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March 3, 2003

Jim Henley addresses the supposedly compelling pro-war arguments of Kenneth Pollock. [12:07 AM]
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Comments on Jim Henley:

Derek James ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 12:41 PM:

Henley mostly tries to discredit Pollack's sources, downplay Saddam's intentions and capabilities toward acquiring nukes, and insist that a nuclear-armed Saddam wouldn't be all that bad.

Thing is, Pollack doesn't rely solely on defectors for information (see the extensive referencing in his book); Saddam has been hellbent on getting nukes for decades (see Osiraq, Gulf War I aftermath, etc.); and the simple fact is *nobody* knows how a nuclear-armed Iraq might behave. Henley seems reasonably sure they'd never actually use their nukes. Pollack thinks it likely they would.

Thing is, I don't know, but I damn sure don't want to find out.

For me, that risk outweighs the risk associated with war. Couple that with the moral consequence of ousting a brutal tyrant and yes, the arguments for military action are compelling.

Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 02:06 PM:

I once read this, and took the advice:

Joshua Micah Marshall reviews Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm here, discussing (and pretty much agreeing with) what Marshall calls "the skeptical case for regime change in Iraq." Important reading for those who (like this weblog) regard the Administration's arguments for war as incoherent. Pollack and Marshall present the arguments that aren't incoherent. They should be read.

Did you? Yourself? What's changed?

Henley takes aim at the Cliff Notes version of Pollack's argument and evidence, not the full version. Even on those terms, he succeeds only if you're willing to forget that Saddam started two major wars and seems unlikely to mellow with age if he acquires nuclear weapons.

There are also better but narrower examples of failed deterrence than Pollack probably wanted to waste op-ed space on. For example, Saddam periodically lobbed missiles at Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War despite Baghdad being much closer to the front than Tehran, and thus certain of much worse retaliation by the planeload. He'd get the retaliation, stop the missile attacks -- but then do it all over again a few weeks or months later. (Not to mention the whole war itself being a colossal miscalculation.)

Deterrence isn't just about WMD, it's about figuring the odds; Saddam is terrible at it, and I don't want to see how bad he is at it with nuclear weapons in his arsenal.

Those weapons are on their way. The German BND estimated about 3 to 6 years in 2001. The Iraqis probably had a workable plan for a nuclear weapon, minus the fissionable material, in 1991. They can go the hard way and stealthily produce their own U235 or plutonium, or just try, try again to smuggle enough into the country from wherever: N.Korea, Byelorussia, Pakistan, who knows. Inspectors or not, the way we'll probably find out about an Iraqi nuclear weapon is when it's exploded.

Luckily, we have UN resolutions sanctioning Iraqi WMD development in general, and referencing the Chapter 7 authority to make a war about it. So the international community will undoubtedly rise to the occasion, find Saddam in material breach, and disarm him by force.

aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 02:30 PM:

Henley has a good point when he explains that the context behind Pollack's argument presumes that the US should be involved in middle eastern affairs (and that it isn't more reasonable to leave Iran, Turkey, and Israel to deal with whatever problems Hussein will pose for regional stability). But it seems to me that making the argument that these countries should be allowed to deal with the problem sans US interference ignores both our treaty commitments to Turkey and the proper role of the United Nations in ensuring international tranquility.

It may be that both of these issues are beyond the scope of Henley's analysis. But to object that Pollack's argument assumes the legitimacy of US action in the region without discussing reasons why such an assumption may be legitimate strikes me as oversimplifying the debate for political purposes.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 03:45 PM:

But if Turkey doesn't want us there, and the UN doesn't want us there, where's our legitimacy then?

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 04:38 PM:

War is the continuation of policy by other means.

What's the policy that this war is continuing?

Merely being disgusted with the conduct of Saddam Hussein isn't a policy at all, never mind a coherent, achievable one.

The stuff that *does* look like it could possibly be policy comes down to:
9- no regional hegemony in the Middle East (since the oil would be too large a lever)
9- a Kurdish state
9- vastly improving Israel's strategic position by removing a hostile Iraq and placing a large American garrison in a position to intervene in their favour on short notice.

I don't think anything but the first is an *actual* policy, but the other two look like plausible outcomes of this administration's actions.

Turkey is powerfully against the Kurdish state, and for all practical everyone with a regional interest *expect* Israel and the US are against the third.

Effectively everyone in the region is against the first, too; they resent the idea that they're not allowed to derive political power from their postion, and most of them resent the idea that they're not going to derive any benefit from it at all while their rulers get rich.

The idea that the policy is to enact democracy in Iraq is laughable; the present administration is against democracy at home, they're not going to be for it -- no US administration in fifty years has been for it -- abroad.

And yes, you can make the argument that Saddam's risk assessment is terrible. In order to make the argument that he'd nuke the US, you have to make the argument that the risk assessment of everyone *around* him is terrible, too, which is more difficult.

Much easier to make the argument that people don't necessarily have an emotional belief in how bad being nuked is which matches the belief of an essentially materialist perspective, but even that is not something that is easy to do.

What the policy comes down to is 'if you make us feel nervous, we have the right to burn your cities, kill as many of you as it takes to make you stop objecting, and install whatever power structure we like, and no one has any right to complain'.

Can you suggest why *anyone* would think that was in their best interests to accept as a precedent?

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 05:53 PM:

It's in their best interest to accept it because if they don't, we'll burn their cities, kill as many of them as it takes to make them stop objecting, and install whatever power structure we like.

(You know, when I first read The Star Fraction, I thought Mr. Macleod was exaggerating.)

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 06:31 PM:

That's (maybe) why it might be in their perceived best interests to submit;
this is not precisely the same question as why it might be in their percieved best interest to accept the precedent.

(The UK is adopting a policy that only makes sense if considered as Anglo-American identity politics; this was big at the start of the previous century, too. Even in that case, they're not accepting the precedent so much as they are identifying with the powerful.)

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2003, 08:00 PM:

I read The Star Fraction a few years ago, right around the time Tor was releasing The Cassini Division (1999?), and then again two or three months ago, and yeah, it was a very different experience for this American.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2003, 07:13 PM:

Besides. Containment works. We've proved it. The USSR had run after run of oppressive dictator. And thousands upon thousands of nukes.

The negative effects of war ripple down through many generations. Why pay that price, when we don't have to?