of lives and caused a lot of misery. The alternative was the war which has cost tens of thousands of lives and caused even more misery, something which should have been predictable in advance and was in fact predicted. If you accept this assessment, leaving Saddam in power was the lesser of two evils.

Since there are a lot of unknowns here, reasonable people differed about the best course of action before the war. Some believed that the war would be short that the transition to democracy would be rapid, and therefore that the war should be supported. Some believed the Administration’s claims about WMDs and Saddam’s to al Qaeda, which implied that leaving Saddam alone would be very dangerous. Most people who reasoned in this way have conceded that, at least ex post they were mistaken. Belle’s post on this was one of the best. Here’s another from Michael Ignatieff. Some people are still trying to argue that the good consequences of the war will eventually outweigh the bad, but this is becoming less and less plausible.

If you accept Geras’ argument, though, there’s no need to abandon support for this or any just war, even if its consequences are more evil than good. The bad consequences in Iraq are due to the insurgents who are unjustly resisting the Americans. And more generally, it’s hard to imagine any war that can’t be justified, on both sides, by this kind of argument. If your cause is just (in your own eyes), and the rules by which you fight it are justified (in your own eyes), then the death and carnage of war is all due to the manifestly unjust actions of the other side.

Given this analysis, it’s not surprising while supporters of the war have quibbled with recent estimates of civilian casualties, infant mortality and so on, few have given any indication that there is some level at which their support for the war would be withdrawn. The argument now isn’t about support or opposition to this war but about support for or opposition to war in general.

fn1. I haven’t checked, but I don’t think Geras has been entirely consistent in this respect.

fn2. This argument may be made either with regard to a case-by-case assessment of particular decisions, or to the formulation of general rules.

fn3. In making a judgement of this kind, it’s worth remembering that, most of the time, wars have been far more bloody and brutal than was expected on either side at the start. It’s more or less self-evident that at least one side in war has underestimated the costs and overestimated the benefits, but more common that both sides have done so.

{ 155 comments }

1

The Eradicator! 11.28.04 at 7:05 am

Perfect madness. Y’all are talking like this was a war proposed and debated like it were a hypothetical game of chess. Aaarg.

This was a war proposed and marketed by a group of people who were quite clearly talking absolute crap: that they “knew” there were WMDs & where they were, that there was a definite AQ connection, that the financial costs (never specified) were to be sniffed at (for obviously preposterous reasons involving oil revenues), that we could have an occupation that was also a liberation (!), that this all had some damn thing to do with 9/11, that no reasonable plan for dealing with the aftermath was remotely necessary, that attacking an Arab country would make the Arabs Like Us…

I remember arguing at the time that we should opppose this war because the people proposing the war were barking mad. And being laughed at. For the love of SpongeBob, if those people now proposing these Hard Questions had freaking asked sensible hard questions two years ago… well, we’d still be screwed, because the administration nuts would have done the same damn thing anyway. But at least we’d have been spared some of the ex post facto blathering. Sheesh.

2

ogmb 11.28.04 at 7:09 am

Yes, Hitler was responsible for the bombing of Dresden, as it was a plausible response to the course of action he chose. Under the (extremely counterfactual) assumption that there was a feasible opposition to Hitler in pre-WW2 Germany Dresden would have been an ex-post argument justifying their opposition.

Geras could maybe make a point based on probabilities, saying that the insurgency and its crimes were outside the expectable range of responses, but in 1939 the idea of Allied bombers firebombing Dresden was certainly less imaginable than the current situation.

3

Messenger 11.28.04 at 7:37 am

That argument by Geras surely has to be one of the most absurd and intellectually dishonest I have heard even from the pro-war side, and does not deserve the elaborate rebuttal you give.

These warmongers are only trying to hang on to a shred of their illusions and deny their blood-stained hands by any means they can, but it will not work.

4

Keith M Ellis 11.28.04 at 9:55 am

If there’s one thing that I believe with deep certainty, it’s that moral responsibility is not a zero-sum “game”. Or, if it is, what sums to zero must be very closely causally related. Otherwise, moral responsibility itself dissolves into chance or determinism with little or no place for human choice. That well may correctly describe reality, but not reality as we are capable of experiencing it. We necessarily assume free will, and we necessarily assume moral choice. Thus, the decision to utilize firestorms as a war strategy, or to a-bomb Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or to bomb an Iraqi wedding party, must necessarily stand alone enough that a moral judgment about them is possible.

5

Andrew Smith 11.28.04 at 10:03 am

Yeah, Geras’s argument is weak. Imagine if people would apply this reasoning to everyday situations!~ What happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were pure evil (the fire bombing of Tokyo was just as bad, if not worse) but Geras practically says one can half-blame the chinese for Nanjing which is total rubbish…

6

abb1 11.28.04 at 10:05 am

What messinger said.

Basically, it’s like this: war is hell and those who start it are responsible for all of it – they should be hung first. And then those from both sides responsible for individual crimes and atrocities should be prosecuted too, of course.

Wasn’t all this discussed at length at the Nurnberg Trials?

7

Luc 11.28.04 at 10:20 am

You could fill a day discussing this kind of argumentation.

First an out of context quote

Seen by those in the West who support it as a (legitimate) war of resistance

That is, Norman Geras is not in dispute with me (or most of you) but just with those that support Zarqawi and the other ‘resistance’. It is really nice of him to keep other sane arguments out of his argumentation. That way he doesn’t have to address the issue of why flattening Fallujah helps in winning “hearts and minds” and making Iraq better of. It is a strange concept of war, if you’d be free of responsibility for the consequences of your actions.

But by splicing the war in four that is what he does:

1st war) Saddam was evil, thus war is justified.
2nd war) The resistance is evil, thus war is justified
3rd war) bringing stability and democracy is good, thus war is justified
4th war) To hold elections, Iraq should be secured, thus war is justified.

It is in no way comparable to what Walzer did. He created 4 parallel wars to distinguish between motives.

Norman Geras splits the war in four to escape responsibility for the consequences of invading Iraq.

8

Eve Garrard 11.28.04 at 11:30 am

John, you say:

And more generally, it’s hard to imagine any war that can’t be justified, on both sides, by this kind of argument. If your cause is just (in your own eyes), and the rules by which you fight it are justified (in your own eyes), then the death and carnage of war is all due to the manifestly unjust actions of the other side.

But this isn’t what Norman Geras says at all. His argument is about wars that are actually unjust, not merely ones that are believed to be unjust. Hence his argument doesn’t support any old war, but only just ones. If, however, you want to claim that this puts us in an epistemically hopeless position, since the best we can ever do is support a war which we believe to be just, and on Geras’s account we could always be wrong about this, then surely this problem also arises for your own justification of war in terms of preponderance of good over bad consequences. There are well-known and possibly insuperable problems about calculating the consequences of our actions, and we could always get it wrong, hence could believe ourselves to be justified in supporting a war when we’re not.

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John Quiggin 11.28.04 at 12:01 pm

You’ve missed my point, Eve. I’m saying that, on Geras’ account, the justness of the cause is sufficient to make resort to war justified.

Since (nearly) everyone believes in the justness of their cause, this means that war against those who obstruct your cause is almost always subjectively justified. The point is not that people may be right or wrong about the justness of their cause, but that whether they are right or wrong, Geras’ position points to war.

I agree that judgements about consequences may be mistaken (and I say so), but a look at history tells us that the consequences of war have nearly always been more evil than good.

So a focus on consequences leads to a position that is usually antiwar, while Geras’ argument leads to a position that is almost invariably prowar.

10

Harald Korneliussen 11.28.04 at 12:13 pm

“Yes, Hitler was responsible for the bombing of Dresden, as it was a plausible response to the course of action he chose.”

This hurts me more than it hurts you, you insensitive poster!
*swings rubber hose*

Seriously, this only confirms what I’ve known all along, that a good old consequence ethic, combined with the winner writing the history books (and, more importantly, writing those science-fiction books about what would have happened if we acted otherwise), can justify anything.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people started taking responsibility for their own actions, instead of taking responsibility for everything else and then arguing that this stern responsibility we have of bringing about heaven on earth excuses all those minor sins we comitted on the way to our lofty goal?

Pardon my rambling.

11

Robin Green 11.28.04 at 2:06 pm

To summarise:

1. Geras is right (of course) that responsibility must be shared by all sides in this conflict. Not in equal proportions, of course.

2. Geras’s argument is clearly intended to imply that, in a Kantian sort of way, even if the consequences of the war are worse than the consequences of not having the war (here, now, with Bush leading it), it was still just.

3. But this argument falls flat, because the war is not just in a Kantian way. Even Kofi Annan said the war was illegal, and he is quite right. A UN Security Council resolution was not obtained, and lies were used in the process of trying to obtain it, and therefore it was a war of agression. The only way one can even attempt to justify it is on a long-term consequentialist account.

Also, on the consequentialist account, is not clear to me why the goal of providing security and democracy for Iraq is helped by turning down offers of military assistance from the other Arab states.

12

Eve Garrard 11.28.04 at 2:10 pm

John, that’s a very interesting argument, but I think it’s still vulnerable to the kind of objection I was trying to raise.

1) The problems with calculating consequences (including an acute difficulty in handling the counterfactuals) apply retrospectively as well as prospectively, so we’re not in a position to say what history shows us about the consequences of going to war versus not going to war.
2) Even if that’s wrong, and we *can* calculate consequences, you can’t assume that the consequences of not going to war in Iraq were better than the consequences of going to war, once you take into account the probable death rate from Saddam’s remaining in power (and his sons succeeding him), and the likelihood of his obtaining nukes at a fairly early stage, and the prospect of that leading to war with Israel and/or Iran. So even a consequentialist might have been able to support this particular war.
3) Furthermore, if the general focus on consequences alone does lead to a broadly anti-war position, it will also (because it takes two to fight) lead to a broadly anti-resistance position. If no-one at all had resisted the Nazis, then even if all the Jews and all the Roma had been exterminated, and many Russians and Poles enslaved, that still wouldn’t have produced as many deaths as the ghastly body count from World War 2. So the consequentialist anti-warrior should be as critical of those who resist aggression as of those who practise it, and will be unable to regard WW2 as justified. The unattractiveness of both these conclusions gives us reason to suppose that there’s more to the justification of war than counting the consequences, important though that undoubtedly is.

13

Keith M Ellis 11.28.04 at 2:12 pm

“…but a look at history tells us that the consequences of war have nearly always been more evil than good.”

That’s a pretty contestable assertion. But nevermind that.

This attempt to quantify good and evil on a large scale, with the implicit assumption that moral acts are all of a kind and can be tallied up at the bottom of a ledger…well, I think that’s the problem right there.

Which may seem strange coming from me, as I consider myself a utilitarian. But that this is problematic is exactly why people have problems with the utilitarian “runaway train” thought experiment.

There is a threshold, for whatever reason or reasons, where our moral sense becomes so unreliable that we intuitively don’t trust it. That threshold is approached or crossed in the runaway train example; and I believe it is certainly crossed in matters of warfare. In these cases, out of necessity we essentially abdicate our moral responsibility to something external—an authority, expedience, even chance.

Moral philosophy in whatever guise attempts to chart the moral territory beyond which our individual intuitions are trustworthy. But implicitly individuals will disagree with its judgments.

I suppose that in this sense I am a pragmatic utilitarian—confining my utilitarianism to the limits of the horizon in which our judgments of supposed maximal utility are trustworthy and having little use for lines of moral reasoning that exceed it (considerations of theoretical maximal utility is, to me, at best irrelevant and at worst counter-productive). Even where we generally trust our judgment, most of us recognize our fallibility and thus it is most wise to never completely discount the first order harm of an act; the moreso as the moral context within which one is trying to judge approaches or exceeds that horizon.

14

rob 11.28.04 at 2:17 pm

Geras’s position is really odd (and possibly circular in the bit quoted above: in claiming that we ought not to accept the view that one side is responsible for all the consequences of a war, one premise seems to be that the other side is responsible for some of them, which is just a straightforward denial of the first premise). To take an example from a less controversial moral field, according to his account of moral responsibility, if I gave alcohol to a recovering alcoholic, and it wasn’t certain that he would lapse, then I could not be held responsible for his lapse. Those kinds of examples can presumably be multiplied: any consequences of my act which do not follow directly from the act itself are not my responsibility. The opposite position is, I think, equally troubled, although respectable philosophers have been holding it since Bentham, since it denies (in effect) anyone any responsibility by falling into a kind of determinism. But that, as the initial post shows, is not a view which the anti-war arguments are necessarily committed to: an eminently foreseeable consequence of invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein was the chaos that currently confronts us, especially when it was being organized and led by a group of conservative ideologues and robber-baron capitalists. Because it was foreseeable, it is the responsibility of those who brought it about. The field of moral responsbility actually widens when you invade a country and remove its government, because you are effectively now its government: if under Saddam, Iraq had fallen into the kind of chaos it is now in, everyone would be unreservedly condemning the actions which brought it about, because, as the ruler of Iraq, Saddam had a special responsibility to the Iraqis. Since the Coalition is now occupying the position that Saddam was, that responsibility is passed on.

Clearly, this view doesn’t divide moral responsibility up into an all-or-nothing property: it was foreseeable that the insurgents gathering in Falluja would result in eventual Coalition attacks on a heavily populated area, so the insurgents are responsible for that. But, the Americans invaded: saying you started it is fair enough here, because whoever started the chain of foreseeable consequences bears the brunt of the responsibility.

15

John Emerson 11.28.04 at 2:24 pm

Without actually reading Geras’ argument, I’m counting this as more evidence that Bush will have a blank check during his second term. The rational conservatives and the moderate Republicans are mythical beasts. They’re the only ones who could have saved us, and they chose not to.

There is no point at which Geras’ kind will get off the bandwagon. He’s in it for the duration.

We don’t know what Bush plans, though we can guess, but we can know that he will be supported.

16

Peter T 11.28.04 at 2:33 pm

“…but a look at history tells us that the consequences of war have nearly always been more evil than good.”

John Quiggin’s is not just a pretty contestable assertion, Keith, it’s BS! The “nearly always” is merely a sop to the inevitable “well what about Hitler?” It is totally meaningless, as Eve Garrard quickly pointed out about simplistic WWII tallies which seem to show that by the end of 1945 more people died as a consequence of the Allies resisting Hitler than would have died had they sued for peace in 1941. Utter BS!

17

Andrew Boucher 11.28.04 at 2:40 pm

Oh bosh. How do you count casualties in a counterfactual world? What is the point of such intellectual twaddle except to twaddle?

18

rob 11.28.04 at 2:43 pm

Eve,

“If no-one at all had resisted the Nazis, then even if all the Jews and all the Roma had been exterminated, and many Russians and Poles enslaved, that still wouldn’t have produced as many deaths as the ghastly body count from World War 2″

I don’t think this is true: it is implausible to think that the Nazis would have stopped with the Jews, the Roma, the ‘mentally unfit’, homosexuals, and communists. They were already using untermenschen Slavs as roads for their tanks in 1942, so I don’t think that we ought to be particularly sanguine about their fate, and there were an awful lot of them. Neither is an assessment of consequences not limited to a bodycount, so the blighted lives of those not murdered would have had to been taken into account.

Also, I don’t think anyone’s claimed that responsibility is the be all and end all of moral reasoning. I may be responsible for some quite bad consequences of my acts, but insofar as I was acting to further or to defend legitimate moral interests of mine, the act may be justified. For example, I might refuse to enter into a business contract with some other business which would be mutually beneficial, and foreseeably prevent the other business from going under with the loss of jobs. I think we could reasonably agree I would be in some sense responsible for that, but not think that I had acted in a way which we could condemn. The case of resistance to the Nazis seems to me to be like that: partisans were responsible for the reprisals – at least after the first time – but I don’t think that that means that they acted wrongly (although, presumably there is some point at which the costs would become too much, I’m just not sure where it is). To my mind, what makes the Coalition’s invasion of Iraq wrong is that whatever moral interest of their’s they were promoting or defending was not one strong enough to justify the foreseeable consequences of that act: the moral interest in removing a dictator who presented little threat to the external world is a quite different one from that in removing a totaliarian, expansionist ideology from the control of the economic powerhouse of Europe. The argument about responsibility is relevant insofar as we need to know who is responsible for what in order to tell whether the moral interest they initially had in acting in the way they did can justify the act and its consequences, but, to me at least, it’s not just about a simple causal responsibility claim.

19

Keith M Ellis 11.28.04 at 2:45 pm

A problem I have is the whole “hindsight is 20-20″ thing. To my mind, assuming the Bush admin never really took seriously the claim of WMDs, what it comes down to is evaluating which, at the time, was comprehensibly the most likely outcome of an invasion: the neocon vision, or what has actually occured. In my view at the time, the neocons were delusional, but not so delusional that they might not be able to accomplish, given effort and commitment, what they expected to accomplish in at least one country (Iraq). Had it gone the way they expected, I would not have been deeply shocked. Only mildly surprised. I, for one, strongly believe that the outcome would have been much better had we adequately planned for and executed the occupation.

The people that supported the war (and I suppose I should include myself because I tepidly supported it) were in the more complicated position of not being the decision makers or being adequately informed—in that context it is not unreasonable that many of them believed that the neocons knew what they were doing.

And it really isn’t accurate to say that I even “tepidly” supported the war—it is more the case that I could not bring myself to oppose it with the fervor and certainty that it would be the clusterfuck it has turned out to be. The Bush administration has turned out to be stupendously inept in managing the occupation—something that shouldn’t surprise me given their record in other areas but, even so, I expected them to at least look after their own interests with some competency.

20

cliu 11.28.04 at 2:55 pm

Geras writes, “Secondly, it’s simple casuistry in assessing the responsibilities of two sides in a military conflict to load everything on to one of the sides – even where the blame for having begun an unjust and aggressive war is uncontroversial. “

It’s not simply a question of laying blame on one of the two sides — it’s a question of assessing, because we live in a putatively democratic society that the reasons that were given for prosecuting this war, namely that Saddam had WMD’s and posed a danger to the US — were false. The deception of a people by its government redounds very differently in a democracy than it did in the military imperial country of Japan, and in Nazi Germany.

So PLEASE, this philosophy stuff is useful to a degree, but as some one from the literature/theory side of things, can we get a little political perspective here?

There is, as one commenter raised the question of legality involved — we violated a country’s sovereignty — I think this point has been made over and over again — but I suppose Geras would say this is moot — since there is a war going on — but I don’t think it can be, not in a democracy.

21

Keith M Ellis 11.28.04 at 3:08 pm

Peter T: well, I moderated my contradiction because, in my view, Quiggin is correct in the context of the first-order and “near” consequences where we trust our intutions and mostly agree. But, as I say above, there is also wide agreement that, in theory at least, the moral correctness of fighting a war exists and also is something that could be widely agreed upon. Fighting the Nazis is one such touchstone, that’s why it inevitably comes up in these discussions.

This is why I distrust a moral analysis that attempts to deny one widely agreed upon moral “truth” to support another. Perhaps both are true on their own terms, and the decisions to take such actions have their own responsibilities that cannot, should not, ever be completly whitewashed away.

cliu: it’s not clear to me the connection between being a democracy and taking an absolutist position with regard to respecting sovereignity, particularly with regard to non-democracies. And, as you’re making a leglalistic argument, there is the point that the international legal framework that exists— the UN resolutions authorizing the us of force by the US against Iraq from 1990 onwards—arguably authorizes this second invasion. Thus, it seems to me this legalistic argument makes for a somewhat weak moral argument.

22

rob 11.28.04 at 3:35 pm

Cliu,

the deceit does matter, insofar as we are making a moral assessment of the people who actually took us to war. However, if the war was otherwise justified, we might think that the moral wrong of lying to your population and the world at large was a means to a just end, and therefore justified. I’m not sure about how to do the weighing, but that view doesn’t look implausible. Think of a case where I lie to someone to prevent a great harm befalling them: if it was justifiable to prevent them from having this harm befall them, then, if lying was the only (low-cost or efficient) way of preventing it, then it is justified. Therefore, the real question is whether the war was just, and that turns on the kinds of issue that are being discussed here.

23

Brian 11.28.04 at 3:53 pm

Some people are still trying to argue that the good consequences of the war will eventually outweigh the bad, but this is becoming less and less plausible

Why? Don’t be ridiculous. Iraqis will benefit from this action for many decades. It would be quite extraordinary to claim it’s becoming less and less plausible for the good outcomes to outweigh the bad – they haven’t even held their first election yet. Already in Iraq most Iraqis are a great deal better off than they were under Saddam Hussein – just ask most Shiites and Kurds, the people who make up over two thirds of the country’s population. Yes, there’s a lot of violent crime in Baghdad, and there quite patently has been a war going on in Falluja. But for the rest of the country, they are already enjoying the benefits of not having to live under their oppressive fascism totalitarian dictatorship, and all the benefits that entails – it’s quite extraordinary that you would so casually dismiss this fact, let alone make wildly improbable claims about the future.

(You people really do get carried away, don’t you – the media in this country has a lot to answer for.)

And of course, your solution of removing the sanctions and no fly zones would have emboldened Saddam and his sons, Iraq would be back to threatening the region, building WMD and genociding their own people – so you’re not even comparing the situation with the right set of criteria, even though based on that false criteria you still come to the wrong conclusion.

an eminently foreseeable consequence of invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein was the chaos that currently confronts us

Then why didn’t anyone predict it? The argument from the antiwar movement was never that there’d be chaos if we removed Saddam – that’s the argument you’ve all convinced yourself you made in retrospect. No, the main arguments the antiwar movement put forward were (a.) the US would just replace Saddam with another totalitarian dictator (b.) they certainly wouldn’t allow any sort of free press, and (c.) you’d have to be a stark raving lunatic to think the yanks would ever allow an election. On all three points you have been proved manifestly wrong.

Yes, civilian casualties were also a factor, but the ‘conservative estimate’ back then was that at least 500,000 civilians would die in the war itself. Not that it would be only 50,000 as an overall figure, according to the Lancet study, which includes all military casualties, over an 18 month period – well below your wildiest dreams.

So given how much you you got wrong, perhaps it’s time you showed a little humility instead of crowing about Al Qaeda terror attacks on the Iraqi people; ludicrously trying to pretend that the whole of Iraq is Falluja; that millions of Shiites and Kurds are not eagerly awaiting their historic first election after hundreds of years of oppression, and that most Iraqis – not the ones who get TV cameras shoved in their face in Falluja and chaotic Baghdad on the TV every night – are already enjoying their vastly superior life, thanks to the war you opposed.

24

Paul Gottlieb 11.28.04 at 4:04 pm

Isn’t there something terribly artificial (and terribly silly) about pretending that there were exactly two possible courses of action: Start the war now! or Saddam (and all his descendents) remain in power forever. This is obviously wrong. There were many alternatives: More and better diplomacy could have created the kind of Grand Coalition we saw in the first Gulf War–or at least prevented the disasterour shattering of the western alliance. Perhaps we could have paid Saddam $5 billion dollars to go away. $5 Billion and nobody dead looks awfully cheap now, doesn’t it? The point is, there were many choices that could have been made, and the decision to rush into unilateral war was a deliberate one. The choice to screw up the post-war occupation as to guarantee the maximum destruction and chaos was also deliberate.

25

praktike 11.28.04 at 4:06 pm

You can’t talk about the Iraq War without talking about costs.

26

rob 11.28.04 at 4:13 pm

Brian

an eminently foreseeable consequence of invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein was the chaos that currently confronts us

Then why didn’t anyone predict it? The argument from the antiwar movement was never that there’d be chaos if we removed Saddam – that’s the argument you’ve all convinced yourself you made in retrospect

I don’t care what other people said, I’ve been saying that there would be chaos in Iraq since day one. Since I only started posting on blogs about two weeks ago, I can’t prove that: however it is true. Let’s not forget, either, that the US State department agrees with me.

No, the main arguments the antiwar movement put forward were (a.) the US would just replace Saddam with another totalitarian dictator (b.) they certainly wouldn’t allow any sort of free press, and (c.) you’d have to be a stark raving lunatic to think the yanks would ever allow an election.

So, on a), Saddam has so far been replaced by Allawi, who may not have been quite as bad yet, but certainly isn’t some peace-loving altruist. On b), I’m not sure whether anyone made this claim, but papers have been banned: I’m seem to recall al-Sadr’s newspaper being banned for example. On c), I’m not sure elections which take place in the midst of the kind of violence currently going on count as free or fair EVEN IF THE PEOPLE RUNNING THEM HAVE THE BEST OF INTENTIONS. I do not think that the Coalition or Allawi have the best of intentions.

As for the ‘most Iraqis are doing perfectly well thank you’ argument, I think that the Lancet study, the obvious failure to do any reconstruction, and the relatively widespread insurgency put paid to all that.

27

Giles 11.28.04 at 4:47 pm

“Suppose those of us on the Left who opposed the Iraq war had prevailed”

I think sums up why the antiwar faction failed – it didn’t argue the case as one of principle but rather one of politics.

In particular most of the arguments are seem to me to be conservative arguments but without any willingness to attribute them to being as such. Which is where the credibility problem creeps in.

28

Kieran Healy 11.28.04 at 4:52 pm

The argument from the antiwar movement was never that there’d be chaos if we removed Saddam – that’s the argument you’ve all convinced yourself you made in retrospect.

Oh, really? Let’s take some questions asked before the war by two members of this blog, for starters:

Daniel provides “Exhibit A.”:http://d-squareddigest.blogspot.com/2003_02_23_d-squareddigest_archive.html#89796111

give me one single example of something with the following three characteristics:

1. It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration
2. It was significant enough in scale that I’d have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it)
3. It wasn’t in some important way completely fucked up during the execution.

I’ll provide Exhibit B:

I’m also wondering (a) Since WWII, how many autocratic or totalitarian countries have been invaded by a democracy, had the bad guys deposed, and a stable democratic regime installed; and (b) How does this number compare to the number of invasions or other interventions that resulted in puppet governments, friendly autocrats, messy long-term military occupations, or outright disasters?

Or “Exhibit C”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/000344.html:

I want to know the answers to questions like these:

* Is the Bush administration really making a good faith effort to build democracy? Or do they have some other agenda? Or are they just making it up as they go along?

* Even if there’s a good faith effort, what sort of costs are we prepared to pay to achieve this goal? Is this a six-month or a twenty-year commitment? Does that change our assessment?

* What do the targets of our benevolence think about all this intervention? Do we think we can easily tell the goodies from the baddies after Saddam falls?

These are mundane empirical issues. I hope the people of the country go along with the idea and it all happens smoothly and quickly. But I also want to know what’s likely to happen in Iraq once Saddam is dead, the Baath party is on the back-foot, the post-war scramble for power and patronage is underway, the cities are ruined and there are two hundred thousand foreign soldiers trying to keep order in a country whose culture and politics they know nothing about.

I was one of the people who thought that between, say, (1) Quick success, (2) Declare victory and withdraw, (3) Ongoing screwup or (4) Colonial Protectorate/Puppet state, the most likely outcome was (4) by a nose. In retrospect this was because I (unlike Dsquared) was giving the administration way too much credit for its strategic thinking. Right now we have a mix of ongoing screwup + protectorate.

It wouldn’t be hard to multiply examples from CT contributors or other anti-war bloggers along those lines.

29

Cranky Observer 11.28.04 at 4:58 pm

Then why didn’t anyone predict it? The argument from the antiwar movement was never that there’d be chaos if we removed Saddam – that’s the argument you’ve all convinced yourself you made in retrospect.

Well, I made that exact argument before the war in letters to my Congressman and Senators.

Jerry Pournelle, who is not generally considered a flaming liberal, also made it in great detail with reference to historical experience and current military practice during the 12 months leading up to the war.

It seems to me that it is more the neocons trying to convince themselves that they are not responsible for the chaos and death currently occuring.

Cranky

30

joel turnipseed 11.28.04 at 4:58 pm

Brian -

I, for one, and very publicly (in two separate occasions in Salon.com) stated that there would be chaos and an insurgency that would make ground war look like a joke. So, put me down for one public figure who stated what you claim wasn’t by anti-war folks.

As for the Geras point — w/r/t a just war, he’s right. That’s why going in with as much legitimacy as possible is so important: it is not only just, per se (and I think, proleptically, that consequentialism is a useful half-measure, but ultimately that there are strong reasons for thinking that humans are “built” deontologically & so, shortly, it should be just–that is in accord w/our notions of both personal virtue of those waging it & our social contract), but that to the extent that any military action is judged just in its context, the roots of insurgency will have harder ground in which to grow.

31

Antoni Jaume 11.28.04 at 5:14 pm

Giles, no one who backs killing as a solution has other principles than politics.

DSW

32

Giles 11.28.04 at 5:24 pm

“no one who backs killing as a solution has other principles than politics”

Really? I think that a fair proportion of wars in the past have taken place for religous and or moral reasons. In fact, other than WW1 it seems to me that politics is the rare cause.

33

WeSaferThemHealthier 11.28.04 at 6:05 pm

Giles,

What do you mean by the term “politics”?

Also, how is Quiggin’s calculation necessarily about politics rather than applying a given principle?

34

lars 11.28.04 at 6:23 pm

Geras’s argument, somewhat simplified, seems to go like this: There isn’t one Iraq war but several. The first was the war to unseat Saddam’s regime, this war was started by the coalition, but nevertheless just and it ended successfully. There’s a second war (or, in Geras’s version several further conflicts) which was started by the Iraqi insurgents, i.e. which was forced upon the coalition. This war is unjust in its goals (preventing democracy) as well as in its methods (killing non-combatants, etc). The current crisis in Iraq is a consequence of the second war, not the first. This means two things, according to Geras. First, the dire situation in Iraq is not a consequence of the first war, and thus does not impact on that war’s legitimacy. Second, it is not something the coalition is morally responsible for, since the insurgents are the aggressors at this point.

This whole idea strikes me as being a tad sophistical. The distinction between the two wars seems to be an ad hoc distinction, tailored to make everything come out right. Moreover, Geras’s view is another way of saying that the coalition cannot be held to the responsibilities of an occupying power – providing peace and security – since there’s an ongoing situation of war. But if that were true, the coalition couldn’t possibly have a legitimate authority to govern Iraq, an authority it clearly claims.

35

Simon Rippon 11.28.04 at 6:27 pm

John,
I think you’re misrepresenting Geras’ argument. From what you quote, he was attacking the attribution of all the responsibility for the consequences to the initiators of the war. In attributing to him the unstated conclusion that therefore none of the responsibility for the consequences of the actions of the other side lies with the initiators, you’ve engaged in the very kind of “all-or-nothing” thinking he was arguing against.

As far as it goes, Geras’ point seems right. Some people have been claiming that the overall consequences of the war are worse than the alternatives would have been, and concluding (all too quickly) that the war was unjust. Geras is right to point out that it’s not that simple; there’s a strong prima facie case for attributing only partial responsibility for the consequences of the other side’s forseeable actions to the US. To show that the war was unjust you need to show *more* than that the balance of consequences is worse than it would have been otherwise. If you had other good reasons for thinking the actions of the US just, and those of its enemies unjust, this could be sufficient to absolve the US of responsibility for those consequences. The question should be what Geras thinks those reasons are, and whether they’re any good.

36

roger 11.28.04 at 6:48 pm

Sometimes, discussions about the Iraq war remind me of psychoanalytic therapies that have gone on too long. Mommie and Daddy are dead — the invasion happened. Opponents and proponents aren’t going to change that.

This war is no longer against Saddam’s regime. It is being waged by an occupying force that made its own independent choices during the occupation, and thus stands for something. It chose, for instance, to stand by while much of Iraq’s infrastructure was looted — but did guard the oil ministry. That is a definite choice. It promised back in May, 2003, to have electricity on line at pre-invasion levels within six months — and has yet to consistently make that claim good. It claimed that it would have Iraq’s oil production top Saddam’s 2002 production, and might have finally achieved that goal. It claimed it would institute a democracy, and instead wrote laws that were designed to install the usual neo-liberal economic regime in the country, no different than the laws that, say, Pinochet instituted in Chile in the 70s. The institutions of democracy — for instance, an Iraqi legislature with real power, an independent Iraq judiciary, an Iraqi written constitution, etc., etc., never happened. It claimed that it would operate, under the aegis of the CPA, as a real government — and instead all but ignored security for Iraqis, while showing its concern almost wholly for the safety of American soldiers. It said that it would, at the least, revitalize Iraq’s own business structure, and then systematically spent its funding on American corporations and their security agencies.
So, what does the above have to do with Saddam Hussein? Nada. The insurgency has many parts and factions, but one of the central themes of it is not to defeat the invasion, but to defeat what the occupiers have done. Hence, those terrorists blowing up all the neat infrastructure Americans are “giving’ the people of Iraq — giving by buying from American companies and employing Fillipino laborers, giving using Iraq’s oil money, giving while 60 percent of Iraq’s work force remains unemployed. I’d love to see what the American work force would do under similar circumstances.

37

Lee Scoresby 11.28.04 at 6:57 pm

This whole discussion collapses the distinction between three different questions:
1) is the war just (jus ad bellum)?
2) is the war being fought justly (jus in bello)?
3) is the war a prudent course of action?

Proponents of the war have a good argument for the first, a mixed argument on the second, and an increasingly bad argument on the third. Moreover, the main argument advanced by the administration for the war (WMD and the need for a preventative attack) was really an argument about power-political prudence (reason of state) and not an argument that fits comfortably in the “jus ad bellum” tradition. The fact that the argument increasingly has switched to a humanitarian jus ad bellum justification would be a lot more compelling if the pro-war crowd had any intention of universalizing their maxims.

Perhaps I’ll blog on this when I finish grading :-).

38

abb1 11.28.04 at 7:03 pm

This whole idea strikes me as being a tad sophistical.

Ain’t it just a tad sophistical indeed.

The Germans occupied Poland – that’s war number 1. And then the Warsaw ghetto dwellers, unappreciative of the superior German culture, started their aggression against the poor Wehrmacht and recklessly disrupted order in the otherwise peaceful city – the war number 2. They should’ve known better.

39

Sven 11.28.04 at 7:11 pm

I’m sure mayors across the country will rejoice upon learning that they’re no longer accountable for their cities’ crime rates.

40

John N 11.28.04 at 7:25 pm

Go back and read the original quote from the ‘pro war’ guy – there is very little there in the way of argument. It’s mostly a series of assertions. Then note the tone. It’s designed to invoke (in a subtle way) a common pro-war stance: that those opposed to war are soft, squeamish, unable to stand the hard realities of the world and “the way things really work.” So we do bad things in a war, but that’s just the way it is. Got to get your hands dirty cleaning up dirt.

This totally begs the question of the moral choices the U.S. administration had before the war began and the choices they had during the conduct of the war. They are responsible for the choices they made, the choices they didn’t make, and the choices they pretended they didn’t have.

Before the war the U.S didn’t have to listen to exile groups with no support on the ground in Iraq. They could have fomented internal dissent. They could have chosen different sanctions.

During the war, they didn’t have to use Saddam’s prisons for their prisons nor his palaces for their headquarters (overlooked, but very symbolic to the Iraqi’s). They didn’t have to sweep up innocents and torture them and photograph the tortures. They didn’t have to use cluster bombs, keep out humanitarian assistance nor did they have to go to war totally innocent of 2,000 years of experience fighting insurgencies.

No, Hitler isn’t responsible for Dresden, because Dresden wasn’t necessary to defeating Germany nor to minimizing the total number of deaths during WWII.

41

Giles 11.28.04 at 7:27 pm

wesa – because he pitches the case against the war as coming from the left – thereby discounting the views from the right. I appreciate I’m being a little pernikity but the point is that its seems to me that the anti war left and right had more “principles” in common than they are happy admitting – hence the desire to sperate it into a political matter.

42

John Quiggin 11.28.04 at 8:15 pm

Giles, my reason for writing the way I did is that Geras is (or was) generally considered part of the Left and is using arguments of a general form that are commonly associated with the Left. So I meant “those of us on the Left who opposed the war” in contradistinction to “those on the Left who supported it”

If you supported or opposed the war on grounds of “international realism”, for example, none of these points would be relevant.

43

abb1 11.28.04 at 8:49 pm

Apparently they’re using napalm in Falluja: FALLUJAH NAPALMED, or rather ‘napalm gas’, whatever the hell it is… Clearly it’s the fault of the ‘insurgents’ – why don’t they just give up, turn themselves in and get it over with, stupid bastards? When will they realize that it’s nothing else but their stubbornness that causes various bad things to fall from the sky?

44

BigMacAttack 11.28.04 at 9:09 pm

I don’t think Geras was, like Kamm, proposing a deontological defense of the second Iraq war, let alone of all wars.

Rather he was pointing out how some folks are exceedingly limber when it comes to selecting and presenting deontological versus consequential arguments in regards to certain events in Iraq.

For example -

Before the war a lack of a UN mandate was presented as a powerful deontological
(consequential as well) argument against invading.

Strangely, for lots of those folks, the mandate the UN handed to the US occupation isn’t a powerful deontological argument for the US occupation.

(Not all see Juan Cole)

They can actually type straight while claiming that the US occupation is illegal because the UN did not mandate the invasion.

Apparently the obvious is elusive.

45

kevin donoghue 11.28.04 at 9:24 pm

“If you supported or opposed the war on grounds of ‘international realism’, for example, none of these points would be relevant.”

That may explain why I can’t see that the Geras Doctrine is worth discussing. On my reading of his post, Geras could partition just about any war into a sequence of subwars and prove just cause by induction, as long as he had a prior view as to who the bad guys were.

Have great powers (or hegemons or gigapowers or whatever the USA is now supposed to be) ever bothered very much about the ethics of war? Mostly they seem to do whatever it takes to enhance and secure their wealth and power, short-term and long-term. They have an interest in rules only insofar as rules work to their advantage. If there is evidence that statesmen are constrained by morality in any significant way I would be interested to see it.

Bears shit in the woods. Need we ask whether they are guided by deontological or utilitarian principles?

46

freddie 11.28.04 at 10:41 pm

Why is it that guys who never go to a war sit back and tell others it is ok thing to do…First Iraq war: mandate from colaition that we would get Iraq out of Kuwait…nothing beyond that. The second: we would topple Saddam and –establish ten permanent bases in the Middle East to offset…OPEC? bring democracy to countries ruled by dictators or royalty? I would not send my son to war for reasons that at the moment seem so confused or wrong. Would you?

47

John Quiggin 11.28.04 at 11:00 pm

To those who have talked about WWII, we’re talking here about the decision to start a war, which was made by Hitler when he invaded Poland. The suggestion, implied by several commenters, that World War II did not cause more evil than good is absurd – presumably what is meant is that the Allies were justified in resisting Hitler, but that’s not the issue raised by Geras’ argument.

If you want an arguable exception to the proposition “wars cause more evil than good”, you’d be better off looking at the US Civil War.

48

Walt Pohl 11.28.04 at 11:17 pm

In this thread, Brian demonstrates the fundamental dishonesty of so many on the pro-war side. I know that’s strong language, but I don’t have any other explanation.

I’m referring to “And of course, your solution of removing the sanctions and no fly zones would have emboldened Saddam and his sons, Iraq would be back to threatening the region, building WMD and genociding their own people.” Does Brian have any idea if that’s “our” solution? Of course not.

But really, that’s not the best part of his message. The best part is the hint of fascism: “The media in this country has a lot to answer for.” And how will they be made to answer? Kangaroo courts? Firing squads?

49

Martin Wisse 11.28.04 at 11:30 pm

Aggh,

Geras is an intellectual hack who has long ago tried to sell his intellectual honesty to the highest bidder, only to discover nobody in power gave a shit to what he thought.

He is the sort of intellectual Orwell warned us about, the one who keeps worshipping the boot stamping in our face and considers it an honour to lick it clean.

50

Clive 11.29.04 at 1:32 am

Great post, Brian!

That’s the best thing I’ve read on here in ages.

Ever, in fact.

51

Walt Pohl 11.29.04 at 1:40 am

What do you like about it, Clive? The lying? The incipient fascism?

52

Lindsay Beyerstein 11.29.04 at 1:43 am

The consequences of war have almost always been bad, by any reasonable definition of “war” or “bad.”

The only wars I can think of with good outcomes are WW2, American Revolutionary War, and a few other wars of independence. I’m sure there are other examples (maybe even Gulf War I), but when you think about how many thousands of wars have been fought over the course of human history, warfare seems to be a pretty inefficient and counterproductive strategy.

Granted, I’m not quantifying over ultimate geopolitical consequences because I don’t think those can be measured with any precision.

53

Luc 11.29.04 at 2:16 am

Another thing that doesn’t stick with my idea of moral choices, is that the pro/against war choice requires equal justifications.

The silly known extreme is the cost of saving a life in say Darfur. It might not be the cost of a beer, but for the price of a nice dinner you can save a life in Darfur. Yet I regularly make the choice of not saving a life in Darfur, but having a nice dinner instead. Cruel. The same could be said about Iraq.

If you think not going to war in Iraq leads to moral responsibilities (for those suffering under Saddam), you’d end up never going out to dinner.

And as said, the ‘resistance’ is not exactly to be supported, the Allawi government is UN sanctioned, thus legitimate. But the hostilities between those, and the resulting death and destruction are a direct consequence of the war choice, and are certainly not a second distinct war. Thus those deciding for war are still to be held responsible for it.

54

SamChevre 11.29.04 at 2:21 am

WWII has come up several times in this discussion; it’s worth pointing out that while it was undoubtedly a beneficial war for Western Europe, its long-term benefits are far more mixed from a global perspective. It cemented Soviet Russia’s power over Eastern Europe, which was quite brutal and repressive. It led at least in part to Mao’s takeover in China, which killed millions. By cementing the Soviet Union’s power over its own territory and reducing nearby threats to it, WWII indirectly fueled the Greek Civil War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cambodian Civil War. Yes, National Socialism was overthrown; that was unequivocally good; but Communism was considerably strengthened and extended, which was unequivocally bad.

55

Lee Scoresby 11.29.04 at 3:19 am

“The only wars I can think of with good outcomes are WW2, American Revolutionary War, and a few other wars of independence”

Why do you think the American Revolutionary War had a good outcome? A good case can be made that it perpetuated the lifespan of human slavery in the west, indirectly caused the devastation of the Napoleonic Wars, and contributed to the erosion of British hegemony (with very bad consequences for the first half of the 20th century).

56

Jonathan Dresner 11.29.04 at 3:31 am

This whole discussion also misses a huge middle ground: those of us who supported the idea of disarming and/or deposing Saddam Hussein but who opposed the process and means by which it was accomplished. We are, by this argument, morally responsible for neither Saddam Hussein’s potential depradations nor the ill effects of our governments’ precipitous actions, as we opposed both.

In fact, I think the “anti-war” group falls more into this middle category than the “pro-war” (or pacifist) group realizes.

57

Henry 11.29.04 at 4:14 am

bq. Geras is an intellectual hack who has long ago tried to sell his intellectual honesty to the highest bidder, only to discover nobody in power gave a shit to what he thought.

bq. He is the sort of intellectual Orwell warned us about, the one who keeps worshipping the boot stamping in our face and considers it an honour to lick it clean.

Do you have any idea who Norman Geras is, Martin, or what he’s done? He’s not a hack by any definition of the term. His position on the war in Iraq rests (in my opinion) on weak foundations, and his style of argumentation leaves an awful lot to be desired, but I really think that sloppy, silly criticisms like the ones you make do more to discredit you than him.

58

Frankis 11.29.04 at 4:26 am

Please ‘scuse crosspost from John’s blog, I’m only a day and a half behind everybody else …

…John,
Doesn’t everyone believe that war should be a last resort? Supporters of the US’ action in invading Iraq believe it too, so they have to persuade themselves that it was indeed a last resort. Of course those of us with a clue and who can read and think know that they’re deluded (some wilfully so).

You’re not suggesting (as it seems to me to read) that the options open to the US and the UN were only two – invade or not? That was a no-brainer to answer “not!” to at the time, but it did still leave to be addressed the issues of Saddam’s regime and the poor consequences to Iraqis of the sanctions and No_Fly enforcement zones. What was to be done? There was a world of possibilities open to sensible people of good will that should have been considered but, tragically, the US was not in such hands.

The US’ actions were foolish and disgraceful, and flew in the face of what was the 20th century’s wealth of experience on the subject of war and bad regimes. There were even well tried and tested policies open to be pursued before resort to war, but consider just the least likely scenario of all, which may be that Saddam could have been led to see the error of his wicked ways and have begun to improve the behaviour of his regime, to good effect both internally and in Iraq’s international affairs (decreasing the militant and terrorist threat he posed). That’s unlikely.

Now: how unlikely was it that a man (Gorbachev) would be promoted through the ranks of the soviet system to reach a position of power, then wield his power and influence to reform, and ultimately preside over the dissolution of, the USSR? Soeharto ruled with an iron fist in Indonesia – yet stepped down voluntarily. Marcos left the Philippines peaceably. Mandela was an “insurgent” once, and certainly not always a man of peace;today he’s seen as a saint.

It’s futile to go on with a discussion of alternative scenarios like this, though, in a world ruled by America’s village idiots and supported by their fearsome warbloggers. Futile because we’re in fact being remorselessly moved away, by the US government and its acolytes, from any chance of applying the lessons of 20th century history to the challenges of the 21st century. More’s the shame, but before moving forward again we need to go back to those people who voted for jihad with Bush/Cheney in 2004, to find out how they were left behind in the education system, what can be done about it, and so on.

There’s nothing to be done about the warbloggers except to resist them until they grow up and go away because, just as Stalin had his cheerleading leftist intellectuals, the demagogues of the Whitehouse have theirs; immune to reason or self-insight, only old age and forever being wrong will weary ‘em.

59

cliu 11.29.04 at 4:36 am

Rob:

I can think of cases where out of paternalism, one might lie to another for his/her own good and by extension the tyrant can lie to his people because they must be protected. That is the logical structure of tyranny — a pre-Enlightenment, pre-Kantian, pre-public sphere kind of justification.

I’m not saying that people don’t lie in a democracy, but that when lies and distortions take place on such a scale as the run up to this war, it makes all discussion moot — it actually makes this discussion moot, because if we were to consider your case of the liar who lies for the good of others, we would have to assume that Dick Cheney and Company know something we don’t, which is his rhetorical strategy to begin and we should then just throw in the towel on public debate and even on the possibility of dissent because we don’t know as well as our rulers what is going on.

That would be the only ethical justification for lying that I could come up with, a minimal ethical justifcation, albeit. BUT under a democracy, formed in the crucible of public sphere, popular opinion at least of the Habermasian model is formed from free debate of the facts.

If you’re saying that the facts may be lies, told to us for own good, then how can we reasonably be expected to form opinions or have dissenting opinions?

That is what is most disturbing about the run up to the war for me — and the Left’s inability to form a coherent opposition doesn’t matter – there was dissent with regard to the Administration’s position, there continues to be dissent.

That the Administration has found its court philosophers and its apologists is no surprise. That they care little about democratic process is not shocking either. But dissent by nature is a sometimes messy thing affair. So is the democratic process.

Sycophancy however can often seem very attractive, especially when it has all the emollients of the throne behind it.

60

Tom T. 11.29.04 at 6:18 am

John Q, I wonder if it may be a bit reductive to state flatly that the decision to start WWII was made by Hitler when he attacked Poland. France and the UK did not have to then declare war in response. It was incumbent upon them to conduct an analysis of all of the consequences that would flow from their decision to do so; with the experience of WWI so close at hand, it strikes me that at the time there would have been cogent moral arguments made for abandoning Poland in order to avoid a second continent-wide bloodbath.

Similarly, the US did not have to declare war on Germany following Pearl Harbor; Germany was no immediate or near-term threat to the US. Arguably, the US did not even have to declare war against Japan after Pearl Harbor. Japan was not seeking to conquer the US, after all; essentially, the Pacific Theater could be viewwed as a struggle to determine which Great Power would have hegemony over that part of the world. The US could have conceded the Pacific to Japan, and, absent the benefit of hindsight, I’m not sure that the choice is entirely clear. Would the people of the China or the Philippines have been that much worse off being ruled by authoritarian Japanese puppets rather than Mao, Chiang, or Marcos? I suspect so, but I’m not sure that I would have been confident enough in my intuition at the time to justify spending thousands of additional lives.

Certainly, the aggressor in a war bears a heavy responsibility, but I think the decision to fight back is also morally fraught.

61

ChrisPer 11.29.04 at 8:42 am

Jeez, all this effort to hypothesise justice in war is screwed up by the snide remarks against the Bushies. We should get the valuable parts into an argumetn map where those of us less exalted can study them at length.

For an example of this approach see http://www.debatemapper.net/

62

dave heasman 11.29.04 at 10:15 am

tom t “Similarly, the US did not have to declare war on Germany following Pearl Harbor”

They didn’t. Germany declared war on the US. It would appear that not a lot of people know this, but I can’t think why not. In whose interest is it to misinform/keep it secret?

63

Where's The Beef? 11.29.04 at 10:47 am

I realize that some of you are earnestly asking questions that are important to you on matters of justification of the invasion of Iraq, however, at this moment there are some basic questions that deserve answers whether or not your count yourself as antiwar.

Baathist remnants and foreign islamists are waging war on Iraqis and the Coalition. Do you support the goals, methods, and victories of the “insurgents”?

If you do, then, give some thought to removing yourself to Iraq and putting the courage of your convictions to the test. Failing that, perhaps it is possible to attempt to state the principles that would lead you to support these “insurgents”; and maybe you’d benefit the discussion with your explaination of what, if anything, you are prepared to do to act on these principles today or in the near future. Perhaps you’ve already taken action?

If you are not with the “insurgents”, then, consider exploring ways to support the people in uniform, the relief workers, and the Iraqi people. Even if all you can muster is glum bewilderment it would be better than posing as a handsoff judge of a war that must be won — either by the Iraqis and the Coalition or by the “insurgents”.

Iraq is an important piece of the broader war that was declared against us by the islamo totalitarians. The fight in Iraq is paramount to the stability and liberty of the Iraqi people, and it is great responsibility to ourselves, but on the broader scale it is not everything. But the islamist totalitarians are behaving as if a loss there would be a major setback if not a decisive conclusion to their overall mission. Do you favor an insurgent victory in Iraq or no?

As a supporter of this fight I don’t pale at the thought of responsibility for taking on the “insurgents”. It would irresponsible not to take the fight into their teeth.

64

agm 11.29.04 at 11:10 am

To answer the original query, in my opinion it is impossible for anyone other than Hussein to ever be culpable for his actions. If one averts his gaze from an atrocity, he is not guilty of committing that atrocity, he is guilty of ignoring it, with whatever that may imply about his character. There is a difference between being willing to sell guns and actually pulling the trigger. So I guess I agree with Geras — the US (or rather, our government) IS repsonsible for how it behaves, not how other entities behave.

(I apologize for the forth-coming harshness. )

tom t, what are you smoking? Watching History Channel, or BBC specials, or reading histories, or god forbid, reading actual primary literature from the 20 years preceding WWII indicated that it would happen as it did. Once the US embargoed Japan over its adventures in the Pacific, war between Japan and the US was inevitable. Once Japan and Germany formed an alliance, war between Germany and the US was conjoined with that inevitability. The principle in action there is the same as the one motivating the insurgents in Iraq: if someone is prosecuting a war against you, you have two choices, to surrender or to fight.

This is, incidentally, the reason I took flak from my friends for opposing the war. My argument against the war was simply this: the United States had never before openly supported a first strike, not even in the early years of the Cold War when we would have won by default since the USSR did not have nuclear weapons yet. Now we have foregone that policy, and the rest of the world sees us differently. I guess that means I think the war was unjust but the resistance would be just if they were not committing the atrocities they are.

65

rob 11.29.04 at 11:15 am

Cliu,

I’m vaguely aware of Habermas and his followers views on democracy (particularly vaguely now: I’m really tired), and, on those views it makes sense to think lying to one’s fellow citizens is particularly wrong. I think Habermas thinks it would be basically undemocratic, because it would deny the grounds for some intersubjective agreement. However, if you’re going to make the ‘lying destroys democracy’ argument about American politics, then you’re not just going to regard the decision to go to war in Iraq as undemocratic, but all kinds of other stuff as well, just because of the misinformation and incivility which characterizes American political debate. In fact, you’re going to get quite worried about most Western nations and their democracies. I’m not sure whether Habermas is right, but you don’t have to agree with him to believe that the lack of grounds for reasoned debate in democracy is troubling. However, granted that democratic debate is not perfect, lying on some ocassions to one’s fellow citizens may be acceptable: presumably if we had a Habermasian democracy, sound policies would always go through (or, at least, any policies which were made would have strong reasons in their favour apart from being approved by a majority), but in a non-Habermasian democracy, sound policies do not always go through. For example, FDR decieved the American public about Pearl Harbor so that he could get a popular mandate to go to war with Japan: if you think that was a good policy, and there was no other way to do it, precisely because people couldn’t see the reasons in favour of it, then you might think that behaviour was regretable but justifiable. What’s true in ideal theory may not necessarily be what’s true in non-ideal theory. Presumably Habermas would agree with Mill that you don’t need someone’s consent to stop them walking over a bridge that’ll collapse under them: when people aren’t responsive to reasons, a force which isn’t unforced may be necessary. Also, it’s not clear to me that the requirement for intersubjective agreement is as strong in foreign policy as in domestic policy for Habermas, because we’re not subjecting each other to coercive authority, but that just may be the tiredness.

Also, I think I made it reasonably clear that lying would only be acceptable if there was no other way of achieving the end, or the other ways had high costs, and the end was of high moral value. I never said that I thought that lying in this case was justified, merely that lying could be justified in some other, relatively restricted, cases, so I can’t see how I am supposed to lose the ability to critique policy. If I’d said Dick Cheney was a liar who’d lied for the greater good, I would lose that ability, but I haven’t said that. Just to make it clear: Dick Cheney is a liar who lied for some combination of reasons, none of which had to do with the greater good, unless Halliburton stockholders are the only citizens of the USA.

Oh, another thing about Habermas’s theory: doesn’t the fact that we know that they lied now, that lots of us thought they were lying at the time, undermine the necessity of truth-intending communication? If lies don’t always achieve their purpose, then doesn’t that at least partly obviate the need for individual truthfulness, since individual truthfulness is not a necessary condition of democratic debate (access to a plurality of information sources, some of which are truthful, would be).

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abb1 11.29.04 at 12:13 pm

If you do, then, give some thought to removing yourself to Iraq and putting the courage of your convictions to the test.

Why didn’t you, confused fella, put the courage of your convictions to the test and join some kind of anti-Saddam resistance in Iraq in the first place?

But no, you think it’s perfectly alright to send other people to kill and die and waste other people’s money to feed your paranoia and your delusions of grandeur and make a mess of things.

I sure hope the US government gets its ass kicked in Iraq, which seems to be the only way to teach them a lesson that’s remembered for a few decades.

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cliu 11.29.04 at 12:56 pm

Rob,

You’re right to point to Habermas’ idealism — for along with Kant he believes that with enough debate in the public sphere, the most reasonable course of action would be the one chosen by a democracy.

This form of sovereignty is hardly the most effective or the most efficient, but I’m tired too, and will try to respond to some of your other points at another time.

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jet 11.29.04 at 1:22 pm

“I sure hope the US government gets its ass kicked in Iraq, which seems to be the only way to teach them a lesson that’s remembered for a few decades.”

You hope for the death of hundreds of thousands and the enslavement of millions just to spite the US.

The comments on this site are always a hoot.

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kevin donoghue 11.29.04 at 2:09 pm

The best thing in this Geras post is the link to an essay by Michael Walzer, who proposes that we think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as four wars going on in parallel. Two of these are just wars: the Israelis’ war for security within Israel’s borders, and the Palestinians’ war for a viable state. The two unjust wars are: the war to wipe Israel off the map, and the Likudniks’ war for a Greater Israel. Walzer’s idea, crudely summarised, is that we should support the two just wars and oppose the others.

Geras doesn’t try to apply this approach to the Iraq conflict, but let’s see what happens if we do: there is, arguably, a just war to introduce democracy; an unjust war to extend American power in the region; a just Iraqi independence struggle; and an unjust war aimed at establishing a new tyranny. This last comes in several varieties: theocratic Sunni and Shiite, secular Baathist; but they are all unjust because of their ultimate aims.

It is easy to see one reason why Geras doesn’t go down this road. If he confronts the fact that some of America’s war aims are unjust, while some of the insurgents’ demands are just, he will have to re-think his easy condemnation of the anti-war crowd.

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marcel 11.29.04 at 2:57 pm

As a United Statesian, I’m going to engage in an appeal to authority that is unlikely to carry much weight with anyone other than my fellow citizens, but nevertheless: To quote B. Franklin,

There never was a good war or bad peace.

http://www.wisdomquotes.com/001592.html

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abb1 11.29.04 at 3:00 pm

there is, arguably, a just war to introduce democracy

Is there? It must be the one that’s fought by emitting huge amounts of hot air by dishonest US politicians and their minions. That’s not really a ‘war’ as such, it’s called ‘war-time propaganda’.

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Mark 11.29.04 at 3:17 pm

I agree that opponents and proponents of the war had to consider the reasonable consequences of their positions. I think Geras gets the analysis wrong here.

I disagree that the net suffering would have been less had Saddam been left in power. The historical figures for Ba’athist genocide make it difficult to argue otherwise. I’m sure as academics you should have no problem proving your case by providing credible evidence, with links.

The last point which the anti-war left cannot be allowed to “forget” is that each leftist who agitated against the war advocated for the exact same state of affairs as Saddam’s Ba’athist supporters: continued enslavement, mass torture and genocide for ordinary Iraqis. At least the French sold their fellow human beings into bondage for petro-dollars; anti-war leftist and comfortable Western academics did it for nothing.

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nic 11.29.04 at 4:15 pm

Isn’t the US already getting its arse kicked in Iraq? it’s not doing much good to anyone in the way of teaching lessons or otherwise. In fact, the more it goes on, the more it all becomes a retroactive justification for war. More terrorism, more just wars, more terrorism, it’s almost like an ecosystem of its own.

We can all argue all we like on whether the war was just or not, fact is, nobody here was asked to participate in a decision which certainly wasn’t taken after long hours of philosophical debate on the theories and definitions of what is just and what isn’t. As if factors like nationalism, fear mongering, propaganda, strategies and interests had nothing to do with how willing people are to accept that kind of decision without too much questioning. International law having been declared well past retirement age (at only 55, too), even the concept of justice has become relative. If Bush and Blair say the war is just, well then, so it is. That’s all that matters.

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kevin donoghue 11.29.04 at 5:05 pm

Abb1, it is true that the plans for democracy may be little more than propaganda. Then again, they may really be a war-aim. This is why I have trouble with Walzer’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How does an Israeli, who is willing to make the concessions required for a just peace, know that he isn’t making a present of an enlarged base for operations to Hamas? Similarly a Palestinian who argues for moderation may be making a present to Sharon, enabling him to say: see how reasonable they can be if you hit them hard enough? You really can’t separate Walzer’s two just wars from his two unjust wars.

The same goes for Iraq. An Iraqi who throws in his lot with Allawi may find that he is simply facilitating the creation of a puppet state. If he sides with the insurgents, he may be creating a theocratic tyranny. The just wars are interwoven with the unjust wars and you really can’t pick them apart.

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Donald Johnson 11.29.04 at 5:24 pm

Mark, try reading some of the earlier posts about the Lancet study, the crime rate, and the increase in hunger in Iraq and at least give some indication that you know the time period when Saddam committed his greatest atrocities and who his allies were then and then get back to us about all that.

One can make an honest case for the war in Iraq being better than the alternative (not that I buy it), but it helps if you know what you’re talking about.

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roger 11.29.04 at 5:25 pm

Kevin, the problem with talking about the war in Iraq as if it only had two sides seems starkly put when you say: “An Iraqi who throws in his lot with Allawi may find that he is simply facilitating the creation of a puppet state. If he sides with the insurgents, he may be creating a theocratic tyranny.”

Iraqis do have other choices. They can call for the occupation to end, peacefully — and get arrested for it by Allawi, Nasir Ayif. They can support a Shi’ite nationalist group that does not support theocracy, opposes the occupation, and leans towards a much blurrier border between church and state than a secularist would want. They can support They can support Issam Shukri, of the Union of Unemployed in Iraq (UUI).

The fall of Saddam was a good thing. The means by which he fell was a bad thing. The means survived him, and has become a very bad thing — an occupation. But the space opened up by Saddam’s fall has also survived him — meaning that civil opposition to both the Allawi regime and the insurgency (Ba’thist and Islamist) is not only possible, but could actually be crucial to holding Iraq together.

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Dan Simon 11.29.04 at 5:32 pm

[M]ore generally, it’s hard to imagine any war that can’t be justified, on both sides, by this kind of argument. If your cause is just (in your own eyes), and the rules by which you fight it are justified (in your own eyes), then the death and carnage of war is all due to the manifestly unjust actions of the other side.

John, if this is your objection to Geras, then I don’t believe you’ve responded to Abb1′s challenge to it:

The Germans occupied Poland – that’s war number 1. And then the Warsaw ghetto dwellers, unappreciative of the superior German culture, started their aggression against the poor Wehrmacht and recklessly disrupted order in the otherwise peaceful city – the war number 2. They should’ve known better.

In fact, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was entirely negative in its effects, succeeding merely in killing a few German soldiers and hastening the deaths of a few thousand Ghetto inhabitants. Hence, if we are not allowed to apply a priori moral judgments of the kind Geras is advocating, then we must, by your reasoning, declare the uprising to have been unjust.

Of course, nobody here seems to have grasped the implications of Abb1′s comment–let alone scolded him for the sheer moral depravity of his analogy. I assume that’s because nobody really takes seriously John’s argument against Geras, and would never think of using it to refute an anti-US position. As some bloggers like to say, “not antiwar–just on the other side”….

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Martin Wisse 11.29.04 at 5:45 pm

Henry:

I’ve read his blog enough to know he has nothing to teach me. He is exactly the same kind of leftist poseur as Hitchens is. Somebody who leads a nice comfortable life, who is nicely isolated from the consequences of his support of this murderous war in Iraq.

Oh yeah, I know he has allegedly written knowledgeable books on marxism and all, but if he was any kind of leftist, he would’ve been against this war.

I really have no patience for his kind anymore.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 11.29.04 at 5:46 pm

John I think you are missing a key distinction in Norman’s argument (either that or I’m projecting one into his argument.) Many of the key evils being complained about with respect to the war in Iraq has been things like the kidnapping and beheading of civilians, the use of civilians as human shields by the insurgents, the not-sufficient discrimination of US soldiers between combatants and non-combatants. I believe that one of Geras’ points is that these evils are being caused by the fact that the Iraqi insurgents choose to avoid following the rules of war. They intentionally endanger civilians, they intentionally hide behind them, they intentionally bomb civilian targets.

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Walt Pohl 11.29.04 at 5:53 pm

Equally shocking, Dan, is that you failed to denounced Brian’s lying and proto-fascism upthread. Of course you wouldn’t, since your whole post consists of a smear.

Jet: You’ve been reading the Crooked Timber comment boards long enough to know that abb1′s opinions are not typical of anyone except abb1. I expect better from you.

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Mark 11.29.04 at 5:57 pm

Donald,

I’ve read much of that, thanks. When you feel like putting those items into a coherent logical argument for the anti-war position, I’ll respond.

As far as I know, an accusation that “You don’t know what your talking about” has little probative value. If you disagree, try this: I’ll concede that I don’t know what I’m talking about – does this make your position that the war was not justified more or less true?

I’ve said it before: the left signed its own death warrant when it stopped teaching undergrads logical reasoning. You make it so much easier for non-leftists to tear your arguments apart.

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Mark 11.29.04 at 6:07 pm

Donald,

I’ve read much of that, thanks. When you feel like putting those items into a coherent logical argument for the anti-war position, I’ll respond.

As far as I know, an accusation that “You don’t know what your talking about” has little probative value. If you disagree, try this: I’ll concede that I don’t know what I’m talking about – does this make your position that the war was not justified more or less true?

I’ve said it before: the left signed its own death warrant when it stopped teaching undergrads logical reasoning. You make it so much easier for non-leftists to tear your arguments apart.

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abb1 11.29.04 at 6:47 pm

Kevin,
I’ll think about it. Thanks.

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Robin 11.29.04 at 6:52 pm

The pro-war side, Geras included, rest their arguments on two claims that seem far from being a given.

Firstly on a minor note: the murderousness of the Ba’ath regime, in terms of the people we can expect it to kill, are based on an historical average. But the regime was more murderous at some times (earlier) than others. It’s almost the equivalent of taking the average number of people killed throughout Soviet history and saying we could expect Brezhnev to kill about a million people a year. Saddam’s regime was weakened after 1991. Certainly, he had very little control or even presence in the Kurdish areas. But if the justification is that more lives would be saved with war than without, something other than a historical average is needed to make the case.

Secondly and more importantly, there’s the assumption that there was no way to get rid of him without a war. If anything, the invasion showed how weak the regime was. Notice some proponents of the war such as Hitchens move back and forth between claiming that we had to go in because it could not be removed otherwise and claiming that we had to go in because it was a failed state on the brink of collapse. Saddam was clearly bluffing on WMDs, whether to keep the Shi’a in line or keep Iran at bay is unclear. It maybe the case that war was needed, but this is assumed and not argued in prowar claims.

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Njorl 11.29.04 at 6:56 pm

I believe that legally, if not morally, anyone who contributes a necessary condition for an injury to take place is completely responsible for that injury.

If Mr. A cuts your brakelines and Mr. B puts LSD in your coffee then you get in a car crash, they are not each 50% responsible. They are each 100% responsible.

So, Churchill and Hitler are both 100% responsible for the firebombing of Dresden. Of course, in international law, the side that is responsible is the side that is not strong enough to assign blame.

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rob 11.29.04 at 6:57 pm

Mark,

anyone who can’t extract from Donald’s post the claim that Iraq is not now better off than it was under Saddam probably also needs some remedial classes in something (comprehension, perhaps?). Since the key claim of your earlier post -

I disagree that the net suffering would have been less had Saddam been left in power

- was that Iraqis were now better off, pointing to evidence that shows that they’re not does constitute a refutation of your argument, by showing one of your premises is not true. Also, you commit the error of assuming that people who opposed the war wanted the situation existing before it to continue: when you find someone who claimed that the sanctions regime was perfectly acceptable, didn’t need reform, and still opposed the war, let me know. There were alternatives, like reforming the sanctions, supporting genuine opposition groups, buying Saddam off like in the eighties. Not that I think that continuing the sanctions as they were wouldn’t have been better than this mess.

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rob 11.29.04 at 7:05 pm

Mark

Donald shows a perfectly good grasp of reasoning. Your argument from the initial post seems to be ‘Iraqis would have sufffered more under Saddam’, an implicit premise ‘Wars that prevent suffering are justified’, therefore ‘A war to remove Saddam is justified’. Pointing out evidence that refutes the first premise of that argument counts as a refutation of it. Perhaps what you mean is that you don’t accept that evidence of a refutation of your first premise: if so, please explain why, but don’t slander your opponents with the fallacy it looks to me like you’re committing.

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rob 11.29.04 at 7:10 pm

sorry, I thought I’d lost the first post

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abb1 11.29.04 at 7:12 pm

Dan Simon,
actually, all I was trying to say was that it’s silly to break a war into smaller pieces. You started a war, the war escalated, it inflamed, radicalized the region (just like opponents of the war predicted), extremists came to Iraq and started hacking heads, blowing up police stations and so on. Right?

And you are saying – this is a different war now? That’s absurd.

Those who started a war of aggression are responsible for the whole thing until they sit thru their Nuremberg trial and get hung by the neck till dead. They are guilty of every killing that occurred as a result, no matter who killed whom, why and where.

Now, the extremists who kill innocent people are also responsible for their little (in comparison) crimes, like cutting a dozen heads off; but that’s nowhere near the culpability of the leaders who actually initiated the slaughter.

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rob 11.29.04 at 7:21 pm

Dan

I don’t think anyone has actually said – although they may have relied on it – that consequences are the only measure of the justness of an act. In fact, I said earlier that they weren’t. Also, I don’t think that anyone has actually claimed that the insurgents are justified, although again they may have relied on it. I think that the claim has been that the insurgency was a foreseeable consequence of the invasion, and that as such, the invaders are responsible for it (whoever else may be) in a morally relevant way, and because of that, insofar as the suffering as a result of it counts against the justness of war, the suffering caused by the insurgency counts against the justness of the war.

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Dan Simon 11.29.04 at 7:26 pm

Equally shocking, Dan, is that you failed to denounced Brian’s lying and proto-fascism upthread. Of course you wouldn’t, since your whole post consists of a smear.

I have no idea whether or not Brian’s post was “lying”–it was mostly a collection of factual claims about Iraq, the detailed accuracy of which I’m hardly in a position to dispute authoritatively. As for the “proto-fascism” part, I saw only condemnations of Saddam Hussein’s fascism, and praise for democracy.

You do have a point regarding my aspersions about CT commentators, though. It’s quite true that people have all sorts of reasons for choosing not to speak up against a particular falsehood or calumny, and it’s highly unlikely that all of those who argued only for one side of this debate were unaware of the implications of their own arguments for the other side–even if they may have remained silent. I apologize for the overgeneralization.

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Mark 11.29.04 at 7:33 pm

Rob,

I simply deny that Donald, by making oblique reference to “studies” etc, has demonstrated that Iraqis are suffering more now than they would have been under Saddam. I challenged him to prove it. He has not done so. Your misinterpretation of my argument doesn’t help him.

I also notice that you have failed to defend Donald’s use of the “You don’t know what you’re talking about” argument. I take it that you have endorsed this line of reasoning as well.

As to your claim that: “you commit the error of assuming that people who opposed the war wanted the situation existing before it to continue”, I dispute this. I make no such assumption. You might have harbored some desire to see Saddam gone, but you agitated for his continued rule. The objective consequence of your conduct was identical to the outcome desired by Saddam’s fascist supporters: continued enslavement, mass torture and genocide of the Iraqi people. I have yet to see anyone from the anti-war left successfully refute this, including the brilliant academics who run this blog. This is the flipside of holding war proponents – and I include myself here – of the foreseeable consequences of the war (including the deaths of innocent Iraqis).

Robin,

Estimating the amount of people that Saddam would have killed had he been left in power involves an examination of historical averages. Excluding certain earlier years from the calculation without giving a relevant, plausible reason to do so is simply arbitrary. If you want to claim that “Saddam was mostly finished killing”, then do so. But expect to be challenged on your reasoning.

The pro-war side didn’t assume there was no other way to get rid of this genocidal tyrant other than war; it made this an explicit premise. Given a choice, I am quite content defending this premise rather than attempting to defend the premise that Saddam would have given up power without war. I look forward to your explanation of how the anti-war left would have rid Iraqis of his genocidal reign without foreign intervention.

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HP 11.29.04 at 7:40 pm

The one thing all of us should have learned from adolescent socialization experiences is that sometimes an act may be fully justifiable on moral and ethical grounds, and yet still be stupid and shortsighted. I mean, Becky said I was a total slut who did it with the whole football team behind the locker room when I like totally didn’t, and anyway she’s a bigger slut than I am ’cause you remember with Ryan at Josh’s party and Ryan was Amy’s girlfriend and everything? So I put this big dead rat we found in her locker right before we leave for Christmas break, and now I’m grounded for a month and suspended from school for three days. It’s so not fair. My point being that the morality or justifiability of our war in Iraq is completely irrelevant. The real question is, was the war ever theoretically winnable in the first place? To which I would answer, of course not. Although like most literate people, I fully and accurately predicted the insurgency, my real opposition to the war is that this conflict is by nature unwinnable. When victory is not clearly defined, defeat is the only option. This war was lost before a single bomb fell.

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Walt Pohl 11.29.04 at 7:53 pm

I appreciate the apology, Dan. I’m just cranky about the constant overgeneralizations about liberals or the left.

I don’t think it’s too hard to regard both Geras’ argument and abb1′s analogy (at least in your reading, since abb1 says above he meant it differently) absurd. The inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto had only two choices: die now, or die later. The US had a large number of choices — it just made poor ones.

Mark: Why can’t you just make an argument without the smear? Many people were against the war because they thought the likely outcome would be worse: that the suffering caused by combat, the accompanying chaos, and the subsequent civil war would dwarf that caused by Saddam. Not only was the position not crazy, it’s looking increasingly prophetic.

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rob 11.29.04 at 8:02 pm

Mark,

if your argument is the one I outlined, would you care to supply it: saying ‘I agree that opponents and proponents of the war had to consider the reasonable consequences of their positions’ and ‘I disagree that the net suffering would have been less had Saddam been left in power’ certainly makes it look like it’s the one I gave.

Insofar as disputing Donald’s claims about lives of Iraqis being better, that’s just shifting the burden of proof. He’s offered you some evidence of his claim, and your response is, apparently, a bald ‘I don’t believe it’. If you have evidence for your premise, then state it.

As for the claim that people who opposed the war necessarily, by virtue of having agitated against one method of removing Saddam, agitated in favour of keeping Saddam, that’s just rubbish. If I said, don’t drop a carpet-bomb the robbers holed-up in the bank, would that mean that I necessarily did not support other methods of getting them out? No, clearly not. I can think x is a bad way of achieving end y without thinking that end y is a bad end.

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rob 11.29.04 at 8:08 pm

sorry, that should be ‘if your argument is NOT the one I outlined’

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John Quiggin 11.29.04 at 8:24 pm

Walt, I agree with you about the Warsaw ghetto rising. The inhabitants had no choice but to fight.

On the other hand, it seems that at least some of the leaders of the later rising by the Polish Home Army had good reason to believe that the Russians would not act to support them, and that the rising was therefore very likely to fail, with heavy loss of life, as in fact happened. If this is correct, those leaders were culpable for going ahead anyway.

Contrary to Geras, this doesn’t in any way diminish the Nazis’ responsibility for their actions in crushing the rising. Neither guilt nor responsibility is zero-sum.

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Dan Simon 11.29.04 at 8:36 pm

I think that the claim has been that the insurgency was a foreseeable consequence of the invasion, and that as such, the invaders are responsible for it (whoever else may be) in a morally relevant way, and because of that, insofar as the suffering as a result of it counts against the justness of war, the suffering caused by the insurgency counts against the justness of the war.

Rob, this appears to me to be a version of the “kidnapper’s veto”. Let’s assume that the “insurgency” was, in fact, completely foreseeable. In fact, let’s imagine that the insurgents had kidnapped dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of Iraqis before the war, and publicly broadcast their intention to execute them in the event of an American invasion. Would their deaths, then, have been on the heads of the US government?

If so, then why is the US not entitled to return the favor, declaring its invasion to have been contingent on the kidnappers’ threat, and thus absolving itself of any responsibility for the threat’s consequences? And if not, how was the implicit threat of the insurgents to wreak havoc, causing the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis, in the event of an American invasion, any different?

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roger 11.29.04 at 8:44 pm

Sebastian, this is an interesting point: “Many of the key evils being complained about with respect to the war in Iraq has been things like the kidnapping and beheading of civilians, the use of civilians as human shields by the insurgents, the not-sufficient discrimination of US soldiers between combatants and non-combatants.”

Wasn’t that, in the Reagan glory years, what we paid the mujahidin to do in Afghanistan? Back then, it was a brilliant strategy devised by deeply religious people trying to wrest their homeland from an invading, secular oppressor. Dan Rather was so proud of it he dressed like a freedom fighter to make a tv report, once.

I don’t get it. So, now we are against a deeply religious people using human shields, kidnapping people, and beheading in their struggle against a vastly better armed secular occupying power? And that power now has the perfect right to level cities to enforce its writ?

American foreign policy is SOOO confusing. I liked it better in the old days, remember? When Reagan challenged Gorbachev to tear down the wall and send all those women back to the burqua. Or as Ronnie put it in 1985:

“Today Soviet troops inside Afghanistan number nearly 120,000. And in the face of this brutal onslaught, the Afghan people still refuse to surrender — is surely a miracle. And in this holiday season of renewed faith in miracles, it is surely fitting for us to honor and pray for those brave men and women. These courageous people have shown the world that the Soviets can never achieve the outright subjugation of the Afghan mind and spirit that they seek. The Afghan people are too proud, too fiercely determined to fight on. The Soviets understand this. They know that, in a sense, the battle for Afghanistan has shifted from the mountains of Afghanistan itself to the wider field of world opinion. So it is that the Soviets are prolonging the war and blacking out news about the daily atrocities which they’re committing. They’re waiting for world attention to slip, for our outrage to wane. Then, they believe the support which the free world has been providing to the freedom fighters will dwindle. The Soviets at that point will have effectively cut off the freedom fighters’ lifelines, and although the mujahidin may never surrender, the Soviets will have achieved indisputable control of the country. An entire nation will have been strangled.”

Gee, sounds like the Americans in Iraq!

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Donald Johnson 11.29.04 at 8:50 pm

Rob has summarized my point fairly well, Mark. I’ve read the Lancet study and some of the commentary on the web (the best of it here) and it makes a pretty good case for showing that the death rate in Iraq has gone up considerably since Saddam was overthrown. So far as I can tell, most of Saddam’s mass killings occurred in the late 80′s and again in 1991, when Bush number one implicitly gave him permission to crush the Shiite rebellion any way he chose. (Salon had an article about that in the past week or so.)

I was opposed to this war, but my opposition was fairly weak, because I’d read a fair number of articles in the period leading up to the war which said that many Iraqis might welcome it, both because it would overthrow the fascist tyrant and because it would end the sanctions. I expected Bush to screw up, but I wasn’t sure his screwups would lead to higher death rate than sanctions plus Saddam. There was no way to tell how the invasion would go. The antiwar predictions of hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties seemed unlikely if Saddam’s forces fell apart fairly quickly. They’d have been more likely if Saddam had possessed massive numbers of WMD’s, but like most sensible people, I was doubtful that he did.

Anyway, Bush has made a mess of things and the death rate from various factors probably has caused tens of thousands or more innocent people to die. I could imagine an honest person making some kind of case for the Iraq war, but it would have to include an extremely harsh indictment of how the Bush Administration has actually carried it out so far.

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Mark 11.29.04 at 8:55 pm

Rob,

If it’s your view that oblique references to “earlier posts about the Lancet study, the crime rate, and the increase in hunger in Iraq” constitute evidence for an argument that is not appear in Donald’s post, then you have a novel view of evidence. In what profession or arena would such evidence, do you think, count for something? (I mean outside of a CBS newsroom.)

I’m not going to do Donalds homework for him, particularly when he relies on the brilliant “you don’t know anything” argument.

“As for the claim that people who opposed the war necessarily, by virtue of having agitated against one method of removing Saddam, agitated in favour of keeping Saddam, that’s just rubbish.”

This characterization has the effect of turning the argument into a point of psychology, where it clearly is not; by doing so, it allows opponents of the war to keep up the pretence that they didn’t condemn Iraqis to slavery, mass torture and genocide.

But my point is one of factual consequences of the anti-war position on ordinary Iraqis: the consequences for Iraqis were identical whether opposition to the war came from Western war protesters or committed Saddmist fascists. In order to refute this, you need to show that there was a difference for ordinary Iraqis in the proposed outcomes between Saddam’s fascist supporters and anti-war protesters. In my view, there clearly was not: had anti-war protesters won, Saddam would have continued to rule Iraq; had his fascist supporters won, Saddam would have continued to rule Iraq. What about this analysis do you dispute?

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abb1 11.29.04 at 9:11 pm

Well, most of the Saddmist fascists are now on your side, so nothing’s really changed except that before the war Saddam paid them to kill the insurgents and now you do. This is what you’ve become. And anti-war protesters are still anti-war.

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rob 11.29.04 at 9:17 pm

Dan,

I think there are two ways in which the relationship of the insurgents and the Coalition differs from that of kidnappers and authorities/family. Firstly, the distinctive thing about kidnappers is that they create the situation where harm is going to occur. The insurgents did not create the current situation in Iraq: the Coalition did by invading. Secondly, the people who recieve ransom notes have a much greater moral interest in the return of that which is being ransomed than the Coalition had in invading Iraq. My moral interest in having my child returned alive is much greater than the Coalition’s in promoting democracy – which is a remarkably charitable reading of their intentions – in Iraq. The costs that one can legitimately impose on others without making an act unjustified depend, to some degree, on the moral interest you had in acting towards a given end. So, I don’t think this is like endorsing kidnapping.

Also, in your case of the threat I think the Coalition would have been responsible in a morally relevant way. It had no compelling moral interest in invading Iraq, or not one large enough to justify the deaths of tens of thousands of people, even at the hands of others. Another way of putting this is, either of the reasons (or at least the second) I gave above would be enough to attribute moral responsibility for the insurgents acts to the Coalition. Note that I haven’t said that moral responsibility is a zero-sum game, so saying that I’ve said that insurgents are not morally responsible for their acts won’t wash.

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Robin 11.29.04 at 9:25 pm

In re, “Estimating the amount of people that Saddam would have killed had he been left in power involves an examination of historical averages. Excluding certain earlier years from the calculation without giving a relevant, plausible reason to do so is simply arbitrary.”

There are reasons. For example, Saddam’s capacity to attack the Kurds had become very weak to non-existent. In so much as he did in the 1990s, he had to rely of defections from the Kurdish alliance admist internal power struggles. Surely, a de facto independent Kurdish state says something about the power of the Baath state. Overall, the Iraqi party-state had been severly weakened after 1991–which is the reason I gave for excluding earlier years. It certainly does seem that Saddam had managed to stay in power increasingly by bying off people and bluffing, rather that the previous techniques of wholesale slaughter. And the reason’s clear: if Saddam’s desire to murder hadn’t changed in the decade since Desert Storm, his ability to do so had. And btw there is something sinister in phrasing this as resting on merely the will of Saddam–in re “Saddam was mostly finished killing”. But it appears a rhethorical strategy to imply that locally Saddam was omnipotent and suggest that any point other than the pro-war side equals trust in Saddam’s motives.

As far as the pemise that only an intervention could get rid of Saddam, the war’s shown that it wasn’t entirely a convincing one. (My dispute is treating that it couldn’t as a premise.) For all that’s said about the totalitarian nature of the Iraqi state–and yes, it certainly aimed for it–the level of organization in the Shi’a regions paints a picture very far from the images of an atomized society where all organization has the tentacles of the state in it. I do think that supporters of the war have consistently resorted to ignoring what the war has now made irrefutable–the Iraqi state was far, far weaker than the pro-war side claimed. (When was the last genocidal onslaught? That question is not meant as a defence of the Ba’ath but instead begins with the premise that Saddam would if he could. That he hasn’t since the 1980s leaves me believing that he couldn’t.)

And moreover, it’s not simply that Saddam lacked WMDs. The population appears to have been heavily armed. Command and contol of the armed forces was practically zero–it fell apart with the lightest push. The Ba’ath party itself appears to have been comprised of people who had no love of it. I’m far from convinced that the regime couldn’t have been gotten rid of in another way, one which, like in Eastern Europe, forced opposition groups to sit down and make deals and come to an understanding that contestation through democracy might be the second best solution for all of them. As far as how–first, blow the WMD cover, second, support the Shi’a and other opposition groups, and if he could buy off people, then surely we could’ve as well. Regimes with as much, or even more civillian blood on their hands, such as Suharto’s, have been removed without a war.

Frankly, I do believe that the motives of most on the pro-war side are pretty decent ones. There also ones I largely share. But the proximate threat and no other way criteria for an interventionary war seem to be good ones, and ones which weren’t met here. On the other criteria, that war would save more lives than no war, there something a bit easy about having “no war” equal Saddam in power, and in power in the way he was in 1985 at that. I’m willing to admit that I’m wrong on the above points in the face of convincing evidence, but it hasn’t been presented at all.

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rob 11.29.04 at 9:26 pm

Mark,

are you actually ever going to address any of the points I made, or just carry on proving the point I made on another thread, that for some people assertion counts as argument (oh, sorry, I forgot that so far as you’re concerned, other threads don’t exist, or indeed, apparently the wider world)?

106

Robin 11.29.04 at 9:28 pm

In re, “Estimating the amount of people that Saddam would have killed had he been left in power involves an examination of historical averages. Excluding certain earlier years from the calculation without giving a relevant, plausible reason to do so is simply arbitrary.”

There are reasons. For example, Saddam’s capacity to attack the Kurds had become very weak to non-existent. In so much as he did in the 1990s, he had to rely of defections from the Kurdish alliance admist internal power struggles. Surely, a de facto independent Kurdish state says something about the power of the Baath state. Overall, the Iraqi party-state had been severly weakened after 1991–which is the reason I gave for excluding earlier years. It certainly does seem that Saddam had managed to stay in power increasingly by bying off people and bluffing, rather that the previous techniques of wholesale slaughter. And the reason’s clear: if Saddam’s desire to murder hadn’t changed in the decade since Desert Storm, his ability to do so had. And btw there is something sinister in phrasing this as resting on merely the will of Saddam–in re “Saddam was mostly finished killing”. But it appears a rhethorical strategy to imply that locally Saddam was omnipotent and suggest that any point other than the pro-war side equals trust in Saddam’s motives.

As far as the pemise that only an intervention could get rid of Saddam, the war’s shown that it wasn’t entirely a convincing one. (My dispute is treating that it couldn’t as a premise.) For all that’s said about the totalitarian nature of the Iraqi state–and yes, it certainly aimed for it–the level of organization in the Shi’a regions paints a picture very far from the images of an atomized society where all organization has the tentacles of the state in it. I do think that supporters of the war have consistently resorted to ignoring what the war has now made irrefutable–the Iraqi state was far, far weaker than the pro-war side claimed. (When was the last genocidal onslaught? That question is not meant as a defence of the Ba’ath but instead begins with the premise that Saddam would if he could. That he hasn’t since the 1980s leaves me believing that he couldn’t.)

And moreover, it’s not simply that Saddam lacked WMDs. The population appears to have been heavily armed. Command and contol of the armed forces was practically zero–it fell apart with the lightest push. The Ba’ath party itself appears to have been comprised of people who had no love of it. I’m far from convinced that the regime couldn’t have been gotten rid of in another way, one which, like in Eastern Europe, forced opposition groups to sit down and make deals and come to an understanding that contestation through democracy might be the second best solution for all of them. As far as how–first, blow the WMD cover, second, support the Shi’a and other opposition groups, and if he could buy off people, then surely we could’ve as well. Regimes with as much, or even more civillian blood on their hands, such as Suharto’s, have been removed without a war.

Frankly, I do believe that the motives of most on the pro-war side are pretty decent ones. There also ones I largely share. But the proximate threat and no other way criteria for an interventionary war seem to be good ones, and ones which weren’t met here. On the other criteria, that war would save more lives than no war, there something a bit easy about having “no war” equal Saddam in power, and in power in the way he was in 1985 at that. I’m willing to admit that I’m wrong on the above points in the face of convincing evidence, but it hasn’t been presented at all.

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Where's The Beef? 11.29.04 at 9:32 pm

>>> Why didn’t you, confused fella, put the courage of your convictions to the test and join some kind of anti-Saddam resistance in Iraq in the first place?

- You presume that I had not taken action. You presume that your worldview is the baseline for pronoucning principles and evading action / responsibility for yourself.

>>> I sure hope the US government gets its ass kicked in Iraq, which seems to be the only way to teach them a lesson that’s remembered for a few decades.

- In one breath you mistakenly deride me for expecting sacrifices of others than I have not or would not make myself. I simply asked if you’d act on your principles. In the next breath you want others to do some ass-kicking because that might teach the lesson you would teach. You favor bloodshed on a monumental scale.

Have you taken any action regarding the reported prevalence of malnutrition, for example? If not, what is the principle behind that choice?

>>> The principle in action there is the same as the one motivating the insurgents in Iraq: if someone is prosecuting a war against you, you have two choices, to surrender or to fight.

- For what it is worth, I respect that you’ve stated the principle clearly. But war was declared on the US first — both by Saddam and by the islamo totalitarians to whom he was prepared to grant asylum. There are several reasons for invading Iraq in addition to the threat of WMDs and the inhumanity of Saddam’s tyranny. But those two reasons were chosen, perhaps mistakenly, as the focus for the case at the UN Security Council. Both Bush, Blair, and Howard have argued multiple reasons and they have yet to be shown to be entirely wrong in any one of those.

But the recognized principle upon which we agree does clearly make the stakes known. Surrender or fight. And fighting with military might is an extension of other means of pushing back the offensive of the islamo totalitarians.

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Chairm 11.29.04 at 9:42 pm

>>> some of the insurgents’ demands are just

- Not sure about that. Could you itemize the most important that they’ve communicated directly? Who among Iraqis has made the case for that list?

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Uncle Kvetch 11.29.04 at 9:45 pm

But war was declared on the US first — both by Saddam

Um, no. No, no, and again no. War was not declared on the US by Saddam, either explicitly or implicitly. Your repeating that it was does not make it so. Saddam was not a threat to the United States.

The rest of your argument is merely unconvincing–this particular part of it is a bald-faced lie.

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kevin donoghue 11.29.04 at 9:47 pm

To my mind the old cost-benefit arguments for and against the forcible regime-change in Iraq are a bit off-topic. Geras is not arguing that his utilitarian spreadsheet shows the current level of suffering to be less than that which would have resulted from some other course of action. But FWIW, without leaving the precincts of Crooked Timber, one can find commentary on the general rise in Iraqi mortality rates, child malnutrition and murders in Baghdad. These threads provide other links. Juan Cole also provides a wealth of information from various news sources. Of course the Polyanna Party hasn’t struck its cheerful colours, but their membership is certainly shrinking. The fact that Norm Geras is now moving to a new set of entrenchments based around just war theory (or something of the sort) suggests that he doesn’t fancy arguing that Iraqis have never had it so good.

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John Quiggin 11.29.04 at 9:55 pm

“The fact that Norm Geras is now moving to a new set of entrenchments based around just war theory (or something of the sort) suggests that he doesn’t fancy arguing that Iraqis have never had it so good.”

This is an important premise of the argument I tried to make in my post.

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Mark 11.29.04 at 10:09 pm

Rob,

I’ve already said I’m not going to do Don’s homework for him. The same applies to you; if you want to claim that net suffering from the war is greater now that it would have been under Saddam, then feel free to do so. Cite valid studies with links. (Yes, I’ve seen the Lancet study, and I think it’s conclusions are implausible at best, but I’m open to counter-arguments; you can seek to rehabilitate it if you like.)

I’m waiting for you to respond to my earlier contention re: the identification of anti-war opposition and Saddamist fascist support on the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Your silence is telling here.

Robin,

As far as I can tell, you want to exclude the earlier years from death figures because Saddam no longer had the ability to slaughter the requisite number of people (something less than the amount that have died during the war, persumably). Your evidence for this is your assertion that Saddam’s one-party state had been weakened since 1991. You claim this is so because he had to buy off people, bluff and rely on defections, rather than engage in wholesale slaughter (at least in the Kurdish regions). You provide no evidence (links or cites) for any of this. With respect to the Shia regions, you claim he couldn’t engage in wholesale slaughter because the Shia were more organized than previously believed. Again, no evidence is provided.

I fail to find that any of this refutes the view of Iraq ruled under Saddam by state-sanctioned intimidation, fear, arbitrary arrest, torture and execution, punctuated by periods of mass slaughter; that was his pattern. You could be right about his changed circumstances, but I don’t think it’s unfair of me to ask for more evidence of Saddam’s inability or unwillingness to slaughter thousands of innocent Iraqis, particularly given his zeal for doing so in the past. Your evidence should have been available for reasonable inspection pre-war, of course.

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abb1 11.29.04 at 10:11 pm

Hey Kevin,
The same goes for Iraq. An Iraqi who throws in his lot with Allawi may find that he is simply facilitating the creation of a puppet state. If he sides with the insurgents, he may be creating a theocratic tyranny.

Here’s what I think: yes, there are wingnuts on both sides: noecons are deranged megalomaniacs and radical Islamists are deranged megalomaniacs (or Likud and Hamas, if you prefer).

I think the logic dictates that you side against the strongest wingnut around, the wingnut who has the upperhand at the moment.

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Mark 11.29.04 at 10:20 pm

Kevin,

The obvious retort re: murder statistics for Baghdad is that Saddam often didn’t send his corpses to the morgue, but buried them in mass unmarked graves, or dropped them off in garbage bags to relative’s homes. The child malnutrition study is disturbing, and needs more study. The Lancet study is dubious at best, but I look forward to your defence of its methodology and conclusions, with comparative analysis to pre-war HRW death figures, perhaps. Ongoing Marsh Arab genocide might also enter into your considerations.

Again, I think Geras should concede that reasonably foreseeable consequences of the war must be dealt with by the pro-war side, just as the reasonbly foreseeable consequences for Iraqis should be dealt with by anti-war side; both sides take weak positions when they deny this.

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Walt Pohl 11.29.04 at 10:41 pm

Mark: Your argument will be particularly persuasive when all Iraqis are dead.

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kevin donoghue 11.29.04 at 10:46 pm

D-squared on the Lancet study (for the link see my previous comment): “The bottom line is that the Lancet study was a good piece of science, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. Its results (and in particular, its central 98,000 estimate) are not the last word on the subject, but then nothing is in statistics. There is a very real issue here, and any pro-war person who thinks that we went to war to save the Iraqis ought to be thinking very hard about whether we made things worse rather than better…. It is notable how very few people who have rubbished the Lancet study have shown the slightest interest in getting any more accurate estimates; often you learn a lot about people from observing the way that they protect themselves from news they suspect will disconcert them.”

Mark: “The Lancet study is dubious at best, but I look forward to your defence of its methodology and conclusions, with comparative analysis to pre-war HRW death figures, perhaps.”

The difference between these two verdicts is that one of them comes from someone who has studied the matter in depth, presented his findings at length and defended them trenchantly. The other one comes from a guy who thinks it’s up to me to do the hard work of setting him straight.

Good night, all.

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Where's The Beef? 11.29.04 at 10:54 pm

>>> I’m far from convinced that the regime couldn’t have been gotten rid of in another way, one which, like in Eastern Europe, forced opposition groups to sit down and make deals and come to an understanding that contestation through democracy might be the second best solution for all of them.

- The islamo totalitarians were positioned to invade with their “best solution”. The so-called “insurgents” are not predisposed to democracy.

>>> War was not declared on the US by Saddam, either explicitly or implicitly.

- He repeatedly broke the terms of the ceasefire. That is no lie.

>>> I don’t think anyone has actually said – although they may have relied on it – that consequences are the only measure of the justness of an act. In fact, I said earlier that they weren’t. Also, I don’t think that anyone has actually claimed that the insurgents are justified, although again they may have relied on it. I think that the claim has been that the insurgency was a foreseeable consequence of the invasion, and that as such, the invaders are responsible for it (whoever else may be) in a morally relevant way, and because of that, insofar as the suffering as a result of it counts against the justness of war, the suffering caused by the insurgency counts against the justness of the war.

- For clarity, are the goals and methods of the Baathist and foreign islamists justified, in your view? We probably can agree on the list of methods, but what are their goals?

- Is not the defeat of the terrorists in Iraq also foreseeable? If not to you, then, to those who opposed the islamo totalitarians prior to crossing the Iraqi border? They threatened to do something like this to almost every country in the Middle East and to some other regions as well. That threat was taken as actionable.

- Who would be responsible in a morally relevant way for the continued tyranny of the Baathist regime, for the roaming attacks of the terrorists, and for the corruption of the Oil-For-Food program? If we had not acted, who would be morally responsible for the impending arrival of the chaos that was gathering on the horizon?

>>> Although like most literate people, I fully and accurately predicted the insurgency, my real opposition to the war is that this conflict is by nature unwinnable. When victory is not clearly defined, defeat is the only option.

- As one of the mostly illiterate people, the deadender stand of the islamo totalitarians in northern Iraq was expected. The invasion attracted them like flies. In fact, after the fall of the Taliban, they had Iraq in their sights. Based on the fight thusfar, all signs do point to this being a winnable contest. There are lots of uncertainties, as there are in combat, but defeat is not preordained. And defeat would be far more costly than seeing the fight through to victory.

- This aspect of the antiwar argument must trouble the consciences of some who are on the antiwar side posting here.

- The victories of the “insurgents” — no matter how brutal, no matter how ineffective overall, seem to be embraced with a sort of intellectual if not emotional appetite. To be proven correct, it seems, you wish for the Iraqis and the Coalition to be devestated. Doesn’t this trouble some of you?

>>> [Quoting Reagan:] “Soviets can never achieve the outright subjugation of the Afghan mind and spirit that they seek … ” [Summing up:] Gee, sounds like the Americans in Iraq!”

- Except for the part about the subjugation of the people. Especially that part. And most of the rest.

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rob 11.29.04 at 11:04 pm

Mark,

look, this is getting really dull. I want to get to the bar in time for last orders, so I’ll try and make it relatively simple. If I say, here is a piece of evidence for x, in this case a study published by a highly reputable medical journal, when, so far as I’m aware, no one else has done any work on the matter (“we don’t do bodycounts”, for example), then it is incumbent on you to show why you don’t think it’s a valid piece of evidence. Especially when what it is meant to refute is a bald assertion with no evidence to back it up, like ‘I disagree that the net suffering would have been less had Saddam been left in power’.

On the ‘the anti-war left is complicit in whatever Saddam would have done after not being deposed’ argument: the fact that I believe that x is a bad means to end y does not mean that I believe that y is a bad end. In case that’s not clear enough, assuming there are other means to that end, I can endorse other means to that end. For example, let’s assume the end is minimizing Iraqi suffering. Invading Iraq, overthrowing Saddam and installing Allawi is the means you endorse to that end. Altering the sanction regime, buying off Saddam, funding opposition groups, and a whole host of other means to that end are open for me to endorse despite the fact that I oppose one particular means. If you mean in fact, no other means existed, well, if that’s true, which I don’t think it is, it’s hardly the responsibility of the anti-war left: if there weren’t any other options, the Coalition, and particularly the US, closed them off. Most of the people opposed to the war opposed that too, insofar as it happened at all.

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Mark 11.29.04 at 11:48 pm

Rob,

If you want to claim that a study establishes a fact, then do so explicitly, and outline the authenticity and authority of the study. Simply making an oblique reference to it is not sufficient in any arena of which I’m aware. I’m content to leave it here, and suggest that your standards of proof & evidence are different than mine.

You haven’t provided any reason why you could reasonably have expected an outcome different from the one endorsed by Saddamist fascists. Simply suggesting you might have been able to buy Saddam off, endorse opposition groups or altering the sanction regime isn’t sufficient to refute the position that the anti-war left reasonably anticipated and agitated for an outcome different than Saddam’s fascist proponents. I would think, when the lives of 25 million Iraqis hang in the balance, that more analysis would be warranted about the prospects for ordinary Iraqis under Saddam’s continued rule.

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rob 11.30.04 at 12:52 am

Mark,

by your criteria for evidence, neither of us have any about the situation in Iraq (unless you’ve got some statistical study you’re not telling us about). Most people do accept articles published in reputable medical journals, especially when there’s no other evidence of comparable quality. If you don’t, fine, but it leaves you with nothing to support your assertion that it life is better than the Lancet suggests. Also, unless you’re prepared to cite, with more detailed statistical analysis than was offered on the thread discussing the Lancet study, evidence of Saddam’s genocidal behaviour towards his own people, I think you’d better drop that claim too.

The second part of your post suggests to me a confusion. It looks like your argument runs – and I’m sure you will correct me if I’m wrong – the anti-war left didn’t want to go to war in Iraq; if we hadn’t gone to war in Iraq, Saddam would have stayed in power; if Saddam had stayed in power, he would have done a number of terrible things; people are morally responsible for all the consequences of their acts; therefore, the anti-war left would have been responsible for, by virtue of not going to war were it in power, the things Saddam would have done if we had not gone to war. This is logically sound, even if I am extremely dubious about the fourth premise. The confusion lies in the premise ‘if Saddam had stayed in power, he would have done a number of terrible things’. It ignores the fact, which I and a number of other people have been pressing on you for sometime, that not going to war against Saddam is not the only thing the anti-war left would have done with regard to Iraq. They would have been morally responsible for the consequences of those others things too. Allowing that those things would have had less bad consequences for Iraq than simply not going to war and leaving things as they were – which, by your standard of evidence, let’s not forget, neither of us can say anything about, and which my standard of evidence allows me to say in all likelihood would have been better than going to war, at least so far – then the anti-war left, had it been in power, wouldn’t have been responsible for all the terrible things Saddam did, because, as a result of the other things they would have done, he wouldn’t have done them. You can’t foist responsibility for a situation which some individual or individuals had little or no control over onto them, or claim that they endorse and are therefore responsible for the status quo by virtue of not endorsing some change, when they have no power to offer alternative changes. This is what this argument does, as I hope I have shown above (and in the previous posts, insofar as it was clear this was what you argued). If you’re going to post again, at least bother to give the same courtesy to me and others that they give to you, that of actually reading and attempting to understand their arguments, before replying.

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Robin Green 11.30.04 at 3:02 am

I guess that means I think the war was unjust but the resistance would be just if they were not committing the atrocities they are.

A laudable position. But why is that I never see anyone on the pro-war side saying analogous things about the US occupation?

No need to answer, that was a rhetorical question.

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Chris 11.30.04 at 5:24 am

The arguments here are very frustrating. Although I wrote to my politicians asking them to keep us out of the Iraq war, we went in and there is no alternative to trying to succeed.

The arguments above all miss an important point, and its part of the difference between on the one hand, the doer and on the other the auditor.

When you have responsibility and a big problem you take actions as best you can and deal with the consequences as they arise.

Gain and retain the initiative as best you can.

Then the whiny little guys come in behind and run process audits looking for enough ammunition to fire the person who had the hot seat at the time and acted.

The hypocrisy of the anti-war extremists is best shown by how many of them are now human shields protecting Iraqis from insurgents.

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Chris 11.30.04 at 5:31 am

So, you can argue the case back and forward all you like but the point being missed is the ACTION. On the day, on the ground, with only the knowledge at hand, someone had to act.

How they did it is open to hindsight analysis; but this kind of argument presumes some kind of perfect information world and no cost for inaction.

The real cost of inaction was proven; two buildings full of civilians murdered, and evil people dancing for joy in the streets.

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rps 11.30.04 at 6:27 am

This jackass would have gotten us all killed in a nuclear war if he had had the chance during the Cold War, and if there really were a final judgement, he would have the gall to make a similar argument defending his actions.

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Walt Pohl 11.30.04 at 8:04 am

I really don’t understand the philosophy of someone like Chris. The only choice is not “inaction” or “action”; there’s an exciting third category called “appropriate action”. If George Bush had taken the appropriate action before 9/11, three thousand Americans might still be alive. If he had taken the appropriate action after 9/11, one thousand American soldiers might still be alive.

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Walt Pohl 11.30.04 at 8:05 am

I really don’t understand the philosophy of someone like Chris. The only choice is not “inaction” or “action”; there’s an exciting third category called “appropriate action”. If George Bush had taken the appropriate action before 9/11, three thousand Americans might still be alive. If he had taken the appropriate action after 9/11, one thousand American soldiers might still be alive.

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Chris 11.30.04 at 8:25 am

There is no appropriate action after 9/11 that would not have resulted in US military deaths, unless that were by the hosts of terrorism. For instance, the complete and absolute rejection of violence by the Arab and Iranian sponsors of terrorism, with ‘aggressive’ Saudi action internally against them.

The question of action versus inaction is critical. There is no perfect action, just a range of difficult and dangerous alternatives. Pretending that perfect action was retrospectively possible under the false flag of more ‘appropriate’ action is just intellectual masturbation.

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abb1 11.30.04 at 9:02 am

I really don’t understand the philosophy of someone like Chris.

It’s not philosophy, it’s wingnuttery, the same exactly force that moves Islamic fundamentalists.

They are on the same team: Richard Perle (for the lack of designated figurehead) needed a pearl-harbor-like event to escalate the fight for his New Caliphate, while Osama bin Laden needed a crusade-like event to mobilize his folks for the New Islamist Century.

They need each other, they feed off each other, they unite the wingnuts of the world in their conquest to destroy the civilization.

Only Perle’s wingnuts are thousand times more dangerous, much deadlier. These folks have a real chance to succeed.

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Where's The Beef? 11.30.04 at 10:05 am

>> Quote #1: I guess that means I think the war was unjust but the resistance would be just if they were not committing the atrocities they are.

>> Quote #2: A laudable position. But why is that I never see anyone on the pro-war side saying analogous things about the US occupation?

Response to Quote #2: There is no moral equivalence between the islamo totalitarians and the Iraqi and Coaliton forces — neither in means nor in ends.

The atrocities currently committed by the so-called “resistance” do not overshadow the unjust cause of their war efforts. Their attrocities illuminate and foretell the hoped-for-future that drives the islamo totalitarians. They will be stopped from committing futher atrocities by our efforts to thwart their purpose.

The occupation is both just in purpose and just in means. That does not mean that mistakes are not made in combat or that errors are made in any campaign against a determined enemy. Military, diplomatic, political errors, not matters of systematic atrocities or totalitarian enslavement.

To think that the Iraq and the Coalition are the evil as some here have suggested, is to turn a blind eye to the nobility and decency of the people all around us in this country and among the Iraqi people.

To the extent that you have become convinced of the rightness of your assessment of the war and the war effort, what principled action(s) do you plan to take or have taken?

Beyond registering blips in the complaint-o-meter, what’s next? Is the goal to defeat Iraq and the Coalition or is it to defeat the enemy? Or something in-between, if that’s conceivable?

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abb1 11.30.04 at 10:29 am

The goal is to defeat the enemies of civilization – deranged militant wingnuts everywhere.

But, as you probably know by now, deranged militant wingnuts controlling incredible amounts of Weapons of Mass Destruction (not to mention the most power military in the world) are especially dangerous.

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Chris 11.30.04 at 2:42 pm

Wingnut? abb1 you disappoint me, I thought you had the ability to contribute substantively.

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Chris 11.30.04 at 2:51 pm

wheresthebeef, you are hopeful. Blips on the complaintometer is EXACTLY what is necessary for self-righteous posturing without the inconvenience of taking personal responsibility for people in harm’s way.

How many peace activists have gone as human shields for the Iraqi people against the terrorists?

For those who might be interested in the idea of doing, taking initiative with SOME action, try reading this article:
http://www.belisarius.com/modern_business_strategy/richards/riding_the_tiger/tiger.htm

It is clear what that Bushie (was it Perl?) meant when he said they were making the new reality.

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Robert McDougall 11.30.04 at 3:00 pm

Geras is equivocating on different concepts of responsibility, consequentialist and deontological. It’s one kind of misdeed to murder; it’s another kind of misdeed to put someone in danger of being murdered by someone else.

Quiggin & Co. hold the U.S. (consequentiallistically) responsible for the present chaos in Iraq; Geras replies no, the crimes of the terrorists are their own (deontological) responsibility.

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jet 11.30.04 at 3:14 pm

When contemplating the horrors going on in Iraq here is a rhetorical question. How many old people in the philippines would say “I would trade my children’s and grandchildren’s freedom for lives under the Taliban or Pol Pot if it meant my parents and brother hadn’t been killed in the fighting against the seperatist.”?

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Walt Pohl 11.30.04 at 4:48 pm

If it’s intellectual maturbation, why is it so unsatisfying?

Who said anything about “perfect action”? Sure, in any war, things go wrong. But that’s not a universal excuse. At each stage in Iraq, the Bush administration made choices that were mistakes. People told them they were mistakes, predicted the outcome of these mistakes, and were vindicated by events. If we had competent leadership, the insurgency would never have emerged — it was poor leadership in the White House that allowed it to emerge.

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abb1 11.30.04 at 6:27 pm

If it’s intellectual maturbation, why is it so unsatisfying?

I think it’s because most of us are experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance when discussing the US foreign policy; the tribal loyalty gets in the way of objective assessment. For some more, for some less, but for all some.

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jet 11.30.04 at 9:10 pm

Walt,
“If we had competent leadership, the insurgency would never have emerged”

What leads you to think this is true? The only thing that comes to mind is not disbanding the Iraqi army, and while that was probably a mistake, there was quite a bit of merit to the argument for disbanding them. Anything else I’m missing?

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Where's The Beef? 11.30.04 at 9:15 pm

>> If we had competent leadership, the insurgency would never have emerged — it was poor leadership in the White House that allowed it to emerge.

This statement concisely discredits all you have said on the subject of war, diplomacy, and leadership.

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Walt Pohl 11.30.04 at 10:20 pm

You know, WtB, since you are not actually world arbiter of credibility, you have to offer an actual argument.

Jet, I would say these are the key missteps:

1) Not having enough troops to ensure law-and-order in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.

2) Keeping the body of the existing Iraqi government (not just the arm), while lopping off the head. This is what we did in post-WWII Germany and Japan, with good success.

3) Using the money budgeted for reconstruction to help ameliorate the economic situation in Iraq. An Iraq rebuilt by Iraq workers and companies is a lot better off than Iraq rebuilt by foreign companies and workers.

4) Staffing the CPA with better-qualified people.

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Kevin Donoghue 11.30.04 at 10:41 pm

Another important blunder was the failure to hold early elections as Sistani suggested. It would be quite a project to catalogue even the obvious mistakes. People can be forgiven for thinking in terms of a conspiracy – it is remarkable that people with ample resources could screw up so badly without actually trying.

The real sickener is that knowledgable people were available but they were excluded from the process. The interviews which the Iraqi blogger, Salam Pax did recently for the Guardian are worth a look. After meeting one former intelligence analyst he remarked:

“There is no way the Bush administration can get away with the mess it created in Iraq by saying it did not know and could not predict this, because for two hours I sat with a man who was so knowledgeable on things I thought no one in the west knew or cared about.”

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Where's The Beef? 11.30.04 at 11:38 pm

walt pohl, the moniker is “Where’s The Beef?”.

Your earlier remark was no argument. It was self-contradictory since you claimed not to be expecting perfection. But if these points — evident within your remark — doesn’t discredit what you said, then, expand on your remark.

You made the bald assertion that the insurgency would not have emerged under different circumstances that the White House could have created.

Back that up without discrediting yourself further, if you can.

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am 12.01.04 at 5:35 am

Your opposition to the war to some extent actually *caused* the war. Because public dissent in the West and French perfidy at the UN were the two main resons why Saddam felt he could successfully hang on.

An honourable course to have taken would have been to march in the streets demanding that Saddam quit and go into exile. That would have improved the situation in Iraq and would have made the invasion all but impossible.

But to your eternal shame, none of you even thought of doing this. Presumably, because your hatred of the US and George Bush trumps any concerns whcih you might have for the people of Iraq.

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Walt Pohl 12.01.04 at 6:36 am

am, you are too ignorant to participate in the discussion. I supported the war. Most of the Crooked Timberites supported the war until it became clear that they were going to fuck it up. Maybe it’s time you take some responsibility for the American soldiers you helped kill by giving George Bush a blank check to screw the country.

WtB, why do you think I give a shit about what you think about my credibility? You’re just some guy on the internet, one whose backing a President who’s too drunk or too stupid to recognize when he’s driving the country into a ditch.

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Where's The Beef? 12.01.04 at 7:19 am

Walt Pohl, I do not care much about the evident lack of credibility in your recent remarks. But maybe you should.

[If you address me again here, please do the courtesy of using my designated moniker, "Where's The Beef?" rather than a poor substitute. If not, consider yourself duly ignored.]

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nic 12.01.04 at 8:16 am

Your opposition to the war to some extent actually caused the war

My friend, that is pure genius. It’s so mindblowingly acute I had to read it backwards to get it. Ever thought about applying for a position at the American Enterprise Institute? They need people like you!

146

jet 12.01.04 at 12:52 pm

Walt Pohl,

1) The administration can be excused for expecting a longer drawn out war and not having more troops for cop duty. And this preposes to second guess the Pentagon which might say we needed more troops in reserve to keep Iran, N. Korea and France (just kidding) in line. The counter to that is that if we didn’t have enough free troops, then we shouldn’t have invaded. But that is more the Pentagon’s fault than Bush’s (Bush is at fault for not taking a guillotine to the Pentagon for a day of example making).

2)In Japan the government wasn’t made up of mass murderers (of Japanese)and criminals. I’m not so sure we would have as much suport in the South if their raping, murderering, mass graving overlords were still in power.

3)Good point but I still find some merit in the counter arguement. You can’t blame the administration for not getting stuff done fast enough and then also blame them for using the best most capable companies ie Haliburton over Iraqi-just-started-yesterday-mobil.

4)…….I’m convinced they should have hired me.

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Tim 12.01.04 at 2:24 pm

Brian wrote:

>>an eminently foreseeable consequence of invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein was the chaos that currently confronts us
>Then why didn’t anyone predict it?

What, apart from the anti-war movement?

>>The argument from the antiwar movement was never that there’d be chaos if we removed Saddam – that’s the argument you’ve all convinced yourself you made in retrospect.

It was a very common argument made by the anti-war movement before the war.

>>No, the main arguments the antiwar movement put forward were (a.) the US would just replace Saddam with another totalitarian dictator (b.) they certainly wouldn’t allow any sort of free press, and (c.) you’d have to be a stark raving lunatic to think the yanks would ever allow an election.”

Whilst I’m sure someone, somewhere in the anti-war movement made such arguments, they were at most one in a thousand and never taken seriously.

>>On all three points you have been proved manifestly wrong.

I really don’t think it behoves someone in the pro-war movement (wrong on every count) to make such a claim about someone in the anti-war movement (right on most counts). You’ve made yourself look a fool, Brian.

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Uncle Kvetch 12.01.04 at 3:22 pm

You can’t blame the administration for not getting stuff done fast enough and then also blame them for using the best most capable companies ie Haliburton over Iraqi-just-started-yesterday-mobil.

Associated Press, 11/26/04:

“A third or more of the government property Halliburton Co. was paid to manage for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq could not be located by auditors, investigative reports to Congress show.

Halliburton’s KBR subsidiary “did not effectively manage government property” and auditors could not locate hundreds of CPA items worth millions of dollars in Iraq and Kuwait this summer and fall, Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen reported to Congress.”

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jet 12.01.04 at 7:19 pm

Uncle Kvetch,

I understand your chagrin over Haliburton, but your statement doesn’t refute mine. Why would we believe an Iraqi firm would do better? And I’m sure there are Iraqi firms that could do better, but given the need for quick action and the difficulties of operating in a worn torn country, surely you can see why the administration would chose to go with a known evil over the unknown?

I’m not saying the administration was right, I’m just saying that the reasoning that would lead you to their conclusion is perfectly rational.

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Uncle Kvetch 12.01.04 at 9:14 pm

Jet, I don’t consider “best most capable company” and “known evil” to be even remotely synonymous.

I would also suggest that there might have been additional options beyond Halliburton and “Barely Existant Iraqi Startup, Inc.”

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rob 12.01.04 at 9:55 pm

So far as the Halliburton thing goes, presumably someone must have been running the oil industry so it could produce the oil for the oil for food programme. Why couldn’t they have been used: presumably they would have had some links, if not some people, on the ground, and so more of the money would have gone back into the Iraqi economy. Surely not all of them – the links or people – could have been committed Ba’athists.

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Where's The Beef? 12.02.04 at 6:51 am

>> presumably someone must have been running the oil industry so it could produce the oil for the oil for food programme

That is a very good point, in my view.

I suspect we will learn more as the details and patterns of the corruption in the Oil-for-Food programme is investigated. We may also find out more about the property that reportedly has gone missing. While Haliburton may not be staff by perfect angels, the guys previously in charge were on a different part of the spectrum.

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Uncle Kvetch 12.02.04 at 2:28 pm

While Haliburton may not be staff by perfect angels, the guys previously in charge were on a different part of the spectrum.

Wow. Talk about high praise.

This could be a great tag line for the cover of the next annual report: “Halliburton: Hey, Saddam Was Even Worse!”

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Uncle Kvetch 12.02.04 at 2:42 pm

OK, that last bit of snark was somewhat misdirected. I realize now that by “the guys previously in charge,” Where’s the Beef was referring not to Saddam’s regime, but to the corporations and UN officials who administered (and, in some cases, profited handsomely from) the oil-for-food program.

My essential point stands. A better tag line might be: “Halliburton: Not Necessarily the Worst Apple in the Bunch.”

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Where's The Beef? 12.05.04 at 6:10 am

In essence, what is your essential point?

Mine was that the guys in charge now are not perfect in their angelness. They are not angel-like to the fullest degree.

But the other guys and the way they had been doing the job? They occupied a wholely different end of the spectrum of the universe of “guys who run things.”

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