September 27, 2004
Orin Kerr's Challange
Orin Kerr today presented a challange for prowar bloggers. He asks three questions about how to judge the Iraq war a success and will try to link to responses he gets. Here is my response with his questions in Italics:
First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?
Yes. Before the war Iraq was defying the international community, harboring and funding terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and was a threat to its neighbors. Most importantly it was defying the U.S. and the cease fire it had agreed to. That status quo was not acceptable and the coalition containing Iraq was weakening. Plus there was the Oil for Food Scandal that we know in hindsight now was a travesty for Iraqi civilians and was allowing Saddam to strengthen himself and bribe world leaders. I am one of those who believe George H. W. Bush screwed up by not overthrowing Saddam’s regime when he had the chance and that overthrowing the Baathists was more important than just liberating Kuwait with a big coalition.
That does not even get into the neo-conservative argument that it was necessary to establish a democratic foothold in the Arab world to ensure a long term just peace or most of the humanitarian arguments, which I agree with to some extent as well.
Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?
They scare me, but not for the reasons you might think. The news media has been crying wolf about quagmires since about day three of the war. They understand Vietnam, but that is the only war the news media seems to understand. I suspect this time there might actually be a wolf, but it is hard to be sure since the news has been hysterical and without perspective for so long. A lot of the reason I am scared is because I fear the reaction of the American people to a long slow war. We cut and run in Somalia over one battle that we ended up winning and now people want to cut and run from Iraq with under a 1% fatality rate for our troops. What will happen if the U.S. ever faces a Gettysburg, Omaha Beach, Iwo Jima, or even a Tet offensive again? Those are all battles the U.S. won, but not without fairly heavy casualties. And in the cases of Gettysburg, Omaha, and Iwo Jima we may have had to win these battles to survive as a nation and those battles all had fatality rates in or near the double digits. Around 10% of the marines who attacked Iwo Jima died. About 21% of Union forces at Gettysburg died.
The thing is, I never thought we would be doing this well. I believed that our losses would be in the thousands by this point. I started reading military history books shortly before 9/11. I finished reading the Pity of War on September 9, 2001 and was very thankful that our country was not at war now. I guess my reaction is: go read some history books if you think this is a war going badly. Read books about Vietnam if you want to, but do not stop there. Read books about the two world wars, the civil war, the American revolution, the Punic wars, the Napoleonic wars, and any other war you can think of. Read these books and you will learn that minor setbacks are inevitable in war and that by any rational historical analysis this war has gone decently.
Here is an Andrew Sullivan quote from one of his less hysterical days that sums up my thoughts well: 'If someone had said in February 2003, that by June 2004, Saddam Hussein would have been removed from power and captured; that a diverse new government, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, would be installed; that elections would be scheduled for January 2005; and that the liberation of a devastated country of 25 million in which everyone owns an AK-47 had been accomplished with an army of around 140,000 with a total casualty rate (including accidents and friendly fire) of around 800; that no oil fields had been set aflame; no WMDs had been used; no mass refugee crises had emerged; and no civil war had broken out... well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary success.'
Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?
The main criteria should be: Is Iraq defying the international community and the U.S., harboring and funding terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction, or threatening its neighbors? Note these are the justifications I used for the first question. According to these justifications the war has been for the most part a success and if they are true, lets say five years from now, we can count the war a success. Maybe you could quibble with the "harboring terrorist" part because there now may be more terrorist in Iraq than before the war, but the Iraqi government is trying to kill them not support them. The secondary criteria deal with areas of stability and long term humanitarian and governmental issues for Iraq. Elections would be the first measure of success. If five months from now Iraq has had elections that went decently, then that is a measure of success. If, five years from now, Iraq has had multiple decent elections that is another good criteria. The other issue is the humanitarian. There are probably more Iraqi civilians alive today than there would be if Saddam had remained in power. If a major humanitarian crisis occurs in the next few years (i.e. hundreds of thousands starving to death) than that can be judged a failure.
I guess my main point here is that no war is a complete success or perfect. Wars are successful by degrees. Pretty much everyone thinks WWII was a success or at least worth the sacrifice even though it left tens of millions on both sides dead, cost more than any other war ever in money, left large parts of Europe and Asia in ruins, the allied side lost a lot of battles and made even more errors, and when it was all over the Communists controlled a bigger chunk of the world than ever before. That is because WWII ended the Fascist rule of large sections of the world and more of the world was free than otherwise would have been if the fascists had won. Not perfect, but good enough and worth it.
Posted by Pete at September 27, 2004 11:17 AM
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» Interim Report -- Day 1 of the Blogosphere Challenge: from The Volokh Conspiracy
I've received lots of great responses to my three questions about Iraq. In case you haven't seen the initial post, here are the three questions I posed to the the pro-war blo... [Read More]
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