September 18, 2003


Glenn Reynolds: opposes American troops in Liberia. Favours them in French Africa, fighting the French. This is supposed to help, somehow, apparently.

(NB: Glenn writes in to say he doesn't oppose intervention in Liberia. I thought I'd read that between the lines of his posts on the subject, but I evidently read wrong. He does oppose a "token pseudo-intervention" but so too would I. He also says he doesn't favour American troops fighting the French. I think history shows that's a pretty common upshot of backing insurgency movements, sooner or later, but I shouldn't have oversimplified to that extent, either. Apologies.)

James Lileks: says if Baltimore were destroyed by a nuclear weapon three years after Baghdad fell, Bush would still be blamed. Darn right he would.

Think about it. No one can build a nuclear weapon from scratch in three years. So if a bomb were to be shipped to the States, it would come from North Korea, or Iran, or possibly Pakistan. None of those threats have been diminished by the Iraqi adventure. Indeed, the Iraqi adventure precludes taking action to diminish them, by the massive military commitment it involves.

You can make a reasonable argument on logistical grounds that, with the conventional military forces it possessed, the United States can invade and subjugate one medium-sized country every three years at the moment. Action against Iraq in 2003 inhibits action anywhere else until at least 2006. Bush, in other words, could reasonably hope to pick one country off his "Evil" list in his first term. A logical criterion for such a decision would be the country that posed the greatest threat. It's becoming increasingly likely that, to paraphrase Indiana Jones, Bush "chose poorly." Iraq was clearly little threat at all, in retrospect.

Now you can say well, that was an intelligence failure. If everyone thought Iraq was arming up, can Bush be blamed? Maybe not, but someone sure can. If that is indeed what happened, that is the second massive intelligence failure in two years, the first being Sept. 11. But no one lost their job over that one, and it doesn't appear anyone's losing their job over this one, either.

If I were Glenn Reynolds, that would bother me a lot more than French West Africa.

UPDATE: Just to clarify: I'm not saying now one should oppose the Iraq war. Not at the moment, not in the past. I believed it worthy of support pre-war, on the sole basis that it would improve the lives of Iraqis. I have not wavered from that support, on those grounds, even though a lot of other people have been climbing into the boat with me. Prewar, I believed that Iraq as a country was at most a threat to Israel, and no real threat at all to the U.S. itself. I think the events have borne that belief out.

Nor do I scoff at the Wolfowitzian thesis, that an invasion of Iraq now could, if followed through, be the first step in a multi-decade program of Middle East stabilization that will make Americans' lives safer in the long run. That's still a theoretically tenable plan, too... what I said prewar was that it would be the conduct of the occupation, not the war itself, that would decide that the most. I still believe that. It is still entirely possible that Americans will have less to fear from terrorism 20 years from now, in part because of the actions taken this year, assuming the rest of the Wolfowitz Plan (cultural reshaping backed by irresistable force) can be carried through with.

What I'm saying is that any belief that acting against Iraq now would make Americans' lives safer in the short term (three years, Lileks said) is simply not tenable. Never was. To believe that, you had at a minimum had to believe the most extreme intelligence about Iraqi WMD, for starters. Ask yourself this: did any American feel safer on Sept. 11, 2003, than they did one year before?

In short: I don't believe Bush went to war primarily to help the people of Iraq. It's possible he bought into the Wolfowitzian vision. But if his reason instead was to make Americans' lives safer in his term of office, then he was either wilfully or negligently misled by those who should have known as to the nature of the threats he faced. And someone should be held accountable for that, because after two massive intelligence failures having gone entirely uncriticized or unchecked, the chance of a third (one that, say, allows a nuke to slip into Baltimore) is perhaps the greatest threat to Americans' safety today. Far greater than France, anyway.

Posted by BruceR at 06:17 PM