Calpundit revisits the case for war, and finds it wanting. (Before you suggest that he’s the only liberal that I read, I’ll note that in times of limited blog-time, I tend to read only four blogs: Calpundit, Crooked Timber, Instapundit, and the Volokh Conspiracy. There are a lot of other good ones that I read [go check out my slightly-stale blogroll at Armed Liberal to get a sense of who], but time’s kinda short right now.)
Kevin lists the three legs of Bush’s arguments in favor of invasion, and proceeds to challenge each one, focusing on the WMD – which to my more dovish friends are the sole legitimate causus belli.
He concludes with Bush’s quote about Saddam’s intent to acquire WMD, and then asks:
The possibility that he could acquire weapons. Remember that. For better or worse, that’s what’s left of the public rationale for going to war.
Was it a good enough reason? Your call. But I wonder how strong the support for war would have been if Bush had said that back in January
Sorry, Kevin. Gotta disagree.
I’ll toss a quick question to Kevin and Kos and some of the others who share those views:
If we’d found WMD or real proto-WMD by now, would your position be different? Would the invasion have been wholly legitimate?
Answer honestly now…Now, personally, I don’t believe that WMD were the sole justification to invade. There are a host of broader issues (some of which Bush is handling well, some extremely badly).
But there’s a pretty serious problem with even this narrow argument being made by Calpundit.
Let me make a simplified model to make my point, in an area where I have some knowledge and direct experience, and which scales nicely, I believe.
The nightmare scenario for a police officer to be confronted by someone with a realistic-seeming toy gun. I have never bought my sons real-looking guns, not even chrome cap guns that look like six-guns. That’s for two reasons; first I didn’t want them, at a young age when children have an imperfectly-formed sense of the real, to ever possibly confuse a real gun for a toy one. And I didn’t want a police offer or armed citizen to ever confuse a child brandishing a toy gun for someone who presented a real threat.
We had such a case here in Los Angeles recently. The police were called to a loud party, and one officer, walking alongside the house, suddenly saw someone holding an extremely realistic prop gun – one so realistic that prop houses control access to them. The specific sequence of events is subject to some dispute, but the result wasn’t: officer opened fire with his very real gun and killed the innocent (but to my mind, foolish) partygoer.
The officer was investigated, and not criminally charged. The family sued, and the city settled for $225,000 – a relatively low amount in use-of-force cases.
Because the officer – and more important, any reasonable person in that position – perceived Anthony Dwain Lee as a mortal threat. In the limited time he had to make a decision, he made one – in this case, unequivocally the wrong one.
But it was one that most reasonable people in his position, with his training, and with his information would have made.
Now personally, I believe that police training places too great an emphasis on ‘shoot first’. I’ve argued passionately with police friends about it, and that’s a subject for another post.
Was the officer wrong to do what he did?
In the light of all the facts that we have on hand now, obviously yes. In the .4 seconds he had to make up his mind and act, however, his superiors and the courts didn’t believe that he was. While they might draw lessons learned about it – and I’d argue that they should – the notion that his shooting was somehow malign never arises in most people. They can distinguish between deliberate or careless error, and error that comes from incomplete or inaccurate information. And the standard used is typically “what would a similarly situated, trained, and informed reasonable person have done?”
You see where I’m going with this…
Similarly, let’s go to the record of how both parties felt about Saddam’s state of readiness before April 2003. I could dig like mad for quotes from Daschle and other leading Democrats, but let’s go with the Big 3:
“Saddam Hussein had been acquiring weapons of mass destruction. We carried out with the help of an alliance, a war [Desert Storm], in which we put Saddam Hussein back into his box. The United Nations voted on a set of resolutions, which demanded Saddam Hussein live up to his obligations and get rid of weapons of mass destruction.
“The United Nations Security Council imposed a set of sanctions on Saddam Hussein until he did that. It also established an organization that is set up to monitor whether Hussein had gotten rid of his weapons of mass destruction.
“There has never been an embargo against food and medicine. It’s just that Hussein has just not chosen to spend his money on that. Instead, he has chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction, and palaces for his cronies.”
Berger sought to frame the dispute in broad, strategic terms. He said the world could not afford to allow Iraq to flout the will of the international community.
“The lesson of the 20th century is, and we’ve learned through harsh experience, the only answer to aggression and outlaw behavior is firmness,” Berger said.
“He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has 10 times since 1983,” Berger said.
“Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons,” Clinton said in a December 16 statement from the White House.
These are the ones I could Google. There are a bunch more collected at http://www.nowanow.com/wmds.htm.
I list these, not to try and parse the blame for whatever faulty intelligence there may have been between Republicans and Democrats; I say it because reasonable, smart, well-informed people other than those in the Bush Administration believed that Saddam had WMD, and was willing to use them.
And so to look at the decision made to invade, we have to look not in the light of the perfect information of hindsight, but in the context of the imperfect information available – to the question of whether it was a toy gun or a real Desert Eagle.
There are absolutely legitimate questions to ask about the quality of our intelligence about Iraq – from before the first Gulf War until today. There are absolutely legitimate questions to ask about whether an invasion was the appropriate response to the risk of WMD.
But those aren’t the questions we’re asking.
And before we do, let’s step further into the reality of the pre-invasion world, and move away from an Anthony Dwain Lee innocently holding a prop, standing at a party, and to Alan Newsome:
Alan Newsome never thought his BB gun would kill anyone. When he brandished it in the hallway of his Harlem apartment building, it was just something to help scare some cash out of a burger joint deliveryman. But the deliveryman turned out to be a cop, and when Newsome pulled the fake gun, the cop’s partner shot the 17-year-old three times in the chest, killing him.
The threat posed by Newsome – brandishing a realistic looking pellet gun – was one that any reasonable person would have responded to with deadly force.
Saddam may have thought he had WMD because his staff lied to him. He may have thought he could use the empty threat to bluff.
But the fact of his behavior moves him from the Lee category to that of Newsome.