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Commenting on the controversies

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October 2, 2002

Michael Kinsley expresses the despair of the honest moderate at stampeding irrationality:
Let’s pretend we actually do have some role in deciding whether our nation goes to war. How should we go about it when our leaders don’t come PR-ratified by democracy and when crucial information for an independent decision is unavailable to us? We aren’t capable of answering the actual questions at hand: Is Saddam Hussein an imminent threat to our national and personal security, and is a war to remove him from power the only way to end that threat? So, we must do with a surrogate question: Based on information we do have and issues we are capable of judging, should we trust the leaders who are urging war upon us?

The answer to that last one is easy. The Bush administration campaign for war against Iraq has been an extravaganza of disingenuousness. The arguments come and go. Allegations are taken up, held until discredited, and then replaced. All the entrances and exits are chronicled by leaks to the Washington Post. Two overarching concepts97”terrorism” and “weapons of mass destruction” (or “WMD” as the new national security document jauntily acronymizes)97are drained of whatever intellectual validity they may have had and put to work bridging huge gaps in evidence and logic. […]

To be sure, the fatuous hypocrisy of the Bush case for war is no reason to let Saddam Hussein drop a nuclear bomb on your head. Iraq may be an imminent menace to the United States even though George W. Bush says it is. You would think that if honest and persuasive arguments were available, the administration would offer them. But maybe not.

[07:05 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Michael Kinsley:

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 10:54 AM:

I think Kinsley is missing the point.

If we actually had hardcore evidence the question would then be moot. If Iraq clearly had WMD programs in place, we would take action to dismantle them. If they were free of WMDs we could lift sanctions and everyone would be happy.

The point is: we don't know. And the impetus of proof is not upon the US, or the UN, or any body other than Iraq. *They* have to demonstrate the evidence (or lack thereof) to the world. It is not up to the US to provide a smoking gun. It is up to Iraq to throw open the cellar doors and let everyone see that there is no gun.

Here's some sanity from the left:
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/allnews/page.cfm?objectid=12227453&method=full&siteid=50143

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 12:37 PM:

War is a serious undertaking, and if the Bush administration wants to go to it, they most certainly do have to justify their actions to the American people, and that means making their case with actual evidence, and not just handwaving and bluster.

Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 12:50 PM:

I think Derek James is missing the point. Spectacularly. (And one wonders how ingenuously -- this is focus shifting, from an argument one can't win, to a completely different argument. "Hey, I'll look for that lost dime in the bowling alley, the light's better there!")

Kinsley is discussing the decision-making process of the American people in evaluating the case for *declaring war*, not deciding whether or not Saddam is armed, per se. The onus of evidence, when someone is trying to make a case for war, is on the party trying to make the case. Not on the putative enemy. The burden of proof is particularly heavy when, as now, the case is to be made for pre-emptively striking another country. This is an unprecedented move we're contemplating here. One with potentially huge consequences. It is our actions as a nation that need to be weighed and evaluated, and chosen with care and good information. That is not Saddam's job. It's ours, and our President's. And Kinsley's point, that our President has not done a convincing job of making the case for so grave a step, still stands.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 02:31 PM:

Ulrika wrote: "And one wonders how ingenuously -- this is focus shifting, from an argument one can't win, to a completely different argument."

So you start out by calling me intellectually dishonest. Nice.

"Kinsley is discussing the decision-making process of the American people in evaluating the case for *declaring war*, not deciding whether or not Saddam is armed, per se."

Per se, huh? Are you honestly saying that the one doesn't have anything to do with the other?

"The onus of evidence, when someone is trying to make a case for war, is on the party trying to make the case. Not on the putative enemy."

"Justification" is a better word than "evidence" in this context. The justification then, is Iraq's utter noncompliance with 11 years and 16 UN resolutions for disarmament. Thus, the "give diplomacy a chance to work" arguments should rightly sound ludicrous. If diplomacy isn't exhausted after over a decade of stonewalling and a fistful of resolutions, when exactly is it? Let's give Iraq a decade more and another dozen resolutions. I'm sure they'll come around.

Dave Trowbridge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 04:07 PM:

The justification for a pre-emptive and largely unilateral war that will put the lives of thousands of Americans at risk is not, and cannot be, Iraq's "utter noncompliance with 11 years and 16 UN resolutions." Instead, the justification needed is that Iraq poses an immediate threat to the security of the United States, upon which Iraqs defiance of the UN has little bearing. And the administration hasn't proven that, although it is a proposition that can be argued from some of the evidence available.

The only way the first reason can be used to justify going to war is if the war is prosecuted under the auspices of the U.N.--which opinion polls appear to show is increasingly the will of the American people.

Frogman ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 04:08 PM:

Derek wrote: "The justification then, is Iraq's utter noncompliance with 11 years and 16 UN resolutions ...".

Do you doubt that this is a flag of convenience for this administration (Hint: google something like "U.N. resolutions israel borders" to see how seriously we take the U.N.) ?

The point would seem to be that we can and have contained vastly greater threats than Saddam (Pakistan, anyone ?). Pre-emptive war would be a radical departure from precedent even in far graver circumstances than we find ourselves now. Consider the facts as we know them: Iraq has no fissile materials, could not launch against the U.S. even if it did have them, and is apparently not of grave concern to those countries it could hit (Israel possibly excepted, but then Israel can take care of itself pretty well).

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 05:04 PM:

I find it at least rhetorically interesting that the last two comments quoted my portion "utter noncompliance with 11 years and 16 UN resolutions" but both left off the last two words, "for disarmament".

No, Dave...I don't think the issue is compliance as a matter of principle. If Iraq wasn't complying with 16 UN resolutions regarding the export of cheese, we wouldn't really have quite the same level of interest. And no, Frogman, I don't think it's a "flag of convenience" either.

I agree with Dave that military action should be taken under the auspices of the UN. Unfortunately, I don't think the UN has the resolve. I don't agree that we have to necessarily prove that Iraq is an "immediate threat". Again, Iraq has to demonstrate, through cooperation and compliance, that they are *not*.

Frogman wrote: "Consider the facts as we know them: Iraq has no fissile materials, could not launch against the U.S. even if it did have them, and is apparently not of grave concern to those countries it could hit (Israel possibly excepted, but then Israel can take care of itself pretty well)."

These are "facts as we know them"? How do you know *any* of this, with any degree of certainty?

Dave Trowbridge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 08:46 PM:

Derek: you write

"I don't agree that we have to necessarily prove that Iraq is an 'immediate threat'. Again, Iraq has to demonstrate, through cooperation and compliance, that they are *not*."

To me, that's a very frightening formulation: a kind of malign "Napoleonic Code" for international relations: guilty until proven innocent, or "prove that you're no threat to us or we'll hammer you flat."

We (the international community) have had a system in place since the Peace of Westphalia that has steadily evolved towards an international "rule of law," a cornerstone of which is that preventive (or pre-emptive--I won't argue the distinction here) war must be justified by the most stringent conditions, based on the realization that without that restriction we're back to a Hobbesian state. Are we willing to tear that edifice down, when a little work, a little additional pressure on the UN, might give us the sanction that would preserve that structure?

Again, if there's good evidence that Iraq is an immediate threat to us, then war it must be whether the UN likes it or not. And if it's shown that Iraq is a threat to the international order (which I think its defiance certainly shows), then a war under UN auspices is appropriate.

But the point is, as Kinsley says, that the case for unilateral, pre-emptive war so far is one of "fatuous hypocrisy." The Bush administration must do better. Too much is at stake: not only our national security, but our political health as a democratic republic, and the viability of the international order.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 09:13 PM:

Dave...is the essential catch-22 quality of the situation completely lost on you?

We're supposed to prove that they're trying to develop WMD, but they won't let the internation community verify whether they're developing them or not. Hmm...how is this not lunacy?

You write: "To me, that's a very frightening formulation: a kind of malign "Napoleonic Code" for international relations: guilty until proven innocent, or "prove that you're no threat to us or we'll hammer you flat."

What exactly is *your* formulation? Inaction, turning a blind eye to a madman stockpiling nukes...that is a frightening formulation.

And we're not talking about putting the same ultimatum to Kenya or Peru, for goodness sake. Iraq is on probation (by the international community, not by us). Felons aren't allowed to own firearms...Iraq? Same deal. It isn't the US that's demanding an airing out of the cellars...it's the international community (unless all those resolutions were simply pointless PR...were they?).

Every nation doesn't have to prove that they're not an imminent threat.

Iraq, because of their history, because they *lost* the Gulf War, because Hussein is a megalomaniacal madman, does.

bettina ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 09:36 PM:

I don't agree that we have to necessarily prove that Iraq is an "immediate threat". Again, Iraq has to demonstrate, through cooperation and compliance, that they are *not*.

Last time I checked, the most significant lack of cooperation in the inspection negotiations was coming from the U.S., which has promised to "thwart" any agreement not to its liking. As far as the onus being on Iraq to prove it's not a threat -- y'know, my neighbor has a pretty long rap sheet, he yells at his wife a lot, and he's been unbelievably rude to me. In fact, he scares me. If I shoot him dead on the sidewalk, is the Bush Doctrine a valid defense?

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 11:36 PM:

I'm not sure I've ever seen any hard evidence that Saddam Hussein is a "megalomaniacal madman," as opposed to, say, a ruthless, evil, tyrant who happens to be perfectly sane.

And the question of this guy's sanity is kind of central to the doctrine that says that he will not be deterred by the certainty that his country will be the target of much more sophisticated weapons of mass destruction than his tinpot little country is ever likely to be able to muster if Iraq somehow managed to mount or support a damaging attack against the US or any of its main allies. Or Russia and its allies, or pretty much anyone else anywhere else.

So if Saddam Hussein is insane, can somebody point me to some supporting evidence for it so that I can convince myself?

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 11:36 PM:

Pre-emption is not a new idea. Nor is it uniquely American. Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada and Lyndon Johnson's of the Dominican Republic were pre-emptive strikes, as was Winston Churchill's attack on the French fleet in 1940.

For an interesting and opposing view to Kinsley's, I found this at Financial Times (via John Ellis).

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2002, 11:41 PM:

Bob, Mark Bowden's article in the May issue of the Atlantic: Tales of the Tyrant is pretty hairy.
You're right. He's sane, and probably quite willing to go down in Arab history as the man who destroyed Israel.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 01:54 AM:

One thing which keeps not coming up in the Iraq coverage which I see and hear is that Iraq threw out the UN inspectors in 1998 because the US and Britain had infiltrated the supposedly neutral UNSCOM inspection teams and used them as cover to spy on Iraq.

Documentation of the spying can be found here, and that it was at least a pretext for the expulsion can be found here.

Given that, after 1997, UNSCOM was funded exclusively by Iraqi oil sales, the US government was effectively using Iraq's own money to spy on Iraq. While this certainly has a poetic charm to it, I find it hard to believe that the US government actually expected this situation to last. And now that the US government has corrupted the UNSCOM process, it's hard to believe that the rest of the world should take us seriously on anything the US says about Iraq's weapons programs.

Further, it's the height of chutzpah for the US government to complain that we don't know what's going on in Iraq, so we have to attack, given that US criminal activity is the major reason why we don't know what's going on in Iraq.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 07:14 AM:

Iraq hawks should note that Kevin Maroney's post, above, isn't an argument against making war on Iraq, but rather a comment on one of the several reasons the rest of the world might not be leaping to support us if we do.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 09:08 AM:

Kevin M.: I followed the link to FAIR, which had hyperlinks over "New York Times" and "Washington Post", so I click on those and it takes me to another FAIR index of articles. Basically, in my short time of exploration, never found a link that went outside of their page. Why in the hell don't they just link to the articles in question? I'm supposed to hunt them down on my own to verify their veracity?

Anyway...please answer this simple question: Aren't weapons inspections, by their very nature, spying? If not, please explain why.

Could anyone else on this list also please explain: Why would anyone who knows anything about Saddam Hussein be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt?

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 12:01 PM:

Derek: I assume that Fair doesn't link to the Times and Post articles because they're behind a pay-per-view firewall; any articles from those papers which are more than two weeks old cannot be viewed for free. And copying the entire text, as Global Policy did, is technically illegal.

I'm not sure whether weapons inspection is inherently spying. The fact remains that the US and Britain had spies in UNSCOM who were gathering information outside of UNSCOM's defined mandate and sending that information back to the US, which Iraq viewed, rightly, as a violation of the UN mandates which we're claiming as justification for attack.

Why would anyone be willing to give Hussein the benefit of the doubt? Perhaps because the alternative seems to be killing a lot of people and giving political and moral support to terrorists?

Dave Trowbridge ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 12:10 PM:

One minor correction to Kevin assertion about the 1998 "expulsion" of inspectors. They were not expelled, they were withdrawn because Iraq ceased to cooperate and the U.S. decided to bomb as punishment.

But I'd come down on the side of weapons inpection as bombing. Anyway, at this point, I don't see much legitimacy in Saddam's regime--he's certainly demonstrated his unfitness to run a country--so there is a sense in which he does need to demonstrate that he doesn't have any CBN aces up his sleeve. I'm just not sure that those aces present a clear and present danger to the U.S. right now, and thus lean towards continuing to work with the U.N., for the time being.

Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 12:15 PM:

Derek:

"So you start out by calling me intellectually dishonest. Nice."

Hum. Disingenuous, I believe it was. Engaging in argument tactics that appear forthright, but in fact are not. You may well be using them because you don't know better, copying people who use them consciously. I can't answer for that. But the tactic is dishonest. If you don't like me calling you on it, don't use it.

"Per se, huh? Are you honestly saying that the one doesn't have anything to do with the other?"

I am honestly, and quite correctly, saying that the two are not equivalent, and that therefore reducing the one to the other, as you did, is an instance of refocussing the argument. Hussein being armed to the teeth may be a *necessary* condition for declaring war on him, but it isn't a *sufficient* one. Therefore, equating the complex question of whether to declare preemptive war to the simpler one of the state of Iraqi disarmament, is taking the argument from where Michael Kinsley was, to somewhere altogether different.

(If having WMD's (nevermind the suspicion of same) were sufficient casus belli, we'd already be at war with Pakistan and Korea, at the very least. We *know* they have nukes, and delivery systems for remote targets.)

"The justification then, is Iraq's utter noncompliance with 11 years and 16 UN resolutions for disarmament."

Very weak. For one thing, you admit we don't actually know if he's complied with disarmament requirements. You're the one who says it's up to him to prove it. But if he has to prove it, that means we don't know. But you say his non-compliance is justification enough. Only trouble is, we don't have that justification, *because* we don't know. And, according to the Administration, we're not all that interested in finding out.

Also, if non-compliance to UN resolutions were sufficient casus belli, again, Iraq would hardly be the first item on the agenda. Which sort of implies that this isn't a sufficient reason to declare war, either.


Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 12:54 PM:

I have been wandering about the net, forlornly trying to get answers to a couple basic questions about this Iraq situation. Perhaps Derek, who is so determined to defend the Bush policy, could help enlighten me:

I begin by accepting the propositions that Saddam has WMD, is trying to acquire fissile materials, and is a threat to the world order.

1) If it's so desperately urgent to attack Iraq because of these propositions, then why wasn't it equally urgent to do so during the last 12 years, during which Saddam was all of these things as much as he is now?

It can't be because Saddam was responsible for 9/11, since he wasn't. And discredited claims by the administration that he was are not encouraging us to trust their judgment.

It can't be because 9/11 showed the US that it was vulnerable to foreign attack. The rest of us figured that out in 1941.

It can't be because that weakling Clinton was in power, because the Bushes were also in power immediately before 9/11 and back in the Gulf War days, during which the senior Bush deliberately refrained from toppling Saddam by main force.

2) Why are we not applying the same principle to M. Qaddafi of Libya? Here is a dictator far more evidently a madman than Saddam H. (I fondly recall an editorial cartoon depicting "Qaddafi Duck") and who actually did sponsor a terrorist attack against the US, which Saddam has not been shown to do. For which - this was Lockerbie, whose victims were largely Americans, if you're not sure what I'm referring to - Qaddafi's agents have been pursued by the international court system.

In his day as Dictator of the Week, Qaddafi was decried in terms as strenuous as used against Saddam today. Yet he's not even on Bush's Axis of Terror list. Why not? And whatever happened to neutralize him, why can't we use it on Saddam? He couldn't be neutralized very quickly, of course, but then Qaddafi wasn't neutralized quickly either.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 01:18 PM:

Simon,

To your first question, may I suggest this?

To your second question, the only answer I can offer is that Qaddafi, while crazy, isn't in the Hitler bunker mentality mode that Saddam seems to be in (see that Atlantic article I linked to above). I get the impression that he (like Syria) takes Bush seriously about the axis of evil and doesn't want to be on the list. Whether this has amounted to actual cooperation in diplomatic channels I don't know.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 01:36 PM:

Ulrika writes: "Hum. Disingenuous, I believe it was. Engaging in argument tactics that appear forthright, but in fact are not. You may well be using them because you don't know better, copying people who use them consciously. I can't answer for that. But the tactic is dishonest. If you don't like me calling you on it, don't use it."

So now it's "possible" that I'm simply an ignorant parrot of sorts. *Perhaps* your continued implications are disingenuous, borderline ad hominem remarks that take us further afield from the points at hand than anything I might have said so far. And if you don't like being called on such sloppy "argumentation", perhaps you should know better.

By the way, did you actually *read* the Kinsley article that PNH linked to? He was very much citing lack of evidence of Iraq's WMD capabilities as lack of justification for military action. Kinsley is arguing that justification for military action against Iraq is based "on facts". My original point directly took this position to task. We cannot know the "facts", "Iraq's military capacities and intentions" for the simple fact that Iraq is not complying with international will to reveal them (though their failure to do so *does* belie, to a certain extent, their intentions). As for their WMD capability? We can't know...and this is the fundamental catch-22 that few critics seem capable of acknowledging.

"Therefore, equating the complex question of whether to declare preemptive war to the simpler one of the state of Iraqi disarmament, is taking the argument from where Michael Kinsley was, to somewhere altogether different."

I wasn't equating them, but rather saying they were intimately related. But let's focus then on what you call "the simpler [issue] of the state of Iraqi disarmament." I very much want to hear from anyone on this list who has an alternative plan to disarm Iraq. I'm not, incidentally, a hawk. Violence should always be a last resort. Why does no one see this instance as one of last resort? Ten years of noncompliance and over a dozen failed, toothless resolutions. What exactly is the good of a resolution without consequence?

What political, economic, or diplomatic options are left when dealing with Iraq now? Perhaps fifteen years ago, economic sanctions could be seen as a nonviolent way of putting pressure on countries that defy international will. Who here would be willing to defend sanctions as non-violent means to bring about compliance from Iraq?

Again, if this is not a last resort, what is? Another decade of noncompliance? How many more resolutions? Only the threat of military action has spurred Iraq to "welcome back" the inspectors. He's been playing Kofi Annan like a damned yo-yo. Resolutions with no consequences are *not* going to get Iraq to comply, and they aren't going to do it simply out of the goodness of their hearts.

So I ask again: What should be done?

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 01:48 PM:

Simon wrote: "Perhaps Derek, who is so determined to defend the Bush policy, could help enlighten me."

I'll give it a try. Look, don't get me wrong...I have a strong dislike for most of Bush's political positions, and I'm not particularly fond of him as a person, either. But on this issue, I think his policy is sound.

"1) If it's so desperately urgent to attack Iraq because of these propositions, then why wasn't it equally urgent to do so during the last 12 years, during which Saddam was all of these things as much as he is now?"

We were busy exhausting our diplomatic efforts, weren't we? Have we exhausted them yet?

"2) Why are we not applying the same principle to M. Qaddafi of Libya?"

Why is it several people in this thread have accused me of "pointing over there", away from the issue at hand? I see many more "arguments" of this sort: "Well yeah, Saddam is bad and everything, but what about [fill in with another country or a polemic about American hypocrisy]."

The main reason is that the sacrosanct internation will that everyone invokes has determined (at least on paper) that Iraq needs to comply. Why is this not good enough?

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 04:18 PM:

Thank you, John and Derek.

John writes, To your first question, may I suggest this?

Uh, my question was, why do we need to topple Saddam right now, but not before? This article justifies our right to attack Iraq on the basis of UN resolutions from 1990-91, which have been around for a while, and the UN Charter, which has been around even longer. So that doesn't answer my question. (This also raises another question: why, in that case, does Bush treat unilateralism as a superior option?)

The article also mentions 9/11, not in terms of the fallacies I mentioned earlier, but in terms which, on a quick reading, tend to suggest that the author considers 9/11 to be sufficient justification for the US to pre-emptively attack anybody, on any pretext, who threatens US security.

Wow. I wouldn't have thought it possible for anyone to overstate the tragedy of 9/11, but that does it. Vigilante justice, lashing out blindly, etc. Conservatives rightly call this sort of thing the fetishizing of victimization when liberals do it. If the US wants to make the entire world despise it as pathetic whingers, that's the way to do it. It'd be quite a coup, too, to throw away world sympathy like that, considering what a tragic low dirty blow 9/11 actually was.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though, at this attitude, since Eric Raymond posted on his weblog, a couple weeks ago, a staggeringly inane essay claiming that the solution was for the US to re-invent colonial imperialism and take over the entire world. Like, that helped the British so much.

John also writes, To your second question, the only answer I can offer is that Qaddafi, while crazy, isn't in the Hitler bunker mentality mode that Saddam seems to be in.

Qaddafi was certainly perceived as having that bunker mentality back when he was Dictator of the Week. He was also perceived as much more insane that Saddam is even now. And we actually did bomb Libya a few times. (As we have been bombing Iraq already, BTW.) Yet, somehow, we managed to neutralize him without invoking this giant war machine and "regime change."

Derek writes, We were busy exhausting our diplomatic efforts, weren't we? Have we exhausted them yet?

Uh, my question was, why do we need to topple Saddam right now, but not before? Our diplomatic efforts obviously failed years ago.

Derek also writes, Why is it several people in this thread have accused me of "pointing over there", away from the issue at hand?

I haven't said anything of the sort, so don't blame me for what other people said.

Nor am I, as I infer you to be implying, "pointing away." I am asking, how is the issue at hand different from that issue? Why is that issue not also at hand?

And Derek writes, The main reason is that the sacrosanct internation will that everyone invokes has determined (at least on paper) that Iraq needs to comply. Why is this not good enough?

There have been UN resolutions against Libya too, have there not?

Also, by answering the question this way, you beg the previous question. The international will has been of settled and unchanging mind about Iraq since before the Gulf War.

Lastly, if that's our excuse, then why is Bush so eager to go in unilaterally?

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 07:52 PM:

Simon,

You wrote Uh, my question was, why do we need to topple Saddam right now, but not before?

Read the article again. Johnson writes: The risk of great-power conflict is now small. The risk of nation-to-nation wars is diminishing. But the risk of colossal attacks on centers of civilization has increased, is increasing, and must be diminished.

Imagine a world in which the United States was stricken by a successful series of nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks. Putting aside the appalling loss of American lives this would involve, the global consequences would be horrifying. The world would be plunged into the deepest depression in its history. There would be no power-of-last-resort to uphold international order. Wolf and jackal states would quickly emerge to prey on their neighbors. It would be a world as described by Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan (1651), in which, deprived of a giant authority figure "to keep them all in awe," civilization would break down, and life, for most of mankind, would be "nasty, brutish and short."

Previous to that he writes: Iraq's consistent sympathy and active support for terrorist movements, and the regime's record of unprovoked aggression, make us presume that its consistent efforts to make a wide range of mass-killer weapons will end in their use, against either the U.S. or Israel or both. Whether the regime plans to use them itself or supply them to terrorists is a detail.

I agree with that assessment. 9/11 did change things, including our attitude toward Iraq. And we were lucky and the world was lucky they didn't succeed in taking out the Pentagon and the Capitol. That's why now. And not before.

(Of course, this answer may not satisfy you, but it is an answer.)

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 09:01 PM:

To attempt to clear up one question: Quaddafi cleaned up his act, overall, years ago. Rolled over and made nice. Handed over his agents to the Scottish Court and cooperated in the trial against them. Has cooperated with the US in the WoT. Closed all his terrorist training camps years ago, and ceased support for such terrorist groups. I don't have a particular cite to a single article on all this, but it was observable in numerous individual news articles over the past five-plus years (I seem to recall blogging on this onece or twice).

Libya, incidentally, has lots of oil, yet, as is observed, we are not significantly threatening Libya or working actively for "regime change." Which is just one of many points undermining the "it's all about oil" conspiracy theories about US Iraq policy and foreign policy in general (not that there's anything strange, or inherently evil, about US foreign policy paying attention to oil interests). I, perhaps naively, think that if the Hussein regime had, five years ago, started acting like the Libyan regime, we'd be treating it similarly, or the way we treat, say, Syria: not with a bear hug of friendship, but not bothering to take active steps to overthrow it, because -- and this is a point that disappears in the morass of theorizing about What Is The True US Motivation? -- the US government wouldn't see it as an active threat, whether directly and against its neighbors and against the Mideast oil supply, or via surrogate terrorist groups.

I may, of course, be all wet.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2002, 11:59 PM:

John: Nice try, but it's not an answer, except perhaps in the sense that "Yes" is an answer to "Do you have the time?". As I wrote before, the rest of us have known of the US's vulnerability to attack since 1941. And if not then, then 1993 (the first WTC bombing attempt), or the Lockerbie bombing, or various Al-Qaida attacks; and the international order was more seriously threatened by Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, which was really the most breath-taking piece of international piracy since Hitler's invasion of Poland. (Even Stalin allowed his conquests a facade of legitimacy.) And, indeed, we wanted and hoped for Saddam to go down during the Gulf War. But when he didn't, we left him there.

So, again, why now and not then? Again, as I noted before, this article is claiming that 9/11 changed everything. But since Saddam wasn't responsible for 9/11, it doesn't follow that we have to take it out on him, or that he's any more dangerous now than he was before. If we're claiming that we've only just realized that he's dangerous, we're really, really stupid. And the quote you give is the best example of the article's insane claim that being the victims of 9/11 gives us the right to do anything we want to anybody, just on the off-chance that they might do something to us.

Talk about Hobbesian, as he does! I'd call it even more Hobbesian to have a giant bully wandering the planet, punching out anyone who annoys him. And how Hobbesian will the response to that be? An utter recipe for disaster, fueled by the same fallacy that convinced us we could wipe out those puny North Vietnamese in a month.

The only better way to go is the considered international consensus, which Bush occasionally invokes and then just throws away.


Gary: OK, but why did this happen? (Note, by the way, that I'm not saying anything about "it's all about oil." If anything, my secret belief is that it's all about Bush's relationship with his father; and if that wasn't obvious before, his remark about "the man who tried to kill my dad" nails it.)

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2002, 08:38 AM:

Simon...you seem to be especially preoccupied with the timing. Are you insinuating something (that the timing has to do with political goals?), or is there something else going on?

You ask, "Why now?" I'll grant you that we should have acted sooner. Is this an argument that we shouldn't act now? And does it somehow follow through your formulations that we should act later?

You write: "Uh, my question was, why do we need to topple Saddam right now, but not before? Our diplomatic efforts obviously failed years ago."

Really? Then why are so many people still talking about "giving diplomacy a chance to work", if it has obviously failed so miserably. Not sure everyone would agree with you there.

Basically, we should act now because the problem needs to be dealt with now. The opinion that we should have acted sooner doesn't change this.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2002, 09:15 AM:

Simon,

Was Johnson in error to write: He can occupy Iraq by force under Security Council Resolution 678 of November 1990 and Number 687 of April 1991. To get further and explicit authorization from the U.N. is courteous but superfluous, and justified only by the need to line up as many allies as possible.

Moreover, Mr. Bush, and the United States, are lawfully empowered to take action against Iraq by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which states plainly that nothing in the charter "shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense . . . until the Security Council has taken [the] measures necessary to maintain international peace and security."

We already have the authority under the UN. If not, however, please explain why. What more consensus do we need?

As for your fear about the U.S. becoming a bully. It's a perfectly legitimate apprehension. But I wonder how many more people would have had to die in the former Yugoslavia, if Bill Clinton had decided to wait around for the consent of the Russians to start bombing the Serbs. To his credit, he did not. I'm happy that he was "annoyed" by the Serbs, especially since it apparently takes a lot more than ethnic cleansing to annoy Europeans, even when it is happening in their own back yard.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2002, 11:52 AM:

By the way, I don't mean my position to give the impression that I think an invasion is going to be a cakewalk and life afterwards will be hunky dory.

Victor Davis Hanson provides a very cautionary view here.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2002, 01:09 PM:

Derek: I'm obsessed with the timing not for any unstated political-conspiracy reason, but simply because I want to know why Bush is obsessed with the timing. He showed no interest in toppling Saddam before 9/11, the invoking of 9/11 as an explanation makes no sense, but now we have to topple Saddam like right this minute (a slight exaggeration, but not much). Why? Can't we just escalate the pressure in a slower but inexorable way? In practice, that seems to be what we're actually doing (from Bush's initial talk, I'd have thought we'd have launched the invasion by now), but nobody seems to be saying so.

That there are people who claim the diplomatic efforts haven't failed is beside the point I'm addressing. The point is Bush's intentions. Bush thinks the diplomatic efforts failed: that's why he's pressing for an invasion now. But insofar as this is correct, nothing has changed for years. So why the change in approach now? People who hold Bush's perspectives didn't have their voices muzzled during the Clinton administration.

You write, Basically, we should act now because the problem needs to be dealt with now. The opinion that we should have acted sooner doesn't change this.

That doesn't answer the question, why such haste now and no haste at all before? Saddam is a serious threat, but apparently not that immediate a serious threat, and he's done nothing since 9/11 that he hasn't been doing for years. I want to know why the US is suddenly being so dire about this. And before I take their word that the situation is as dire as they say, I want to know why they just let it sit there for 12 years. It's not because they were letting diplomacy work, because diplomacy collapsed when the inspectors were withdrawn, years ago. It's not because of 9/11, because if it took 9/11 to convince them that hostile dictators are a threat, they are (as I wrote before) really, really stupid; and if they think that 9/11 entitles us to wipe out any of the world's threats unilaterally, they're really, really stupider. And insanely Hobbesian.

John: This is really exasperating, as I already addressed that point of Johnson's. The Security Council resolutions of 1990-91 have been operative since 1990-91. The UN Charter has been operative since 1945. Nothing has changed. Why now, and not 1990-91, and not any time between?

I don't think I said anything about needing consensus. I was asking about the weirdness of the timing. It's silly to ask, "What more consensus do we need?" Even Bush seems to think some more consensus would be nice: otherwise he wouldn't have asked the UN for some, regardless of whether he intends to wait around for any, or would alter his actions if he doesn't get it. And I agree: freshening up and actively renewing some 12-year-old resolutions is not inherently a bad idea.

Regarding the Serbs: waiting around for the consent of the Russians? We had plenty of international will behind us in attacking Serbia: we had NATO, which is apparently irrelevant in the Iraq situation; we had Western Europe solidly (if timidly) behind us, which we emphatically don't have now; and didn't we have the UN? I don't remember offhand what the UN's role was in this - it certainly had a role in the cleanup - but if it had any role in the attack, Russia could have vetoed this if it wanted.

I'm pleased you realize that this invasion is not necessarily a cakewalk. I suppose we can wipe out Saddam if we want, but I don't think the plan has event he remotest chance of accomplishing its long-term, anti-terrorism goals, of promoting democracy and stability in the region, unless the US is willing to punch in for a long-haul approach of what Bush once described as "nation-building" in the course of saying he was against it. And as someone (Michael Kinsley?) has said, I don't see any evidence whatever that the Bush administration, even in practice, has shown even the slightest interest in this, in Afghanistan any more than in Iraq.

In that absence, the long-term result of invading Iraq is likely to be worse for us, not better. And that, more than either of the questions I've raised, is why I don't understand what the US thinks it's doing.

Mark Tillotson ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2002, 09:02 PM:

I can't tell for certain about Bush's deepest motives for suddenly wanting to invade Iraq right now. But here's my best guess. 9/11 made it very clear even to dimbulb GWB that the American mainland is extremely vulnerable to massive terrorist attack; that sooner or later terrorists will get their hands on a nuclear truck- or ship-bomb (courtesy of some rogue state now on the verge of developing nuclear capability) and vaporize one of our major cities; that of those proto-nuclear rogue states, Iraq is the closest to getting the bomb; that of these proto-nuclear rogue states, Iraq is the one we have the best legal excuse for invading; and that invading it, ASAP, will scare the bejesus out of any other rogue state and prevent it from trying to go nuclear and from aiding anti-American terrorists. Bush's sporadic efforts at persuading the world that Saddam Hussein is linked to Al Qaeda & 9/11 are merely a half-assed attempt to provide a more internatinally acceptable rationale. His fitful efforts to win UN approval are probably due to the restraining influence of Colin Powell. His frequent macho-man go-it-alone postures are probably due to the gung-ho influence of Cheney & Rumsfeld.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2002, 11:35 AM:

9/11 made it very clear even to dimbulb GWB that the American mainland is extremely vulnerable to massive terrorist attack; that sooner or later terrorists will get their hands on a nuclear truck- or ship-bomb (courtesy of some rogue state now on the verge of developing nuclear capability) and vaporize one of our major cities.

He'd have to be even dimmer a bulb than the caricaturists make him out to be, if he only realized that after 9/11. It's been a standard dire warning for years, from both serious scholars, and popular novelists and filmmakers. 9/11 "changed everything" in the sense that it actually happened; but it didn't make it significantly more likely to happen, and I can't believe that even Republicans are stupid enough not to have realized that. Especially not the kind of Republicans who've spent the last 20 years pushing SDI, on the grounds that we had to protect ourselves immediately and desperately from this imminent ICBM attack.

Mark Tillotson ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2002, 07:07 PM:

Why this minute, right now? Probably because it's now doable, feasible. Bush can now get congressional approval and public support for an invasion of Iraq. He couldn't before. His motive? Probably (1) to scare the shit out of rogue regimes who might consider supplying NBC weapons to terrorists,(2) to provide a secure stable spot in the Middle East to put our troops and planes, and (3) to use those bases to pressure other countries in the region that might threaten U.S. interests.

And yes, 9/11 really did give a wake-up call to most people, despite previous warnings from Tom Clancy and Hollywood scriptwriters. And yes, Republicans (and Democrats) really are that stupid. If our government had been fully cognizant of the terrorist threat all along, why hadn't we taken the fairly simple precautions that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks? It's human nature to nod off and ignore danger signals and wait until the situation is dire before taking action. Happens all the time. Read history.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2002, 05:24 PM:

Mark, any post which ends "Read history," as if the person being addressed were utterly ignorant of the subject, germinates a strong desire to write the author off as a condescending bozo, but I don't think you deserve that. So I will attempt to explain further.

There's a difference, which should be obvious, between sorting through millions of airline passengers looking for the few terrorists, even if you know the terrorists are there, and judging whether a top enemy nation - which Iraq has been since the Kuwait invasion if not before - is a serious imminent danger. Iraq has been a major news item for all this period. It's not something that we were nodding off and ignoring.

Also, the Republicans had eight years of golden opportunity to bash the Clinton administration for not doing anything, an opportunity they pretty much let slip. They'd rather criticize him for not keeping his pants zipped, which I guess shows their priorities.

I guess you're probably right as to the actual reason the Bushies have suddenly jumped on something they've previously ignored. The problem is that they're behaving as if that cannot possibly be the reason. They're insisting that it's so absolutely imminently dire that they'd be guilty of gross dereliction of duty unless it had been a complete non-issue until they discovered it.

If they were taking an attitude similar to "well, today's the day I get around to doing the yard work" (i.e. it's not desperate, it could wait, but not forever, and it's better to just get around to doing it), then the change in attitude between yesterday and today would be understandable. But the apocalyptic severity of their measures would not be.

There's a deep cognitive dissonance here, between the timing and the proposals, that I'm trying to explore.

Mark Tillotson ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2002, 05:57 PM:

Simon: Sorry if I sounded condescending. That wasn't my intention.

The cognitive dissonance of the Bush administration is obviously due to GWB's nervous ineptitude, which causes him to be pulled about by the squabbling factions within the administration. The Cheney-Rumsfeld-Perle faction (which seems to have successfully won over the President at this point) resorts to overkill and hyperbole, demanding that we act NOW!, probably because they think they need to be alarmist in order to get their way at all. They probably think that if they agree to another round of inspections, they will lose the momentum and their agenda will get lost. They're wrong, of course: Rushing to war confirms everyone's worst suspicions about them.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2002, 06:28 PM:

Simon S. wrote: "There's a deep cognitive dissonance here, between the timing and the proposals, that I'm trying to explore."

To what end, exactly?

You seem to have agreed that diplomacy, thoroughly exhausted, has failed. You seem to have acknowledge that we should have acted sooner. (Correct me on either of these if I'm wrong.)

Our courses of action in the present remain:

1) Act now
2) Act later
3) Do nothing

Simon, you seem preoccupied with knowing exactly what's going on inside the heads of the Bush Admin officials (which is pretty futile in and of itself). Why, necessarily? Simple curiosity, or something else? Would knowing their exact motivations for the timing either validate or invalidate a particular course of action in your eyes?

The simple fact is, diplomacy has failed miserably, and the threat of action must be applied in order to insure that Hussein does not acquire nuclear weapons. And that threat of force must be followed up on if noncompliance continues. And it needs to be done now.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 02:32 PM:

Derek, having read and puzzled over some of your more recent posts (your criticism of Jeanne D'Arc's paraphrases of Hitchens seems to me self-evidently absurd), I'm not sure if we're on a close enough wavelength for me to explain any of my thinking to you. What bothers me about your present post is the same lurking implication of seething apocalypse (either us on Saddam, or Saddam on us) that's more explicit in Bush's rhetoric.

Actually, Bush would boil your three options down to two. "Do it later" would be too late, according to him, thus indistinguishable from "Do nothing". But do what, and under what auspices? Contrary to much rhetoric, there are no teeming hordes of leftists claiming sympathy for Saddam: everyone's agreed he's a bad guy. But the pro-war forces are so determined to ignore this question, and the related one of "Would the solution lead to even worse problems than we have now?" (history provides good examples of that one, as Mark might say), that they can't conceive of any position other than sympathy for the devil.

You seem to be showing symptoms of that tendency by writing of me, "You seem to have acknowledged that we should have acted sooner." If by "acted" you mean what Bush means, "Unilaterally wipe out Saddam," then no, I don't think we should do that, now or later. There are other ways to go about this. They've been discussed extensively by commentators, otherwise I leave them as an exercise for the reader.

What seems to have misled you is my argument that if Bush's current position is accepted, then it follows that we should have acted earlier: that Bush should have been pushing this before 9/11, that Republicans should have been ceaselessly beating the drum for this during the Clinton administration, that George the Elder should have wiped out Saddam when he had the chance.

If what they're saying now is true, then why didn't they then? (That's not even touching the question of what they did do, e.g. what Cheney did for Saddam.)

THAT is the "timing" question, Derek.

I've seen answers to these questions offered; I discussed them in my very first post in this thread. None of them make any sense. Neither does Mark's explanation of simple ineptitude entirely satisfy.

If my leaders' arguments don't make any sense, and nor do those of their supporters, I want to at least understand their thinking. And the more I hear "Do it ("it" undefined, but something highly military and apocalyptic) now, or do nothing" offered as a serious political argument, the more nervous I get, and the more doubtful I am that those who offer it are capable of any political discourse whatever.

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 04:44 PM:

Simon wrote: "I'm not sure if we're on a close enough wavelength for me to explain any of my thinking to you."

Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt, even after asserting my "self-evident absurdity".

"What bothers me about your present post is the same lurking implication of seething apocalypse (either us on Saddam, or Saddam on us) that's more explicit in Bush's rhetoric."

What? Taking action implies a "lurking implication of seething apocalypse"?

If you want to speak more specifically about what course of action needs to be taken, that's all well and good, but acting as if non-specificity portents "seething apocalypse" seems dramatically overblown. Were you implying I thought this was a "nuke them before they nuke us" scenario?

"But do what, and under what auspices?"

Now you're asking a different question, not when, but how (which is a perfectly legitimate question). I'm not a military strategist, and I hope that the ambiguous threat of force alone compels Hussein to finally allow unfettered inspections. Should it not, personally I'd be in favor of punitive bombing strikes, against remaining military infrastructure and suspected weapons development sites, followed up with an occupied military force to insure that all WMD facilities were destroyed.

You're acting as if Bush pulled this issue out of thin air. Wrong. He talked about it during the 2000 campaign. Hell, Clinton and Gore both talked about it:

http://www.xanga.com/private/home.asp?nextdate=9%2F26%2F2002&cal=1&tab=weblogs&fid=0&bflag=

Clinton said that if Hussein failed to comply "we must be prepared to act." Does his lack of specificity strike you as apocalyptic in retrospect?

"If my leaders' arguments don't make any sense, and nor do those of their supporters, I want to at least understand their thinking."

If they *don't* make sense, you want to understand them? How would you understand them if they don't make sense?

You say you doubt the ability of those you disagree with to offer a serious political argument. Here's your chance, Simon. I've asked it more than once in this thread and never gotten an answer, straight or otherwise:

What's the solution?

Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 05:28 PM:

Simon: I'm puzzled by your puzzlement.

Why does the (hawkish wing of the) Bush Admin want to invade Iraq? Because doing so offers them numerous advantages: intimidation of "rogue" states, establishing a sympathetic regime and military bases in a critical region, "patriotic" election-year boost, et al.

Why now? Because they can: 9/11 mobilized public support for (or at least not active resistance to) international adventurism; geopolitical practicalities and legalistic justification make Iraq the most convenient target; the longer they wait, the more momentum they lose.(Strike while the iron is hot!)

Why have they been so arrogant and inconsistent in their various justifications? Because they are, for the most part, arrogant and inept people.

Why is this explanation so unsatisfactory to you?

What is YOUR best explanation?

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 06:29 PM:

Derek:

What? Taking action implies a "lurking implication of seething apocalypse"? ... Were you implying I thought this was a "nuke them before they nuke us" scenario?

Pretty close, yeah. And if you aren't, Bush is. Not to literally nuke them, no, but to hit them with everything short of it, before they do (quite literally) nuke us. That's my understanding of the rhetoric, yes. That's the way Bush is talking. The style is so entirely different from his father's approach in 1990. I really respected George I for that: he hit the perfect pitch between absolutely determined and coolly restrained. (And this is not hindsight: I got into some heated arguments at the time.)

What's the solution?

My answer is yours: "I'm not a military strategist."

Actually, you did provide an answer, and I'm not opposed to it: increase pressure (which appears to be what Bush is actually doing, as opposed to what he says he's doing, but I've read not a single commentator pointing this out) and go military - bombing first, no invasion unless he tries to strike back at us or our allies - as necessary. (In fact, we're already bombing Iraq regularly, and have been for some time, as also not very many people are pointing out.)

But we should do this WITH slowness and caution, and WITH a steely international consensus, and WITHOUT a claim for the right of unilateral action, WITHOUT panicked "he's gonna get a nuke!" cries, WITHOUT baseless attempts to blame Saddam for 9/11, and above all WITH the consent of Iraq's neighbors (which we had in 1990) and WITH at least some awareness of how we can depose Saddam without getting something worse in his place.

Is that a straight enough answer for you?

On that last point, I refer you to these words of wisdom (I don't have verification that the attribution is accurate, but they're words of wisdom all the same):

Maybe it's part of our national character, you know, we like to have these problems nice and neatly wrapped up, put a ribbon around it. You deploy a force, you win the war, and the problem goes away, and it doesn't work that way in the Middle East; it never has and isn't likely to in my lifetime. -- Dick Cheney, 1996

Lastly, you write:

You're acting as if Bush pulled this issue out of thin air. Wrong. He talked about it during the 2000 campaign.

No, I never said the issue came out of thin air. It was Mark who suggested that the festering of Iraq had somehow just been overlooked all this time, and I who said no, Iraq has been too much of a major issue for that to be believable. What I said is that the urgency came out of thin air. Which was the point I was making from the beginning, and which nobody has denied.


Mark: I'm sorry, but ineptitude is not a satisfactory answer to any question of this kind. It is, at most, the explanation for the absence of an answer. And even that's not good enough when we are surrounded by people convinced that the inept behavior is not only sagacious, but self-evidently so.

Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 07:39 PM:

Simon:

Last time: The URGENCY by Bush & Co. is their need to "strike while the iron is hot". That ought to be obvious. Their agenda could not have been pushed through before 9/11. Now the hawks can take advantage of the situation by cranking up the alarmist rhetoric and pushing for immediate action. They obviously fear that if they go slow, they'll allow the chance of accomplishing their goals to vanish.

Last time: What is YOUR explanation?

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2002, 08:09 PM:

Simon wrote: "That's my understanding of the rhetoric, yes. That's the way Bush is talking."

So is this the sort of "let's nuke 'em", apocalyptic rhetoric you're talking about?

"We've tried diplomacy. We're trying it one more time," Bush said after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson. "I believe the free world, if we make up our mind to, can disarm this man peacefully. But if not, we have the will and the desire, as do other nations, to disarm Saddam."

This is from yesterday.

"But we should do this WITH slowness and caution, and WITH a steely international consensus, and WITHOUT a claim for the right of unilateral action, WITHOUT panicked "he's gonna get a nuke!" cries, WITHOUT baseless attempts to blame Saddam for 9/11, and above all WITH the consent of Iraq's neighbors (which we had in 1990) and WITH at least some awareness of how we can depose Saddam without getting something worse in his place.

Is that a straight enough answer for you?"

So your "solution" is essentially the same as the Bush administration's? Only more slowly. As far as I can tell, we're still working within the diplomatic framework of the UN. But let's say we don't get the multilateral support you're talking about? Should that keep us from acting? Or should we then act even *more* slowly?

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 12:40 AM:

Mark: I'm not sure why you've appointed me the arbiter of all wisdom. Why do I have to have the answer? I don't have the answer. Go back and read my very first post in this topic, and you'll find I came here without an answer and hoping that somebody else had the answer.

But whoever has the answer, it ain't Derek and it ain't you.

Derek: At the very least, the difference in speed between my approach and Bush's is more than a casual difference.

But it's actually much more than that. First is a tremendous difference in tone and approach, which if it isn't obvious I'm not going to waste time explaining to you. Second, what you have quoted here is a phenomenon I've noted before, occasional dippings by Bush of a toe into the ocean of rationality, from which he quickly withdraws. This is the same Bush who said that if he doesn't get multilateral support he'll act unilaterally. I'm not going to waste time digging out various saber-rattling comments of that sort that Bush has made, but he's made them. He also made the utterly appalling statement, "This is the guy that tried to kill my dad." Mr. President, I am not willing to put the world at risk to support your personal vendetta, however justified your anger.

Do you trust a guy who talks like that to abide by the spirit of his occasional pious platitudes? I sure don't. If you think Bush is acting conscientiously within the diplomatic framework of the UN, you have a much stronger thorazine prescription than I do.

More important still, all of this - all the way back to my proposed "solution" - assumes that Saddam is as imminently dangerous as the Bushies are saying. I'm not prepared to argue the point - I find articles pondering whether Saddam is rational or not to be a peculiarly arid form of speculation - but, see, this is why the whole timing bit bothers me so much. People who suddenly discover a retroactive violent urgency, I don't trust their sagacity.

But it's not me they have to convince. I'm just some punter posting in someone else's weblog. There are numerous people of great knowledge and experience who are much more skeptical than I, and so are most of the other countries which ought to be our allies in this.

Which is why I blanch so at the tone of your final question, "But let's say we don't get the multilateral support you're talking about? Should that keep us from acting? Or should we then act even *more* slowly?" Yes, it should most definitely keep us from acting. Our allies are not perverse. We didn't have any difficulty convincing them in 1990 that Iraq had conquered Kuwait, or that something ought to be done about it. If we can't convince them this time, we haven't made a good case. That should give us pause as to the accuracy of our diagnosis. (Insert references to various skeptical intelligence reports here.) What should also give us pause is the appalling practical consequences of acting alone.

Mark T. ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 12:51 AM:

Simon, Asking you for your best guess doesn't constitute appointing you "the arbiter of all wisdom". You are strongly suggesting that Bush & Co. have a hidden agenda. I think they do, too. I've given you my best guess what I think that agenda is and why they've been acting the way they have. So what exactly is your point in asking, then? I suspect that you and I don't disagree substantially on political matters. Why these rhetorical games?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 09:29 AM:

A post has been deleted for gross personal abuse. As I've remarked in a comment to this thread, we won't be having that here. Anyone who finds this unsuitable, or who finds my judgement (personal, subjective, arbitrary, prone to all the sins of fallen Man) is invited to find a forum more to their liking.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 02:15 PM:

Mark: I'm not looking for a hidden agenda. I'm looking for the public agenda. I am not paranoid by style. I'm looking for a simple, straightforward reason why attacking Iraq is so urgent now, but not at all before. Most supporters of the attack either ignore the question, or consider the answer too obvious to be worth making, or say something that makes no sense (like 9/11). They are not saying, "Let's do it now while everyone's all excited." They are not praising Bush for covering up being an incompetent boob - they don't think Bush is an incompetent boob. So that's no answer.

Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 02:40 PM:

Simon: But persisting in asking Bush & Co. for the simple, straightforward public agenda is pointless except as a rhetorical ploy. Bush and his die-hard supporters are never going to be able to meet your demands because their motives are mixed and largely dishonorable. Of course you think there's a hidden agenda (as I do); otherwise you wouldn't keep pushing the question. Well, keep pushing, but you're never going to get a satisfactory answer.

(BTW, I suspect that many Bush supporters really do think he's an inept boob, but of course they need to continually insist that he's not. Like Reagan, he's considered A-Okay by the party faithful as long as he listens to his neocon advisors and toes that neocon line.)

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 07:39 PM:

Mark, your assumption that everyone is secretly a liberal inside, but disguises it from ulterior motives ("they really do think he's an inept boob, but of course they need to continually insist that he's not") is more charming than, but just as misguided as, the usual conservative assumption that everyone is secretly a conservative inside, but disguises it from ulterior motives.

P.S. Don't tell me what I really think ("Of course you think there's a hidden agenda"). You'll live longer.

Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 09:32 PM:

"You'll live longer"? What is that supposed to mean? A veiled threat or a tender concern for my health?

I certainly don't think everyone is secretly a liberal inside. But many conservatives are definitely cynical and opportunistic, happy to have a neocon puppet in the White House but reluctant to admit it (publicly, at least).

It seems pretty obvious that you think Bush & Co. have suspect reasons for invading Iraq. But so do about 95% of the people who post on this site. You're preaching to the choir here. Wasting your rhetorical ammo. Why not try this faux-naif tactic on a conservative site, where you might more fruitfully engage the enemy?

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2002, 11:04 PM:

Nobody believes me when I say I honestly don't understand the question I posed back at the beginning of this topic.