Learned Nothing

There are different categories of wrongness. People can be wrong for the right reasons. They can be wrong for the wrong reasons. And, worst of all, they can be wrong without conviction because they benefit by being wrong.

Right now on its tenth anniversary we’re being deluged by analyses, apologies, and apologias of just how disastrous invading Iraq was. Some are heartfelt, like Andrew Sullivan’s, to his credit. Most are far from that.

In my view the worst of the worst, worse than the reviled neocons, worse than the ordinary people who just went along, are the members of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Every Democratic Senator who wasn’t in a safe seat and had presidential aspirations voted in favor of invading Iraq. I don’t believe for a moment their protestations that they were bamboozled by the Bush Administration. They knew what the Bush Administration knew. They made their decisions and I believe that they made them solely in the hope of political gain or the fear of political loss. They are schmucks. Two of the schmucks have since been appointed Secretary of State, presumably their consolation prizes for not becoming president.

Most of the major Left Blogosphere bloggers of the time supported the invasion of Iraq as I documented years ago. Josh Marshall. Kevin Drum. Matthew Yglesias. That brings me around to Ezra Klein:

I supported the Iraq War, and I’m sorry.

I have my excuses, of course. I was a college student, young and dumb. I thought that if U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell and former President Bill Clinton and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair all thought it was necessary, then that was because they had intelligence proving as much. I thought there was no way the Bush administration would neglect to plan for the obvious challenges of the aftermath. I turned on the war quickly when I saw how poorly and arrogantly it was being managed.

Youthful folly can be excused. Outspoken youthful folly is hubris and is far more difficult to forgive. He has shown no signs of contrition other than verbal ones. Let me supply a less self-serving explanation for his change of view: his views changed when the positions of Democratic Party leaders did. He was just falling into partisan line. He’s been rewarded for his loyalty. He has learned nothing.

All signs suggest that Americans, generally, have learned nothing:

Opinions about the use of military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons also have not changed much in recent years. Currently, 64% say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action; 25% say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran, even if it means they may develop nuclear weapons.

War is a dirty, ugly, horrifying, wasteful, vicious matter. There is no glory in it and it certainly should not be waged for gain—whether political, geopolitical, or economic. There is exactly one reason to wage war: because you have no other choice. Clearly, that’s a lesson we have yet to learn.

54 comments… add one
  • TastyBits

    I think you missed the closing tag.

  • Thanks. I had already fixed it but it took an amazingly long time to update.

  • TastyBits

    I am inclined to believe that Iran is working towards a nuclear weapon, but I have not seen any actual proof. I find it interesting that the same people who said Iraq had WMD’s now assure us Iran is going to acquire nukes.

    Everytime I ask this question, I am assured, “It is different this time.”

  • Drew

    “War is a dirty, ugly, horrifying, wasteful, vicious matter. There is no glory in it and it certainly should not be waged for gain—whether political, geopolitical, or economic. There is exactly one reason to wage war: because you have no other choice.”

    This is, of course, a fair point. Perhaps the only, and essential, point. But I have to admit to being flummoxed by those who seem to define WMD as only nukes. People subjected to chemical weapons would probably wish to have been vaporized instantaneously.

    Hussein had WMD. Chemical for sure. The evidence is clear. Nukes? I suspect so. Moved to Syria. We will never know for sure.

    The problems with the post Iraq War management are obvious. Was there an option? Its easy to look back and say yes. Was there, really? How does one know for sure? Hussein invaded Kuwait. Did he subsequently become a docile figure? Are we to believe Bush invaded Iraq out of some emotional pique? Finishing “daddy’s war?” Really? That’s the mantra of the left. But anyone shallow enough to believe that immediately goes on my idiot list. National leaders make mistakes, to be sure. But do they act in a totally cavalier fashion wrt war. I don’t think so. I have absolutely no use for our current president on many issues. But would I for a second believe he would take the nation into war in some juvenile or emotional reaction. Not a chance. The gravity of the office precludes this; and the man is not stupid or deranged.

  • I can’t tell you if there was another way in Iraq after the government was brought down. I can just give you my opinion. I think that victory in war requires that you not just defeat the government but defeat the people. If you’re not willing to do that, don’t go to war. We aren’t willing to do that. I thought that was obvious in 2001 and it’s been obvious since then.

  • PD Shaw

    I think I lack the sort of introspection that seems to be required for this sort of thing.

    A quick aside: The radio this morning was full of debate over the Chigago Bear’s failing to resign the face of its franchise, Brian Urlacher. The radio announcer stated conclusively that Bears fans will know whether the right decision was made in a couple of years when they can see where the Bears are and where Urlacher is.

    BS, you cannot judge a decision by future knowledge. We make decisions based upon imperfect knowledge, assigning risks from various possible outcomes. If there was key information available that was overlooked, that would be another thing.

    A couple of quick points:

    The Democratic Senators on the Intelligence Committee were key. They were briefed with information that the public did not see, and IIRC 50% of them voted for war. The entire Senate also had the opportunity to read the CIA national intelligence estimate and only six senators did. That is where any outrage should be directed.

    My personal framework centered on the need to get out of the sanctions business in whatever way was safe. I found little debate along these lines since most of the war opponents seemed to be satisfied with the status quo.

  • The Democrats on the Intelligence Committee who voted in favor of the Authorization to Use Force on Iraq of the nine Democrats on the committee were Jay Rockefeller, John Edwards and Evan Bayh, echoing the point I made. Edwards and Bayh had presidential ambitions.

  • PD Shaw

    The other point I wanted to make (because there always needs to be three):

    The role of deception in forming judgments. Saddam was clearly behaving deceptively; most people take that into consideration and conclude that such behavior is intended to conceal something. I find it interesting that many of the most strident anti-war voices (Bush lied — people died) fall into similar thinking patterns where outcomes are analyzed through the lens of intentional misdeeds where screw-ups or mistakes are discounted.

    I’ve heard three explanations given for Saddam’s deception: (1) he was concealing past non-compliance that he had belatedly complied with; (2) the government itself was unable to conclude it was in compliance and assumed it was not; and/or (3) Saddam wanted Iran and/or other countries to assume it had WMD.

  • jan

    I view war like I do major surgery. First you do the whole preventative course of action. If that doesn’t work, you implement the less invasive ones — sensibly applying what alternatives there are. Only after exhausting those measures does war seem to have it’s place as a feasible last option. And, even then it should be done with an eye towards selectively overpowering a foe with as little collateral destruction as possible.

    Of course there are times, when time is the biggest factor in considering one’s choices. And, this is when you do what you think is best, given no time to consider less forceful or proactive actions.

    I also don’t fault those who decide on going to war, unless it was based solely on greed, a knee-jerk reaction, or a leader’s quest to have power over more geography. However, when self-protection is involved, I reasonably give leaders greater leniency in the responsive measures they choose to take.

    IMO, the Afghan war was completely botched at the onset. As for invading Iraq — that had a muddled background, including the elder Bush’s decision to leave Hussein alone in the earlier ME skirmish. We’ll never know, for sure, how many WMD’s (if any at all) were there to justify the invasion. However, the lengthy sanction process taken, before the shock and awe phase, demonstrates patience and self-restraint on the part of the US. And, in making the ultimate decision to openly attack a country, any leader embraces the mantle of ‘you’re damned if you do invade and don’t find a sufficient number of WMD’s to warrant the attack,” as well as being ‘damned if you don’t invade and all hell breaks out because of not going in and looking for WMDs.’

  • jan

    PD

    I’ve heard those same three reasons for why Hussein was acting in such a cagey manner. And the last one seems to be the one most popularly held —“Saddam wanted Iran and/or other countries to assume it had WMD.”

    But, even if this proved to be the true reason, creating an inconclusive veil of doubt, over something as malevolent as to whether one does or does not have WMDs to pass on to others, does not lessen the justification of another country taking precautions and actions in preventing a worse case scenario from happening.

  • Cstanley

    My resoning was almost identical to Ezra’s but I don’t have youthfulness to blame. Political naivete, I suppose.

    It was formative for me, though, and I will never look at any politician with an unjaundiced eye again. I may even go too far with distrust, but most of the time I think it is warrented or at least better than erring in the other direction.

    The Iraq War decision still doesn’t make much sense to me though. Were the Neocons really convinced we’d be greeted as liberators? If not, what did they expect to happen? Why did some, like Cheney, reverse their earlier beliefs about the quagmire that would result from a power vaccum in Iraq? All these years later, I still don’t get it.

    And I do still agree with the idea that sanctions weren’t working (and I have a huge moral problem with advocating sanctions for a regime like that, which will starve its children…as though this is so much better than war, to think we have clean hands in that?) i don’t know what the alternative would have been, but at the time I believed that maybe it was better to oust SH and I decided to trust that our leaders knew what they were doing.

  • Zachriel

    It was pretty obvious from the beginning that the intelligence was sketchy, and the American government was run by people with an ideological view. Because of their ideology, they made mistake after mistake; first, in the run up to the war; then, during the occupation; and for that reason couldn’t change course, even as the debacle unfolded. They resorted to torture and black prisons, a sure sign of desperation. It bogged down the American military, just when it needed to be most flexible. It severely damaged America’s reputation, its relationships with other nations, even its closest allies.

    “March of Folly”.
    http://www.amazon.com/March-Folly-Troy-Vietnam/dp/0345308239

  • Zachriel

    Cstanley: Were the Neocons really convinced we’d be greeted as liberators?

    Yes.

  • Cstanley

    Zachriel- on what basis though? Chalabi?

  • steve

    The inspectors kept telling us there was no nuke program in Iraq. There was actually a lot of intel telling us Saddam no longer had any functioning WMD program. It never made any sense that Saddam would be a supporter of AQ. I really cannot figure out why we went to war in Iraq. My best guess is that Bush, knowing little about foreign policy, outsourced the decision to Cheney who was part of a group with a longstanding goal of invading Iraq. Even that doesnt quite fit since it required a lot of other people to go along. We may never know, unless insiders close to Cheney and Bush decide to talk.

    It is absolutely essential we self-examine. Too many people still think Iraq was a great idea. Too many would do the same things again. The reasons for the war were poor. Its management was also very poor. How can we reject the policy of pre-emptive war if we cannot concede that Iraq was a mistake? How can we rectify the mismanagement of the war if we dont acknowledge our errors?

    Steve

  • Zachriel

    Cstanley: on what basis though?

    Ideological. They believed in “shock and awe”. They had no inkling of the internal tensions in Iraq, no conception of history, and no intellectual curiosity to find out. Even after the invasion, when you could watch as Iraq came apart at the seams, they continued to believe everything was going according to plan. How could it not? Instead, they vilified those who pointed out the obvious.

  • Zachriel
  • Cstanley

    Zachriel- I think that’s too simplistic. Some of the people in the administration either were involved, or were close to those involved, in the decision to stop at the Iraq border in 1991. So who flipped them? Seems like Chalabi had to have had a key role (Frum wrote recently of the extensive amount of time that Cheney had spent with him during the leadup to the war.)

    I do think Bush was simplistic and incurious, although I don’t attribute evil intent, just incompetence.

  • Cstanley

    Also, Zachriel, it’s hard for me to accept that what eventually became obvious should have been obvious from the start. For me, all of those Democrats who went along with the AUMF initially lent a great deal of credibility to the case for war. I assumed that the bipartisan agreement meant that the intel they were seeing was convincing. And then when Democrats started flipping their positions, it looked like opportunism because that’s what it mainly was. The only thing is that their opportunism was in supporting the war to begin with, and then they realized they had to reverse themselves to distance themselves from it.

    A big factor, I think, in the need for Dems politically to support the war initially I think, was the residual hangover from Vietnam and the problem the party had with appearing too pacifist. I get that, but the individuals who were making their decisions based on political winds still have to answer for their votes AND the way that influenced public opinion. And that’s not to mention media sources like Judith Miller.

    As the thing dragged on, of course the criticisms became more obviously correct and personally I started paying a lot more attention. I accept blame for not doing so earlier. I also know that the over the top unhinged hatred of Bush and Cheney made it hard for me to notice the real criticisms, much like I suppose some people now feel about Obama haters.

  • steve

    There is an assumption here that Congress knows everything the President does. Is that true? I dont really think so. IIRC, those on the select intelligence committee have more access to information, but I ma not sure they are told everything. FWIW, I don’t think Congress knew that much, but at least on the Dem side, they would have wanted to avoid the soft on defense image.

    Steve

  • Zachriel

    Cstanley: Some of the people in the administration either were involved, or were close to those involved, in the decision to stop at the Iraq border in 1991.

    There was a different leader at the top who had a much more mature view of the world, and an understanding of limitations, military and political. As for Cheney et al., power unleashed their inner ideologue, and it was amplified by the increasing disdain exhibited by the right.

    Cstanley: Seems like Chalabi had to have had a key role (Frum wrote recently of the extensive amount of time that Cheney had spent with him during the leadup to the war.)

    He confirmed their preconceptions. If not him, they would have found someone else. Just like they did with Curveball.

    Cstanley: I do think Bush was simplistic and incurious, although I don’t attribute evil intent, just incompetence.

    No, Bush isn’t evil. He was appalled and overwhelmed by 9-11. Unfortunately, it brought out his worst characteristics.

    Cstanley: it’s hard for me to accept that what eventually became obvious should have been obvious from the start.

    The Bush Administration manipulated intelligence. They ignored sound military advice. They denigrated anyone who disagreed, including America’s closest allies. They waved their hands as Iraq fell apart. These are all clear signs that the administration was guided by ideology, not wisdom.

  • Zachriel

    steve: There is an assumption here that Congress knows everything the President does.

    Do you think Congress was told about aluminum tubes and yellow cake?

  • Cstanley

    steve- I see it that way now but didn’t realize it at the time. I thought the Dems standing up and giving passionate floor speeches actually meant something.

  • Cstanley

    The Bush Administration manipulated intelligence. They ignored sound military advice. They denigrated anyone who disagreed, including America’s closest allies. They waved their hands as Iraq fell apart. These are all clear signs that the administration was guided by ideology, not wisdom.

    So what part of that, at the outset, was really discernible to someone like myself, a lay citizen busy with raising a family and keeping informed by the usual media sources which initially confirmed what the administration was saying?

  • Andy

    Dave,

    Thanks. I had already fixed it but it took an amazingly long time to update.

    I’ve been meaning to mention that lately the site is very slow to post comments. I’ll hit the “submit” button and then it’s anywhere from 15 seconds to over a minute until the page loads with the comment. Not a big deal, but thought you should know.

    Anyway,intelligence and Iraq is my area of expertise, so I’ll offer a few comments.

    In broad terms I think it’s useful to point out Saddam’s strategy after the 1991 Gulf War. On one hand, he wanted to deny inspectors and the West any incontrovertible evidence that he still had WMD. So he destroyed his programs and known stockpiles after the 1991 war. On the other hand, he didn’t want to remove all doubt that he might still have weapons. So he destroyed his programs and weapons in an unverifiable way (in contravention to the cease-fire agreement he signed), and sought to obstruct the inspection process. He wanted to preserve the know-how to reconstitute his programs at a later date, but he also wanted to comply enough to prevent another attack and end sanctions. Obviously, these goals were frequently in conflict. Additionally, he really liked how much the image of him “standing up” to the West played to Arab audiences. He ate that shit up. It was never widely reported, but Saddam would give public speeches in which he would proudly state that he would never disarm and give in to Western demands. This was mostly rhetoric, but it tended to reinforce the already existing perception that he retained weapons after 1991.

    Saddam also faced real strategic concerns – mainly Iran. His conventional forces were decimated in the 1991 war and he did not want to show Iran that he no strategic capabilities. So deterrence was part of the reason he chose to act as though he had weapons stockpiles when, in fact, he didn’t. He was so worried about Iran, in fact, that he failed to move divisions off the Iranian border to meet the US forces pushing north until it was too late.

    Unfortunately for everyone, his deception was too effective and he wrongly assumed that he would never be attacked as long as inspectors found no actual weapons. He also assumed the US would not attack without UN authorization and he made deals with the French and Russians to ensure their veto. Even as US forces were crossing the line-of-depature, he still believed the US did not intend to topple him. He was deluded in many ways and for many reasons which I won’t belabor here.

    The failure to recognize Saddam’s strategy was the true intelligence failure that led to this war. The legitimately incorrect assessments Iraq’s WMD capabilities were really the result of this bigger failure.

    Secondly, it’s important to parse what various players believed. The intelligence community (which included me at the time) believed that Iraq probably retained some stocks of chemical munitions along with the infrastructure necessary to maintain and employ them. It was only right before the war that the IC really started to reconsider the assessments it had rendered over the last decade. The community was much more divided on the bio and nuclear areas – and it was these areas where there was pressure from policymakers (and some in the intel community) toward specific conclusions was brought to bear.

    In the Bush administration there was general agreement to invade Iraq, but the reasons and predictions for the post-invasion phase varied considerably. One group was was seriously focused on the WMD threat and wanted to topple Saddam and install some flunky and get out as fast as possible. Others seriously believed the the democracy project and the idea that the US could transform the Middle East by bringing democracy to Iraq. President Bush never reconciled these differences before the war which had a huge impact on the post-invasion operations and was responsible for much of the gross incompetence following the invasion.

  • Thanks, Andy. I always value your contributions.

    Cstanley:

    So what part of that, at the outset, was really discernible to someone like myself, a lay citizen busy with raising a family and keeping informed by the usual media sources which initially confirmed what the administration was saying?

    I can’t answer that question but I can tell you how I arrived at my own assessment. First, assume that every horrible thing you’re told about Saddam Hussein’s government is true. In aggregate does it amount to a case for a just war? Not just a casus belli. Those are a dime a dozen. If we went to war with every country against whom we had a casus belli, we’d be at war with the whole world. My assessment was “No”.

    Second, think out how the entire thing would play out politically. I saw absolutely no stomach for a long, drawn out conflict during which we took more than a few casualties. My assessment was that Iraq could not be pacified without taking more than a few casualties. I thought that as the months wore on and the general election neared the political support from the opposition party would fade, which is exactly what happened. Wars don’t work their way out by the election cycle any more than real life dramas resolve themselves in an hour the way TV dramas do.

    For me, everything pointed against the invasion of Iraq.

    On the subject of the sanctions, my view was that those were the price of leaving Saddam Hussein in power at the end of the first Gulf War. Since the terms by which George Bush gathered his alliance for the first Gulf War was not removing Saddam Hussein, I didn’t think that was a just war, either. I opposed it.

  • jan

    That was fascinating, Andy, and made a lot sense.

    I remember clearly the reason stated about ‘bringing democracy to the ME’ via freeing Iraq, which would become a tempting example of what a democracy could look like in that region —- for other countries to then want and emulate. After all, Iraq was always considered having one of the most sophisticated populations in the region, and it was then construed to mean it would be easier for it to adapt to some form of a democracy, more than most of it’s neighboring countries.

    However, such idealistic projections by Bush were always shouted down by the left, crowing it was oil the Bush Administration wanted, and nothing else. Whether or not oil played a part into the reasons for the Iraqi invasion, there didn’t seem to be a spoils of war grab, in the aftermath of Iraq being divested of Saddam.

    I find the left so predictable, in that if given a multiple of reasons behind why the U.S. exerts it’s power, if it’s a republican administration, more probable than not, the most frequently circled answer is the most devious and corrupt one. However, if it’s under a democratic WH, the answers are vastly different — either praising the venture, or ‘cricket’s by choosing ‘none of the above.’

  • TastyBits

    @Andy

    Great write-up. It is pretty much what I was able to piece together, but you filled in the missing parts.

    It sounds like there was nobody asking, “How do you know what you know?” I suspect there is nobody doing it with Iran. It seems like Iran could be doing the same thing.

    I question my assumptions and logic to strengthen my position. That which cannot be defended is tossed, and that which does not destroy my position only makes it stronger.

    Thanks.

  • Cstanley

    I can’t answer that question but I can tell you how I arrived at my own assessment. First, assume that every horrible thing you’re told about Saddam Hussein’s government is true. In aggregate does it amount to a case for a just war? Not just a casus belli. Those are a dime a dozen. If we went to war with every country against whom we had a casus belli, we’d be at war with the whole world. My assessment was “No”.
    Again, I have come to this belatedly. In particular, the concept of just war weighed on me because my initial support of the Iraq War was at odds with my Church. Initially that didn’t trouble me because I felt it was a matter of individual conscience and judgement, but it did cause me to begin thinking more deeply and eventually to read more on the Catholic church’s teaching on just wars. I can see that the idea of preemptive war just can’t be squared with the moral criteria for going to war.

    Interesting that you opposed the first Gulf War. I’ll have to try to read some of your older posts to get a better idea of your overall foreign policy views. Again, from the moral perspective I can see that Saddam’s land grab was more of a casus belli then an existential threat….but I have a hard time envisioning a foreign policy that reserves the use of force for the more advanced threats. How can world order be maintained, in the face of provocations to stability…and is there not an argument to be made that those provocations might advance to the degree of creating a larger conflagration if there is no military response until the threat becomes existential?

  • sam

    “How can world order be maintained, in the face of provocations to stability…and is there not an argument to be made that those provocations might advance to the degree of creating a larger conflagration if there is no military response until the threat becomes existential?”

    You’re advocating the Broken Windows Theory on a global scale. Do you really think that the politics are there for such an open-ended policy?

  • Zachriel

    Cstanley: So what part of that, at the outset, was really discernible to someone like myself, a lay citizen busy with raising a family and keeping informed by the usual media sources which initially confirmed what the administration was saying?

    It’s not unreasonable that you looked to your leadership for, well, leadership. Unfortunately, it failed at all levels. What happens during a crisis is everyone rallies around the flag. That can be good or bad, depending on who is in charge. It’s up to the leadership to exercise the necessary restraint and wisdom. Nevertheless, the signs were there that the administration had an ideological bent, not a practical one.

    Cstanley: Again, from the moral perspective I can see that Saddam’s land grab was more of a casus belli then an existential threat….but I have a hard time envisioning a foreign policy that reserves the use of force for the more advanced threats. How can world order be maintained, in the face of provocations to stability…and is there not an argument to be made that those provocations might advance to the degree of creating a larger conflagration if there is no military response until the threat becomes existential?

    The Gulf War had to do with international order and the rule of law. After WWII, the law was established that wars of naked aggression would be war crimes, and that an attack on one nation was an attack on all nations. That’s why virtually every nation in the world rose up against Saddam’s invasion. The result was closer ties between nations, and a stronger international system.

    The Iraq War can only be seen as a war fought over false causes, a preemptive war, an avoidable war, one without the support of the international community. It fractured important alliances. It weakened the positive influence of the U.S.

    Furthermore, great military power comes from strategic mobility, the ability to attack when and where the great power decides. The Romans had their system of roads, Vikings plundered any settled area along the coast or inland waterways, the steppes were a highway for Mongol conquest across Eurasia, Arab invaders could appear suddenly out of the desert, the British maintained a global empire with naval power, the Americans of WWII and its aftermath had control of the air.

    After the Gulf War, the U.S. was seen to have virtually unlimited power to strike with decisive force, anywhere, any time. That gave the U.S. a huge amount of credibility and influence. But like magic, it has to be used only by sleight of hand. If you really believe that your power is unlimited, then you may end up with too few forces, in a protracted war, with no exit, while your enemies study and probe your weakness.

    It’s hard to get the magic back once your audience sees the strings.

  • Do you really think that the politics are there for such an open-ended policy?

    sam has summed up the problem well.

    Additionally, contra Zachriel, international support alone does not render a war just. That support was conditional on leaving Saddam Hussein in place. In my view that made it an unjust war.

  • Zachriel

    David Schuler: Additionally, contra Zachriel, international support alone does not render a war just.

    We didn’t say that it did. Democracies can be wrong. The rule of law can be misapplied. Nevertheless, Saddam directly attacked the international order and the rule of law, instituted to prevent the scourge of another world war which twice before had “brought untold sorrow to mankind”.

    David Schuler: That support was conditional on leaving Saddam Hussein in place. In my view that made it an unjust war.

    Saddam should have been placed in the dock, but not at the cost of destroying Iraq.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    The Gulf War had to do with international order and the rule of law. …

    The first Gulf War was about oil.

    … That’s why virtually every nation in the world rose up against Saddam’s invasion. …

    The Bush administration did a lot of arm twisting and bribing to get its coalition. As @Dave Schuler noted, many of these countries would only go as far as ousting Saddam.

  • Cstanley

    I don’t think I was advocating for a broken window policy. What I meant was more along the lines of international alliances with the understanding that an attack on one will result in a response by all. And yes, sometimes those alliances are based on protection of access to resources and trade. It seems to me that the current chaos is largely the result of the Cold War ending, without a system of stable alliances to replace it. That and the jockeying for US political positions by our two parties. And of course more recently, our inability to maintain military interventions due to our decaying economy.

  • Tom Strong

    Great post, and very interesting comments, particularly from Andy. I have nothing much to add.

  • sam

    “What I meant was more along the lines of international alliances with the understanding that an attack on one will result in a response by all.”

    Ah, yes, “international alliances”. Remarkable how they always seem to end up as amerilliances .

  • sam

    As a coda, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m fast approaching the Will Kane stage.

  • I’m fast approaching the Will Kane stage

    I think I’ll be able to hold it together unless Tex Ritter starts singing “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin” in the background.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: The first Gulf War was about oil.

    That doesn’t explain the near universal involvement in the Gulf War. The principle of sovereignty was at stake, and that affects every nation.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    I have a vastly different memory of the time. Margret Thatcher may have been acting on principle, but nobody else was. She was able to corral President Bush, the Elder, into doing something, but he was ready to bolt from the start. The coalition was created by arm twisting and bribery. The oil market had collapsed during Reagan’s presidency, and the US was not going to allow the 70’s prices to return.

    Usually, countries do not act upon principles, and when they do, the result is not satisfactory. The difference between Libya and Syria is oil.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: Usually, countries do not act upon principles …

    The principle, sovereignty, was aligned with self-interest. That’s the trick of the rule of law.

    TastyBits: The difference between Libya and Syria is oil.

    What’s the difference between the Gulf War and the Iraq War?

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    For the First Gulf War, it was in Russia’s self-interest to support Saddam. Outrage is a nicety used to dress-up outrageous actions. At the time, the Cold War was ending (had ended). All participants had been breaking the International laws for 50 years. I guess most people have forgotten how realpolitik works.

    All the reasons for intervening in Libya are the same for Syria. In Libya, 2,000 people were in danger, but in Syria, 70,000 have been killed. Libya was a major supplier of oil to Europe, and Europe was pushing the hardest.

    For the Iraq War, President Bush was using the rule of law to justify the invasion. There were four to six reasons they used. Transfering WMD to terrorists was the one they pushed, but democracy and UN violations were included. I am not going to argue over the motives for the invasion, but in @Andy’s write-up, replace Iran with Iraq. It seems similar to today’s debate, but I am old and jaded with a long memory.

    Most in the West have forgotten how real power works.

  • jan

    A different opinion about the ME wars via Mark Steyn —> Geopolitical ADHD.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: For the First Gulf War, it was in Russia’s self-interest to support Saddam.

    Yet they supported U.N. Resolution 678.

    TastyBits: All participants had been breaking the International laws for 50 years.

    Actually, all the major power were eager to be seen working within the rule of law, so they would generally provide a legal pretext for war. The Gulf War was justified by the attack on sovereignty, a war of naked aggression by Saddam. The Iraq War was a preemptive war that was justified due to WMD.

    Yes, ideals do matter. People rally to America because of ideals. Those same people were disheartened by the Iraq War, including the false story about WMD, the use of torture, the pretense that torture isn’t torture—all of that.

    Cstanley: So what part of that, at the outset, was really discernible to someone like myself, a lay citizen busy with raising a family and keeping informed by the usual media sources which initially confirmed what the administration was saying?

    It’s interesting that so many in America were ignorant of what the rest of the world knew. Not only about the war. For instance, every mother in Iraq knew about Abu Ghraib, and feared for their children being sent there. But the Americans, for whatever reason, had no idea, or couldn’t face the truth, until the pictures leaked. Even then, there were many who minimized the situation.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    The legalities are luxuries of the wealthy and powerful to justify actions they will take anyway. The primary players are large, powerful, wealthy countries that will never be invaded. If Iraq were large, powerful, wealthy, Saddam would have been allowed to invade Kuwait, and he would have gotten UN resolutions to justify his actions.

    Libya is a sovereign nation, but its leadership was deemed unfit to rule. Meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation is usually a big “no no”, but Kaddafi was removed. Why? Because Europe was able to use the UN and other legal arguments to justify their actions.

    The poor and weak cannot afford ideals, and they know how things really work. In shitholes around the world or in the US, people know they will get f*cked if and when the rich and powerful decide to f*ck them. Getting a bomb dropped on your head or having your house raided are expected in a shithole. They do not like it, but it is not unexpected.

    The legality of one’s actions often depends upon the wealth and power one possesses. The behavior of the primary players during the Cold War somehow seem to have avoided legal examination.

    The righteous indignation of people sitting in their Lazy-Boy recliner flipping through the cable channels is amusing. The world looks quite different depending upon where you are sitting. I suspect that the Iraqi mother has a vastly different definition of torture than yours. The Iraqi mother knows the Saddam version of torture, and it does not include standing naked with a bag over your head.

    Americans and Europeans toss around words that they have no concept of what the reality is. Being hungry is not the same as starving. Being told to stand in the corner is not the same thing as having your wife gang raped. Having your family blown up because a rich and powerful leader has been granted the power to kill anybody he deems unfit to live is not a legal debate.

  • jan

    The legality of one’s actions often depends upon the wealth and power one possesses.

    Man makes the laws. So, they are seen and implemented by man-made perspectives — usually that of the wealthy and powerful. And, as we are becoming more secular in nature, the callings of conscience, via a Higher Power, are having less influence by the day.

    I suspect that the Iraqi mother has a vastly different definition of torture than yours. The Iraqi mother knows the Saddam version of torture, and it does not include standing naked with a bag over your head.

    Yeah, embarrassing inmates by taking photos of them wearing panties, or playing loud, obnoxious music is worst than fingernail/genital/tongue removal, electric shock treatments?

    The righteous indignation of people sitting in their Lazy-Boy recliner flipping through the cable channels is amusing.

    ….meaning all the low-information voters who are exponentially growing here in the US.

  • jan

    Oh I forgot the waterboarding technique, creating the outcry of torture, that 3 people were documented as undergoing — one that, BTW, many special-ops soldiers have to experience as part of their training demands.

  • TastyBits

    @jan

    ….meaning all the low-information voters who are exponentially growing here in the US.

    Sorry. No.

    The “low-information voters” I know are well aware of the game being played. Their votes will never change anything. They do not have any power, and they do not have enough money to buy power. Like the poor and powerless everywhere, they know they do not count, but they would like to be f*cked less. It ain’t gonna happen, but we can dream.

    I was referring to the “high-information voters” who sit in the parlor debating about a world they have no knowledge. This applies to the left and the right.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: Libya is a sovereign nation, but its leadership was deemed unfit to rule.

    They were unfit to rule, and the opposition were more closely aligned with the people.

    jan: Yeah, embarrassing inmates by taking photos of them wearing panties, or playing loud, obnoxious music

    People died from torture in U.S. custody. Stress positions and the water cure are ancient tortures.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel

    For 363 years, the rule of law was that countries/nations were sovereign entities, and their internal affairs were not to be interfered by others. In 2011, this inconvenience was tossed aside, and a new rule of law has replaced it – Do what we say, or else.

    I am quite sure that the Somalians, Iranians, North Koreans, etc., etc., etc. are comforted knowing that anybody bigger than them can change their government on any trumped up charges, and I am equally certain the Americans, Europeans, Russians, and Chinese are making sure that their internal affairs are acceptable – lest they be invaded. Yeah, right.

    I do not know what is worse – the arrogance that one is better than everybody, or the belief everybody is too stupid to figure out the game. Everybody expects to be fucked by the big boys, but nobody deserves to be disrespected. Look a man in the eye and tell him you are going to fuck him over. He may not like it, but at least, you respect him as a man.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: For 363 years, the rule of law was that countries/nations were sovereign entities, and their internal affairs were not to be interfered by others. In 2011, this inconvenience was tossed aside, and a new rule of law has replaced it – Do what we say, or else.

    That’s hardly the first time. In any case, international law allows interventions for humanitarian reasons, among others.

  • Zachriel:

    I think the experience of the last several decades suggest that “humanitarian interventions” are, at root, doing things that would otherwise be banned under the guise of humanitarian impulse.

    Take the last two major examples. The bombing of Kosovo was never authorized by the UN. The intervention in Libya by the U. S., Britain, and France clearly went far beyond what was authorized by the UNSC. They were both outlaw actions but, since the participants included permanent members of the UNSC, what could be done about it?

  • Zachriel

    Dave Schuler: I think the experience of the last several decades suggest that “humanitarian interventions” are, at root, doing things that would otherwise be banned under the guise of humanitarian impulse.

    Perhaps, but your examples don’t support your contention as they both entailed humanitarian crises. A better example would be Iraq, but the world has largely judged that intervention harshly.

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