The Chicago Tribune’s Take on the War

Via Instapundit: The Chicago Tribune takes a look at the Bush Administration’s rationales for war and whether those rationales had merit (registration required). It’s a mixed decision, from the point of view of the Trib: The administration pushed its weakest argument (the weapons of mass destruction) and didn’t properly promote its strongest arguments (that Saddam was way past his expiration date). Allow me to say this doesn’t surprise me in the least, as the reason I was not opposed to going into Iraq was that I thought Saddam should have been gotten rid of long before.

One of the Trib’s aims with the editorial is to debunk the idea that the Bush folks lied to get us into the war: “After reassessing the administration’s nine arguments for war, we do not see the conspiracy to mislead that many critics allege.” Needless to say, this is a conclusion quite a few people will have difficulty accepting, so I expect you’ll be able to see vehement refutations of this conclusion fairly quickly. Personally, as regards the WMDs, I’m not entirely sure how the government’s creative interpretation of its data is substantially different from misleading others, but if one wants to stipulate that people of genuine intelligence could have reasonably interpreted the data in a number ways, including that it indicated that Iraq had acquired WMDs, that’s fine with me, with the caveat that we should all agree that once the Bush folks had an interpretation that fit what they wanted to hear they didn’t exactly go out of their way to equally weigh other interpretations.

Which bring us to the thing the Tribune editorial doesn’t say, but which is entirely relevant, which is that Bush and his people wanted a war with Iraq, and were looking for a minimally-supportable excuse to have it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Bush came into office with invading Iraq on his “to do” list — that seems unlikely to me — but once 9/11 happened, the opportunity presented itself, and the Bush folks took advantage of it, and didn’t particularly care whether they have done due diligence on the rationales presented therein. Naturally, this negelect allows interested parties to claim the Bush folks acted in bad faith getting us into this particular war.

To be entirely honest, at this point in time, I’m rather less concerned with how this administration has sold this war than what it has done since driving Saddam out of power. It’s perfectly reasonable for someone who supported the war (or at the very least, did not oppose it, as in my case) to criticize how the Bush folks have handled the follow-on to the Iraq invasion. I’ve said before and will be pleased to say again that should I ever meet President Bush, I will be happy to tell him that deposing Saddam was a good thing. Unfortunately for our President, he will then have to hear me say that just about everything he’s done since then has been a total botch and that I’m appalled that he and his people apparently gave no thought to the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq beyond scooping up flowers thrown by grateful Iraqis. Yeah, it’ll be a mixed moment for Mr. Bush.

13 Comments on “The Chicago Tribune’s Take on the War”

  1. Yeah, I’d say at this point anyone arguing over the reasons to start are missing the point. However, I suppose it’s easier to scream “liar!” than it is “incompetent!” I care a lot less about the whys anymore than I do the hows and particularly the “how much.” Freedom for everyone is a wonderful goal but I’m not gonna support it at the cost of bankrupting myself.

  2. The most disturbing reality regarding the war in Iraq is not our faulty intelligence, or that Iraq did not have WMD. The most disturbing reality is that Iraq did have WMD’s. Massive arsenals of mustard gas, sarin, and VX nerve gas artillery shells. The most disturbing reality is that we’ve only found a handful of them. Anyone who has any experience in manufacturing or has studied it, knows that you don’t set up a manufacturing operation and only make a handful of something. Saddam’s military generals confessed that they had chemical weapons dispatched to their forces, but that several weeks before we invaded Saddam ordered the state security apparatus to collect them and remove them from local military control.

    We’ve only found a handful of them. We found no evidence that they were destroyed. Where are they?

  3. Y’know, it says something really scary about our times that one is tempted to turn to The Daily Show for news and political commentary… and to The Onion for prophecy.

    It says something even scarier when succumbing to that temptation turns out, in retrospect, to have been a good move.

    Well spotted, Cherie. Brrr.

  4. Two quibbles.

    One is that I think the issue was not so much that Saddam was currently manufacturing WMD, but that he had, and had not verifiably destroyed his stockpiles, and that he deliberately retained the ability to start making them again once sanctions went away.

    Second is that while the administration did certainly botch the immediate follow-up to the invasion’s success, I think they have gone a long way to correct those failings since; I mean, it’s certainly something I was a part of last year. The amount of evident thought that went into addressing all of the various issues that had come out of the post-invasion as we were gearing up to go impressed me that someone was ready to roll up sleeves and get to work. The real issue, I think, is that the initial failures created problems that the intervening couple years of attempted correction have not been able to overcome.

  5. The whole WMD thing became a sort of avatar of the real argument, which, at its root, is ‘did the United States have the legal right to invade Iraq’*?

    The answer is almost certainly ‘no’. If you remember, the argument was that Iraq was an immediate threat, necessitating the invasion in self-defense. That argument has to hold for the US not to be in violation of international law, in the form of treaties to which it is signatory, including the UN charter if I remember correctly. And according to the UN charter, the character of a dictator is not an allowable justification for war. Under the law, Saddam’s position on the scale of brutal dictatordom is entirely irrelevant.

    What is relevant is whether or not Iraq was a credible threat to the United States. At this point, it should be clear to all but the most zealous idealogues that it was not. Therefore, the invasion was probably illegal under the same charter that the UN used to throw Saddam himself out of Kuwait.

    As for the way things have gone since the invasion, there is plenty of room for all human failings: incompetence, shortsightedness, greed, arrogance to name a few, but the incompetence argument presupposes that the democratization would have been successful if it weren’t for that darned incompetence, and I just don’t think that’s the case. And that’s why I was opposed to the invasion from the beginning: not because I think the US is evil or because Bush = Hitler or because I think that everything would just be wonderful if everyone was nice to everyone, but because an invasion followed by an occupation didn’t have a snowball’s chance of working.

    * Yes, yes, I know, it was a coalition. But we all know that the US would have invaded Iraq with or without that coalition.

  6. Your statement:

    “an invasion followed by an occupation didn’t have a snowball’s chance of working”

    seems historically unfounded. In Germany and Japan after WWII, the US Civil War and numerous other historical wars. In fact, historically speaking, invasion followed by an occupation is the normal pattern which is followed by long term periods of peace. Historically speaking, it is the oposite scenarios, capitulation or negotiated settlement without an occupation, that have typically led to another war in the future (for example WWI and Vietnam)

    War is an ugly tool for political means, but invasion followed by occupation is the method of war that usually results in the most permanent solutions.

  7. Your question:

    ‘did the United States have the legal right to invade Iraq’

    The President asked congress for an authorization to use military force. Senators from both political parties admitted that the AUMF (Authorization to Use Military Force) was considered to be a declaration of war. That solves the constitutional legal requirements.

    The U.S. is a recognized sovereign state with the authority to wage wars. The U.N. is corrupt, ineffectual, and a hopeless irrelevancy.

  8. Moreover, in 2003 the US was already in a state of war with Iraq and has been for 12 years. There was no peace treaty after the end of the first Gulf War, only cease fire. Iraq had violated every single condition of the cease fire agreement.

  9. IIRC, we’re still technically in a state of war with Korea over that unpleasantness in the 1950s, so that’s a warm thought to enter 2006 with.

    The whole debate over WMDs has been logically sloppy. Nerve gas does not compare to a nuclear weapon, but when you say WMDs, people think nukes. Google for Gert Harigel for some excellent discussions on why the very use of the term WMD obfuscates the issue.

    Second, even considering the nerve gas on its own, the weapon without a delivery mechanism is no threat. I have items in my pocket which could kill everyone in this room at sufficient velocities, but I don’t see anyone agitating to ban the nickel or quarter.

    Third, to Tim, the UN exists because member nations have found it easier to work in a world with it than without it. Rule of law is a good idea. We sign treaties because we derive benefits therefrom. You won’t be able to change this no matter how long you hold your breath or how blue your face becomes.

    Fourth, I’m not much of an expert on post-WWII occupation governments, but it’s widely recognized that Reconstruction was a dismal failure. One might argue that our postwar Iraq actions look much more like that than the Marshall Plan.

  10. Jeff,

    I won’t get into a argument with you over Reconstruction. I agree that it was a horrible episode in american history, but it’s somewhat understandable if you study the dichotomy that had developed between the north and the south. The war itself only defeated the south’s military ability to resist. The Reconstruction had to defeat the south’s culture. A messier business (but similiar to our task in Iraq, a culture that has never known democracy and the rule of law).

    My point was that occupation has historically been the most successful means to stabilize a shattered society following a conquest. Which gives the remaining population the time to adjust to the new situation and overcome some of their animosity toward the enemy which bested them. When successful you don’t have to go back and beat them again later.

    Tactically, and materially the situation in Iraq is very similiar to the occupation of Germany. We are helping to rebuild their infrastructure but, unlike Germany, the damage is not a result of the war but instead the terrible neglect for over a decade under Saddam. This is being done despite the continued resistance of some faction of the locals and, in Iraq, resistance from foreign forces. In Germany this took a very long time (much longer than we’ve been in Iraq) and a much larger number of american casualties than Iraq. This was acceptable to the american public at the time because the it was such an improvement over the war (which caused nearly a million U.S. casualties in less than 4 years). To an extent, the war in Iraq is a victim of it’s own success, and, with all the billions of dollars of reconstruction being done by american forces, it looks a lot like the Marshall Plan.

  11. Tim —

    Once again I find myself in debate with someone who is clearly living in a parallel universe where the facts are different. We probably have better things to do than argue.

    But on my version of Earth, it’s hard to debate your comments on occupation because the history of warfare shows that most wars end in a form of occupation, many wars end with the complete destruction of the losing side, and so your criteria for “successful” are perhaps hard to determine in context.

    Likewise, on my planet it’s hard to reply to your comments on Saddam’s infrastructure, since many people here seem to think that delivery of food, medicine, and basic human services was one of the primary ways in which he maintained his grip on power.

    But I’m sure that you’re accurately describing the situation on the Earth where you live. It’s amazing how big the Internet is these days.

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