There is a fairly interesting bit of back-and-forth going on now concerning some post election ruminations on the war in Iraq, arguably the key referendum in the 2004 elections. It started with a long post from the left side by John Perry Barlow called, "Magnanimous Defeat
." No matter which side you take, it's worth a look. I can't even begin to summarize the entire thing, but Barlow is essentially dealing with his anger, disappointment, and feelings of mourning over the elections, since he opposed Bush. He also gets into some decent armchair analysis of why Bush voters supported him, and the war.
That post was answered by a long and fairly effective essay from the right wing by Dean Esmay
. He, of course, takes an opposite position on the specific question of the Iraq war. I'd like to address both of their entries because I take exception with parts of each and agree with other parts. (First, in fairness to Dean, I only refer to him as "right wing" in terms of his stance on the Iraq war, since he states that he is a "pot smoking", Grateful Dead listening, pro choice, pro gay rights guy. He just also happens to be a proud Bush supporter who favors invading sovereign nations. *nudge.*)
Before even getting to the specifics of the war question, I'd like to touch on something that both Barlow and Dean alluded to, either directly or indirectly, and that is the issue of the "which side is the majority" question. Barlow bemoans that, "I'm mourning a number of losses, one of which is the belief that "my side" is actually a clear majority that would reveal itself if we ever shuffled off our disdain for politics and voted in any force." ( Actually, we may be a majority - I don't trust these results - but even if we are, our margin is very slender
Dean has also made some references in recent posts concerning the "majority" that put the supposed values based conservatives over the top of the liberals. The fact is, guys, neither of you need to worry because neither of you are a majority. You're not even a plurality, and have not been for decades. As I pointed out earlier
, and as Bob Herbert so excellently described
, we don't live in a conservative nation. We also don't live in a liberal nation. This year, 34% of the voters described themselves as "conservatives" and 21% called themselves "liberals." The true plurality of 45% said they were moderates. So stop panicking.
They both also deal with matters of perception by "the other side" over this question. Barlow paints a picture of conservative Bush supporters who constantly bash liberals for being anything from weak, to having questionable patriotism, to seeming "vaguely French." To quote him, "At the very least, I need to take the other side seriously. Dismissing them as a bunch of homophobic, racist, Bible-waving, know-nothing troglodytes, however true that may be of a few, only authorizes them to return the favor.
Dean counters that he and his Iraq war supporting friends are always saying, "Why are the anti-war people so vicious and nasty?" "Why are the anti-war people so irrational and hateful and smug?" "How do we get through to them? They just won't listen!" "Don't you get tired of being called a liar and a fascist? I sure do.
Guess what, guys? You're both right. That happens, and far worse than either of you describe, on both sides of the fence, 24/7. Neither side is remotely close to having clean hands on that score, and neither is better than the other. Take a look at my "must read" blogroll in the right column some time. You'll note that I read the far left and
the far right daily. And I shall continue to do so, even though the resulting mental whiplash has pretty much ended my hopes of being a virtual, fantasy league baseball pitcher. I see the viciousness and bitter, petty acrimony coming from Atrios just as much as from Captain's Quarters. Daily KOS is no better than Power Line. It's mud slinging and insults about the relative intelligence and values of the other side on every channel all the time. Making an effort to tone down the rhetoric is commendable, but don't play the martyr as if either of you are on a "side" that somehow has the moral high ground in that argument.
Finally, on to the issue of the war itself. The positions of the two authors are crystal clear, but you have to dig a bit deeper to find their reasoning. Barlow opposes the war for most of the obvious reasons you'll typically see - the reasons we were given for going to war originally turned out to be invalid, and the subsequent reasons switched in by Bush's team don't pass muster for him.
Dean is clearly assertive as to his position. To quote, "I voted for Bush because the war in Iraq was exactly the right war, for exactly the right reasons, at exactly the right time." That's crystal clear, but while it's a good introduction, he doesn't give us much meat to flesh out the skeleton as to why
it was right in all those respects. He does give us a couple of hints, though. First, he includes the phrase, "Bush who decided to take a big gamble and do the right thing for both America and Iraq and finally, finally, finally bring down the monster Saddam. Which should have been done a long damned time ago if we'd had any decency as a country.
Second, if you read Dean's piece, you'll see that he uses a linguistic trick that was trotted out by the Bush administration after it started becoming obvious that the original reasons for invading were falling apart, and never abandoned. He refused to refer to the action as "the invasion
of Iraq" and will only refer to it as "the liberation
of Iraq." It was one of Rove's most masterful selling points in the bait and switch game they played on us with this war.
I flatly refuse to refer to it as the "liberation" of anything. When you send your armies into a sovereign nation who hasn't attacked you, bomb their cities, defeat their army, and overthrow their government, it's an invasion. All the pretty words in the world aren't going to change that.
So what was the basis for Dean's support of the war? While we're not told specifically, there is room to guess. First of all, I don't for a moment believe that Dean falls into the category of that large number of Bush supporters who were unaware of the true facts
about Iraq. Dean seems to read (and link to) a lot of material from sources on both sides of the aisle, so it wasn't that. That only leads me to believe that he feels that the war was valid based on the last version of the story brought to us by Bush and Cheney... that Saddam was a "bad man" who was oppressing and killing his people and the citizens needed to be rescued from him.
I prefer to look at the story from the beginning to get the full picture. Going all the way back to Bush's now infamous State of the Union address, and all through the appearances by him and his staff up until the invasion, we were given one continuous set of reasons why we had to invade Iraq. They were as follows:
First, Iraq was in possession of vast stockpiles of chemical, biological, and very possibly nuclear (remember "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud"?) weapons. He was preparing to use those weapons against us and/or our allies. He was an immediate threat that had to be dealt with, and the sanctions, inspections, and isolation of his country were not working. We were in danger, and had to act fast.
Second, Iraq had close, intimate ties to bin Laden, and was probably involved in 9/11. (Even if Bush didn't say that directly
, he hinted at it in many speeches and his underlings said it.) To this day, as in the report linked above, a large number of Bush supporters think Saddam had a direct hand in 9/11 and Bush/Cheney have done little to nothing to dispel that rumor.
Remember this, people. These were the ONLY reasons we were given at the time. These were the reasons given to Congress when they were asked to support this invasion. I'm not here to debate whether or not Bush "lied" about it, though the evidence certainly suggests that plenty of people told him it was bad intelligence and he chose to ignore it. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt and say that Bush honestly believed that the weapons were there, Iraq was in cahoots with bin Laden, and Saddam himself was scheduled to fly one of the planes into the World Trade Center but had to cancel at the last minute because he was busy finishing his latest romance novel.
The facts came out later. No WMD's. No capacity to build them, no attempts to build them for many years, and no ability to restart in any short time even if the sanctions were lifted. No ties to bin Laden's organization beyond something that even Cheney called "tenuous" at best. No involvement in the attacks on the United States on 9/11. Nothing.
That's when the bait and switch happened. Now we had to "liberate" the Iraqis because Saddam was a bad man. Now we had to establish a flowering new democracy there so freedom would march across the Middle East.
Horse hockey. Go back to what I said before about the reasons Congress was given to endorse the invasion. Now picture Bush going before Congress and giving this new set of reasons in 2002 and asking for that same power to invade. How many members of congress do you think would have endorsed Bush's war on Iraq if those were the given reasons? If you guessed "everyone who wasn't looking to commit political suicide" then you are correct. That vote wouldn't have passed in a million years.
I refute both of the main reasons given by Bush's Iraq apologists. There are many, many bad men in the world ruling countries brutally. Many people would probably like to get rid of those men. We can find them in North Korea and China just to name a couple. Is it our job to overthrow their governments? Not in my book. And it wasn't out job to free the Iraqi people unless they were taking a lot of bold, brave steps to free themselves first. Anyone feel like starting a war with China? I didn't think so.
Spread democracy? Please. Democracy is a fragile plant that only grows in the correct, fertile ground. That's generally a place where the people stand united behind one cause, there is a substantial middle class and a history of private industry and growth, and a national heritage of free, secular, independent thinking. Iraq fails all of these tests miserably. They are three people who were constantly at odds with each other. Hating Saddam was probably the only thing they had in common, and as soon as we are out of there, that place is going to break into a civil war. The only questions are how big it will be and who will take sides with who.
No, this war was a massive mistake from the beginning. Kerry wasn't right about much, but he certainly was when he said, "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time." Those 140,000 troops needed to be in Afghanistan, not Iraq. And you can keep screaming it until you are blue in the face, but Iraq was NOT
part of any "war on terror" until we turned it into the mess it is now.
: In the interest of giving fair time to all sides, Dean Esmay responds:
I'm not going to try to answer all of this, except to answer this: "invading sovereign nations"
I am always utterly amused by this line. It's like, "Oh, it's okay to invade NATIONS, just not SOVEREIGN nations." What? There is only one kind of nation you can invade. They're all sovereign nations. Saying "sovereign nation" is one of those dramatic-sounding noises to somehow imply that you've violated something sacred and sacrosanct.
Truth of the matter is that our war on Saddam Hussein never ended. We declared a cease-fire in the early '90s and he violated that cease-fire agreement. What we did was fully justifiable and completely legal--and we didn't "lie" about jack shit so far as any honest, non-partisan analyst has ever been able to show. Indeed, so far as I'm concerned the word "lie" is a reliable marker for a partisan hack. If you can't make use of the word "wrong" instead of "lie" it says more about you than anyone else.
By the way, just to be very clear: if we had the resources and a justifiable raison-detre (which we clearly did in Iraq), I would absolutely love to liberate Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, and North Korea from their own brutal tyrannical leaders. We don't have the resources and we don't have QUITE the justification we need. It wouldn't take much to justify it in my view, however.
Yes. I just said I'd be happy to go to war in every one of those countries. It won't happen, alas, as it's clear that the American public lacks the will. But hopefully it won't need it: we've scared the crap out of all those rogue regimes. Which was one of the more than a dozen reasons why going to Iraq was a splendid idea and a worthy endeavor.
Thanks, Dean. I notice you didn't include China on your list of targets. Interesting.