August 2008

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

« Foot again | Main | Blessed are the peacemakers »

April 06, 2004


Chris Lightfoot

I remain troubled by anyone who uses the term "weapons of mass destruction" seriously. As a category it is almost meaningless, because there is no comparison between the destructiveness of, on the one hand, nuclear bombs, and, on the other, chemical or biological agents.

This is relevant here because you discuss banned weapons in two quite separate contexts: firstly, with reference to the pre-1991 period, when Iraq came very close to building a nuclear bomb; and secondly, with reference to the period immediately before the late war, when Iraq, perhaps, experimented with some chemical and biological agents (not that there's much evidence for that, and in any case it doesn't look as if Iraq came close to solving the difficult problem of the dispersal of chemical and biological agents from ballistic missiles). It is notable that in the pre-1991 period, you refer to nuclear weapons specifically; afterwards you speak of "WMD", generically. It would be more convincing to explain exactly what type of weapons are supposed to be involved at each stage.

Another problem is your assertion that launching three disastrous wars in sixteen years is evidence that Saddam Hussein did not act as a "minimally rational political agent" and that therefore Cold-War-style deterrence was not an option. One can quibble over definitions, but there is a substantive difference between deterrence of the Soviet Union by the United States, and the attempted deterrence of Iraq by (say) Iran in the 1980s: during the period of US deterrence of the USSR, either the US was incalculably stronger than the USSR (before the USSR deployed its own long-range ICBM force, basically); or, the immediate consequence of war would have been the complete destruction of the Soviet Union and its opponent (at any point after that time). It is clear that Saddam did not see the consequences of his actions (or, at least, was very optimistic about them), but at times neither did the Soviet Union (for instance, in becoming mired in Afghanistan); nevertheless, deterrence at the global scale worked perfectly well in the latter case.

We do not know how Saddam would have reacted to deterrence by a nuclear power which guaranteed the utter destruction of Iraq and his régime in the event of war, because during the period that his wars of aggression were launched, there was no such power to deter him. That, in my view, makes the Soviet analogy rather unsound.

(Note that your statement that, "We [practised] containment of the Soviet Union because we had no option but to do so" is not true for the first part of the Cold War; up to the mid-1950s, a preemptive strike on the USSR could have been executed with relatively minor damage to the West. But, with the exception of a few extremists like Curtis LeMay, this was not felt to be a wise or practical course of action.)

Of course, none of this alters the fact that Saddam was a vile and barbarous man who murdered millions of people (and, had Iraq had become militarily effective or nuclear-armed, would likely have murdered millions more). That makes the war rather easy to justify on moral grounds; in that light, I don't see the point of obfuscation over deterrence and "weapons of mass destruction".

Chris Bertram

Oliver, thanks for your polite and careful post. I've read it through a few times and I think I'd summarise your claim thus:

A regime/state/people (which?) of a republican type has a duty to destroy a regime of a bestial type provided it can do so without (a) bringing about its own destruction in the process or (b) destroying the people subject to the bestial regime in the process.

Is that correct?

If it is then I'd offer the following observations and questions.

(1) I take it that you believe that the first Bush administration and the Thatcher government are far more morally culpable than, say, those citizens who merely opposed this more recent war? Unlike those citizens Bush (no. 1) and Thatcher had the opportunity to end the bestial regime and chose not to avail themselves of it.

(2) Do you really believe that ordinary citizens are under an obligation to support the initiation a war by a republican government against a bestial regime even when the leaders of that republican government are likely to wage the war with a high degree of incompetence? Your duty (if I've represented you correctly) is couched quite generally, but the question always has to be whether we support or oppose this action, at this time, under these circumstances, with these leaders.

(3) Do citizens have an obligation to support such a war if they reasonably believe that, as a consequence of the incompetence of those charged with its execution, one bestial regime will most likely be replaced by another, in fairly short order? And, perhaps, that the prospects for republican government are harmed elsewhere?

(4) According to the duty you set out, which other regimes are we currently under an obligation to remove (if the list is long a few specimens will do)? And are the leaders of republican states morally culpable for their failure to wage war to remove those regimes?

David Gillies

The American Heritage dictionary defines exemplary as follows:
1. Worthy of imitation; commendable: exemplary behavior.
2. Serving as a model.
3. Serving as an illustration; typical.
4. Serving as a warning; admonitory.

In all but sense (1), Iraq's cooperation with UNSCOM can indeed be said to be 'exemplary' and it is for precisely this reason that holy fools like Hans Blix should be shunned.

Ben Keen

Apropos Chris Bertram's point #4 above, a tangential two cents:

I've heard North Korea mooted a few times in the context of doing Iraq. I've always replied that we should do North Korea in an instant if it became at all possible. Iraq was possible to do in a way that NK just isn't, in terms of likely casualties. I think it's also morally imperative to do something in Sudan. The US military is rather busy now. Is there anyone else who could possibly do this?

Apropos point #3 and #2:

I think these are worthy concerns. But I think it's also worth being clear that there are two decisions being made here: A) whether the action to do Iraq is right with whoever is doing it ('forces of the free world' or some such) generic and in the background, and B) how, as a practical matter of speaking and in reality things are actually to be done.

My point of view is that it's dubious to leverage B as a reason to come to a different decision on A, and that in so doing one's making a moral compromise as Mr. Kamm has discussed. I don't see any reason why one can't first make a crystal clear decision on A, then work on matters B separately as they come up. I believe that if (say) a million people marched in the US and Europe demanding higher troop levels in Iraq, and if the citizens of European countries likewise pressed their leaders for effective engagement for the welfare of the Iraqi people, the outcome would be a lot better for everyone.

Too often I think that people argue B with such a high burden of proof (witness dsquared's requirement of the next 200 years of the history of the middle east to give thumbs up on this venture) that the principles inherent in A are rendered nugatory. I think Norm Geras has made just this point about 'procedural' objections to action --- there are always excuses to remain indifferent - are they going to be compelling in **every** realistic scenario?

Apropos #1:
Absolutely; this was a big mistake. The West in general made this mistake. Is there a mistake being made now in being indifferent to Sudan?

Jonathan Derbyshire

Chris, as far as I can see, the obligation Oliver appeals to is the one that all governments have to protect their citizens. He takes seriously, as other supporters of the war do not (something he acknowledges), the contention that Iraq had been and would be again a serious threat to this country and to the United States. Therefore your condition (2) would seem to be a subsidiary one for Oliver; that's why, presumably, he is careful to distinguish his position from the Ignatieff-Geras line.


I think Oliver is somewhat cautious when he sets his stall apart from Norm Geras et al... Just because some pro-liberationists chose the moral argument for war to expose the absurd fantasies of the Stopper movement, doesn't mean the moral argument was the be all and end all.

In fact it is a common strength of the pro-liberation argument that it would have always supported intervention over sanctions - if given the option.


Chris Bertram wrote: "(3) Do citizens have an obligation to support such a war if they reasonably believe that, as a consequence of the incompetence of those charged with its execution, one bestial regime will most likely be replaced by another, in fairly short order? And, perhaps, that the prospects for republican government are harmed elsewhere?"

Those citizens have no such obligation as long as they are honest enough to publicly declare their belief that SADDAM should reamin in power UNTIL a "more competent" US administration can be "charged with executing" Iraq's liberation.

Unless Iraq's liberation from tyranny is of less importance than a minor Iraqi Shia extremist being manipulated by Iran to divert attention from Iran's nuclear ambitions?

Furthermore, these citizens are obligated to demonstrate that they represent a CONSENSUS of "anti-war" opinion.

What people like Bertram are in denial about is the simple fact they CANNOT provide an ALTERNATIVE that has any hope of achieving more political consensus across the Coalition Govts. In fact, the "anti-war" movement couldn't achieve a consensus alternative within itself!


Now... don't you think it's time to lobby for a "competent" liberation?

Or should we just throw our hands up and withdraw apologetically?

Michael B

The charge leveled at Hitchens, et al is that of a facile ingenuity, attempting to have it both ways regardless of the circumstances. The key phrase by Bertram is: "If the people of Iraq are happy and peaceable (as claimed by some opinion pollsters) then this is supposed to vindicate the war; if they are rioting and murderous, then this also vindicates the war!" But this contrast per se represents little more than a skin-deep symptomatic analysis, an entirely false dichotomy is leveraged to question the liberation of Iraq via preemptive war. Hitchens, far from resting his argument on any contrivance, is thoughtful, well studied and evenly proportioned with his analysis.

Expectations were that a majority of Iraqis would welcome the overthrow of Hussein's Baathist regime while some factions would positively resist the overthrow. In the wake of April 9, 2003 polls reflected 70% of Iraqis feeling positive about Saddam's overthrow and their own future prospects.

More recently, as of last month, this poll reflects a total of just over 56% feeling either much better or at least somewhat better about their (current) condition relative to what it was like prior to the overthrow of Hussein. Better yet, when the question is asked as to how they feel about future prospects (in a year or two), the positives go up to over 70% feeling either much better or somewhat better, with only 3% feeling things will be "much worse" and another 3% feeling things will be "somewhat worse." Here (pdf) is the formal poll itself, the prior reference having been the BBC article about the poll.

Supplementing these findings, analysts such as Belmont Club's Wretchard and Victor Davis Hanson (article entitled "The Mirror of Fallujah") have similarly suggested, with supportive detail, that Fallujah and similar problems are reflective of highly divisive and contentious yet nonetheless marginal factions, not broadly based insurgencies.

If we would have found nothing but peaceful rural, town and city populations highly upset that we had overthrown Hussein, then that certainly would have shown that our entire motive for preemptive engagement was dubious, to put it mildly. But such is not the case, we are essentially dealing with what we expected, at least in general terms - the greater part of the population welcoming liberation and hopeful of future prospects with concomitant factional resentments and hostilities. Thus it is not Hitchens' analysis but rather a false dichotomy that represents the contrivance and the locus of the ingenuity, leveraged to contest and throw doubt upon the vindication of the preemptive war and on-going effort, during a particularly acute period that will test the coalition's resolve.


I agree wholeheartedly. To allow an inevitable danger to become imminent is the height of irresponsibility. Having more concern for the innocent bystanders of the opposing side than the innocent bystanders on your own is the height of moral relativism, or just pure seditious sentiment.

What exactly is a WMD anyway. The Mukhabarat killed anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 innocent civilians for political or ethnic reasons, an estimate carrying a margin of uncertainty the size of a burgeoning small city. Think every man, woman and child in Cambridge, and that's just the range of uncertainty in the estimate. If that isn't mass destruction, than what is?

Lily Toppenish

There is still only one WMD--the nuclear one--nothing else can kill so many so quickly and destroy so much infrastructure at one go. The strong, young fighters are killed almost as easily as the weak (unlike with say, Anthrax or the Mukhabarat).

Oliver and some of the other posters here explain it more eloquently than I can but it just seems so clear to me that the rationale for the war couldn't have been to actually find these weapons sitting in a warehouse but to prevent their acquisition. I suppose Bush and Blair could have made this clearer but it has always seemed self-evident to me. The way this issue is presented in the media just puzzles me.


One reason Blair didn't "make this clearer" was that he would never have got a pure regime-change policy through parliament, so he had to highlight the questions of WMD's. He may have believed that Saddam had all the material alleged; he may not: luckily for you lot, I am not the PM, so I don't know. I supported and still support the intervention, but I am curious about one thing: how do people who take a pro-war position justify, or rationalise, the death of many innocent Iraqis during the opening phases of a conflict (the "shock & awe" phase) which was of, shall we say, indeterminate legality (as acknowledged from Kofi Annan down)? Through an abstract moral calculus: better 10, 000 now than 50, 000 over the next 10 years? By not thinking about it? This is one of the issues that underpins the "moral" objection of anti-war protestors; it's the issue that won't, I think, go away easily.

Peter Briffa

Oliver, in what sense is/was Osama bin Laden a deontologist? Yes, I know you were kind of being flippant, but you were also kind of being serious.

Chris Bertram

What people like Bertram are in denial about is the simple fact they CANNOT provide an ALTERNATIVE that has any hope of achieving more political consensus across the Coalition Govts.

I'm not sure who "people like Bertram" are, but Bertram is, at any rate, not in denial about anything (I hope).

I am not now, nor was I ever, an unconditional opponent of the war. I regard many of the arguments put by the anti-war people as misguided or spurious. So, for example, the worries about legality seem to me to raise more questions about the current content of international law than they do about the rightness of the decision to go to war.

I believe that a more competent American government that was ideologically driven and less concerned by short-term issues of domestic political advantage would and could have played this very differently. They might have taken longer about it, but it would have been worth it. They could have built more of an international consensus and they could have planned properly for what would happen when Saddam fell. As things stand, with the actual war we had and have, Iraq stands on the brink of a vicious civil war. If things go as badly as I expect them to, then I believe we shall have to judge that this war was a mistake.

Dave F

Chris Bertram, your money paragraph doesn't bear examination. It implies to begin with that the Bush administration is not ideologically driven; but it is, and to a worrying degree. When it comes to war, give me a pragmatist (although I suspect the two are not reconcilable). Was Clinton's administration less concerned with short-term issues of domestic political advantage? The evidence indicates otherwise. Indeed I doubt any American president with a developed survival instinct could afford these days not to emphasis such concerns.

Clinton had no 9/11 on his watch, and his previous responses to threats or attacks on home soil had been pretty much gestures: a few missiles lobbed at al-Qaeda camps, a purported chemical factory bombed in Libya. I wonder what he would have done in Afghanistan?

His "policy" on Iraq was apparently "regime change". but he made no attempt (we know of) to pursue this at a time when the UN sanctions regime was hopelessly undermined and Saddam was openly rebuilding his military capacity, enriching himself and his clique and impoverishing the rest of the country.

No international consensus could have been built in the face of French and Russian self-interest, no matter how long any US government was prepared to take. Chirac was motivated by oil in a far more literal sense than Bush, since the French stood to lose billions in contracts in the event of such a conflict.

In the end it was a conservative government that toppled Hitler; was the outcome not worth it?

Yes, things did happen in a hurry, but that saved hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives -- Saddam thought his brinkmanship would work, and the rapidity of events took him by surprise. A protracted war and many more innocent lives would certainly have been the cost of long delay, however important the postwar planning might be.

Your surmise that the outcome will be thus worse -- civil war -- is a very big IF. I don't believe it, because most Iraqis know they are better off and want a decent government (even the Shia in the south would probably favour a largely secular regime, as evinced by results in recent local elections).

If you are wrong about that, the rest of the argument falls away.

Andrew Ian Dodge

Oliver, as per your norm, this is excellent post. I too have seen nothing to change more mind that the cause of the war was just. The fact that the Kurds are no longer under threat is just one of the many benefits. Course no one mentions the Kurdish parts unless something happens there.

Chris Bertram

Dave F: First, entirely my fault, I must have pressed the submit button without properly checking what I had written. What I meant to write was "a more competent American government that was less ideologically driven and less concerned ...."

So we agree on that point!

Not, I'm afraid on the fourth, sixth and seventh paras of your comment, though.

On consensus building: I think a less strident US administration could have done a great deal better than this one did. But, obviously, judgements differ on this.

On delay and the saving of Iraqi lives: the point is that all the planning went into the purely military phase and virtually none into working out what would happen once Saddam was ousted. That was a terrible miscalculation by the Pentagon. There's no reason whatsoever to believe your claim that things happening in a hurry "saved hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives".

I very much hope you are right about the danger of civil war. But I think it a mistake to reason from what most Iraqis want to what is likely to happen in the way that you do.


I believe that a more competent American government that was ideologically driven and less concerned by short-term issues of domestic political advantage would and could have played this very differently.

Chris, why don't you say what you really mean?

You're loathing of Bush means his administration can do nothing to please you.

When Bush was elected I was dismayed, but that didn't stop me making what I consider a principled stand with him on the issue of Iraq (and for that matter about Afghanistan). That said, I think some mistakes have been made, but the idea that Gore would have made less is frankly laughable.

It seems simplistic to think that the Iraq war was due to short-term thinking about domestic issues, on the contrary I think it shows some astute thinking about long-term strategic goals.


"In the end it was a conservative government that toppled Hitler; was the outcome not worth it?"

Is obviously false. In the US it was a Democrat Admnistration, in Britain it was a coalition government.

Even whether or not the war has saved lives is open to debate. By some estimates more Iraqis are being killed each month now than in Saddam's last few years.


On consensus building: I think a less strident US administration could have done a great deal better than this one did. But, obviously, judgements differ on this.

Could you explain to me how you would have got the French on board with a "less strident" attitude?


Well Anthony the French position was pretty clear and never ruled out the use of force if necessary.

I'm also puzzled by what the evidence of mass graves has to do with this war now. Everyone knew about the mass graves before the war, and they knew that the mass graves happened in two periods, both more than 10 years' ago. As Chris noted one of these was under Mrs Thatcher's government, which given she stood by while genocide happened makes her appearance as Oliver's 2nd best PM of all time odd.

Chris Bertram


Chris, why don't you say what you really mean?

You're loathing of Bush means his administration can do nothing to please you.

But this is just false. I backed them on Afghanistan, and in print too.

Chris Bertram

FWIW, Prospect carried a speculative article in a recent issue about how things might have turned out under Gore.

Dave F

Yes, Matthew, I certainly erred there.

But it was headed by a Tory "warmonger", and one who I believe was quite keen on biochem warfare ...



Thanks for the link to your article, although I have to say it makes your views on Iraq slightly difficult to understand.


Sometimes Prospect makes me laugh:"On 11th September 2001, Gore was touring General Motors' new plant for emissions-free cars"

Presumably, if Gore had been elected we would have developed fusion by November 2003, a cure for HIV by December and alleviated all hunger in the world by the spring. By now we would have been in Jetson style flying cars running on waste tofu.


I no longer visit CT, so it's a pleasure to have your comments here on this thread. Every one of your questions is one that I've asked myself in the course of determining the extent and the validity of my own support for the war.

In Hitchens' defense:

From the very beginning of the debate over this war, Hitchens has argued against the "realists" who feared the instability that would follow Saddam's overthrow. He has always claimed that the ethnic and sectarian strife we're seeing now was an intrinsic problem, only held in check by Saddam's barbarity.

I can't speak for the various bloggers who cite his WSJ article, but Hitchens is entirely consistent on this point. For years he has been arguing that Iraq would almost certainly go up in flames when Saddam's (or his sons') regime ended. Better for it to happen on our timetable, when the coalition can best deal with the regime's suicidal spasms and can deter (to some extent) the meddling of some of the world's most malevolent neighbors.

If the current chaos is truly an argument against Iraq's liberation, the moral implications are somewhat grim.
The burden is now upon the Kissingers and Scowcrofts (and their left-leaning anti-war counterparts) to say honestly, "we were safer and better off with Saddam's boot firmly on the neck of his restive population."


Dave is partially correct as to why the war was "hurried". Giving Saddam extra time in the face of the inevitable, just for the hopeless attempt to smooth some feathers in the UN, would only have worsened the conflict on all sides. Saddam may have been able to make preparations to drag Israel into the conflict, not to mention provoking the Turks to invade Kurdistan, and in general causing a regional chaos, which would create his elemental terrain. But a secondary reason is that a modern conventional mechanized invasion, such as the combined-arms 'blitzkreig' (inapt descriptor, but none better comes to mind at the moment) such as the one Franks conducted, simply couldn't bear the extra burden of full-summer desert heat. Three weeks would have turned into three months, and that was unacceptable to the pentagon for both force-protection, and the prevention of more such disasters as the Kuwaiti oil-fires of '91.

Time was of the essence, too many lives were at stake to wait on oiling egos of either unelected diplomats in the UN, unswayable leaders of enabling europeon nations, or the British parlaiment. When something in war is inevitable, delay only magnifies the suffering for all involved.

Martin Adamson

A couple of points: First, although a couple of people are blaming Margaret Thatcher for the failure of Gulf War I to remove Saddam, this is completely wrong - although she played in important part in stiffening US resolve during the preparations, Thatcher was deposed a couple of months before the war started. It was John Major who was in charge when the war was on and it was he who notoriously said, when the supposedly-decimated Republican Guards began slaughtering the Shias and Kurds "I don't recall asking them to start this particular uprising". Thatcher was, to my recollection, the ONLY major Western politician during the Spring of 1991 who argued AGAINST finishing the war as early as we did, and FOR going all the way to Baghdad. No-one ever gives her credit for this, though.

On the subject of whether WMDs are really massively destructive: well, fortunately, we only have a few instances of their use to go on. But remember that when Saddam ordered their use at Halabja in 1988, a couple of pilots flying light crop dusting planes were able to kill most of the population of a moderately sized town in an afternoon. By contrast, the Serbian massacres at Srebrenica (which killed roughly the same number of people using conventional weapons) required the total involvement of thousands of attackers and many tons of equipment for a long time - two or three years to impose the siege and break the will of the defenders, and then about a week to actually organise and carry out the massacres. This is why weapons of MASS destruction deserve the name - compared to conventional weapons, in the right circumstances, they work much more quickly, are much cheaper to acquire (if access to raw materials & equipment is possible), require far fewer users to be effective, make it much harder to prevent their use and once depolyed, make it much harder for the victims to escape.


Martin I think the point is that Mrs Thatcher did nothing in 1988.



It does seem that ability and accomplisment characterizations by the world's 'big media' can be a bit cartoonish at times, an excellent dressing down of the inventor of the internet. My only beef is your use of redundancy, i.e. 'waste' and 'tofu'.

Martin Adamson

Matthew: There was nothing she or anyone else could do, in the Cold War world of 1988, except to draw the right conclusions. When the oppurtunity for action came, in the post-Cold War world of 1990, she was alone in making the historically correct decision based on those conclusions.

Squander Two


I think you've missed a vital point on the issue of international consensus-building. It is true that the US administration could have garnered far more international support on the war, but you imply that they failed to do so. I don't think it was a failure: it was a huge success at demonstrating to the American people who were and who weren't their true allies. There are some extremely competent diplomats available to the US government, so I do not believe that, when they annoy a world leader, they do so accidentally. I thought it was clear from the start that Bush went to the UN not in order to gain the UN's approval, but to demonstrate what the UN was really like and thus destroy American public support for the UN, thus removing the need for the UN's approval. And it worked. I forget the exact poll figures, but the percentage of American people who believed that the US should not go to war without UNSC permission plummetted from a large majority to a minority during the protracted diplomatic wranglings, thus changing a non-UN-approved war from a vote-loser to a politically tenable position.


Martin of course there were things she could have done. She just didn't. In fact export guarantees were extended after Halabja .


"There are some issues in politics that are irreducible because they express our deepest values....a government in 1940 headed by Lord Halifax and aiming to settle with Nazi Germany in return for nominal sovereignty would have been the wrong course even if ... military defeat under Churchill was all but certain."
Principles are dangerous things. The losing side in a "total war" faces slavery or extermination...many might prefer death to slavery, but history suggests they would be a minority.
Where islamic fundamentalism is concerned, there is of course no possibility of a settlement with nominal sovereignty. The mullahs will engage in "total war" until they succeed or die. This is what makes nuclear proliferation the most important issue facing the Western democracies. I don't share Oliver's moral fervour but I certainly support his conclusion.


President Gore would have put the terrorists away for good- in a lockbox.

Apologies to folks not familiar with Darrel Hammond.


When I read arguments about what the opposition tot he war would have done, I wonder -- how far back are we supposed to go? Obviously, if we go back to the Clinton administration, the first thing that should have been done is to have undone the double shunning of Iraq and Iran. Detente with Iran was the first step towards producing the kind of refuge that would allow serious Iraqi resistance to Saddam. Since pro war people like to use absurd analogies to wwii to make their points, let's use an absurd analogy -- to be against appeasement of Hitler, in 1937, meant being realistically agreeable to allying with Stalin. Those who think that consequence could have been avoided are playing laughable games with history.

The idea that Saddam H. posed a serious threat to the US seems to rest on the invasion of Kuwait in 91, and the war against Iran in the 80s. Hmm, let's see -- that was ten to twenty years ago. The more serious datum is that Saddam could seriously encroach on Northern Iraq -- his own territory -- because of the US no fly zone. Saddam was weak and getting weaker. THe economy was in ruins. Ken Adelman was partly right -- as a war simply against Saddam, it was a cakewalk. Retrospectively, the full use of U.S. force, here, seems especially unnecessary. Moving from the P.O.V. of what was good or bad for Iraq to what was good or bad for the U.S., it was a dsiaster. Bush took troops from a needed war, against Al Qaeda, on the verge of setting back that terrorist organization for at least ten years -- and simply left it. Consequence? THe re-ignition of terrorist acts in the Mediterranean periphery has come much faster than the regrouping of Al Q after the embassy bombings.
It was a stupid decision, it made us vulnerable, and it proves that Clarke was right -- the Bushies never did get it. They all bought the idea, promoted out there in the rightwing swamps, that Iraq was like International communism -- behind the Oklahoma City Bombings! Behind the WTC attack of 93! Behind 9/11! These people are pathetic, and that they were allowed to influence policy beyond ranting in well funded lunches paid for by the AEI is, well, a pity.


Oops -- "couldn't seriously encroach..."


"It was a stupid decision, it made us vulnerable, and it proves that Clarke was right -- the Bushies never did get it. They all bought the idea, promoted out there in the rightwing swamps, that Iraq was like International communism -- behind the Oklahoma City Bombings! Behind the WTC attack of 93! Behind 9/11!"

That's one of the more absurd sentences I've read all week.

hmmmm....BTW, Ramsey Yousef took refuge in Iraq after the '93 WTC because.....[drumroll]......he was an Iraqi agent. Denial of facts doesn't bolster your position very much. Denying to yourself that Russia, france and germany were selling Saddam weapons on credit for oil futures, making patently irrelevant any reference to the Iraqi 'economy' as far as Saddam's ambitions are concerned, is just plain naive. The man was a king of terrorists, who advertised his support for terrorists with flair. Trying to rationalize him as unconnected to terrorism is sticking your head in the sand (and your ass in the air, if you'll pardon my french).


But remember that when Saddam ordered their use at Halabja in 1988, a couple of pilots flying light crop dusting planes were able to kill most of the population of a moderately sized town in an afternoon

Martin, this is rubbish. The chemical attack on Halabja was carried out using artillery shells. This is the only way of distributing most chemical agents used in warfare; spraying from a cropduster would be highly unlikely to achieve anything like the concentration you would need. Furthermore, Halabja in 1989 was the focus of a prolonged and vicious firefight between Iraqi and Iranian forces. This does not seem like the kind of conditions in which one would expect a sane military commander to send up a light, unarmored cropduster.

Iraq did use converted Bell helicopters which it had boughtfrom the US for "crop-dusting" as chemical weapons delivery systems, but these were not and could not have been the mainstay of its chemical weapons program.


Oliver, would you have supported the Vietnam War? It strikes me that, up until 1968, this would have fallen squarely into your criteria; the Vietnamese Communists could fairly have been described as a "bestial regime" and it certainly looked winnable without too many casualties among Vietnamese civilians.

After 1968, I suppose, you'd have been against Vietnam as it would have been clear that the cost in terms of Vietnamese lives was too high. But by then it would have been rather too late.


If I'm not mistaken, whatever about Oliver, Hitchens did in fact support the Vietnam war - from the Vietcong's side that is. Not sure what relevence that has though.


Vietnam was supportable until it was evident that the Chinese would intervene in a repeat of the Korean War, just as the Korean War was supportable until the Chinese came over the Yalu. Direct confrontation with the communist axis was not America's desire. In dealing with a militaristic, expansionist communist doctrine, containment was the narrow path between another devastating total war, and world-wide police-state oppression. Just because a rather selfish and stupid irate minority of people made Tet rise from the ashes of the utter failure it was, doesn't change what was the actual strategic situtation, Vietnam was containment. They didn't win, we lost, and I have no lack of contempt for those who enabled it.


So in other words, Vietnam was supportable until it became obvious that it was a horrendous mistake. I don't see why, therefore, you have such "contempt" for people who spotted that it was a horrendous mistake before their rulers did.


Firstly, I am not "ruled" by anyone. I pity you if you are.

You misinterpret what I'm saying. I never said the Vietnam war was a mistake, and I never said the Korean was either. I wouldn't dare to claim that mistakes weren't made in the execution of either war, but niether war was itself a 'mistake'. I said they were unsupportable, by which I mean this:

MacArthur saw the Korean war as "winnable", in the unconditional surrender terms of WWII. That is why he was removed in disgrace, nuclear possiblities made that mentality clearly wrong (MacArthur also wanted to be the one who escalated it to that level, pre-emptively flattening Chinese cities near the NoKor border if they decided to enter the conflict). Therefore, fighting a war with the goal of 'winning' was simply not going to work, particularly in the communist backyard. Truman's goal became containment, stalemate, the same thing as was developing in Europe. Fight the good fight through economics, diplomacy, and ideology. The fight would be longer, but the communists couldn't possibly win in the long run. Morality and ethics were not on their side.

LBJ did not understand that. He wanted to be aggressive, and to pound the NVA into submission. Instead of containment, he chose to try to win. So the North Vietnamese suddenly got an enormous subsidy from Beijing and Moscow. All fine and good, that had happened before, and the Korean stalemate should have been repeated.

Then Tet. Then the spreading of a series of propaganda lies by the KGB's many front organizations, enabled by the likes of Fonda and Kerry, and still believed by the gullible around the world to this day. Read up on your Ion Mihai Pacepa. The Vietam protestors didn't spot a mistake, they spotted a cheap chance to act self-reightous, with little or no grounding in fact (but a lot of grounding in marijuana smoke). With very little information, and much of what was available suspect, many arbitrarily decided that a genocidal police-state ideology had the moral high ground? The gall! Tell that to the Boat People and the Cambodians. [sarcasm]I'm sure they would agree any attempt to save them from communist mass murder was a "horrible mistake".[/sarcasm]

By your same reasoning, I'm sure the UN acted valiantly in watching the Tutsi slaughtered. It would have been a "horrible mistake" to intervene, no?


Timbeaux, your contention -- "Ramsey Yousef took refuge in Iraq after the '93 WTC because.....[drumroll]......he was an Iraqi agent .. fails the essential task of (drumroll) providing any evidence whatsoever. By your reasoning, I could prove that, for instance, fleeing frauds who take refuge in Belize were planted here by the Belizians, or that Robert Vesco was a Castro agent.

It is, of course, absurd to think that Yousef was a Iraqi agent. Somehow, my absurd assumptions are shared by... the FBI! the CIA! and anybody who has investigated the WTC 93 attack.

The theory stems from the feverish brain of Laurie Mylroie.

Peter Bergen’s story in the Washington Monthly picks apart Laurie’s fevered dream cruelly. It is here. The highlights:

“But Mylroie claims to have discovered something that everyone else missed: the mastermind of the plot, a man generally known by one of his many aliases, "Ramzi Yousef," was an Iraqi intelligence agent who some time after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 assumed the identity of a Pakistani named Abdul Basit whose family lived there. This was a deduction which she reached following an examination of Basit's passport records and her discovery that Yousef and Basit were four inches different in height. On this wafer-thin foundation she builds her case that Yousef must have therefore been an Iraqi agent given access to Basit's passport following the Iraq occupation. However, U.S. investigators say that "Yousef" and Basit are in fact one and the same person, and that the man Mylroie describes as an Iraqi agent is in fact a Pakistani with ties to al Qaeda.”

Here’s another bit from the article:

When Yousef flew to New York from Pakistan in 1992 before the bombing of the Trade Center, he was accompanied by Ahmad Ajaj, who was arrested at Kennedy Airport on immigration charges, and was later found to have an al Qaeda bomb-making manual in his luggage. Al Qaeda member Jamal al-Fadl told a New York jury in 2000 that he saw Yousef at the group's Sadda training camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border some time between 1989 and 1991. When Yousef lived in the Philippines in the early 1990s, his partner in terrorism was Wali Khan Amin Shah, who had trained in Afghanistan under bin Laden. A number of Yousef's co-conspirators had ties to a Brooklyn organization known as the Afghan Refugee Center. This was the American arm of an organization bin Laden founded in Pakistan during the mid-1980s that would later evolve into al Qaeda. Yousef's uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, sent him money for the Trade Center attack, and would later go on to become al Qaeda's military commander and the chief planner of 9/11. I could go on. The point is that the 1993 attack was plotted not by Iraqi intelligence, but by men who were linked to al Qaeda.

In addition to ignoring Yousef's many connections to al Qaeda, Mylroie is clearly aware that in 1995, he gave what would be his only interview to the Arabic newspaper al Hayat since she alludes to it in her book Study of Revenge. "I have no connection with Iraq," said Yousef to his interviewer, adding for good measure that "the Iraqi people must not pay for the mistakes made by Saddam."

Yes, Timbeaux, I'm sure I'm just parroting a line, here. Like those people who insist that the CIA assassinated Kennedy by cleverly positing midgets with blowdarts along the route in Dallas, there is no way of pursuading conspiracy theorists after a certain point. But supporters of the war against Iraq should seriously ask themselves: why is it that everybody agrees that Osama bin Laden was behind 9/11? And why does our very president, George Bush, deny that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11?


ps -- Timbadeaux, I think you are referring to Yasin, rather the Youssef. No record of Youssef taking refuge in Iraq, and the guy's in jail in the U.S. currently. Yasin, his co-conspirator, did flee to Iraq for refuge. Iraq gave it to him, then jailed him, according to the NYT.


Why was the Vietnamese Communist regime bestial?
Who do you think had the greater effect on the mindset of the early Khmer Rouge leaders, the NVA or the Americans? Who overthrew the Khmer Rouge? Who supported them for years afterwards because they couldn't be seen to side with the Vietnamese? What do you know of Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese government's history? Have you ever been to Vietnam? What's your reading list on the subject?

I'll give 10-1 odds that you're an impostor with little or no evidence to back up what you say.

I want answers Timbeaux.



Are you an apologist for the communist North Vietnamese?

Michael B

huw, it would be prudent to choose a tactic that is rather common among the hard and soft Left: that of a sterile avoidance.

Why were the Vietnamese Communists beastial? They killed tens and even hundreds of thousands in mass purges, reminiscent of Stalinist and Maoist tactics, and they evidenced that prior to as well as during and after the period where America was involved in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was a Soviet and Stalinist player and a doctrinaire Marxist/Leninist from the 1920s and then forward, without letup or exception. He was a founding member of the French communist party and kowtowed obediently to Stalin in the Soviet Union during the 1930s.

Ho Chi Minh was far removed from the simple, romanticized nationalist he was portrayed as by the lies of the Left. For example there were other Vietnamese vying for primary leadership roles in the North; Ho prevailed precisely because he waged purges and assassinations against those other prospective leaders, not because he was simply a popular figure whom the majority in the North desired. Ho also instituted a campaign of repression and terror against the peasantry of the North, modeling this repression after Stalin's and Mao's own programs. Ho fashioned his cult of personality after the propaganda machines in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China, not at all dissimilar to some of the methods employed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The "reeducation camps" of Vietnam were modeled after Mao's own camps and after the gulags of Stalin.

Still further the insurgent war against the South's govt. never was primarily indigenous to the South, it always was controlled from the North, the same North where Marxist/Leninist doctrine and Stalinist and Maoist tactics were used. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia were dominantly Maoists from beginning to end.

Your own questions are begging and even demanding highly presumptive "root causes" types of answers, answers supplied by popular Leftist lies and distortions, not by the historical complexities and facts. The French and Japanese eras complicate the picture as well, unquestionably. Later, mistakes were certainly made in Vietnam during the Cold War, sometimes huge mistakes, but it still took place within the broader context and overall set of strategies of that war against Soviet imperialist and totalitarian aggression.

Lan Nguyen


Lay down your questions. You ain't know crap about Vietnam war by the way you asked.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Don't get side track of Vietnam war. That subject belongs to different time with different issue. The issue Chris &
Oliver are making are more important at this moment.

Chris Bertram,

I admire the way you put things and that should be the way we should discussed. And I also believe you miss the point that Oliver clearly state the reason which also the reason I subscribed to. That is

"...The reason it was so important that we invade Iraq and topple Saddam was – just as Tony Blair said – weapons of mass destruction: not because Saddam had them, but because he didn’t have them (at least in the form in which they were strategically usable) and wanted them..."

I would futher add, the uncertainty caused by Saddam character plus the fanatism of Muslim extremists prompted me to take side. Assume we are at 2 loci
1) Before 9/11: I would think it's crazy to attack Afghanistan let alone Iraq, even though plenty of information has link some relationships between the terrorists with Afghanistan and Iraq.
2) After 9/11: It's obvious that I was wrong before 9/11 on the subject of terrorism and its determination to bring destruction to us. That event changes the outlook and hence the reaction to proaction.

The really difference between us is how we place the important of facts and events to further our action. We believe the time is now to act before it's too late while you believe it's not that urgent. From that difference, 2 different routes taken and because Bush is at the helm, war is taken. If Gore is at the helm, I've no doubt that other route would taken (and I voted for Gore, if it means anything to you) and you would hear us bitching like you. That is without the aid of hindsight of knowing of what in store for us in the future as many folks in the anti-war crowd currently make to retrofit their past knowledge as if they've KNOWN. That is if you put me back to Dec 2003, I will make exactly the same decision.

Anyway, it's good to hear a voice of reason a the crowd that I thought has gone insane.

Lan Nguyen

1)I made mistake. It should be Dec 2002 not Dec 2003.

2) I concede that the toppling of Saddam Hussein could bring a strategy mistake to convince Iran to pursuit agrresively nuclear weapons. Aggressively is the issue, not that they are not pursuing it. Whether they will pass that to the extremists, it is the million dollars question for all of us without the aid of hindsight.

The comments to this entry are closed.