mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Debating the invasion of Iraq

Orrin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy has 3 questions for pro-war bloggers about the war in Iraq. I don't know how my response will stack up to the others he gets, but I figure I'll take a stab at it... I mean, any increase in traffic I get out of this is a good thing, right?

First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?

Yes, I do. The problem with after the fact analysis is that you have information and knowledge of outcomes that weren't available to you at the time. For example, I am still of the mind that Saddam had WMD's, and that he either hid them in another country or destroyed them right before the invasion. But even if he didn't, we had every reason to believe that he did. Saddam made no effort to demonstrate that he didn't have WMD's, but rather every effort to suggest that he did. The intel we had at the time suggested that he had them, and that was a possibility we could not ignore in today's world.

I think that there have been some positive effects, ie Qaddafi's giving up his weapons. Iraq was a show of strength on the part of the United States, a demonstration that we will respond to threats with force when necessary, and that will have long term spillover effects in our relationships with certain nations.

I think that there will be positive effects in the future as well - I think that eventually the violence in Iraq will fall off, and that Iraq will emerge as a nation that is democratic and more prosperous than neighboring dictatorships and theocracies. Like Reagan's response to the cold war, this is something that will take time for the effect to be seen.

I also think that those who look at the costs of the war in terms of dollars and lives are only looking at one side of the equation and ignoring the benefits. They are also ignoring "what is not seen" - the lives of Iraqis that have been spared from Saddam, and possibly the lives of Americans that have been spared in the long term.

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

As I said above, I think it's easy to look at the cost of the war without looking at the benefits - and like many investments, I think that costs are up front, while many of the benefits will not be seen for some time. I think that the deaths of soldiers, while tragic, also needs to be kept in perspective. First of all, troop deaths are not unusual even in peacetime, in training accidents and the like, so I think the numbers can be a bit misleading. Secondly, compared to the numbers of troops lost in Vietnam and in the World Wars, the number of troops we are losing is tiny. Also keep in mind that we are fighting an unusual enemy, one that doesn't follow the traditional rules of war - one willing to employ more dangerous tactics than in most wars (ie suicide bombers) and one for whom killing civilians is not just a tragic accident, but a goal. Keeping troop deaths down in this situation is even more difficult. I'm not sure what the value of the "occupying force" comment is - by definition we sort of are (ie #4) - we seized control by military means - but the hope is that when we leave we leave the country in better shape than it was before we entered.

Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?

I'm not so sure that you can use specific criteria -and choosing a criteria will always depend on some measure the bias of the person measuring it. If you argue that beatings of Olympic Soccer team members, children put in prison because their parents resisted the government, and people run through industrial shredders, you could probably call the invasion a success already. I think success is going to be more of the definition of porn - I can't describe it but I'll know it when I see it. I think a stable, democratic government, an increased standard of living for Iraqis, a decrease in terrorist attacks, and a decline in countries that sponsor terrorism, harbor terrorists, or sell weapons to terrorists are all signs that the war was a success - but they are all things that are not easy to measure, unlike, say, troop deaths.


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