Five Questions on the Coming War

Another part of the blog reclamation. This essay was written as part of a cross-blog debate between people who were pro-Iraq-war and people who were against the war. I was, reluctantly, for war. It took my going to Iraq to gradually occupy the opposing position; sadly, many folks with whom I was formerly in agreement, most notably Steve den Beste, did not do well with reality crushing what we hoped would happen in Iraq.

One of the things that I don’t like about my writing in this period is the breezy arrogance with which I wrote. I was so bloody certain of myself, and of what I believed to be true, and so I casually and blithely dismissed the things I read and heard which ran counter to what I thought to be true. As I said, it took my actual, hands-on participation in trying to crush a native insurgency and rebuild a nation to see that we were going about things half-cocked, with next to no idea as to how to do things, and just being told to improvise.

Yet, one of the things that bothers me about being anti-war throughout is this: had things turned out differently, would folks opposed to the war have admitted that they were wrong. I’m not too certain of that. We’ll never know, of course; but still, it’s worthy of speculation.

On to the essay.

Five Questions on the Coming War

1. Attacking Iraq has been publicly called a ”pre-emption” of a threat from Saddam Hussein’s regime, whose sins include launching regional wars of aggression. Do you think there is a clear and reliable difference between pre-emptive and aggressive warfare, and if so, what is it?

All war is aggressive. What matters is the underlying logic for the war. Our war against Saddam’s regime, if and when it happens, is based on the idea that Saddam is a clear and present danger to the stability of the Middle East. Even in his weakened state, he posseses the means and the will to disrupt the status quo. His armed forces are still capable of conquering any of the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, et al) and Jordan, able to inflict massive damage on Syria and Iran, and able to contribute significantly to a combined attack on Israel.

The logic for Saddam’s wars (against Iran from 1980-88, and against Kuwait in 1990-91) has been purely for material gain (oil reserves in Kuwait and Iran’s Khuzestan region) and territorial conquest. The same logic governed the Japanese in their conquest of the Pacific, for example. Moreover, unlike East Asia, there are no countervailing regional powers to keep Saddam in check, which means that it falls to us to keep him in check.

2. What do you feel are the prospects that an invasion of Iraq will succeed in a) maintaining it as a stable entity and b) in turning it into a democracy? Are there any precedents in the past 50 years that influence your answer?

The prospects are fairly good that Iraq will remain a stable entity. The main threats to its integrity come from the Kurds in Northern Iraq and the Shi’a Muslims (who make up the majority of the population in Iraq). Neither group is interested in Iraq falling apart—the Kurds have come to an acceptance that they will not be granted independence after a war, and the Shi’a have never seriously agitated for a separate state.

Instead, the Kurds want the strong central government in Baghdad replaced by a federal system. The Kurds, under that system, would enjoy a degree of autonomy similar to that of an American state. The Shi’a simply desire fair representation in the government; they have been historically cool to the idea of Iranian control, for the simple reason that the Iraqi Shi’a are Arabs, and the Iranians aren’t. Blood, it would seem, runs deeper than creed.

The odds for a democracy aren’t as good, sad to say. It’s wildly unrealistic to expect an outbreak of Jeffersonian democracy to suddenly take place where there has never been a democratic tradition.

The prospects for democracy are entirely dependent on how long our stay in Iraq, and what we do in order to prop up the regime. The more we do, the better the chances for a liberal democracy (along the style of Turkey) become. It’s that simple.

It bears reminding that the establishment of democracy in Iraq isn’t the main focus of this war; disarmament of Iraq is the focus. If Saddam were to suddenly begin disarming tomorrow in earnest, then the dogs of war would cease howling. Since he hasn’t done so, and indeed, has never shown any inclination to do so, replacing his regime in Baghdad has become the second focus of this war.

The precedents for the success of such action are, of course, Germany and Japan, where the political cultures of those two nations where fundamentally altered. Neither of those two formerly imperial powers condones the use of armed force in offensive operations. Were we to achieve such a feat with Iraq, it would provide a significant beachhead for democratic ideals in a region sadly bereft of them.

3. How successful do you think the military operations and “regime change” in Afghanistan have been in achieving their stated objectives? Does this example affect your feelings about war in Iraq in any way?

Let’s separate this into the four questions it really is.

First, regime change in Afghanistan has clearly improved everyday life in Afghanistan. Women are now free to participate in activities which we in the West, particularly my comrades in the Left, take for granted. They are allowed to work. They are allowed to study. They are allowed to freely interact with other people. Furthermore, Afghans now enjoy activities, such as playing football, which were forbidden under the Taliban regime. Aid, primarily from the United States, but also from other countries, has now been flowing in steadily, and the quality of life in Afghanistan is slowly improving as a result. Will it take time? Of course, but anything worth doing takes time. This is worth doing.

Second, military operations in Afghanistan aren’t proceeding as well as the regime change. This is due mostly to the fact that the Afghan-Pakistani border is extremely porous—worse than the U.S.-Canadian border, in many ways. Taliban and al-Qaeda soldiers are constantly flowing through the border and any effort to effectively seal that border would require the unstinting cooperation of Pakistan.

That’s not happening because the government of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani strongman, is shaky at best. There are significant pro-Taliban elements in the government of Pakistan (remember, the Taliban was largely financed by the Pakistanis), and Musharraf cannot afford to alienate those elements more than he has already. There may, in fact, come a time when intervention becomes necessary in order to prevent the cataclysmic accession to power of radical Islamic groups in Pakistan, but that’s a subject for another essay, and another time.

In addition, the terrain, inhospitable and isolated, is ideal to bands of militia waging a guerrila campaign. Barring a sudden dedication of resources to the Afghan operation, I don’t see the military situation improving any time soon.

Third, the example of Afghanistan does not affect my feelings about war with Iraq. They’re two different theatres of war—Afghanistan is ideal for light infantry, while Iraq is oriented towards armoured warfare. The objectives are different—we are seeking the disarmament of Iraq, while we were denying al-Qaeda and its wholly-owned subsidiary, the Taliban, a base of operations in Afghanistan. To say the one affects the other is to say that riding in a Mini would influence your feelings about riding in a Rolls Roy

Finally, we come to the fourth, and unspoken, question:  since Afghanistan isn’t spoken about much anymore, it must mean that our mission there failed. So shouldn’t we be hesitant about fighting Iraq?

We haven’t failed in Afghanistan. The two situations, as stated above, aren’t comparable. Even given that, the fact that we replaced an odious dictatorship, based on fear and ignorance, with a far, far more enlightened regime, should be cause for celebration by everyone.

Instead, we have seen caviling and fear-mongering worthy of Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, the gentlemen responsible for allowing Adolf Hitler enough time to rebuild the German Army, thanks to their hesitation in fighting tyranny. Do we dare let tyranny breathe easy? Doing so is what those opposed to war would have us do.

Instead, let us face evil—for Saddam is evil—squarely.

Let it be said of us that we had the courage to rise above our fears, and in so doing, banish fear from the lives of those ruled by fear, by tyranny, and by evil.

4. As a basis for war, the Bush Administration accuses Iraq of trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear), supporting terrorism, and brutalizing their own people. Since Iraq is not the only country engaged in these actions, under what circumstances should the US go to war with other such nations, in addition to going to war with Iraq?

War, according to Clausewitz, is politics by other means. What does this mean?

To me, it means that war, as Powell said, “must be a last resort. But it must be a resort.” Where war can be avoided with other nations, and our objectives can be met as well, then we must do everything in our power to avoid war.

However, in this instance, we must go to war in order to ensure that our objectives (disarmament of Iraq and regime change) are met. Saddam has had 12 years to disarm, cease supporting terrorism, and cease brutalising Iraqis. Since the United Nations isn’t interested in the least bit in disarming Iraq, ending Iraq’s support of terrorism, or freeing Iraqis from oppression, that onerous duty now falls to the United States and its allies.

Had the United Nations shown itself disposed to enforcing resolutions it itself promulgated (seventeen of them on this subject alone), then the United States would have gladly acted under the umbrella of the United Nations. But after the Security Council session of 14 February, the United Nations has clearly shown the world that it is a sham organisation, unworthy of respect or, indeed, obedience. I say that because I have, for the longest time, been a believer in the power of the United Nations to change the world for the better. After that last Security Council meeting, it’s hard to see how that’s possible.

5. The Bush Administration has issued numerous allegations about the threat represented by Iraq, many of which have been criticized in some quarters as hearsay, speculation or misstatements. Which of the Administration’s allegations do you feel stand up best to those criticisms?

Which allegations? There have been so many…

Certainly, though, I believe that Iraq, to this day, is in possession of chemical agents and biological agents. The Iraqi government has never given either inspections agency (UNSCOM or UNMOVIC) sufficient proof, if any, that it has disposed of these weapons. The words of the Chief Inspector, Hans Blix, are as clear a denunciation as any:

Indeed, Iraq has not come, not even today, to an acceptance of the disarmament which was required of it, even back in 1991.”

That allegation alone places Iraq in material breach of the Ceasefire Agreement of 1991.

The other allegations, such as those of torture, are extensively documented, both inside and outside Baghdad. The weakest allegation is that tying the Iraqi government to the Zarqawi terror network, but I suspect that that was never intended to be a chief allegation, anyway.


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