If youâ??ve been reading this site for a while, youâ??ll know that Iâ??ve struggled quite a bit on the issue of a possible war with Iraq. Part of the problem I think is that I have a hard time identifying with the shriller advocates coming from either side of the debate. Sensible voices tend to get obscured by the rhetorical grenades thrown by the ideologues. Consequently, just as Brink Lindsey has convinced me going into Iraq is probably a pretty good idea, William Kristol advocates making sausage of the Arab world and starting from scratch — and I start to wonder if maybe that isnâ??t whatâ??s next on the Presidentâ??s agenda. Or just as Jim Henley has convinced me that Saddamâ??s no more a threat than any number of other despots in the region, Lewis Lapham starts yapping about Americaâ??s â??cultural imperialism,â? or Pat Buchanan rants about how the Elders of Zion have moved their headquarters to a secret chamber in the U.S. Senate (Iâ??m kidding about that last one â?? barely).
The key I think is to strip away the rhetoric and, very fundamentally, ask two questions: 1) under what circumstances is use of military force against another country is justified? And, 2) does the present situation with Iraq fit those circumstances?
First, question one. As a libertarian, I think there are really just a handful of tasks that can be justifiably be ascribed to a national government. One of those is protecting the country from outside threats. Consequently, the only time I think the use of force is justified is when Americaâ??s national security is threatened. Yeah. Thatâ??s pretty vague.
But even that broad, sweeping principle knocks out a good number of the military engagements weâ??ve dipped our tentacles in in just in my lifetime. Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Panama, Haiti and the Gulf War â?? none of them in my opinion were justified under the rubric that we should only engage when weâ??re threatened. Bosnia and Kosovo were regional conflicts. Nothing to do with us. The Serbs were never a threat to U.S. national security. Somalia was a poorly conceived humanitarian mission. Likewise with Haiti. Panama was a grudge, fueled in part by our drug war fanaticism. And the Gulf War too was merely a regional conflict of little consequence to the United States. You might make the case that Saudi oil is a U.S. national security interest, but I doubt I could be convinced. Even if Saddam took over the Saudi oil fields, heâ??s powerless unless he actually puts that oil on the market.
Given September 11, however, I think the definition of â??threatâ? has changed. Itâ??s no longer a matter of looking at a countryâ??s military might and gauging whether or not they can hit our shores. 9/11 proved that you donâ??t need long-range missiles or massive armies to kill lots of Americans. Anyone with a few million dollars and a streak of hate can take a pretty big bite out of us. And considering most every head of state in the world has a few million dollars at his disposal, itâ??s the â??streak of hateâ? part â?? how potent it is and how motivating it is — that separates who really threatens us from who merely dislikes us. Today we have to look not just at weaponry, but at psychology. We have to gauge how suicidal a guy like Hussein might be, how deep his grudges cut, and how much heâ??s willing to risk to settle them.
On to question two: Does Iraq present a â??threatâ? to our national security?
Iâ??m pretty convinced now that the answer is no.
Iâ??d say yes if I could see definitive proof of an al-Queda or a 9/11 connection. Iâ??d say yes if I could see definitive proof that Iraq had nuclear capabilities and had plans to put them into action. Iâ??d say yes if I could see definitive proof that Saddamâ??s own sense of self-preservation and survival were overwhelmed by his hatred of the United States. But to be honest, I havenâ??t yet seen proof of any of these.
Part of the problem has been the shady way the Bush administration has waged its public relations campaign. It would seem to me that if you have direct, concrete evidence of Saddam Husseinâ??s plans to attack the United States â?? or that he already has — youâ??d put it front in center to help make your case â?? as Kennedy did during the Cuban missile crisis. Instead, the Bushies have been coy. Suspiciously so. When key figures in the Bush 41 White House came out against the war on the op-ed pages a few weeks back, it was interesting to watch how the Bush 43 crowd rebuffed them. When Brent Scrowcroft or Lawrence Eagleburger said they couldnâ??t support the war unless there was clear evidence Iraq had weapons of massive destruction, Colin Powell trotted off to the Sunday talk shows a week later to assert that, yes, the White House does have intelligence showing Iraq to possess such weapons, but no, they wouldnâ??t be sharing it with us.
The same thing happened when other retired diplomats and heads of state said that we shouldnâ??t engage a war unless thereâ??s a direct link between Hussein and al-Queda. Then it was then Condi Rice who hit the Sunday circuit. Yes, she said, the White House has intelligence linking Hussein to al-Queda. No, she said, they wouldnâ??t be sharing it with us. Conveniently, that evidence came from prisoners at GitMo Bay, prisoners who couldnâ??t be questioned or cross-examined for veracity.
The kicker came a little over a week ago. The CIA released a report stating that yes, Saddam Hussein probably does have WMDs in his arsenal. But the report went on to say that he was unlikely to ever use them â?? especially on American interests. In fact, the report said the only time Saddam was likely to use them was if he were attacked.
That makes a lot of sense. Saddam is a tyrant, but heâ??s not suicidal. He knows that an unprovoked attack on Americans here or abroad would bring the wrath of American might crashing down on top of him. He knows that heâ??d probably be dead in a matter of days — that the very best scenario would find him spending the rest of his life in hiding. Heâ??d lose his castles, his mistresses, his power.
But if we attack him, if we make it clear that we arenâ??t going to stop until weâ??ve toppled him, what does he have to lose? You can bet that American soldiers then become target #1 for any chemical weapons he might have lying around. And on the off chance he has a nuclear warhead or two, you can bet heâ??ll be lobbing them at Israel the minute an American soldier steps foot on Iraqi soil. If youâ??re a ruthless, bloodthirsty tyrant, and you know youâ??re going to die, arenâ??t you going to die taking out as many enemy combatants as possible? And wouldnâ??t it make sense to kill a bunch of Israelis, too, in the hopes that you might provoke a region-wide slaughterfest?
Whatâ??s most troubling about the CIA report, however, is not the contents of the report itself, but the Bush administrationâ??s attempts to squelch it. Immediately after it was released, the Bushies sprang into action, twisting arms at the CIA to discredit its conclusions. Sure enough, the White House wheeled CIA director George Tenet out before Congress a few days later in an attempt to discredit the report. Still not content, the Bushies then set up their own, separate â??task force,â? one that might come up with its own â??conclusions,â? and one thatâ??ll likely get more attention, given that it will have the Pentagon and White House megaphones ready to trumpet its findings.
The lust for war I think has blinded many libertarians of their natural distrust for government. Why are blogosphere libertarians suddenly so quick to believe the Bush administration when it says â??weâ??ve got the evidenceâ?¦trust us?â? Why arenâ??t we demanding to see it? Have we already forgotten that our government has â?? in the past, on occasion, from time to time, in matters of war â?? lied to us? Arenâ??t we at least a little troubled when a report comes out of the CIA that draws conclusions counter to the war effort is suddenly played down by that agencyâ??s politically-appointed director, under pressure from the White House? Whereâ??s the healthy skepticism?
This of course begs the question: why do the Bushies want to go to war? Could it be that they really do have the evidence of Iraqi 9/11 ties or WMDs but arenâ??t sharing it with us â?? perhaps for national security reasons? Maybe. But I doubt it. Itâ??s tough for me to see how giving us concrete evidence to bolster the case for war might jeopardize security. This administration is eager for war. My guess is that if they had any real evidence at all that would swing world opinion around to their favor, theyâ??d offer it up in a heartbeat.
There could be any number or reasons the White House wants a war. I wonâ??t delve into conspiracy theories. My own hunch is that Bush 43 feels inclined to finish where he feels Bush 41 left off. From the campaign to the economy to foreign policy, thereâ??s been much in the papers about how vigilant Bush 43 has become about not repeating his fatherâ??s mistakes. I think he feels history will one day prove to be a harsh critic of his fatherâ??s failure to take Saddam out during the Gulf War, and so heâ??s determined to finish the task for him.
But going into Iraq isnâ??t a bad idea because the White House may or may not have dishonorable motives. Itâ??s a bad idea because war is always a bad idea. Itâ??s a bad idea because I donâ??t want any innocent blood on my hands unless Iâ??m reasonably certain its necessary to prevent any spilt blood of my own. And Iâ??m just not convinced that thatâ??s the case with Iraq. By most any measure of â??threat,â? we can find targets far more worthy of our attention than Saddam Hussein.
What if, for example, we defined â??threatâ? as nuclear capability? Last week, we heard that North Korea has nuclear weapons. North Korea was included in President Bushâ??s â??axis of evilâ? â?? three countries he named that presented immediate threats to the United States. If North Korea is on par with Iraq in terms of its â??rogue-nessâ? â?? itâ??s willingness to use WMDS â?? wouldnâ??t it make more sense to invade North Korea, considering that we have definitive knowledge of its nuclear capabilities? Even the most liberal estimates put Iraq a year or two away form acquiring nukes. If both are hostile, wouldnâ??t the country we know has a nuke be more of a threat than a country weâ??re pretty sure doesnâ??t yet have one?
How about we define â??threatâ? as a willingness to sponsor terrorism? Well, we know now that Saudi Arabia, for example, has a history of bankrolling terrorists in the Middle East. Sixteen of the nineteen September 11 highjackers came from Saudi Arabia. The House of Saud held a nationwide telethon a few months ago for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. And what about Iran? Iâ??ve read several reports now that Iran is harboring senior al-Queda officials within its borders. Spy satellites spotted an al-Queda training camp just inside just inside the countryâ??s eastern border. Al-Queda found recruits in Algeria, Tunisia, Indonesia, Libya, the Sudan and Yemen.
The most Iâ??ve ever read of an Iraq/al-Queda connection is a debatable account of a meeting in Europe between Muhammad Atta and a senior Iraqi intelligence official. Iâ??ve seen about half dozen stories since either confirming or discounting the alleged meeting. The White House says it has more evidence of ties, but again, it wonâ??t share that evidence with us.
How about we define â??threatâ? in terms of militant, extremist Islam? Again, Iraq doesnâ??t measure up. Iraq is a secular dictatorship. Islam is so far from being state-sponsored in Iraq, in fact, that the true theocracies in the region are suspect of Hussein.
The most virulent anti-American venom in fact comes from the state-sponsored madrassas and mosques in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Hussein rules with an iron fist. We can talk at length about his human rights violations, but one thing we certainly donâ??t need to worry about under Husseinâ??s rule is the prospect of militant Muslims seizing power. We should worry about the potential of such an insurrection in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia and, particularly, Pakistan and its nuclear weapons.
It seems to me that by most any measure of â??threat,â? there are far likelier targets in the region than Iraq. Of course, that lends a bit of credence to the neoconsâ?? â??invade them all and change their cultureâ? line of thought. But is that even possible? And at what cost?
Are we prepared to keep U.S. soldiers in Iraq indefinitely? Because I can tell you, one thing you donâ??t want in that region is democracy. Democracy means majority rule. And you only need to take a look at the polls weâ??ve seen coming out of predominantly Arab countries to quickly come to the conclusion that any regime voted into power by a majority of Arabs in Iraq or Iran or Saudi Arabia most certainly would not be a regime friendly to the United States. So are we prepared to station troops in Iraq indefinitely to prop up a â??benevolentâ? dictator? Are we prepared, then, to eventually do the same in Iran? In Saudi Arabia? In Pakistan? In Algeria? When and where do we stop? Do we stop?
Iâ??m not inclined to buy into the â??blowbackâ? September 11 theory â?? that the attacks here were mostly the result of our foreign policy. I think anti-Americanism in the Arab world is more fundamental than angst over our troops in Saudi Arabia, the sanctions against Iraq, or even our support for Israel. I think that Muslim purists hate us for everything we are â?? free, prosperous and materialistic (a word I consider to be an attribute) — and I think we have a long and tiring fight ahead.
But that doesnâ??t mean we should be giving the Osama bin Ladenâ??s of the world bullet points for recruiting fliers. It doesnâ??t mean we should continue with sanctions against Iraq that do in fact make us complicit in the hunger and illness of Iraqi children (if we know Saddamâ??s a tyrant, shouldnâ??t we also know that cutting off aid to him isnâ??t going to starve him or his army, but his people?). It doesnâ??t mean we should meddle in conflicts around the world (Chehnya, Kosovo, Sudan) simply because militant Muslims are involved, and weâ??ve decided militant Islam is the enemy. And it certainly doesnâ??t mean we should start bombing indiscriminately because we feel as if we should be doing something to stave off the next 9/11. It doesnâ??t mean we drop our values and our principles in the rush to reach for our guns.
It seems to me that there are really only two courses of action here. The first is to stay out of Iraq, Iran, the Sudan, and whatever villains present themselves in the future unless we have specific and credible evidence that theyâ??re either harboring and aiding those who intend to kill Americans, or have the means and the intent to kill Americans themselves. To vigorously defend ourselves and protect our security, but to not go looking for villains and conflicts when none are present or necessary.
The second is the neoconservativesâ?? plan to embark on a final crusade â?? to take it upon ourselves to inculcate American values throughout the Arab world â?? and by force, if necessary. That means toppling religious tyrants, stationing U.S. troops throughout the Arab world on what for all intents and purposes would need to be a permanent basis, and keeping foot to head until weâ??re comfortable that weâ??ve created a new society with new values and principles, pretty much out of whole cloth.
I donâ??t think thereâ??s much in-between, here. If weâ??re going to â??installâ? democracy in Iraq, weâ??ll need to keep troops there indefinitely until that democracy holds. U.S. troops stationed permanently in an Arab country will only inspire more Osamas. Undoubtedly, our actions in Iraq will inspire more hatred for us in the Arab world, giving future Osamas more places to seek refuge. That means weâ??ll have more countries we’ll need to invade and, once weâ??re through, set up more democracies, which will require more troops.
And thatâ??s the best-case scenario. Thatâ??s assuming Saddam doesnâ??t hit Israel with chemical or biological weapons, and that Israel doesnâ??t respond with a nuclear attack, which might then set off a regional calamity. And if we get a U.S./Israel vs. Arabia scenario, what happens in Pakistan? India? China?
There are lots of nasty questions in this debate. I certainly donâ??t claim to have any of the right answers. But it seems to me that invading Iraq — putting U.S. troops in harmâ??s way, inevitably killing more innocent Iraqis, risking thousands â?? maybe millions â?? of Israeli lives, risking region-wide conflict — all to dispose of a regime that isnâ??t even the most threatening in the region certainly isnâ??t one of them.