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.”

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Gross media bias against traditional marriage

Yahoo’s The Ticket ran a story with this headline today: “Argument against gay marriage in California hinges on accidental pregnancies.”  Word ford word, this is the most biased caption I’ve ever encountered.  Consider this alternative: “Legal case for traditional marriage in California rests on biological distinctions.”

The text of the article quotes brilliant conservative casemaker Paul Clement as referring to “unplanned and unintended offspring.”  Perhaps after having read the War on Women Writing Style Manual, some editor at Yahoo News chose to represent this as “accidental pregnancies.”  Accidental, as in the cringe-inducing “Sweetie, you were an accident.”  And pregnancies, as in, “Oh no, the government wants to mess with womens’ wombs again.”  The headline is clearly crafted for those who think laws are meant to preserve their moral autonomy rather than serve the continuation of civilization.

The news copy writer, Liz Goodwin, describes Clement and his colleagues as “opponents to gay marriage.”  This antagonistic characterization facilitates the readers’ conflation of social and legal sanction.  One can oppose legal recognition of same sex marriage while still supporting the right of two people of the same sex to pursue a life together, have a public wedding ceremony, obtain a civil union, and be entitled to federal and state benefits.  Goodwin seems less interested in making this important distinction than in stoking the outrage of social liberals.

The article goes on to chronicle “the government’s right to ban gay marriage” since the 1970s.  What ban?  Were same sex marriages banned in 1950 and in 1900 as well?  No, as with abortion at the time the Constitution was adopted, the thing was practically unheard of.

Towards the end of the piece, Goodwin offers a slippery slope analysis of legal reasoning like Clement’s.  The fear is that the success of such an argument could justify further marriage restrictions based on infertility or being beyond childbearing age.  This is absurd.  Those kind of determinations would be impractically intrusive and a waste of government time, money, and energy.  Not unlike a recent proposal by Missouri Democrats to ban the possession of assault rifles.

Note that in Goodwin’s story, the slippery slope is a one way deal.  But consider the opposite.  If we expand the meaning of marriage to include same sex couples, what really stops us from honoring polygamous marriages or even more unconventional arrangements?

Leave it to liberals to fail to make the proper distinctions.  The Justice Department has gone after the Defense of Marriage Act on the basis of expanding federal entitlement benefits.  But marriage is not about entitlement benefits.  Per an amicus briefing, the Department declared, “Marriage is far more than a societal means of dealing with unintended pregnancies.”  Since when did we decide that government should have its imprint on all those other things marriage is also about?

The most sensible understanding of the state’s role in marriage is that it has a vested interest in seeing as many children as possible raised in stable homes with both of their natural parents.  Sometimes that’s not feasible, and an alternative like adoption may be required.  Let caring and committed gay couples do that if they wish.  But if the state wants to expand entitlement benefits to a new class of relationship, it needn’t redefine marriage.  Civil unions should do the job just fine.  To redefine marriage on a passionate but arbitrary conviction that it’s a civil rights issue would send a disasterous signal that marriage is about having your personal feelings validated by the government.  And that, anyone should be able to see, is ridiculous.

The Wizard of Bogeyman Narratives

Yahoo News has thrown up (in the fullest sense of the term) a piece by Chris Moody on Grover Norquist.  It’s accompanied by a gaudy, melodramatic illustration that’s more at home disgracing the cover of the now defunct liberal siren Newsweek.  But if by invoking The Wizard of Oz imagery Yahoo wants to claim squatter rights to that niche, that’s fine by me.

Here’s a painful point of Moody’s text:

But Norquist is like a bearded Lernaean Hydra, which grows only more powerful the more you attack it. The evidence? A majority of Republicans have not publicly joined the rogue moderates, reinforcing the narrative that they remain under Norquist’s binding spell.

Where is this “narrative” coming from?  Perhaps Mr. Moody is describing an out-of-body experience, because it is media that drive narratives, and he is very much a part of that enterprise.

That Republicans don’t budge on their no tax pledge is a point even Chuck Todd can understand.  There is an electoral base that must be answered to.  And no, these constituents to whom congressmen are accountable are not drooling, rabid, or themselves cult followers of a giant, green, bearded head.  Some segment of the population even finds their demands sensible.

Of course, it hurts the noggins of liberal journalists too much to try to draft anything other than “GOP beholden to extremist” pieces.  They could try an expose on Michael Moore, who recently touted–under delusion–a strong re-election mandate as a justification for President Obama to lead a righteous charge off of the fiscal cliff.  But then again, journalists are supposed to target powerful and relevant voices.

Our media corps’ oblivious lopsidedness is the price of the free market, where people with big soft hearts–and reasoning most often just as soft– funnel into a self-selecting army that’s out to change the world.  Thankfully there are today many means of recourse to soft pieces like Yahoo’s Norquist essay.

William-Sonoma Republicans: The Exotic Other

I’ve been reading Yahoo! News for years.  Once upon a time, they relayed to the net denizen a spartan diet of AP and Reuters articles.  Now, they’ve cultivated their own crop of value-added content.  The term “value” must be used advisedly here.

You’d think that when it comes to presidential campaigns, journalists should be delving deep into the issues.  But the currents of today’s media markets dictate other priorities.  Take Mitt Romney for instance.  Instead of scrutinizing his policy positions, Yahoo!’s The Ticket blog has waged a systematic campaign of making Romney and his wife Ann look bumbling, aloof, and inscrutable.

Every time the Yahoo! bloggers post, the news spin is so swirly and the story so inconsequential.  In the hope of highlighting his awkwardness, one January post was dedicated in large part to Romney’s hurling bags of Cheetos to unfriendly journalists on his campaign plane.  When the primary came to Arizona, the fact that Romney’s supporters’ signs appeared to be hastily printed on resume paper figured prominently in another post.

And then there were multiple reports on Ann Romney’s Pinterest account.  First, that she followed no other Pinterest members.  Should we really expect more tech savvy from a grandmother in her sixties?  I don’t even have a Pinterest account.  Then, one Viriginia Heffernan took up a wordy post to scrutinize why Mrs. Romney would pin Anna Karenina on her Pinterest board.  Seriously, do we have a misallocation of journalistic resources here?  In magnifying and dragging out these silly details, this crack team of liberal bloggers is hoping to quash Romney’s chances by a death of a thousand embarrassing paper cuts.  The all-too-cool President Obama certainly doesn’t get the same treatment on The Ticket.

To top it all off, one of Heffernan’s latest contributions catalogs for us the traits of what she calls “William-Sonoma Republicans.”  She cites an old story by the Los Angeles Times to launch her own confused musing on The Other: in her case, middle and upper-middle class Republicans who support Mitt Romney.  You can’t help but suspect a bit of journalistic retaliation when she tries to cast this Other as a counterpart to the “sushi-eating, Volvo-driving” latte liberal.  How exotic is this strange group of people who would support Mitt Romney?  Among their most salient traits: they live in large suburan houses, take pride in their living spaces, and–most shocking of all–cook food in their own kitchens!

The nadir of this journalistic exposé comes when the author consults the William-Sonoma website. Noting that it prominently features an Easter sale, she concludes erroneously and with lament that the clientele is meant to be exclusively Christian.  She plays up an ad that suggests W-S customers might like to eat leg of lamb with sea salt and shallot butter.  I’m sure lots of Jews, Muslims, and atheists wouldn’t mind a bite of leg of lamb in April either.  And if having an Easter sale signifies some sort of oppressive exclusion, Heffernan had better not look at the transcript for the White House Easter prayer breakfast.  How far overboard can a liberal blogger go with her disdain for traditional lifestyle and faith?

We shouldn’t blame the media for their failure to cover the substance of the 2012 Presidential campaign.  After all, they have to pay the bills somehow.  Just remember to do your homework before you go the polls in November.  Hint: Yahoo! News won’t help.

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