Dispelling 3 myths about the Iraq War

Jerome Delay/AP via NPR

 

Yahoo News commemorated the ten year anniversary of the Iraq War with this recent leading headline: “Iraq War Vet Pens Last Letter to Bush and Cheney.”

Per the epistle–authored by a dying vet in hospice care–Bush and Cheney are guilty of “war crimes,” “plunder,” “lies, manipulation, and thirst for wealth and power.”  In his eyes, this dynamic duo “stole the future” of veterans, sacrificing them for “little more than the greed of oil companies . . . oil sheiks . . . and insane visions of empire.”  Charming tale.  Regrettably, journalist Dylan Stableford reports these claims with virtually no comment.  That’s how they roll at the Yahoo News blogs.  Parrot liberals, ignore or spin conservatives.

This particular, gratuitous airing of invective compels a response.  So here I’ll dispel three commonly-believed fictions about the Iraq War.

“Bush lied, people died!”

With these words, you can just imagine the shrill cries of Code Pink ladies now.  The question is, which deaths were Bush’s fault?  Most Iraqi civilians died at the hands of insurgents or inter-sectarian strife, not Coalition forces.  Yes, over 4,000 American soldiers died, with many more seriously injured.  With all due respect, this should not be an unexpected outcome for those who voluntarily join the armed services.  All the more that we’re grateful for their service.  That said, it’s just not evident that President Bush did something heinous in exercising Congressionally-authorized use of military force to protect America.

Speaking of authorization, what part of the invasion rationale was a lie?  Max Boot pointed out recently that every intelligence agency worth its salt suspected Iraq of harboring weapons of mass destruction.  This is because Saddam Hussein wanted everyone to think he had them, including potential usurpers within his own regime.  This is the particular problem of one man dictatorships.  It’s only a matter of time before such an actor miscalculates, hurting his country, his neighbors, and in this case, himself.  Returning to the charge of lying, a lie requires intent of deceit.  And again, that’s not at all clear with Bush and company.

“Blood for oil”

This charge gets to the motivation for the invasion.  There are some interesting circumstances, such as the Bush family’s Saudi connections and the shortcuts taken by Cheney-affiliated reconstruction contractor Halliburton.  These could make for interesting premises, but as with most conspiracy theories, there’s nothing outside of a tinfoil hat to connect the dots.  Such speculation crumbles in light of the facts.

I’ll unfurl this with a personal detour.  I was an undergraduate studying international relations at the time the Iraq War started.  In fact, I was taking a political science course on national security.  Just prior to the invasion, we read the then-recently released hardcover The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.  The author, former CIA analyst Ken Pollack, was with the Brookings Institution.  And oddly enough, the book jacket featured advanced praise from future Newsweek and TIME editor Fareed Zakaria.

Suffice to say, I learned a thing or two about war.  When it comes to why wars start, the reason is simple.  It’s not about land, wealth, or religion.  The, greatest empirically correlated factor is that both sides think they can win.  This is where miscalculation comes into play.  Saddam was widely seen as an “irrational actor.”  Given his reckless history and total lack of cooperation, the security community consensus was that it was prudent to take him out.

This won’t allay the critic who still points to all the oil in the Persian Gulf region.  I agree, oil is a big factor!  But the motive isn’t “greed,” it’s global stability.  Europe, an indispensable contributor to global economic well-being, has the most to lose from a destabilized Middle East.  By contrast, the U.S. only gets 13% of its oil from there.  But because of Europe’s vulnerability, you would feel the hurt if things really went south in the Persian Gulf.

“The Wrong War”

Finally, there is the idea that compared to Afghanistan, Iraq was the wrong war.  This assumes that, like Afghanistan, the Iraq invasion was a response to the September 11 attacks.  But those attacks were only invoked in 5 of 23 justifications of the 2002 authorization for use of military force.  And there’s the false dichotomy that we had to fight in Afghanistan or Iraq, but not both.  Certainly, I agree that both wars could have been executed much better!  But this does not inherently make Iraq “the wrong war.”

A second dichotomy critics force is that, if we hadn’t gone into Iraq, there’d have been billions of dollars freed to invest in American education and infrastructure.  If Barack Obama is The Messiah, then those who spouted this view pre-2008 were John the Baptist!  The Iraq War was budgeted as emergency spending, and the money wouldn’t have been spent otherwise.  The counterfactual of domestic spending nirvana is false.

Imagine getting mugged

I truly appreciate it when someone has good reasons to disagree with me.  But there are those who hold popular positions without really thinking through the implications.  Nothing exemplifies this more for me than John Lennon’s syrupy song Imagine.  Some think it’s nice to be a dreamer and imagine that there could be a better world.  The problem comes when they want to foist an impossible dream on others.  As long as humans inhabit the Earth, it will be a dangerous place.  In light of this, sometimes unpleasant choices have to be made.  Don’t rewrite the facts to fit your feelings.

I appreciate the grit in Irving Kristol’s definition of a neoconservative: “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.”

Kony 2012 and Afghanistan

I found last week’s hoopla surrounding the Kony 2012 video annoying and disturbing.  Designed to stir souls to a noble cause, the video is worrisome because it is classic agitprop.  It has ignited among its viewers a strong emotional firestorm that bypasses reason.  (On a sadder note, it seems the global explosion of attention and backlash were too much for the maker of the video.)

Everyone agrees that Kony is a bad man, but I doubt everyone agrees on a real solution.  Neither Facebook posts nor monetary contributions stop an evil man like this.  UN blue helmets don’t do much good either; just ask the residents of Srebenica.  It would take a concerted effort by a competent, modern military force to uproot that kind of evil.  Funny though, when that sort of operation becomes reality, as with the Iraq War, people complain about it.  If only text donations were more widespread back then, maybe Saddam Hussein could have been effaced by the collective wireless bills of the Free World.  And what about the fresher atrocities of Kim Jong Il?  By the time of his death last December, there was no 80 million+ hits YouTube video for his crimes.

For all the talk of “capturing” Kony, I would not be surprised if his capture attempt looked and ended up like last year’s righteous and successfully culminated mission against Osama Bin Laden.

Just a day or two after the Kony 2012 media explosion came the sensational storm of the Afghanistan massacre.  But instead of passion to spark a new war, this story reinforced among the public a desire to end an old one.  I instinctively resist the popular sentiment to pull out that comes from seeing casualties and bloodshed.  When I studied “peace and security” as an international relations major, I discovered the great extent of thought that informs decision-making on questions of peace and war.  Such deadly serious business must not be decided by the fickle whims of the public, but ought to rest in the hands of sober-minded policymakers.  Whether we actually have such trustworthy policymakers in power is another story altogether.

The power to make war is a necessary and classic function of government that is not going away anytime soon.  Indeed, Robert Kagan’s latest book argues specifically for America’s need to maintain a prominent profile in the world’s affairs.  What is ultimately entailed in Afghanistan is hard for me to say, but mere public opinion shouldn’t determine whether we send SEALs to get Kony or send our troops in Afghanistan packing.  Our national security and our troops’ sacrifice are too important for that.

Solidarity

Remember during the height of the Iraq War, when peace activists felt they had to defend their stance by saying, “Peace is Patriotic?”  Maybe our duck would slap this bumper sticker to his car: “Austerity is Solidarity.”

I am represented in my job by the Teamsters.  Our local is basically clerical workers, but we share representation with truck drivers.  I don’t know how much “solidarity” I can really have with them, except for that guy Omar who got blocked by Occupiers at the Port of Oakland in October.  Even stranger, United Auto Workers represents the campus grad students.  Why do such privileged people need union representation?  At least it gives them crucial, formative experiences in liberal activism.

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