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February 06, 2004

THE CASE FOR WAR....Over at NRO, Victor Davis Hanson tries manfully to explain why a "careful postbellum anatomy" of the lack of WMD in Iraq actually makes the case for war even stronger than it was before:

The threat of WMDs may have been the centerpiece of the administration's arguments to go to war, but for most of us, there were plenty of other — and far more important reasons — for prompt action now. Let us for the nth time recite them.

You can click the link if you want to read either the recitation or the full list of eight bullet points on why the war was justified.

But there's really no reason to bother, because Hanson, like virtually all war supporters, simply refuses to grapple with the fundamental issue here: there may indeed have been "plenty of other" reasons besides WMD for going to war. And they might have been good ones. But that doesn't change the fact that they were mere trifles in the administration's public case.

According to the director of the CIA, his WMD estimates were always carefully caveated and he never advised the president that Iraq posed a serious threat. Despite that, whether for bureaucratic reasons or otherwise, the administration's case for war was built on an absolute certainty that Saddam Hussein had dangerous stockpiles of WMD that posed an urgent and serious threat to the security of the United States.

In a democracy that's simply not acceptable. Regardless of whether history judges the war kindly, the leader of a democracy must be honest about his reasons for going to war. If those honest reasons are not enough to convince his fellow citizens, then the war does not get fought.

War supporters need to face up to this squarely and provide an honest answer to this question: In order to gain public approval, is it OK for the president of the United States to massively misrepresent a foreign threat merely because he believes that we ought to fight a war?

And if their answer is yes, are they willing to provide the same carte blanche to future presidents, even if they are whipping up support for a war they don't happen to like so well?

It is one thing for conservative thinkers to maintain that the Iraq war was a good thing. It is quite another to tacitly — or in Hanson's case, openly — approve the idea that there is nothing wrong with democratic governments deceiving their citizens about the reasons for war as long as it's a war they like. Are any of them ever going to face up to this?

UPDATE: For what it's worth, I should mention that I'm sincere when I say that all those other reasons for war "might have been good ones." For new readers — or for longtime readers who think I should be reminded occasionally about my mistakes — I myself wrote about those reasons last February in a post explaining why I supported the war. After a further month of fruitless UN inspections and a realization that no one in the administration was really serious about democracy promotion, I changed my mind here.

Posted by Kevin Drum at February 6, 2004 02:20 PM | TrackBack


Comments

In a democracy that's simply not acceptable. Regardless of whether history judges the war kindly, the leader of a democracy must be honest about his reasons for going to war. If those honest reasons are not enough to convince his fellow citizens, then the war does not get fought.

Of course this presupposes that the president of said democracy got the job through honest means in the first place. One fraudulence begets another.

Posted by: Thumb at February 6, 2004 02:24 PM | PERMALINK

No, they aren't.

Posted by: ggw at February 6, 2004 02:24 PM | PERMALINK

Are any of them ever going to face up to this?

I haven't met one yet. Not one.

Posted by: 2shoes at February 6, 2004 02:24 PM | PERMALINK

Plus, the indisputable fact, acknowledged by Richard Perle, that if there was no IMMINENT THREAT of an attack on the US by Iraq, then the war was illegal under international law, the UN Charter, and, because the US is a signatory to the UN charter, which is a treaty, the COnstitution of the US. Thus, a preemptive attack without an imminent threat is an impeachable offense, even putting aside the laying to COngress and the American people in last year's state of the union address in which Bush said there was NO DOUBT that Hussein had chemical and biological werapons stockpiled. NO DOUBT? That has to be a lie, right?, because Tenet said the CIA said there were doubts.

Posted by: nine at February 6, 2004 02:26 PM | PERMALINK

In order to gain public approval, is it OK for the president of the United States to massively misrepresent a foreign threat merely because he believes that we ought to fight a war?

No.

But....

I can't help but think of FDR's policy taking us slowly to war with Nazi Germany, starting with pitched naval battles in the Atlantic in 1940-1941....surely not an altogether straightforward and wholly truthful exercise of Presidential leadership there. FDR had the virtue of being right, of course, where a plurality of the American people were wrong -- we did indeed need to make war on Germany. I'm not sure how much that justifies things, but I, and I think most others not on the antiwar.com staff, would give him the benefit of the doubt.

Anyway, I think one can maintain that the Iraq war was the right thing to do while not mounting a defense of the Administration. I never thought the WMD line was convincing or wise; what's happening now was pathetically predictable.

Posted by: Tacitus at February 6, 2004 02:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Are any of them ever going to face up to this?"

Never. Oh, wait. Rhetorical question. Sorry.

Posted by: Joe Decker at February 6, 2004 02:30 PM | PERMALINK

No.

But....

Should've stopped after "no".

Posted by: NTodd at February 6, 2004 02:35 PM | PERMALINK

Many people seem to labor under the erroneous belief that right wingers believe in democracy -- they don't. Honest ones will tell you that they prefer philosopher kings of their own persuasion who use the word "Democracy" as a synonym for "Freedom", which means the untrammelled right to accumulate wealth and use it to coerce others to do your bidding.

Posted by: nine at February 6, 2004 02:35 PM | PERMALINK

Over at NRO, Victor Davis Hanson tries manfully to explain why a "careful postbellum anatomy" of the lack of WMD in Iraq actually makes the case for war even stronger than it was before:

Damn right, it does. If Iraq really did possess weapons of mass destruction, invading Iraq would have been utterly foolhardy.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough at February 6, 2004 02:36 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus: that's a reasonable analogy in some ways, but not ultimately convincing. FDR took the tack of slowly building public opinion without any serious deceit. I don't expect clinical accuracy from political leaders, and I suspect that FDR didn't cross the line.

On the other hand, if we ever found genuinely convincing evidence that, say, he knew about Pearl Harbor and deliberately allowed it to happen, I daresay his reputation would be considerably damaged even if the overall approval of WWII remained unchanged. Nobody would argue that that was an acceptable action from the commander in chief.

Posted by: Kevin Drum at February 6, 2004 02:36 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps a more apt parallel would be Clinton's PR apparatus prior to the war with Serbia? Or LBJ's fabrication of the Gulf of Tonkin incident? Or Lincoln's claims of a (almost certainly nonexistent) danger to the Northern states as a justification for invading the South? Or McKinley's rather ridiculous rationales for warring with Spain? Or Polk's rather fallacious rational for invading Mexico?

The more I think about it, these things happen. Which doesn't justify them, mind you; but it does make this WMD thing not exactly unprecedented.

Posted by: Tacitus at February 6, 2004 02:44 PM | PERMALINK

Of course this presupposes that the president of said democracy got the job through honest means in the first place.

Still not over the 2000 election I see.

Posted by: MJ at February 6, 2004 02:47 PM | PERMALINK

"Which doesn't justify them, mind you; but it does make this WMD thing not exactly unprecedented."

Oh goody! I get to snicker at a conservative for making the "everyone's else did it" argument.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement at February 6, 2004 02:49 PM | PERMALINK

In order to gain public approval, is it OK for the president of the United States to massively misrepresent a foreign threat merely because he believes that we ought to fight a war?

Conservatives frequently argue that Ronald Reagan did this, not with a hot war, but with the Cold War arms build-up. He told us and congress that the USSR had real superiority in millitary power and that we had to spend like holy-be-Jesus to keep up. But, (the conservative line goes) he was really lying - his real reason was that he knew the Soviet Union was weak and that their spending to keep up with us would bring their whole system crashing to the ground.

Of course, in reality, Reagan was just afraid of the Communists - after all, he had spent a good chunk of his life trying to save our society from destruction by Hollywood Communists.

But, the whole conservative argument does assume that it is OK for a president to scare the citizens with lies to build support for an action that is good for some undisclosed reason.

Posted by: Mark Gilbert at February 6, 2004 02:49 PM | PERMALINK

Of course the real reason that Bush went to war against Saddam is because Saddam tried to kill his daddy. Other people might have had other reasons to go to war, but that was his reason. He said it too many times to be coincidental.

Posted by: raj at February 6, 2004 02:52 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus, i think you are on the most accurate line with LBJ and the Gulf of Tonkin, but i don't regard "these things happen" as a particularly legitimate excuse. (nor is the parallel perfect, considering that we were already involved militarily.)

If i wrote it once, i wrote it dozens of times, here and at other blogs, that there was an "honest" case to be made for war, which may - or may not - have convinced the american public, but the backbone administration didn't even try.

And the "honest" case would have required a postwar plan, which Fallows confirms for us, thanks to his interview with Feith, would never have been allowed by Rumsfeld.

And yes, Tacitus, what's happening now was 100% predictable, since i, among others, predicted it: in those same endless postings before the war, i said that the war would go well and the postwar would go terribly, because why should we believe that bush-cheney-rumsfeld-feith-rice-perle-hadley gave two hoots about building a democracy in iraq (wolfowitze perhaps did, and powell it's hard to judge)? And i was hardly alone in noting this.

Posted by: howard at February 6, 2004 02:54 PM | PERMALINK

raj how many times is too many times to be coincidental? Links with quotes would be nice.

Posted by: MJ at February 6, 2004 02:58 PM | PERMALINK

In an interview today on CNN, Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley cheerfully conveyed the impression that lots of presidents lie when they want a war – e.g. Polk with Mexico, McKinley with Spain. And they’re still well thought of by historians. Plus, intelligence is very murky, murky business (think Pearl Harbor). So no problem, really.

Posted by: Elton Beard at February 6, 2004 03:00 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus, Just a minor point of clarification, I hope. As I recall my US history (I taught it at the HS level), McKinley had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the war. Hence, the need for the American imperialists to rely on the Pulitzers and Hursts to whip up pro war emotions. Initially, McKinley couldn't locate the Philippeans on a globe.

Posted by: Keith G at February 6, 2004 03:01 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus, the doctrine of preemption is new. LBJ took the trouble to pretend that North Vietnam had attacked us. Also, Iraq is on the other side of the world, not next door like Mexico or Cuba. Finally, the truth about this is coming out now, not years in the future. In fact, the weakness of the administration's WMD claims was evident even before the war to anyone who cared to see.

Posted by: No Preference at February 6, 2004 03:02 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus,

Thanks for clearing that up.

1. Clinton PR - turned out he was right; genocide was occuring. Final score: one arrested/on trial despot, zero dead US military. Don't really see a wholesale lie leading to war, don't really see an enormous loss, do see a gain in stability of region and sphere of influence for NATO.

2. LBJ/GofT: textbook example of lies leading to quagmire. Should have been read to Mr. Bush as a bed time story, a moral tale, so that he'd know why not to do it himself.

3. Lincoln: a real stretch for relevance to the current situation, and arguable on either side. But still, wouldn't you use it as an argument for what NOT to do?

4. McKinley: see 2. Perfect example of what NOT to do.

5. Polk/Mexico: Ibid.

If you seem to be arguing that all the cool kids do it, so why shouldn't George? Possibly you should think if of it as: all the other cool kids DIDN'T do it (the other forty-odd presidents), so maybe George SHOULDN'T HAVE this time, either.

Posted by: Jeff Boatright at February 6, 2004 03:03 PM | PERMALINK

but it does make this WMD thing not exactly unprecedented.

Jeez, that would make me think that we oughta be demanding a little more transperancy in our government, huh?

I had a lengthy email argument in the run-up to Gulf War II: Electric Boogaloo with two good friends. One was a rabid conservative, a Marine Capt. who flew C-130s, and the other was a small "c" conservative who hated Clinton, but was a Teddy Roosevelt worshipper. Both argued against me. I wrote that while, on the whole, the argument for invading and toppling Saddam's regime was probably a good thing, I didn't trust Bush to do it right. I argued that WMDs were probably non-existant, but that there could be remnants of Saddam's pre-1991 stockpiles. Also, I felt that Bush's rhetoric concerning dictatorships was inconsistent (e.g. Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc). Basically that the people running this administration were the same ones that fucked up Iraq in the first place by supporting Saddam before, but wouldn't be able to fix their mistake because they were using the same flawed logic from the 80's and earlier.

The Marine hasn't talked to me since June. The other is now a firm believer that Bush should be booted far from office, and was considering voting for Dean at one point.

Posted by: ChrisS at February 6, 2004 03:07 PM | PERMALINK

Kieth do you think Bush can find Iraq on a globe now?

Posted by: chef at February 6, 2004 03:10 PM | PERMALINK

First, for all of FDR's belligerence, Lend-Lease, naval orders shifting rules of engagement, destroyer patrols, etc., let's not forget that Germany declared war on the United States, not the other way 'round. There was still considerable resistance to war against Germany, and whether he could have successfully persuaded the American people to take up arms against Hitler without provocation, I don't know.

Back to the instant case, Iraq, today:

No, it isn't right within a republic for a leader to lie the citizenry into war. How can one argue that he is advancing the foreign spread of government by popular consent when he's frustrating it at home? Then, too, as we see in Iraq, there is a practical problem--when the switch becomes clear, and the fact that the publicly sold casus belli was merely the bait, the deceived nation gets a hard jolt of buyer's remorse. Is it shock enough to topple the deceptive leader? We'll see in November. Is it enough to cripple the longer occupation, to degrade the nation's will to see the war through to a humanitarian peace, to acheive all those other wonderful benefits that Victor, in his article, mentions? So far, it seems as though it is.

Finally, I have to mention that Victor needs to ask how the Adminstration, if it were conducting this war for humanitarian reasons, it bungled the job so very badly. Saddam fell, and chaos erupted. No longer fearful of Saddam, Iraqis were suddenly terrified of carjackers, rapists, vandals, thieves, score-settlers, religious zealots grabbing for power and property, and Islamist terrorists blowing themselves up in public places. The Iraqis, and many in the Arab world who quietly supported the United States intervention and the possibility of a democratization of the region, felt betrayed by the poorly-planned, undermanned occupation, which was itself fruit of an Administration misrepresentation of the costs of the war. As Human Rights Watch mentions, if humanitarian purposes were truly at the heart of the causes for war, then the manner in which the occupation began belies it.

Posted by: Brian C.B. at February 6, 2004 03:12 PM | PERMALINK

I want to know why Bush and Blair were so sure that they would find WMD's considering that intelligence is so unreliable. I woundn't trust the CIA to find it's way out of a paper bag. Did Saddam run a huge con on the West? It sure would make a good book to find out what really went on. (Maybe we don't really want to know.)

Posted by: Hi at February 6, 2004 03:19 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus, the doctrine of preemption is new.

At least, the Bush "preventive war" doctrine is new. Preemption, a response to an imminent threat, is well established and customarily accepted as equivalent to reactive war in response to an actual attack under international law.

Posted by: cmdicely at February 6, 2004 03:21 PM | PERMALINK

Chef, I bet he can now identfy the Sunni triangle

Posted by: Keith G at February 6, 2004 03:26 PM | PERMALINK

The left used to be anti-fascist.

Posted by: me at February 6, 2004 03:29 PM | PERMALINK

In defence of Lincoln, he did not initiate hostilities, and the South *did* invade the north (Gettysburg, anybody?).

The most instructive comparison is with Kosovoe and GWI. In both cases, while there was some dishonesty on the pro-war side, the central purpose of the wars were laid out and acheived consensus, and are widely held in the US and the world to justify a war.

All the other wars that Tacitus mentioned have ended up on the wrong side of history. All wars of unprovoked aggression have done so, and this war will be no different.

Posted by: Boronx at February 6, 2004 03:31 PM | PERMALINK

Almost a year after the war and our occupation of Iraq, it is clear to me that the principal reason that BushCo conducted the war to scratch an irresistable itch to kick Saddam's butt. (WMD was just the easiest rationale to sell). The administration did not seem to have any goals beyond that (witness the looting that was allowed and the non-existent exit strategy). Its been up to each war supporter to find a reason for war that made sense to him/her. The most disreputable one to me was Tom Friedman's, "We need to go kill some Arabs just to show them we could do it! (my paraphasing)" Thanks a lot, Tom!

Posted by: Michael at February 6, 2004 03:36 PM | PERMALINK

"In order to gain public approval, is it OK for the president of the United States to massively misrepresent a foreign threat merely because he believes that we ought to fight a war?"

Come on, you've been pretty good lately (except for your silly torn document) but you know this isn't a fair question. Bush believed that Iraq was a foreign threat. You ought to phrase the question:

Is it okay for a president to wage a war based on threats he believes to exist based on the evidence before him, even though the evidence is not conclusive?

Again, the intelligence is not a set of hard facts, its open to interpretation. Bush looked at the evidence in light of 9/11, better to act and be wrong than not act and be wrong. This is the whole bit about fighting before the threat is imminent.

Posted by: Reg at February 6, 2004 03:37 PM | PERMALINK

“No longer fearful of Saddam, Iraqis were suddenly terrified of carjackers, rapists, vandals, thieves, score-settlers, religious zealots grabbing for power”

Brian C. B., I think we forget, I know I do, about what makes for acceptable losses in a conservative way of thinking. In the US, it doesn’t matter that millions are jobless, as long as a few can become wealthy CEOs. It doesn’t matter that millions are without health care as long as some can get their hands on a gold plated health plan. It doesn’t matter that millions are living in abject poverty as long as some can live in a gated community.

It doesn’t matter what happens to the average Iraqi, as long as the upper caste get to it at the head table. Ya know, to make a tasty omlet….

Posted by: Keith G at February 6, 2004 03:39 PM | PERMALINK

Reg, what evidence was that?

Posted by: Boronx at February 6, 2004 03:39 PM | PERMALINK

Anyway, Reg, assuming you're right about Bush's state of mind, which is unlikely given the real actual evidence that has appeared lately, you're just making the case after the fact. Your case is directly contrary to the case that was actually made before the war.

Posted by: Boronx at February 6, 2004 03:43 PM | PERMALINK

Let's play fair: Tacitus isn't saying those examples excuse the action taken--at least, not explicitly; merely that fudging a casus belli is not without precedent in American history. (He did, after all, say "No.")

Of course, there's fudge, and then there's Mississippi mud pie with hot fudge sauce. Not to strain a metaphor to its breaking point or nothin'.

And me? I recall a time when the right could argue without blithely rewriting history and redefining terms in mid-stream. Change is a bitch, isn't it.

Posted by: --kip at February 6, 2004 03:43 PM | PERMALINK

Bush's deception was wrong on principal, but also as a matter of practicality. Because he built his mandate on deception, it was paper thin, and bound to shred when setbacks occured. As a result, he doesn't have the support to finish the job properly and the chance of a net positive outcome to this mess is diminishing daily.

True leadership means taking the time to build your case and honestly bring enough of the opposition over to your side. That's hard work and may require expending some political capital, but that should be an acceptable cost for a truly worthy cause. In the case of Iraq, the threat was not imminent, so Bush had the time to build broader and deeper support.

Of course, he didn't do that. He took the easy way out by playing to fear and other emotions and fabricating large parts of his case. Instead of winning over allies, he simply ignored them.

Posted by: scottd at February 6, 2004 03:44 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus concedes to much by even answering the loaded question. However he is still wrong in saying no. The president is commander in chief, and has the duty to act against threats to the union. Thus if the president believes war is necessary to protect the nation, I don't think there are any limits on his power to promote the action his duty calls him to do, save re-election and impeachment.

Thus if a president is "whipping up support for a war they don't happen to like so well" the only checks are the electorate and impeachment proceedings, and it would have to be a extreme case for me to support impeachment of a president promoting war that he truly believes is necessary for the protection of the country. Its not a matter of "providing the same carte blanche", the constitution gives the president complete control already.

Posted by: Reg at February 6, 2004 03:45 PM | PERMALINK

er... make that "principle"

Posted by: scottd at February 6, 2004 03:45 PM | PERMALINK

"Reg, what evidence was that?"

Not this game. There was enough that every intelligence agency in the world thought he had weapons.
You cannot say there is no evidence simply because there was not conclusive evidence. Read my question again.

Is it okay for a president to wage a war based on threats he believes to exist based on the evidence before him, even though the evidence is not conclusive?

Posted by: Reg at February 6, 2004 03:48 PM | PERMALINK

Which is why he rushed to war and short circuited the inspection process and stooped to using forged evidence, right Reg?

Posted by: Boronx at February 6, 2004 03:50 PM | PERMALINK

It seems really clear that
(1) the Bush Admin planned to invade Iraq from early on (pre-9/11);
(2) They knew before 9/11 that Saddam didn't have WMD, based on Powell's and Rice's statements;
(3) They went to war to remake the map of the Middle East, to install a pro-US, pro-Israeli government in Iraq that would give the US first crack at the oil, fanciful as that may seem to ordinary people;
(4) They knew the public wouldn't sign on for a grand series of wars to remake the Middle East, so they needed a more saleable reason;
(5) So they settled on the "Saddam is a bad guy" case, blithely ignoring that the CIA had put the Ba'athists in power in the first place and we had not only supported Saddam but backed his war against Iran, cooperated by giving him intelligence and weapons and at least tacitly condoned his use of poison gas on the Iranians (Rummy's trips to Iraq in 1983-1984) and allowed him to slaughter the Shi'ia in 1991 by not lifting a finger to stop the slaughter;
(6) AND they pumped up the intell, dropped the caveats and made it seem like Saddam had WMD. They knew he really didn't have nuclear weapons; they knew that at best he had some old C/BW that could be used on the battlefield, in which case they were prepared to nuke the Iraqis, but they didn't try really hard to look for any of this.

So what are we to conclude? Yes, they deceived the American people. No, they don't really care a whole lot about the Iraqi people, and no, they don't believe in spreading democracy, but only the "right" to be pro-American and have US bases on Iraqi soil. Noner of this is consistent with democracy, but then the Bushies, anbd probably most conservatives, don't really believe in government by the consent of the governed.

Posted by: Mimikatz at February 6, 2004 03:51 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus is correct in that Presidential deceit is very common in the putting forth the rationale for war. Does one actually believe that the concepts put forth by Lincoln at the 2nd inaugural address were entirely foreign to his thought in 1861? Or is it more likely that the extraordinarily shrewd Lincoln knew better than to publicly express such thoughts in 1861? Now, I am not a Lincoln basher, as some people with anti-statist sentiments are, because I think fighting the Civil War, despite it's hideous costs, both immediate and lingering, was, on the whole, a worthy cause, and was a success, although not a total success.

50 years hence, this President's actions will be judged on the results. Period. If Iraq becomes a better place for Iraqis to live, and makes even marginal progress to self-government, while the region as a whole makes measurable improvment, then history will view the action in a positive light. If things are not left in a better state, then the action will be judged very harshly, but that would have been the case if there was entirely honest rhetoric leading up to the war.

None of this is meant to be a moral judgement, but only a description of how the world works. Many people (such as U.S. Grant) at the beginning and aftermath of the Mexican-American War decried the behavior of the politicians who instigated the conflict. I don't hear too many Americans today decrying the results, however.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 6, 2004 03:52 PM | PERMALINK

There's a conflation here between the administration being wrong and the administration knowingly misrepresenting the facts. Some critics seem to argue that every instance of the former must also be an instance of the latter. And yet many people outside the administration believed that the Iraqi nuclear program posed a potential near term danger. Ken Pollack thought war in 2003 might have been mistimed, but still thought we had a window of only a few years to deal with the situation. In The Threatening Storm, he stated that: "there is a consensus that Iraq has resumed work on nuclear weapons" (p. 174) and later gives
2004 as the "most pessimistic" and 2008 as the "most optimistic" estimate of when "Western intelligence agencies" expected Saddam to have a workable bomb (418). The optimistic estimates were based on Iraq having to mount its own enrichment program, but if it could obtain ready-made fissile material abroad, "it could then probably build a workable device in a year or two" (175). Pollack's views were based on his work during the Clinton administration, and are presumably untainted by any Doug Feith black magic. Now did the administration come strongly on the more "pessimistic" side of the available range of assesments. Sure. Is that necessarily a sign of bad faith and misrepresentation? I don't see why. Sometimes people just get it wrong.

Posted by: rd at February 6, 2004 03:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Ronald Reagan [misled], not with a hot war, but with the Cold War arms build-up. He told us and congress that the USSR had real superiority in millitary power and that we had to spend like holy-be-Jesus to keep up."

Now, I'm just curious, I don't know all the details. Did Reagan KNOW that the Soviets were collapsing? I know JFK did the same sort of thing with the "missle gap" in 1960. Did he know there was no missile gap? And to what extent did JFKs warmongering exacerbate the situation?

Posted by: Reg at February 6, 2004 03:54 PM | PERMALINK
Is it okay for a president to wage a war based on threats he believes to exist based on the evidence before him, even though the evidence is not conclusive?

Well, no, that's not the right question. The question, is it right for the President to lie to Congress and the American people and say that the evidence is conclusive and unquestionable when, in fact, it is inconclusive.


Posted by: cmdicely at February 6, 2004 03:56 PM | PERMALINK

Is it okay for a president to wage a war based on threats he believes to exist based on the evidence before him, even though the evidence is not conclusive?

Is it okay for a president to wage war based on a belief he had prior to seeing the evidence, even though the evidence, when obtained, does not indicate a threat?

Posted by: Anarch at February 6, 2004 03:57 PM | PERMALINK

Mimikatz, I don't think any of those things are true at all, much less "really clear".
And Boronx, your question makes no sense.

Posted by: Reg at February 6, 2004 03:58 PM | PERMALINK

Most of this discussion is based on the assumption that a President requires the pre-approval of the populace before he makes any decision. Given that the United States governing system is a REPUBLIC, our president need not gain majority approval before making any decision.

WMD was one reason, and there are a myriad of others. It just happens that this particular issue is the one that has not yet lived up to pre-war expectations.

Posted by: federalist at February 6, 2004 03:58 PM | PERMALINK

^ Or really, what cmdicely said.

Posted by: Anarch at February 6, 2004 03:58 PM | PERMALINK

The left used to be anti-fascist.

Hey, its not the left that decided Uzbekistan was our "partner".


Posted by: cmdicely at February 6, 2004 03:58 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen - Many of the people "Americanized" by the wars that Tacitus mentions are undoubtedly better off for it, but it hasn't changed the poor light with which history views them.
Whatever Lincolns private thoughts were, the American people were not deceived about what was at stake in the war.

Posted by: Boronx at February 6, 2004 03:58 PM | PERMALINK

"The president [ ] has the duty to act against threats to the unionThe president"

Yes, he does. In this case, the threat was and is from Al Queda, but Bush played bait and switch. No one anywhere has established a credible link between Saddam Hussein and Al Queda, so what's going on?

Posted by: Mara at February 6, 2004 03:59 PM | PERMALINK

All of your questions assume Bush knew Iraq posed no threat. He has given absolutely no reason to think that was his mental state. You are reaching your own conclusions on the evidence and assuming that your conclusion is the only one anybody can reach. Sorry, I see no reason to think even now that Bush doesn't believe Iraq posed a threat worth waging war to end.

Posted by: Reg at February 6, 2004 04:00 PM | PERMALINK
Most of this discussion is based on the assumption that a President requires the pre-approval of the populace before he makes any decision.

No, its not.

Its based on the belief that the President is responsible for explaining some decisions to the public, and more importantly that certain decisions are, in fact, Constitutionally in the hands of other branches of government, among them, the decision to go to war when it is not forced upon us, either by an actual attack, or its near cousin, an imminent threat.


Given that the United States governing system is a REPUBLIC, our president need not gain majority approval before making any decision.

Actually, there are many decisions that a President must receive majority approval (of the Congress) before implementing under the law. Apparently, you think that "Republic" means "Presidential Dictatorship". This is true of, for instance, Saddam's Iraq -- which was a Republic, as well -- but not, at least in theory, of the United States.

Posted by: cmdicely at February 6, 2004 04:02 PM | PERMALINK
All of your questions assume Bush knew Iraq posed no threat.

All of whose comments? Its better if you make responses that are clear as to what they respond to, rather than broad and inaccurate generalizations.

Most of the comments here seem to refer to misleading the public about the evidence, not about Bush misrepresenting his belief about Iraq. Its about Bush claiming to "know" things for which he had only inconclusive evidence, not him claiming to believe things he knew to be false.

Posted by: cmdicely at February 6, 2004 04:05 PM | PERMALINK

Ya know Reg, what I find ironic is the statement:

“Bush looked at the evidence in light of 9/11, better to act and be wrong than not act and be wrong. This is the whole bit about fighting before the threat is imminent.”

It seems to me that it is becoming more evident that the Bush administration had more information about an imminent threat from Ben Laden pre 9/11 than they did about the currently debated information about Hussain. Even Tenet, on Aug. 6 was saying we need to expect to take a hit from UBL in the very near future. I do not believe the he said he was saying the same in regards to Iraq.

Posted by: Keith G at February 6, 2004 04:05 PM | PERMALINK

Boronx, if Lincoln had tried to raise armies while communicating his real view of the war's purpose, as expressed in the 2nd Inaugural, the southern border of the U.S. today would be the Mason-Dixon line.

Find me a large number of Americans who view the results of Mexican-American war in a negative light, and I'll start to believe that this President's actions in Iraq will be judged, 150 years hence, through any prism other than what the results were.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 6, 2004 04:05 PM | PERMALINK

Reg, actually, the president doesn't, constitutionally, have the power to take us to war. Only the congress does. In practice, though, that consitutional mandate is often ignored.

That said, let's try this "evidence" thing one more time: many intel agencies believed that it was likely that saddam had some degree of chemical and biological weapons. Only the OSP (as far as i've ever been able to glean) was certain that Saddam had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program. This is rather a critical matter of distinction.

Reagan's approach to the arms buildup was a very high stakes game of chicken, but it was betted by the same people who thought the OSP was right on the money - the famous "Team B" that was sure the CIA was underestimating the Soviet threat rather than, as history tells us, overestimating it.

JFK, to the best of my knowledge, honestly believed there was a missile gap, although whether he had a legitimate basis for that belief i'm not sure of.

Most broadly, though, Reg, in reality, the president, every day, has to come to grips with uncertainties about threat levels around the world. George Bush has demonstrated that he lacks the maturity and background to be making those judgments.

Will, i must say, i just don't understand: if, as you regularly argue, there's nothing much to be said about anything today because who knows how history will evaluate it in 50 or 100 years (and your notion of "history"'s evaluation seems to be more along the lines of "popular culture's judgement"), then why do you bother to get involved in these discussions at all? Just to make that point over and over again? WE may not agree on a lot, but you're capable of much better than that....

Posted by: howard at February 6, 2004 04:07 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus: "Or Lincoln's claims of a (almost certainly nonexistent) danger to the Northern states as a justification for invading the South".

Wow, is this slanted! Lincoln didn't claim a danger to "the Northern states"; he claimed a danger to the Union! And considering that seven states had (illegally, in the view of Lincoln and many others) declared themselves out of the Union, had formed a rival government, had raised an army, had taken federal property and installations by force, and had beseiged and assaulted one federal installation (Fort Sumter), Lincoln had good grounds for that claim!

From a higher perspective, comparing the danger to our country from half of it breaking away and warring on the remaining half to the danger to our country from a decrepit and decayed Iraq just shows how far the remaining supporters of the pre-war deception will go!

And, Reg, I don't believe you have the power to read Bush's mind and discern his true intent.

Posted by: Civil-Rights Lawyer at February 6, 2004 04:08 PM | PERMALINK
Find me a large number of Americans who view the results of Mexican-American war in a negative light, and I'll start to believe that this President's actions in Iraq will be judged, 150 years hence, through any prism other than what the results were.

Find me evidence that Iraq is largely populated by Americans the way much of the Mexican territory (plus Texas) acquired in the Mexican-American War were prior to that war, and that the United States plans annexation, statehood, and integration of Iraq, and I'll start to believe that the view of the results of the Mexican-American War by Americans today (a sizable percentage of whom live in territory ceded after the Mexican-American War) has any relation with how the War in Iraq is likely to be viewed in 150 years.

Posted by: cmdicely at February 6, 2004 04:08 PM | PERMALINK

"War supporters need to face up to this squarely and provide an honest answer to this question: In order to gain public approval, is it OK for the president of the United States to massively misrepresent a foreign threat merely because he believes that we ought to fight a war?"

He didn't. The emphasis on WMD was because the UN sanctions were based on the WMD program and 1441 was a WMD resolution.

As far as international law- The Gulf War I cease fire had been violated. This, legally, was resumption of GWI. The same situation would have applied if the French had marched into the Rhineland in 1936, which they should have done.

As far as preemption is concerned-the 1967 Arab-Israeli war began with the Israelis taking out the Egyptian air force. I think it's a fair comparison. Of course, many of you are probably anti-Israel.

Roosevelt assumed that the Japanese would attack the Dutch East Indies, where the oil was. He never anticipated the daring of the Pearl Harbor attack. He did force the issue with both Germany and Japan. That didn't take much with Germany. The Japanese Navy were worldly and feared the US. The Army was provincial and had very little knowledge of the outside world. The Army wanted war but the Navy tried to get a quick knock-out. If Guadalcanal and Midway had gone the other way, they might have pulled it off.

Posted by: Mike K at February 6, 2004 04:10 PM | PERMALINK

And Boronx, your question makes no sense.

Why, if he was basing his facts on the evidence, did he use evidence he knew was fraudulent? Why, as the evidence became more accurate and more focused, and it began to point to the fact that Saddam was no threat, did he short circuit the inspection process and rush to war?

These are the actions, like Anarch wrote, of a man who seeks evidence to fit his conclusion.

Posted by: Boronx at February 6, 2004 04:11 PM | PERMALINK

So, when an informed congress approves action as it did in this case and the president makes his decision based on the available informaiton, he is resposible for sharing all of the availble information with the electorate?

My flawed assumption was that we all knew that in this case the congress had already given approval to the president.

Posted by: federalist at February 6, 2004 04:12 PM | PERMALINK

The point of Kevin's post is that this issue no longer has anything to do with whether or not the case for war could be made. The whole Bush administration time and again put 'hard evidence' of saddam's danger in front of the american public. One example, Tenet said yesterday that they 'believed' hussein was producing bio weapons. BUT, had no evidence of either stockpiles or production. Also, he said he had two reliable sources, one of which said No to bio weapons and the other yes. Bush, Powell and Cheney on the other hand not only claimed stockpiles, they claimed hard numbers. They turned a legal anamoly, unaccountable weapons, into concrete hard evidence. THIS IS A FUCKING LIE. One of many that Tenet exposed yesterday.

Posted by: bonco at February 6, 2004 04:14 PM | PERMALINK

Even if one concedes that it was necessary to go to war with Iraq, Bush is still accountable for his conduct of the war. My point is that his deception in justifying the war was at least an operational failure, because it made for thin support at home, which would ultimately impinge on his ability to successfully conclude the operation. Once the true costs started to become known and the professed justification started to crumble, support for sticking it out to a successful conclusion began to evaporate. This is going to directly affect Bush's ability to get a good result -- and end results matter. Since it was also a foreseeable consequence of his tactics, he should be held accountable for those tactics.

Posted by: scottd at February 6, 2004 04:14 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen, I may be wrong, but however happy we are with the results, I believe the Mexican war itself, and the president's actions leading up to it are viewed very poorly today.

Posted by: Boronx at February 6, 2004 04:14 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, I'm genuinely shocked by this arguement that "Bush believed that Iraq was a foreign threat". None of you cons *actually* believe that do you?

For starters, Colin Powell testified in '01 that Iraq wasn't even a threat to their neighbors, let alone a threat to us.

Secondly, the inspectors were in country and had the situation well in hand, despite the GOPs sudden bouts of Alzheimers.

Thirdly, we had the country surrounded, under sanctions, and watched like a hawk. Every time he moved troops in a way we didn't like, we'd send the jets in and bomb the living hell out of something just for the fun of it, something we'd been doing non-stop for years. So there was no way he was going to be able to ANYTHING threatening without our knowing it.

Fourthly, even if Hussein had any real WMDs, does anybody think that he'd really use them, and that even if he tried, given the wonderful history of Iraqui military might (anybody remember the Scud?), that they'd actually be effective? (and for that matter, just who would he use them against?) As soon as he used anything Baghdad would be reduced to radioactive rubble from any number of sources, mot the least of which would be Israel.

If you want to argue that he'd give them to terrorists, well, then you end up contradicting the CIA, since Tenet testified that IF he had WMDs, the surest way to make him give them to terrorists would be to invade. Besides which, we have as our ally Pakistan, who not only actually HAVE WMDs, but also has been known to harbor terrorists.

So don't give me this BS about Duh-bya actually thinking that Iraq was a threat. There were any number of reasons why Duh-bya wanted to invade, but if you actually think that "the Iraqi threat" was one of them, then you are painting him as dumber than a bag of hammers.

Posted by: rickenharp at February 6, 2004 04:17 PM | PERMALINK

howard, I make no specific prediction as to how history will judge Bush's action in Iraq 50 or 100 years hence, because I don't adopt the conceit that I can predict what events will occur in the next year, much less the next 20. What I can predict with confidence, however, is that if matters improve in any given timeframe, the actions taken during that timeframe will be generally viewed positively, even if no definite causative connection can be empirically proven (as likely will be the case).

When we previously discussed this topic, in was in regards to tax policy, which is so impermanent and ephemeral in nature as to make it extremely unlikely that people 50 or 100 years hence will even pay attention to what a President's tax policy was, much less judge him harshly or positively as a result. Decisions regarding war are not nearly as impermenant or ephemeral, and history (and what is history's judgement if not the opinion of the people who will follow us?) will judge a President's decisions in this matter largely on the results, and as previously stated, I don't pretend to be able to predict specific outcomes.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 6, 2004 04:22 PM | PERMALINK

Boronx and Will Allen....Recall from your political history of the 1840s that there was at least one politician who spoke out against the War with Mexico. He thought it was immoral. He was a repetitive from Illinois. He was Abraham Lincoln. Just a point of interest.

Posted by: Keith G at February 6, 2004 04:32 PM | PERMALINK

Will, perhaps i didn't express myself clearly.

I get what your mindset is (regardless of whether i agree with it); what i don't get is why you bother to engage in these discussions. Yes, the people after us will have their own opinions about what we did. You appear to be unwilling to stake your own opinion on anything today just because the people after us will have their own opinions.

Am i mis-stating what you believe?

Mike K, i think we can now take it as a given that you are deranged.

No, you say, Bush didn't put an emphasis on WMDs; he put an emphasis on...WMDs. You call this an argument?

As for your offensive strawman supposition that people here hate Israel, 1967 represents what an imminent threat actually looks like.

It looks nothing like Iraq in February, 2003 vis-a-vis America.

As usual, i suggest that the cure for your problems is to spend less time posting and more time reading and learning....

PS. Even though it's only 37 years on, i believe even will allen will agree that history has judged that israel did the right thing in 1967.

Posted by: howard at February 6, 2004 04:33 PM | PERMALINK
As far as international law- The Gulf War I cease fire had been violated. This, legally, was resumption of GWI.

No, it wasn't. The only power authorized to decide to lift the binding cease-fire imposed by the UN Security Council in response to either the US/British or Iraqi violations was the UN Security Council.

The same situation would have applied if the French had marched into the Rhineland in 1936, which they should have done.

The applicable international law was different in 1936 and 2003. In the intervening period, for pertinent example, the UN Charter was adopted.

As far as preemption is concerned-the 1967 Arab-Israeli war began with the Israelis taking out the Egyptian air force.

That's kind of murky. That's arguably when the shooting began (if you don't count the raids on Syria earlier in the year which ratcheted things up as the beginning of the war). The Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran was, however, an act of war, and an imminent threat in the narrowest sense, and preceded the Israeli attack on the Egyptian airforce.

Posted by: cmdicely at February 6, 2004 04:33 PM | PERMALINK

The whole discussion of did-he-or-didn't-he-have-WMD is overblown. We were clear that he was far from getting nuclear weapons, and the inspections that were renewed pre-war would have prevented him from getting them indefinitely.

Even with the threat of chemical and biological weapons, he wasn't much feared by his neighbors, who knew that this military had deteriorated.

The only threat was that he would give chemical and/or biological weapons to Al Quaeda, thus increasing their capabilities for terror. That would be bad. But, the argument that he was about to do that was stupid on its face - Bin Laden was calling for the overthrow of regimes like Saddam's - and no good evidence of a connection has appeared.

Actually, there is some evidence. The leader of the free world and his cronies have repeatedly suggested that there is a link. That is evidence, though in this case it didn't turn out to be good evidence.

Posted by: Mark Gilbert at February 6, 2004 04:33 PM | PERMALINK

"Press release, The New Yorker

Jan. 11, 2004

... After [New Yorker reporter Ken] Auletta observed an Oval Office interview Bush gave to a British tabloid, he spoke with the President about a mutual friend, Tom Bernstein, a former co-owner, with Bush, of the Texas Rangers. Bernstein, a proponent of human rights, has often been criticized by liberal friends, for supporting the President. "Bernie is great," Bush said, and then added, "No President has ever done more for human rights than I have."
"

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/gossip/story/153985p-135485c.html

Posted by: goldstar for you at February 6, 2004 04:35 PM | PERMALINK

Lincoln might have been repetitive *but* he was a representative. ;)

Posted by: Keith G at February 6, 2004 04:36 PM | PERMALINK

Howard:

"Reg, actually, the president doesn't, constitutionally, have the power to take us to war. Only the congress does."

Off topic because Bush got Congressional approval - but that's not how I read the U.S. Constitution, especially in this day and age with missile technology. The President is Commander-in-Chief. Only the Congress can formally "declare" war, or fund" war. Maybe that's what you meant, Constitutionally?

Posted by: Charlie at February 6, 2004 04:39 PM | PERMALINK

"But that doesn't change the fact that they were mere trifles in the administration's public case."

You are speaking only of his case to the UN and afterwards. Which because of the forum had to be focused on WMD.

His case to Congress (the legal basis for the war) was on on almost all of the issues which Hanson mentions.

The debates are public record. They consist mostly of Byrd and Kennedy arguing that we couldn't go to war without an imminent threat and supporters of the war saying that Byrd and Kennedy were wrong (imminent threat not necessary) and that there were lots of good reasons to authorize a war against Saddam.

The UN isn't interested in lots of things that the rest of us find interesting. Because of China and Russia it doesn't get too interested in armed destruction of minority groups. Because of France and Russia it couldn't be too interested in abuses of the 'Food for Aid' program which helped Saddam profit by starving his own people. The UN certainly isn't interested in democracy promotion see Russia, China, every non-Israeli Middle Eastern delegation, most African and South American countries and many of the Asian countries.

The forum of the UN forced the focus on WMD. Yet another brilliant argument for going to the UN.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw at February 6, 2004 04:43 PM | PERMALINK

As far as international law- The Gulf War I cease fire had been violated. This, legally, was resumption of GWI.

This completely wrong, but it's the second time this argument has been suggested in two days on this website. Both lawyers at the US Department of State and the Lord Chancellor issued narrow opinions on the legality of the war. Since the holder of the "armistice" was the United Nations, not the United States or Great Britain, it required a careful interpretation of Resolution 1441. On the eve of war, in London, there was some suggestion that the war might yet be illegal under international law. Now that the danger of weapons has proven illusory, the complaint has resurfaced.

As far as preemption is concerned-the 1967 Arab-Israeli war began with the Israelis taking out the Egyptian air force.

Thank you for this teaching moment: Israel acted legally because it was pre-empting a clear and present danger, an imminent threat. Was the threat to the United States in truth "imminent"? Well, of course it wasn't. The war was "preventive," not pre-emptive. Preventive wars are illegal. Why? Because the proof required is so thin that it might cloak an agressor's true imperial intentions, or be waged on a deep misreading of the presumptive adversary's intentions and capacities. Death, destruction, and expropriation ensue. Which, actually, pretty much describes the Iraq one.

Posted by: Brian C.B. at February 6, 2004 04:45 PM | PERMALINK

I think one issue overlooked in this debate is the issue of timing and urgency. One part of the reason they had to state repeatedly that Saddam has stockpiles of weapons was so they could argue we cannot wait any longer to invade. What we know now, and many suspected then, was that the threat was not that imminent. Bush could have spenbt 6 more months putting pressure on the U.N. to enforce it's resolutions, perhaps even pushing the U.N. to indict Hussein for war crimes. It seems to me to at least be possible to have not only pushed for more invasive WMD inspections, but some sort of human rights inspections as well. Along with the constant threat of military action, it is possible that such pressure could have caused his regime to collapse from within. It that doesn't work, eventually you invade, but at this point hopefully you have garnered much more international support. It may be crazy, just a thought.

Also, as Kevin has pointed out, there were many good reasons for regime change in Iraq, but the complete failure for adequate post-war planning makes the humanitarian argument ring a little hollow.

Posted by: David Perlman at February 6, 2004 04:51 PM | PERMALINK

The forum of the UN forced the focus on WMD. Yet another brilliant argument for going to the UN.

Damn those U.N. people! And now, they're even reluctant to take over the mess we've made in Iraq, no matter how much we beg them! If you can't disregard their advice for months, hold forth on their impotence, hold them up to ridicule, and expect them to come running save your own sorry ass, anyway what good are they? Where's the gratitude?

Posted by: Brian C.B. at February 6, 2004 04:52 PM | PERMALINK

Yes Boronx, there are some who view the U.S. actions leading up to the Mexican American war very poorly. But Kevin wrote:

"In a democracy that's simply not acceptable. Regardless of whether history judges the war kindly, the leader of a democracy must be honest about his reasons for going to war. If those honest reasons are not enough to convince his fellow citizens, then the war does not get fought."

What does it mean to say that an action is "not acceptable", if nearly everyone is quite enthusiastic about accepting the results?

Similarly, if largely positive developments occur in the Middle East in the coming years and decades, developments that people largely approve of, the meaning of the statement "Bush's actions in regards to Iraq were unacceptable" will be somewhat toothless.

This doesn't just apply to American citizens. The other day, Kevin wrote of a study which painted U.S. interventions since WWII in a negative light, due to the measurement of how frequently democracy occurred within 10 years in the country where the U.S. intervened. Now, if we were to have a conversation with the residents of Seoul today, and it were really to become a proposition that the results of the Korean war were to be altered, resulting in the North having dominion over Seoul, how many do you think would re-examine whatever anti-American attitudes they have (however rightfully) developed?

All of this is simply to say that many things in this Vale of Tears are relative. Life under the Hussein family's rule was very, very, awful. If life for the average Iraqi makes considerable improvement in the next 20 years, as opposed to the last 20, I doubt, if push comes to shove, that a large percentage of Iraqis will be willing to have the events of the past year reversed, just as I doubt that were many residents of Seoul in 1972 who would have been willing to reverse the results of who governed Seoul in 1972, despite the deficiencies in how Seoul was governed then.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 6, 2004 04:54 PM | PERMALINK

Good grief, Charlie, i am going to agree with PaulB.

Surely, surely you aren't questioning that the warmaking power resides in Congress are you? You aren't seriously questioning that the constitutional intent is for the Congress and not the commander-in-chief to "declare" war?

Now if you want to tell me that this constitutioanl mandate has been neglected for a number of wars, obviously you're right.

But yes, the president does not, in his guise as commander-in-chief, have the authority, constitutionally, to launch a war.

Sebastian, did you read the actual resolution? It is primarily about the threat of WMDs, secondarily loaded with references to terrorists and 9/11, and very vaguely calls Saddam a bad guy.

Your interpretation of the debate has literally nothing to do with the actual resolution that was voted on.

http://www.yourcongress.com/ViewArticle.asp?article_id=2686

Posted by: howard at February 6, 2004 04:58 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Perle — quoted here— doesn't think the invasion was legal. Which doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing to do, of course.

Oh, whatever happened to that winger disdain for situational ethics?

Posted by: dix at February 6, 2004 05:05 PM | PERMALINK

What I am saying, howard, is that one is better served by restricting one's opinions to those matters that are not entirely dependent on making wild guesses on the future, or to couch one's opinions with acknowledgement that the opinion is tenuous, due to the inability to forsee events. The accuracy of the assertion, for instance, that Bush's actions will be judged harshly, is entirely dependent on how events unfold, and only a deeply ignorant or dishonest person would pretend to know at this date how events will unfold. Actually, this is a prominent defect in most political commentary; the adoption of the conceit that one has a crytal ball, thus allowing confident assertions. Nobody ever got paid or elected, however, by saying, "Damned if I know what is going to happen!", and thus much bloviating ensues.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 6, 2004 05:08 PM | PERMALINK

Sebastian -- The war resolution is almost entirely about WMD and Al Qaeda. The president was only allowed to make war if the Saddam defied the UN or presented a threat to the U.S. The president was required to submit a finding to that effect before inasion, which he did. I suspect that document will come back to haunt him.

Posted by: Boronx at February 6, 2004 05:11 PM | PERMALINK

Kev,

Read over your last pro/anti-war posts and saw a couple of things I didn't agree with. They might more belong back there, but they are very war-related. And with peaceniks being so marginalized in America, conflict resolution-type ideas don't make it into the mainstream.

First, I disagree that war was the only possible answer to the Saddam scenario. It was never a war now vs. war later scanario. If you've grown up with brothers and sisters, think about the ways you would want to really get back at them, but punching your sister in the face was just unthinkable. There are other ways to achieve desired results. Collusions, conspiracies, you name it. And if you're really good, it can be done quickly and with lightning quickness.

I challenge anyone to convince me that the U.S., with our God-like powers of persuasion, could not remove Saddam in a manner that made everyone at least moderately happy, if not ecstatic. Look at our coalition of the willing. We kicked those people into line. Imagine if the U.S. actually had honest intentions with Iraq - or even semi-honest intentions? Talk about increasing America's prestige and therefore security! Over the course of a few months, the U.S. and every other civilized nation on the face of the earth, could bring to bear on Saddam and his crew an unrelenting and ultimately unbearable burden. He'd either step down, submit to full inspections, etc.

The problem was we never had honest intentions there and everyone but US citizens knew it. I knew right away (scout's honor) that Bush was challenging Saddam's manhood from day one. The only way to successfully get the greenlight on an invasion would be to humiliate Saddam so much in the run-up to the war that Saddam had no choice but to give us and the rest of the world the bird. He had to in order to save his dignity! I dunno, to me, it was obvious. Sh*t! So, war is not the only way to go - ever. Watch the first few days of Kick-the-Crap-Out-Of-Iraq-Mania on news clips and quotes from the Prez. The tone was never we would like to go in and inspect the stuff that we think Saddam possesses. It was more like Saddam is shirking his responsibilities, he is hiding stuff, and we need intrusive inspections immediately or else. Or else? Or else what, Bush? You business-failin, somehow-yale-graduatin, harvard-mba-buyin, oil-well-diggin, empty-head-havin, southern-drawl-talkin, pissant? If Bush opened the door just one little bit - no war. So, war is not the only option. Hopefully we'll all see that before nuclear winter, but I doubt it. Glad I'm not afraid of the afterlife.

Second - and I'm no historian - but the Middle East is not stable? You mean, as stable as....Eastern Europe? South America? Africa? Southeast Asia? I don't get that at all. The only unrest that happens in the Middle East is when the CIA gets a little too excited and starts meddling to whip the Mullahs back in line.

Oh sh*t! Dean is talking VP! I'm down with that!

Posted by: Peter at February 6, 2004 05:12 PM | PERMALINK

Oops, I didn't mean to parrot you, howard!

Posted by: Boronx at February 6, 2004 05:12 PM | PERMALINK

Keith G., Lincoln's opposition to the Mexican War is a very interesting topic, and too often forgotten.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 6, 2004 05:13 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks to Kip for actually, uh, reading what I wrote as opposed to a few others who managed to embarrass themselves.

Boronx, citing Gettysburg -- which campaign occurred after the South had been continually invaded on multiple fronts for two years -- as an example of a Southern aggressive threat against the North is....well, bizarre.

Bottom line here is that the Administration deserves to get called on this WMD nonsense. But that does not mean there weren't good reasons to go to war with Iraq; nor does it mean that the war there now is inherently doomed to failure. Agreed with whomever above was making the point that history will be kind if the end result is a good one. For now, I'm of the Chou En-Lai School of the French Revolution: It's too soon to tell.

Posted by: Tacitus at February 6, 2004 05:15 PM | PERMALINK

Boronx, no problem: sometimes these comments pass in the ether.

Tacitus, you're praising Will Allen, but in a sense, you're succumbing to the same problem that i have with Will. I don't honestly know what history is going to say, anymore than Will or you do.

What i do know is that it's unacceptable to make a phony case for war when there's a real case - which may or may not have won public support - to be made.

I do know that the phony case for war was part of a mindset (sorry to repeat myself from dozens of comments ago) that made it almost impossible for us to be sucessful by our own criteria in postwar iraq.

I do know that despite sebastian's disdain, sistani has essentially told us to go and fuck ourselves, he will only take the UN's word on elections, which is part of why so many of us thought that if we're insistent on this war and this threat assessment, let's do it in a way that is likely to lead to a better outcome.

Sure, it is possible that there will be a better outcome in iraq than now seems likely; that won't change the dishonesty of the prewar.

And if, as i noted to will, that "popular culture" accepts that things got "better" in iraq in particular or the middle east in general as a result of this war, that won't mean that "history" (meaning a craft practiced by professionals interested in what actually happened) will suddenly forgive the dishonesty of the backbone administration.

Posted by: howard at February 6, 2004 05:22 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus, you made this claim:

"...Lincoln's claims of a (almost certainly nonexistent) danger to the Northern states as a justification for invading the South? "

Are you really suggestion that Lee's invasion wasn't dangerous to Northern States because the South was also invaded? Or are you suggesting he was incapable of invading the North *until* the south was invaded?

Did anyone, before the war, believe that Saddam had the ability to penetrate Pennsylvania?

Posted by: Boronx at February 6, 2004 05:26 PM | PERMALINK

Howard:

"Surely, surely you aren't questioning that the warmaking power resides in Congress are you?"

The way you broadly exclude "take us to war", "warmaking power", and "launch a war" I most certainly do question it - maybe we should take this discussion to e-mail - but there's no doubt in my mind that the POTUS alone can take us to war, for instance, in response to an attack on us - see e.g. the Cold War "Mutually Assured Destruction Doctrine" : )

"You aren't seriously questioning that the constitutional intent is for the Congress and not the commander-in-chief to 'declare' war?"

Oh, is formally "declare" all you meant?

"Now if you want to tell me that this constitutioanl mandate has been neglected for a number of wars, obviously you're right."

Not just that - I'm telling you have the Constitutional mandate wrong too.

Posted by: Charlie at February 6, 2004 05:30 PM | PERMALINK

And, don't call me Shirley!

Posted by: Charlie at February 6, 2004 05:31 PM | PERMALINK

Charlie, you have a pretty website...do you like gladiator movies?

Posted by: George "Oeuvre" Bush at February 6, 2004 05:39 PM | PERMALINK

I don't have a website.

Posted by: Charlie at February 6, 2004 05:41 PM | PERMALINK

Charlie, good grief is all i can say.

Here's the Constitution:

http://www.house.gov/Constitution/Constitution.html

You're welcome to demonstrate where anyone but Congress has the authority to declare war.

Here's a brief little study of the question from the congressional research office:

http://www.house.gov/burton/RSC/DeclarationofWar.PDF

It notes, for instance, that Harry Truman didn't seek a declaration of war for Korea, because he felt he had authority under UN resolutions; it notes that there have been congressionally authorized military engagements (such as iraq and vietnam); it notes that there are powers that the president can exercise in a state of national emergency; it notes that there are powers that can be invoked by the existence of war (without a declaration).

It in no sense disputes the constitutional reality: warmaking is the power of congress.

Posted by: howard at February 6, 2004 05:51 PM | PERMALINK

Reg: Sorry, I see no reason to think even now that Bush doesn't believe Iraq posed a threat worth waging war to end.

What Bush "believed", in the abstract, is of no consequence. He might well believe that Saddam was Satan incarnate, that North Korea is ticked at us because we didn't send them flowers, and that Dick Cheney is a jive-talking robot from Neptune. [Respectively false, debatable and true.] That has no bearing on whether it is a justified belief, a concept too often rendered into common parlance as "true" or "factual", which is the crux of this matter.

Did Bush really believe Saddam was a threat? I neither know nor care, although I suspect he probably did. What's relevant, though, isn't whether he believed that Saddam was evil and a threat in a quasi-religious way; what matters is whether or not the available evidence supported that contention. IOW, we need to know not what Bush believed, but whether or not the belief was a rationally, evidentially justified one.

Now I suspect it was not. Certainly, the bulk of the evidence on Bush's decison-making process ("metaevidence", if you will) indicates to me that the decision to oust Saddam had been made well in advance of significant evidentiary analysis, and that evidence contrary to that belief was suppressed or discarded; the "cherry-picking" theory we're all sick of hearing about. I cannot, of course, disprove the existence of such evidence... but the fact that no particularly compelling evidence has surfaced after all this time is, to me, evidence of the contrary. And that, in and of itself, tells me that Bush's "belief" was not a rationally justified one.

I'm not saying that all actions must be perfectly rational or anything like that; that's wildly impractical as well as, well, silly. But I do think it's incumbent upon Bush, as President, not merely to "believe" that something or someone is a threat, but -- given the extraordinary stakes -- to scrutinize the hell out of that belief and make sure it was justified before wandering off and invading.

Added in proof: I more or less agree with what howard said above re the legitimate case to be made, and, in fact, think it acts as a nice description of the secondary phase of a President's obligations to the United States: first, to scrutinize his belief that something is a threat; then to present that belief and the evidence justifying it openly and honestly to the American people. And that includes an open and honest assessment of the uncertainty of the evidence itself.

Now, I maintained above that Bush's belief was not a rationally justified one. That's technically correct, but perhaps slightly misleading: I don't think that Bush's particular belief rested on a rational justification, not that that position cannot be justified rationally. Pace howard, had Bush actually provided the legitimate case for war -- which I don't find compelling, I should add, even though I think it's legitimate -- I might feel differently.

Well, this simple little post of mine has turned into quite the unreadable behemoth, so I'll stop now. Catch you on the flip side.

Posted by: Anarch at February 6, 2004 06:05 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin -- I actually went back and read your posts from February and March 2003. What a Wayback Machine!

This sentence, from Bush, was breathtaking:

"The form and leadership of that government is for the Iraqi people to choose. Anything they choose...."

Dubyanocchio indeed. I would be surprised if he can turn around in small spaces. How can anyone defend this man?

Posted by: 537 votes at February 6, 2004 06:20 PM | PERMALINK

Tacitus: Thanks for the target practice against that trial balloon. I'd chime in, but I tend to get a bit cranky, and many have provided cogent replies.

File that one under "nice try", and go back to the drawing boards.

Posted by: bobbyp at February 6, 2004 06:22 PM | PERMALINK

"there may indeed have been "plenty of other" reasons besides WMD for going to war. And they might have been good ones. But that doesn't change the fact that they were mere trifles"

Wow, thousands and thousands of Kurds butchered and massacred with WMDs, people murdered throughout the years. All just a mere trifle in your book?

You're a real sweetheart.

Posted by: Right-Wing Vegetarian at February 6, 2004 07:02 PM | PERMALINK

"actually, the president doesn't, constitutionally, have the power to take us to war. Only the congress does"

So often things are just said that involve long in depth arguments that many many people disagree on and have fought over for years. The founders originally gave Congress the power to "make" war, but changed it to "declare" to allow the president greater powers as commander in chief. Now, depending on your theory of consitutional interpretation, you will have differing opinions on the extent of the president's war making powers. I think it is clear though that it didn't take more than a few decades for the president to enjoy more power than the founders ever intended.

Posted by: Reg at February 6, 2004 07:29 PM | PERMALINK

The person who said the question should be whether there was objectively enough evidence to justify the war. Well, to start, there was certainly enough to reasonably believe IRaq had chemical and biological weapons.

The belief that this combined with Saddam's hostility towards us constitutes a threat worthy of war is a political decision. I don't think this can be determined by evidence. Its a judgment call. If you disagree with Bush's judgment, that is fine. But to say he misled people by saying a threat existed is wrong.

Some might judge the threat to exist, some don't. I think all these arguments show that clearly.

Posted by: Reg at February 6, 2004 07:34 PM | PERMALINK

howard, I think we are in a semantic battle again; this time over the meaning(s) of the world "unacceptable". It seems to me that if one ends up enthusiastically embracing the results of an action, the charge that the action was "unacceptable" becomes somewhat moot. In contrast, for instance, when a judge deems that a search by the police is unacceptable, the results of that search, no matter how potentially useful, are deemed unacceptable, and discarded for purposes of a trial.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 6, 2004 07:35 PM | PERMALINK

I think reg has a point. If Bush really believed that Saddam was a threat to the US it's his job to take care of it. Yes, even if that means lying.

But, and here's the big issue, he better be damn sure of what he's getting us into. That's why we 'forgive' Lincoln and FDR but don't forgive LBJ and the Gulf of Tomkin which has now become synonimous with presidential deceit.

How Bush will be viewed will depend 100% on the outcome. And it's not looking good for Bush right now.

Posted by: GT at February 6, 2004 07:55 PM | PERMALINK

Late to the thread, and most of the pints I wuld have made have been made by others. Nevertheless, I'd like to make two points.

First, let me address this statement of Kevin's:

the administration's case for war was built on an absolute certainty that Saddam Hussein had dangerous stockpiles of WMD that posed an urgent and serious threat to the security of the United States.

This is simply false. The administration's case for war was based (among other things) on the threat that Iraq's WMDs posed. It was not limited to stockpiles. It included Saddam's WMD programs as well. And it is deliberately misleading to say that the STOCKPILES were the sole basis for the war.

Kevin should be ashamed of himself for such a misleading statement. He can point to a list of statements about stockpiles. And, you know what, I can point to a LONGER list of statements about programs.

So that's misleading statement #1 in Kevin's post.

The second statement I'd address is:

In order to gain public approval, is it OK for the president of the United States to massively misrepresent a foreign threat merely because he believes that we ought to fight a war?

Again, Kevin has provided ZERO evidence that Bush has "massively misrepresented" the threat. He was WRONG about certain aspects of the threat. But he did not massively misrepresent it. And as evidence for this, I'll point to David Kay's statement: "I must say, I actually think what we learned during the inspections made Iraq a more dangerous place potentially than in fact we thought it was even before the war."

That's right. According to David Kay, Iraq was MORE OF A THREAT than the Bush Administration claimed.

So, again, Kevin misleads by saying that the threat was "massively misrepresented".

Two "massively" statements by Kevin in one post. Not good.

Posted by: Al at February 6, 2004 07:58 PM | PERMALINK

Al,

Huh? What on earth are you talking about?

There were niether WMDs OR WMD programs in Iraq.

At best we had WMD program related activities!

In other words, nothing.

I have to wonder, are you here for comic relief?

Posted by: GT at February 6, 2004 08:01 PM | PERMALINK

Find me a large number of Americans who view the results of Mexican-American war in a negative light, and I'll start to believe that this President's actions in Iraq will be judged, 150 years hence, through any prism other than what the results were.

There are about 500 million Americans to the south of Texas who view those results in an extremely negative light. All of Latin America remembers that particular example of gringo theft, even if the gringos have forgottn.

Posted by: Basharov at February 6, 2004 08:13 PM | PERMALINK

There were niether WMDs OR WMD programs in Iraq.

False. Did you hear what David Kay said? Tenet?

For example, from Tenet: "My provisional bottom line today: Iraq intended to develop biological weapons. Clearly, research and development work was under way that would have permitted a rapid shift to agent production if seed stocks were available."

Posted by: Al at February 6, 2004 08:17 PM | PERMALINK

"There are about 500 million Americans to the south of Texas who view those results in an extremely negative light"

Who cares what they think? These are the same cretins who welcomed Dr. Mengele and other European Nazis with open arms. I couldn't care one whit what they think about murderers and dictators like Saddam Hussein, or the United States for that matter.

Posted by: Right-Wing Vegetarian at February 6, 2004 08:22 PM | PERMALINK

Posted by Al: "First, let me address this statement of Kevin's: "the administration's case for war was built on an absolute certainty that Saddam Hussein had dangerous stockpiles of WMD that posed an urgent and serious threat to the security of the United States." This is simply false. The administration's case for war was based (among other things) on the threat that Iraq's WMDs posed. It was not limited to stockpiles. It included Saddam's WMD programs as well. And it is deliberately misleading to say that the STOCKPILES were the sole basis for the war."

The only place I see "sole basis" discussed is in your characterization of Kevin's words, which make no such claim. So it is your words which are "simply false" and "deliberately misleading."

"Kevin should be ashamed of himself for such a misleading statement."

Again, the shame is on your words.

"He can point to a list of statements about stockpiles. And, you know what, I can point to a LONGER list of statements about programs."

Why don't you point us to your longest list of pre-war statements about "programs," Al?

Posted by: jayarbee at February 6, 2004 08:31 PM | PERMALINK

Al (assuming that you are the real Al), for the umpteenth time: go back and read what bush and his administration actually said. Compare it to what was actually known at the time.

The difference, to put it into its crudest form, is adverbs, and to put it in a more sophisticated way, the absence of hedges and caveats.

In addition, the particular statement that you quote by Kay is the sheerest babble and makes no sense at all within the context of the rest of his remarks.

The threat that we could reasonably expect from a sanctions-crippled nation was a limited amount of battlefield-level chemical and biological weaponry, a proven capacity for using them, and bigger desires. The threat that was described was a large amount of WMDs, an active nuclear program, and a real risk that weapons would be passed to al qaeda or other terrorists.

This simply was not an honest case.

Will, yes, i'm glad that we can just reach agreement that further distinctions not cost-effective, but to put my meaning of "unacceptable" clearly: i am making a moral judgement about what is legitimate behavior in a democratic republic interested in the consent of the governed, as in the essential dishonesty of the Backbone Administration case for war in iraq, evident to anyone who cared to look at the time, is unacceptable behavior.

Posted by: howard at February 6, 2004 08:45 PM | PERMALINK

The only place I see "sole basis" discussed is in your characterization of Kevin's words, which make no such claim

Jayarbee, don't be misleading. Kevin's ENTIRE POST is built around his premise that the other reasons for war were "mere trifles" and the the only important reason is STOCKPILES of WMD. You cannot read Kevin's post and come to any other conclusion.

And my point is that the premise of Kevin's post is SIMPLY FALSE. The most important reason for war was not STOCKPILES, but rather the ongoing WMD programs. And Kay and Tenet confirm that the claims of ongoing WMD programs have been borne out by the evidence, essentially upholding Bush's main reason for going to war.

Posted by: Al at February 6, 2004 09:22 PM | PERMALINK

These are the same cretins who welcomed Dr. Mengele and other European Nazis with open arms. I couldn't care one whit what they think about murderers and dictators like Saddam Hussein, or the United States for that matter.

I suggest taking it a bit easier on the moral equivalency arguments there RWV. After all, that path leads to questions about the rocketry programs in the United States; it leads to questions about what the hell “premature anti-fascism” might be; it might even lead to questions about the kind of human stain that would do business with the Nazis – even after their nation had declared war with Germany.

Posted by: Lori Thantos at February 6, 2004 09:35 PM | PERMALINK

Posted by Al: "Jayarbee, don't be misleading."

I am honored to be accused of this by you for its expected benefit to my credibility.

"The most important reason for war was not STOCKPILES, but rather the ongoing WMD programs."

This reasserts the position of your previous post when you said: "He can point to a list of statements about stockpiles. And, you know what, I can point to a LONGER list of statements about programs." You're good at making claims, but where's the list? It seems that both you and Bush believe that simply repeating a falsehood often enough is as effective as truth in making a case. I'll give your repetitive technique a try and ask again: Why don't you point us to your longest list of pre-war statements about "programs?"

Posted by: jayarbee at February 6, 2004 09:58 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin ---

I think you underestimate FDR's level of deceit in the build-up to the US entry into the European part of WWII. Among other things, his supply of arms and materiel to Britain was several orders of magnitude larger than anything in Iran-Contra, for example, and was at least as secret.

I share most of your views about deceit by GWB's administration, and agree that it doesn't wash to argue now for _other_ reasons why the war was probably a good idea, in retrospect. But the FDR case is a disturbing retrospective thought experiment --- one where the war was, in retrospect, a pretty good idea, but the American public never would have gone for it if FDR had been straightforward with them.

The simplest evidence that the early part of that war was covert and deceitful is simply that FDR was apparently extremely worried about the prospect of impeachment if someone blew the gaffe.

--Timboy

Posted by: Timboy at February 6, 2004 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps a more apt parallel would be Clinton's PR apparatus prior to the war with Serbia? Or LBJ's fabrication of the Gulf of Tonkin incident? Or Lincoln's claims of a (almost certainly nonexistent) danger to the Northern states as a justification for invading the South? Or McKinley's rather ridiculous rationales for warring with Spain? Or Polk's rather fallacious rational for invading Mexico?

Unclear about the Clinton PR apparatus referred to by Tacitus. If anything, we waited too long to get involved.

LBJ is a scumbag. No further comment.

Lincoln? Geez.

McKinley, Polk, not to be defended.

Really, most of the invasions we've got into over the decades and centuries were duplicitous.

That's no defense for them. We live in a different age now, the world and suffrage have progressed, and there wasn't really the communication apparatus to catch up with offical BS back in those days, or even 20-30 years ago.

Very disappointing performance from Tacitus today.

Posted by: jimm at February 6, 2004 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

Woodrow Wilson campaigned for re-election in 1916 off the slogan "He Has Kept Us Out of War"... then the very next year he took us to war in Europe.

Someone also mentioned FDR... back then, the country was filled with various "peaceniks", Nazi sympathizers, and other useful idiots who did their level best to keep the USA out of the war.

Some things never change.

Posted by: Right-Wing Vegetarian at February 7, 2004 02:59 AM | PERMALINK

Yes Right-Wing Vegetarian, those Nazi sympathizers were the same ones who profited from the war – by trading with the enemy. In fact, one of those guys had a grandson who grew up to be President. The Right-Wing nuts that were useful idiots for the warmongering Nazis are no different than the Right-Wing nuts who are useful idiots for the warmongering Bush; they were on the wrong side then and, as you so correctly point out, some things never change.

Posted by: Lori Thantos at February 7, 2004 03:12 AM | PERMALINK

I am concerned about the scope of the whole thing, because if there's a serious intelligence problem, we need to know.

Posted by: Frank at February 7, 2004 05:14 AM | PERMALINK

Right Wing Vegetarian quotes Kevin thusly:

(Kevin) "there may indeed have been "plenty of other" reasons besides WMD for going to war. And they might have been good ones. But that doesn't change the fact that they were mere trifles [...]" (ellipsis mine -IdahoEv)

And comments:

Wow, thousands and thousands of Kurds butchered and massacred with WMDs, people murdered throughout the years. All just a mere trifle in your book?

You're a real sweetheart.


This is perhaps the most gratuitous out-of-context partial quotation I have seen in the blogosphere all week!

The massacre of the Kurds and other such ethnic-cleansing related program activities is exactly what Kevin meant when he said "there may be other reasons, and some of them may be good". You cut his sentence off at "trifles", losing the all important modifier "in the administration's case for war." Kevin has already stated he doesn't think they are trifles. He is claiming that those and similar reasons -- repeat, potentially valid reasons in Kevin's estimation -- were used only trivially by the White House. This is in fact true, as the WH preferred to focus on WMD as its primary justification for the war.

It is not Kevin trivializing those atrocities with the word "trifles". That word is Kevin's claim about the WH's behavior.
Use full quotations from now on.

Posted by: IdahoEv at February 7, 2004 06:43 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

I read this post after reading and responding to the Dean post above (in which I accused you of taking a cheap shot at Dean). However, let me now applaud you for having written, in this post, what is one of the finest, clearest, and most succinct statements of exactly what is at issue in the matter of the WMD Hoax that I have seen anywhere.

Posted by: The Fool at February 7, 2004 06:55 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps a more apt parallel would be Clinton's PR apparatus prior to the war with Serbia? Or LBJ's fabrication of the Gulf of Tonkin incident? Or Lincoln's claims of a (almost certainly nonexistent) danger to the Northern states as a justification for invading the South? Or McKinley's rather ridiculous rationales for warring with Spain? Or Polk's rather fallacious rational for invading Mexico?

Well, History as Tacitus (both the Roman historian AND the blogger) reminds us, DOES take the long view: I just can't help noting that the main similarity between the wars on Tac's lists is that, with the exception of Vietnam, all have been accepted by History as "victories" (for the US, anyway) - and since winners get to write the history books, the various pre-war rationales to these conflicts have seldom become important issues.

Posted by: Jay C. at February 7, 2004 07:24 AM | PERMALINK

We can assume then, howard, that you are willing to reverse the results of past instances "unacceptable" behavior by Presidents, who led the nation into war through dishonest means, for if one really deems an action "unacceptable", then one must reject the benefits of the action. Morally speaking, ya' can't have it both ways; it is unacceptable to receive the benefits of unacceptable behavior.

Basharov, if really put to the test, the people who clamor to cross our southern border would be horrified by the prospect of Phoenix or San Diego reverting to Mexican rule. The reason that Mexicans risk their lives, and sometimes die, to get to the southwest United States is due to the fact that Mexico's political culture has in the past guaranteed widespread poverty. Hopefully, this is changing somewhat, but if they had to live with the consequences, there aren't too many Mexicans who would be happy to see a reversal of the results of Mexican-American war.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 7, 2004 07:25 AM | PERMALINK

Among the gems collected by Billmon:

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.

George W. Bush, President, Address to the Nation
3/17/2003

Posted by: 537 votes at February 7, 2004 07:29 AM | PERMALINK

Jay C., that is entirely the point; all posturing aside, what is deemed "acceptable" down the road is largely evaluated through the prism of what the results were, and unless people are willing to reject the benefits of an "unacceptable" action, can it be said that they truly find an action "unacceptable"?

Posted by: Will Allen at February 7, 2004 07:31 AM | PERMALINK

I've come across at least one person that does think it's perfectly acceptable for a President to lie in order to trick the public into supporting a war. I found it rather disturbing.

Posted by: Chris at February 7, 2004 07:40 AM | PERMALINK

We've seen several in the comments here, as well as on other blogs. Joe Schmoe is a classic example.

Posted by: PaulB at February 7, 2004 07:49 AM | PERMALINK

Will, i simply don't agree that one must "reject the benefits" of an immoral action to be morally consistent, so i decline to play this particular word game with you. It makes no sense at all for reasons that are far beyond the scope of a comments section, but which i can summarize in short as the destruction of the native american population. (I do continue to be amazed that an intelligent person like yourself steadfastly refuses to draw conclusions or make distinctions about any policy or any behavior for fear that we don't know what "history," which you continue to leave undefined, will determine, but as you rightly say, this is a vale of tears.)

That said, i'd be happy to "reject" the benefits of the Vietnam War, which as i noted way back up top, is the closest parallel that Tacitus cited.

Al, perhaps the next time you're bored at work, you might spend some time profitably with the works of Orwell, who might help you understand that rewriting the historic record concerning what the bush administration actually said to justify this war is really quite pathetic.

right-wing vegetarian, there are plenty of blogs that cater to ill-informed know-nothings full of rancor and hatred; perhaps you might find one.

Posted by: howard at February 7, 2004 07:51 AM | PERMALINK

Al wrote: "Kevin's ENTIRE POST is built around his premise that the other reasons for war were "mere trifles" and the the only important reason is STOCKPILES of WMD. You cannot read Kevin's post and come to any other conclusion."

And Al once more demonstrates his complete lack of reading and comprehension skills. Hardly surprising that he misreads Democratic memos and Republican speeches.

Sorry, Al, but you're wrong again. IdahoEv covered this above.

What is it with you and plain English, Al?

Posted by: PaulB at February 7, 2004 07:51 AM | PERMALINK

Well, howard, that's mighty convienient. Let's just say that people who reject the benefits of those actions they find "unacceptable" have a more finely tuned sense of outrage, and people who gladly accept the benefits of actions they find "unacceptable" live a charmed life.

Would I prefer that Presidents be honest in their arguments for war, or, as in the case of FDR and Wilson, honest in their arguments against war? I dunno. I'm pretty happy that FDR engaged in a great deal of deceit while getting the U.S. involved in the European conflict of the late 30s, because I'm pretty happy that Hitler ended up blowing his brains out in a bunker. I'm pretty happy that Lincoln engaged in a great deal of deceit while getting the Union to militarily resist secession, becase I'm pretty happy with the result. I'm unhappy that LBJ engaged in deceit in gettting the U.S.involved in Vietnam, because the result of that war was pretty awful.

On the other hand, if LBJ had deceitfully maneuvered the U.S. into that war, but had adopted tactics and strategy that would have precluded Communist domination of the South and Cambodia, it may have been worthwhile; one can't say for sure, because counterfactual speculation is an extremely tenuous exercise. I don't know what the outcome will be in Iraq, so I can't yet fully judge how "acceptable" or "unacceptable" the actions were that led us into that war. I know that I thought the status quo ante was sufficiently dangerous to justify very large risks.

As to morality, well, a lot of people claim to agree with the sentiment expressed in the old saw, "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall!!", until that time that the heavens appear to be in danger of falling, at which time they quickly recalculate the value of justice.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 7, 2004 08:41 AM | PERMALINK

It's amazing that the Left supports Saddam Hussein over George Bush. Given the support for Saddam I see here, I find it interesting how few of you moved to Iraq after he gained power.

The Left has forever surrendered its credibility on the issue of anti-fascism.

Posted by: Ben at February 7, 2004 09:17 AM | PERMALINK

The Fool will weigh in with a detailed analysis a little later, but after having read this whole thread it is clear that today's rightwing wingnuts are not your daddy's economic royalists. These guys are royalists through and through.

In their Straussian fervor, they want a king, not a president. They spit on democracy and tell fairy tales about republics and constitutions. And worst of all, today's rightwing extremists are a special breed of postmodernmist conservatives for whom there are no standards of evidence or honesty, right or wrong, other than what they say.

FUCK ALL OF YOU EXTREMIST, RIGHT-WING, ROYALIST TRAITORS. WE KICKED YOUR ASS IN 1781. WE KICKED YOUR ASS IN 1865. AND WE WILL KICK YOUR SORRY ASSES AGAIN.

Posted by: The Fool at February 7, 2004 09:18 AM | PERMALINK

It's been interesting reading through this thread and seeing intense but often thoughtful debate between what seems like grownups, most of the time. For someone who lives in liberal-land like me, it's also reassuring to know there *are* thoughtful defenders of the war (Tacitus, Sebastian, and some others), who can make a case without resorting to CAPITAL LETTERS and every logical fallacy available, and help me to re-think some of my own more knee-jerk anti-war responses.
But then Al shows up and its suddenly like being in a room full of drunks.

Posted by: zip at February 7, 2004 09:18 AM | PERMALINK

The Left has forever surrendered its credibility on the issue of anti-fascism.

Hey pal, Saddam was the Iraqi's (and Israel's) problem, not mine. The Iraqis wanted freedom, they could secure it for themselves just like everyone else.

Bottomline for me is "is the cause worth dying for", ie would I volunteer to fight in ______. Given what I knew a year ago, for Iraq, hell no. Case fucking closed.

Posted by: Troy at February 7, 2004 09:58 AM | PERMALINK

Fool, if you thing the people who founded this country in 1781 were proponents of democracy, well, your moniker is apt, I suppose.

We look forward to your ringing denunciation of the unacceptable deceit practiced by the man who was President of the United States from 1861 to 1865, but, in case you don't know, there is a key called "Caps Lock" on the left side of your keyboard.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 7, 2004 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Ben wrote: "It's amazing that the Left supports Saddam Hussein over George Bush. Given the support for Saddam I see here, I find it interesting how few of you moved to Iraq after he gained power."

Don't you just love comments like this? They're so amazingly clueless, so amazingly divorced from reality, so amazingly rabid, that all you can do is just shake your head in wonder. It's like watching a traffic accident; you know you should look away, but you just can't help yourself.

I was going to respond, but I don't think I'll bother. Reasonable folks will ignore Ben and there's no point in trying to engage him in a debate.

Paraphrasing: "Never get down in the mud to wrestle with a pig....you both get dirty and the pig likes it!"

Posted by: PaulB at February 7, 2004 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Don't you just love comments like this?

I consider them the rhetorical equivalent of clay pigeons.

Posted by: Troy at February 7, 2004 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Lori,

Calling Prescott Bush a Nazi sympathizer because he owned some stock in a mega corp. which had stock in a German-held subsidiary is a bit of stretch, wouldn't you say?

Joe Kennedy Sr... now there was an out and out Nazi sympathizer. He did his level best to help the Nazis in his role as US Ambassador to Britain. But I guess that was okay because he was a Democrat.

Posted by: Right-Wing Vegetarian at February 7, 2004 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

On the other hand, if LBJ had deceitfully maneuvered the U.S. into that war...

Any parallel with LBJ is very strained. There wasn't a single decision; there were little decisions to aid and escalate, taken over a decade. Everyone agreed on the containment policy of the Cold War; the issue was how to apply it to Southeast Asia. The opinion of the public in 1968 was that the line had been drawn in the wrong place, and that the national interest wasn't at stake. The Pentagon Papers showed that there had been a lot of little deceptions and misjudments, many involving the progress of the war and the cost of securing a win. Several administrations had deceived themselves, the Congress and the public. But the specific issue of the Gulf of Tonkin incident was minor. If the Navy account was accurate, it wouldn't have mattered. If LBJ had consciously lied, we'd think marginally worse of him, but there's certainly a lot of scurrilous behavior in the first two Caro volumes already.

In the case of Iraq, the neocons pursued an agenda of serial conquest for years that isn't saleable to the public, and that is in blatant violation of international law. The cover rationale of humanitarian interest isn't saleable, as Wolfowitz admitted. So they made up a cover for the cover, involving WMD and a connection with 9/11, knowing that they were exaggerating the intelligence at a minimum, if not lying.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at February 7, 2004 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Reg,

I'm assuming the following remarks were addressed to me. If not... well, I guess I'll respond to them anyway.

The person who said the question should be whether there was objectively enough evidence to justify the war. Well, to start, there was certainly enough to reasonably believe IRaq had chemical and biological weapons.

True -- a belief that was held by most people prior to the war, myself included. However, it's one thing to say that such weaponry exists, but it's quite another to claim with certainty that such weapons exist, let alone in quantities that pose an actual threat. Do you see the distinction?

The belief that this combined with Saddam's hostility towards us constitutes a threat worthy of war is a political decision. I don't think this can be determined by evidence. Its a judgment call. If you disagree with Bush's judgment, that is fine. But to say he misled people by saying a threat existed is wrong.

You've missed the point. Bush didn't mislead people by saying he thought a threat existed, or that evidence suggested that Saddam might be pursuing nuclear weapons and terrorist collaborators. He misled them by saying he knew that a threat existed, and that Saddam had enormous stockpiles of WMD -- even going so far as to enumerate them fairly precisely -- and that there were connections to Al Qaeda. All these things were uttered as certainties, when -- and this is the crucial point, so please forgive me if I hammer it home -- THERE WAS ENOUGH CONTRARY INFORMATION TO KNOW THEY COULD NOT MAKE THOSE CLAIMS WITH CERTAINTY.

That's where the mendacity resides: not in the "belief" nor even in the statement that the threat existed, because the first is irrelevant and the second potentially justifiable, but in the immutability of the belief and the outright lying about the reliability of the underlying evidence.

Again, I'm not saying that there was no place for Presidential judgment, or that the political calculus is irrelevant. But trying to whitewash this as a "judgment call" while neglecting to note that this judgment appears to have been founded on an ill-supported belief and then buttressed by shaky evidence misrepresented as certitude simply doesn't work for me. The President had an obligation to be honest, both to himself and to the people, about the exact nature of the threat that Saddam Hussein actually posed -- even if that honesty meant saying "Well, our humint sucks and we just don't know whether he has a nuclear program" -- and I find the fact that he failed to do so utterly inexcusable.

Posted by: Anarch at February 7, 2004 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

So if we don't *find* the WMDs, they never existed?

Isn't that like the tree falling in a forest?

Posted by: Right-Wing Vegetarian at February 7, 2004 01:03 PM | PERMALINK

Roger, since the Gulf of Tonkin incident was the basis by which LBJ received his blank check from Congress, what actually happened there, and what was reported to have happened there, is of importance, if one is greatly interested in evaluating Presidential honesty in the lead-up to wars. However, the overriding reality is that LBJ is poorly thought of, in regards to Vietnam, because the U.S. lost the war. If the war had been won by 1968, the evaluation of LBJ, and which behaviors of his were acceptable, would be much, much, different.

Bush will suffer, or enjoy, the same fate, and once it is clear whether this war achieves, or assists in achieving, strategic victory, or leads to, or is inadequate in avoiding, strategic defeat. Bush's intentions, good or bad, and Bush's forthrightness, or lack thereof, will fall to secondary performance, in how this conflict is ultimately viewed. Again, this is not a normative judgement on my part, but merely a description of how the world works.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 7, 2004 01:10 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Will Allen, traitor:

Do you and your fellow traitors and your traitorous representatives in Congress have the integrity to stand for election on the principle of anti-democracy, you smug little sonofabitch?

Fuck all of you traitors. You may not value democracy, you miserable little prick, but George Bush claims he went to war fighting for the principle of democracy. Every president in my lifetime has pledged allegaince to the principle of democracy. You postmodern Straussian fuckheads pick and choose your principles according to how convenient they are at any given time.

It is this postmodern conservative relativism that causes Will Allen, traitor, to make philosophically idiotic statements confusing the difference between descriptive and evaluative statements. What turns out to be accepted by some proportion of the population later in hisory is not the same as what is morally acceptable, you moral and philosophical fucking retard.

Posted by: The Fool at February 7, 2004 01:33 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen is correct in the realpolitik sense... the "victors" get to write the history books.

Lincoln's various anti-democratic maneuvers are but footnotes because he ultimately won the war.

Posted by: Right-Wing Vegetarian at February 7, 2004 01:43 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Will Allen, traitor:

I notice you don't even attempt to defend Bush from the charge that he lied to the American people. Your royalist position is that since we don't live in a democracy, it's ok for the president to lie to the American people if he feels like it.

You don't deserve to live in this country, asshole. We extinguished the spirit of royalism back in 1781 and we crushed the traitors who tried to break up this great country in defense of slavery back in 1865. We will tread all over your traitorous ass like the snake you are, Will Allen.

Posted by: The Fool at February 7, 2004 01:55 PM | PERMALINK

The Fool,

Please stop throwing around those insults. Whatever it is you're trying to accomplish, you're not helping.

Posted by: Anarch at February 7, 2004 02:10 PM | PERMALINK

Kiss my ass Anarch. I'm past the point of caring if other people think I'm polite -- especially lying sack of shit conservative fucks. Ignore the insults if you wish and focus on the substance, but I mean those insults from the bottom of my heart. At some point, Anarch, politeness fades into cowardice.

Posted by: The Fool at February 7, 2004 02:18 PM | PERMALINK

ah, the usual level of discourse displayed by the non-thinking. Oh, well. In case you missed it, Fool, it was you who raised the issue of democracy in 1781, and the people who started this country. As it happens, I think a republic with elected representatives, and universal suffrage, with the exception of children and felons, is about as good a government structure as one is likely to get. I am greatly opposed to democracy, however, in that I see no reason to believe that the unchecked power of a majority, or even a super-majority, is a good thing. I do think it likely, judging by your rhetoric, that you are a typical majoritarian thug. Well, it is always better to have a thug reveal himself in all his inglorious colors, so thank-you, I suppose.

As to rhetoric regarding the moral unacceptability of Presidential dishonesty in leading the nation to war, well, I would take it a little more seriously if it weren't for the fact that many of those indulge in such rhetoric, regarding the behavior of Presidents they dislike, also effusively praise other Presidents who engage in deceit while leading the nation into war. Deceitful rhetoric by Presidents has been a common prelude to war for the United States, so when people begin advocating the dismantling the the Lincoln Memorial, or taking FDR's visage off coinage (as noted above, FDR actually thought impeachment could threaten, if his dishonesty had been uncovered), I'll start thinking that they truly find it unacceptable to have a President engage in deceit when leading the nation into war.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 7, 2004 03:24 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Will Allen, traitor:

Let me adress both of your "arguments."

1) You accuse me of being a majoritarian thug. That's an ad hominem attack, not an argument, but it is also a false ad hominem attack. I am a liberal, Madisonian, democrat. Hence, I am not a majoritarian thug.

But the most important point is that there is nothing about protecting individual rights from majoritian abuse which excuses presidential lying about matters of war and peace, you stupid lying sack of shit conservative fuck.

2) You say that you don't take presidential dishonesty serious because no one is consistent on this point. This is both a non sequitir and false.

It is a non-sequitur because even if I and others who criticize Bush for lying his ass off about WMD were incocnsistent on this point, this would not negate the strength of the point. This is a classic exameple of the "genetic fallacy." Your "argument" makes no sense.

Second, your "argument" is simply false. You won't find any of us radical lefty Bush haters defending LBJ's Gulf of Tonkin hoax or Kennedy's missile gap etc. We are perfectly consistent on this point.

Now, traitorboy: how do you defend Bush's lying?

Posted by: The Fool at February 7, 2004 03:45 PM | PERMALINK

After reading the last few entries again, I had to post a thank you to the Fool, for providing amusing distraction. Say, am I a spitting cobra, or merely a modest gartner? And I have some muscle soreness in my back, so being tread on sounds inviting! Oh well, off to dinner; dead mice, yet again!

Posted by: Will Allen at February 7, 2004 03:46 PM | PERMALINK

Will, FDR is not a sound comparison. Though FDR saw clear reasons for us to get into the war, unless you are prepared to prove that he allowed Pearl Harbor to happen, then it's unclear what your case is in this matter. Pearl Harbor happened, and we got in the war. A no-brainer.

It's easy to see why The Fool is getting upset. There is a lot of fudging, hemming, and hawing here, and the proponents of the war are clearly saying that the means don't matter, that only what side you are is, and that if your side wins, and writes the history, then that's all that matters.

This is not democratic thinking, or liberal thinking, it is the pure calculus of power, and just as aptly a defense of Hitler, since, if Hitler had won, he would have wrote the history books. Only Hitler didn't win, we did, but is that what determines good, or is there something about the way things are done that determines good from evil?

I am greatly opposed to democracy, however, in that I see no reason to believe that the unchecked power of a majority, or even a super-majority, is a good thing.

Here is a common confusion. Will is opposed to democracy, and explains by using the most simplistic and negative definition of democracy imaginable.

What Will is ignorant about is that the USA is a democracy, a liberal democracy, in the modern sense of the term. What he is opposed to is exactly what those who defend liberal democracy are opposed to - illiberal democracy, or the trampling of the minority by majorities under the pretense and/or practice of democracy.

So, to counter that, we established a moral doctrine of rights, of liberalism, that clearly determines the right from wrong, the good from the bad, and is the basis of our law, along with remnants of Judeo-Christian laws from the Bible.

It is under this doctrine that liberating and democratizing the Arab World is claimed to be the overall goal of our security activities, so it is convoluted, to say the least, that a defender of Bush, who defends democracy, is opposed to democracy, but a proponent of it if it wins and is empowered and writes the history books.

By the way, Kevin's point is simple. In justifying the war, after the fact, you don't examine possible justifications for the war that weren't actually used, but you examine the justifications that were actually used.

I believe the law, and good, and right, would agree.

Posted by: jimm at February 7, 2004 04:02 PM | PERMALINK

No, I didn't accuse you of anything. I said your rhetoric made me think it likely that you were a majoritarian thug. Well, since democracy is rule by the majority, someone who advocates democracy may well be in favor of majoritarian thuggery, or at least not opposed to it. If you say this is not the case for you, fine, although it must be pointed out that Madison designed a republic, not a democracy.


Also, I didn't say that I didn't take Presidential dishonesty seriously because no one was consistent on this point. I said that people who claim that Presidential dishonesty, when leading a nation into war, is unacceptable, while being effusive regarding the performance of such Presidents as Lincoln or FDR, weren't really serious. If an action is unacceptable, then the performance of those who engage in such actions is unacceptable. Now, if you are among those who say the Presidents such as Lincoln and FDR were unacceptable in their performance, this does not apply to you. I happen to think that Lincoln and FDR were great to pretty good Presidents, so I logically cannot say that their deceit leading up to the Civil War and WWII, respectively, was unacceptable. Thus, I am unable to make a blanket statement that Presidential deceit when leading a nation to war is unacceptable.

Now, I must go. You can wipe the spittle from your screen.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 7, 2004 04:06 PM | PERMALINK

Though, to point out an exception, had we actually justified the war to liberate Iraq and start a domino effect of Arab liberalism and freedom, and, after the war was won, discovered mass stockpiles of WMD, and a plan to use them on us next week, then that would be a powerful reflective justification for the war, being something that was unknown, but, had it been known, would surely have justified action.

The difference is that the justifications in the current case, that weren't used, were well known and perhaps even operative, but they were not used, or championed, due to failure to have confidence in gaining consensus about their credibility, and the WMD justification was used instead.

If I shoot a man, and claim when I'm arrested it was in self-defense, and then later it comes out that the man was a serial killer, that does not excuse my act before the law of killing him, even if it is viewed preferably in the overall scheme of things. Perhaps my punishment will reflect the public attitude, and be largely token. Perhaps not. Such are the vagaries of the law. Or right.

On the other hand, if I kill a man, claim self-defense, and then it is determined it wasn't self-defense, but I then reveal that he was a smut peddler and had taken pictures of my daughter, something that was known to me and caused me to act, but that I did not acknowledge initially as a cause of my act, that is hardly a defense.

There were other available means of changing the status of this man who was smuddling child smut other than using a gun and killing him.

Posted by: jimm at February 7, 2004 04:13 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, I realize that's not a perfect example, but for some people, the simple assertion that the justification(s) used before an act (of war and inevitable human death no less), chosen from the range of known and available justifications, are the only operative justifications after the act, except for those that may have been unknown but only discovered after the act (like a doomsday device that Dr. Evil has or something).

In fact, had the initial justifications stood up, none of this nonsense would be happening.

Since the initial justifications didn't stand up, we are in a transition phase where those responsible or backing those responsible are reaching for oxygen to keep their self-righteousness aflame.

The job of the rest of us is to take the air out of it.

Posted by: jimm at February 7, 2004 04:18 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, Jimm, if you think that FDR's deceit in the months leading to U.S. involvement in WWII was limited to Pearl Harbor (I'm not convinced of the Pearl Harbor theory, by the way), you are in error. I am not a Bush supporter, and I most assuredly don't want democracy in the Middle East, for the same reasons I don't want it here. I wish the people in the region were able to give consent to being governed, and were much more able to exercise liberty, which does not mean one must favor democracy. Finally, if you are unable to discern the moral difference in engaging in deceit in order to form an effective alliance against Hitler, and engaging in deceit in order to further Hitler's goals, further conversation is probably pointless, which is just as well, given that I am late already.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 7, 2004 04:21 PM | PERMALINK

Finally, if you are unable to discern the moral difference in engaging in deceit in order to form an effective alliance against Hitler, and engaging in deceit in order to further Hitler's goals, further conversation is probably pointless, which is just as well, given that I am late already.

I didn't attempt to discern such a difference, and am aware that there is a difference. Needless to say to most readers, that wasn't my point, which was about power, history, means, and ends.

I wish the people in the region were able to give consent to being governed, and were much more able to exercise liberty, which does not mean one must favor democracy.

If not a democracy, what ultimately secures the consent of the governed? What is the basis for the elite minority rule that must by necessity be in place in the absence of elections which determine a winner, and often don't actually mean a majority, but a plurality?

Will Allen lives in a fantasy world.

A liberal democracy like ours founded by our ancestors determined that the best method was the soveriegnty of the people, exercised by the right of political participation and ultimately a vote, with the winner running things, and a moral and legal foundation of rights that protected the minority from the whims of the victors, i.e. the majority and/or plurality.

On the other hand, designing a system that protected the rights of the majority denied equal political representation from the whims of a minority with an indeterminable claim on rulership seems absurd in comparison.

Posted by: jimm at February 7, 2004 04:30 PM | PERMALINK

No taxation without representation. Our battle cry. There is no real liberty without equal rights before the law, and this begins with the right to vote, as a representative democracy reflects the will of a people all endowed with equal rights who have designated certain individuals to rule on their behalf.

This is the basis of liberty. In democracy. By right, and not by a privilege defended and handed down by an elite minority to the hordes.

Is there any other way?

Posted by: jimm at February 7, 2004 04:34 PM | PERMALINK

since the Gulf of Tonkin incident was the basis by which LBJ received his blank check ...

This is erroneous. We'd had "advisers" since well before 1964 (see Halberstam's book). We'd taken casualtues (Pleiku barracks, 1965). IIRC, we'd been extensively bombing. Congress had been informed of our involvement, which certainly carries out part of the Founders' intent about the President''s responsibilities. And Congress affirmed the decision in later appropriations. The facts of the GOT incident were wrong, but the resolution could probably have been passed on more general grounds. (The people who used the it as a pretext had a sense of history, since proper American wars begin with a naval incident.) But the resolution was honest in that our goal was limited to the defense of RVN and was in furtherence of the general defensive policy of containment.

Here we had a war of choice with an agenda of serial aggression deceptively passed off as a pre-emption of an immanent threat. And that agenda hasn't been discussed and accepted as the containment policy of the Cold War was.

Posted by: Roger Bigod at February 7, 2004 04:51 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding the UPDATE part of Kevin - This was his most funny "error":

If your opposition to war is based on the idea that Saddam does indeed possess illegal weapons but it's best to leave him alone anyway, well and good. But if it's based on the idea that the administration is lying and none of this stuff exists, you should tread carefully. I think it's pretty likely you will be proven wrong shortly.


http://calpundit.blogspot.com/2003_02_02_calpundit_archive.html#88658351

Posted by: Shortly it is at February 7, 2004 07:04 PM | PERMALINK

Due diligence. Bush, and his Administration were morally obligated to seriously investigate whether what they were doing made sense, whether it had any chance of working. We're talking war, not a game of penny-ante poker.

And they didn't. My picture, my predictions of the course of the invasion, of guerrila resistance, about banned weapons were much more accurate than those of the Administration - and it's not because I have a bigger budget.

The same can be said for our representatives and the third estate. Although they didn't originated this mess, they just went along for the ride.

Posted by: gcochran at February 7, 2004 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

Jimm, if you are aware that there is substantial moral differences in different instances of deceit, then you may be able to grasp that the blanket assertion that, when leading a nation into war, Presidential deceit is unacceptable. Hell, FDR would not even truthfully inform the voters that he was attempting to involve the U.S. in war, much less lie to them about the reasons why! I think this was an entirely acceptable instance of deceiving voters regarding the nation's war policy, because to not involve the U.S. in the conflict with German Fascism posed a much larger moral and practical danger. Thus, it is erroneous to say that it is always unacceptable for a President to engage in deception when outlining the nation's war policies.

Jimm, the ancestors that founded our government had grave reservations about democracy, which is why they placed so many checks on the majority's power. Elections are just the very beginning of legitimate government, and not even close to being the end, which is why merely having a democracy is by itself insufficient for governance.

Roger, your version of history is such that it causes one to wonder why LBJ's adminsitration bothered to put on a dog and pony show regarding the Tonkin Gulf episode, if the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was irrelevant to LBJ's range of options vis a vis Vietnam. We will have to differ.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 8, 2004 02:44 PM | PERMALINK

It's interesting how often the "Lincoln as aggressor" meme is popping up in Comments threads. No serious historian believes this for a minute, but apparently the right-wing is convincing themselves it is so.

Something similar happened in the ante-bellum period, when the South slowly purged themselves of any opinion that didn't support slavery. By the time of the Civil War the South had convinced themselves that the Bible, and every great philosopher, supported slavery.

It seems possible that the "Southern Strategy" has become a monster that is slowly devouring what was once the Republican Party. A striking illustration of how much more destructive a gated community is to those who live inside than to those excluded.

Posted by: serial catowner at February 8, 2004 04:41 PM | PERMALINK

Jimm, the ancestors that founded our government had grave reservations about democracy, which is why they placed so many checks on the majority's power. Elections are just the very beginning of legitimate government, and not even close to being the end, which is why merely having a democracy is by itself insufficient for governance.

Will, what I said (thanks for repeating it). It was you who are opposed to democracy, as you mention earlier in the thread. It is I who defended democracy, particularly our liberal version of it, with its checks and balances and emphasis on the rights and rule of law to protect the minority.

I don't need you to tell me what I just said, or do it in such a way that the point is seemingly yours, when your point was that democracy is not desirable (and you made no conditions upon that statement at the time).

As for FDR, your argument is nonsense. There is no comparison of the relevant threats or dangers between Saddam and Hitler, so that doesn't go even one step towards justifying Bush's deception in your "relative value of deception" thesis.

Whether there is ever a justification to deceive the people who you are accountable to in terms of war is left to be debated. The forefathers you mentioned, however, were not ambiguous on the matter, and clearly gave the power to declare war to Congress as a means to check the president from taking the country to war on his whims.

So, your thesis should require that Congress be the party which deceives the country into war, and not the President, who must persuade the Congress to go to war (according to the founders).

The whole point of Congress declaring war was to prevent instances where the King had wantonly led the country into war (Britain and elsewhere) whenever it served his interests (and by making up some grave threat or other).

Therefore, Congress must be the party that deceives the American people, and not the President, who in this case deceived both Congress and the American people.

This moral and legal claim is the same for all presidents, and I seek not to justify or condemn any prior presidents, but to bring awareness to a controversy now being correctly considered that hasn't been the case in the past.

With that said, Saddam was not a grave threat, there is no justification of any kind pre or post facto that proves he was, thus putting him in a different league than Hitler, and leaving Congress no elbow room to deceive the American public about the matter had they chosen to do so.

Posted by: jimm at February 8, 2004 05:05 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Will Allen, traitor and liar:

You are still left in the position of needing to justify presidential lying, something which you have not made a case for yet,other than to say other presidents had allegedly done so. Being a moral and philosophical retard, as you are, you seem to think that alleging that FDR and Lincoln did something allegedly similar excuses Bush in this instance. Well, it doesn't. First, FDR and Lincoln, even if they had done what you allege, could have been wrong to do so. So there precedent is not decisive in the matter.

Second, even more to the point, the circumstances they faced may have been dissimilar in relevant ways to the situation Bush faced with Iraq. In fact, not only was Hussein NOT a figure of Hitleresque proportion, he was not even a figure of Saddamesque proportion, as we found out after we invaded: he was unarmed!

But we know that you postmodern Republicans go well beyond this claim to having the right to mislead the people and the Congress on matters of war and peace. You have convinced yourselves that you can lie your asses off constantly about the most important matters of public policy. But these actions are NOT justified. Bush did NOT have the legitimate right to deceive the people and the Congress.

You Republican bullshit artists went on the record strongly in 1998 pushing the principle that presidential lying was an impeachable offense. That included inconsequential lying about personal sexual behavior. But now when Bush lies about a matter of the highest possible public import, a matter of war in a situation where we are not in imminent danger of attack, you Republican hypocrites say it is ok.

FUCK YOU, YOU LYING SACK OF SHIT CONSERVATIVE

Posted by: The Fool at February 9, 2004 08:05 AM | PERMALINK

Jimm, it appears to have escaped you that opposing democracy is not synonymous with opposing democratic processes, and in case you missed it, I stated several thousand words ago that a republic with elected representatives, and near universal suffrage, was about as good a system of government that one is likely to obtain. As to Congress' power to declare war, I would have preferred that it had not gone down the road, many, many decades ago, of voting on "authorizing resolutions" , and instead had voted on declarations of war. What this has to do with the blanket statement that it is unacceptable for a President to engage in deceit when leading the nation to war is unclear.

In any case, by saying...

"As for FDR, your argument is nonsense. There is no comparison of the relevant threats or dangers between Saddam and Hitler, so that doesn't go even one step towards justifying Bush's deception in your "relative value of deception" thesis."

...you seem to implicitly concede that there are instances in which deception is no longer unacceptable, except that you later state that you have no intent of saying so. So, which is it? Was FDR an "unacceptable" President?

My contention has been that such a blanket statement is suspect, because the people who claim that such a practice is unacceptable also venerate Presidents who engage in such practices. If you don't fall into that camp, so be it, but Kevin, most likely does not. If Kevin had simply stated that it was his opinion that the stakes in Iraq did not justify deception, I would have disagreed about the premise of what the stakes were in Iraq, but not Kevin's internal logic.

Instead, Kevin stated that it was always "unacceptable" for a President to engage in deceit regarding these matters, which quite obviously conflicts with the common opinion (which I strongly suspect Kevin shares) that Presidents such as FDR and Lincoln were among the best we have had. It is logically suspect to state that our best Presidents engage in "unacceptable" behavior. If engaging in "unacceptable" behavior does not knock one from the category of great Presidents, what on earth would? Thus, it can be demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of those who assert that Presidential deceit in such matters is always, always, unacceptable, don't really, in the final analysis, really believe that it is the case.

Fool, apparently you intellectual capacityr is closely correlated to the amount of saliva you have in you head, and as your spittle has flown all over the screen, your powers of reason have declined. Oh well. In any case, I'm not a Republican, and never argued in the Clinton years that Presidential lying was unacceptable. On the contrary, I think that lying effectively is a prerequisite for an effective President. This nation of nearly 300 million would no more select a man who didn't lie as President than Joe Torre would select you or I to play centerfield for the Yankees. Finally, I never stated that Hussein was Hitler's equivalent (my larger assessment, which I haven't explored in this thread, has more to do with the entire geo-political situation), something your saliva-deprived mind seemed to construct on it's own. I stated that the years leading up to WWII were ones in which Presidential deception regarding the rationale for war, or in FDR's case, whether war was even being pursued, was not unacceptable, and that the subsequent veneration of FDR means that the overwhelming majority of people don't believe that such behavior is unacceptable in all circumstaces, which was the assertion of Kevin's that I differed with, since I suspect that Kevin views FDR quite favorably. As stated earlier, if you are among those very few who view FDR and Lincoln as unacceptable Presidents, then I won't challenge your internal logic in saying that Presidential deceit in these matters is always unacceptable, although I will challenge the calculation that deception cannot ever be deemed acceptable.

In any case, by going to such lengths to discern between Hitler and Hussein, you seem to concede that different circumstances may establish different standards as to what is deemed acceptable, which was one of my points. Thanks for agreeing, I guess. I hope you haven't harmed your hands with your keyboard-pounding. Go ahead, scream away.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 9, 2004 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

serial, I never stated that Lincoln was the aggressor. I stated that he engaged in deception regarding why the war should be fought. I'm quite glad that he did.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 9, 2004 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Will, I did notice yesterday that you had advocated your republic with protections, suffrage and so on, but I've been offline until then (I'd saved the thread for later viewing).

After that statement, you (in later comments) did not clarify your opposition to democracy, and you ought to be careful with that. If you are advocating a republic, with suffrage, and minority protections, that is a democracy (what is known as a liberal democracy in the modern sense), so it would be more precise to state that your oppose majority rule (which is not synonymous with democracy).

...you seem to implicitly concede that there are instances in which deception is no longer unacceptable, except that you later state that you have no intent of saying so. So, which is it? Was FDR an "unacceptable" President?

Allow me to clarify. First, though I claimed awareness of the process of discerning the relative value of deception, I did not state that I favored or supported it. You had accused me of numskullery for not being able to discern such a difference between deceiving to defeat Hitler and deceiving to support Hitler, and I replied that I'm aware of such a difference, but did not go on to claim it as a worthy difference.

Instead, as my line of argument goes forward since we started discussing the matter, my last post clearly states my position.

One, it is not acceptable for the president to deceive the people into war under any circumstances, and this position stands for any and all presidents past and future.

Does this denigrate the "greatness" of prior presidents? Sure. But that "greatness" is overstated to begin with, and my goal is to move past prejudices and immoral practices of old (like the murder and forced migration of Native American tribes) and to embrace the world we live in with an expanded awareness, morality, and commitment to acting in knowledge of good and evil.

With that said, I'm not saying that FDR deceived the nation into war. The only way to prove that would be to show that FDR knew about and allowed Pearl Harbor to happen. Otherwise, no matter what happened behind the scenes prior, the American people were going to war after Pearl Harbor happened, so the issue is moot in my opinion unless the primary point is addressed in terms of Pearl Harbor.

Second, I clarified my point that the president has no right to declare war, stated the historical motivations why, and extended that to show that we shouldn't even be having a discussion about the "president deceiving the American people into war" - at least not directly.

This is the fault of the both the president and Congress. The president should have to, if anything, deceive Congress into declaring the war, who, since accountable to their constituents more intimately than the president, must then defend that decision (deceive the American people).

We need to move back in this direction, rather than having the president against all forefather wisdom and caution lead the nation into wars in which Congress ducks its responsibility and accountability by pointing at the president, who, similarly, and as the forefather mentioned, will more likely than not just invent and exaggerate an enemy of some kind short a real reason or justification.

Posted by: jimm at February 9, 2004 02:37 PM | PERMALINK

And earlier I was criticizing other posters for determining "good" by the "end", which I stated was not and never acceptable or moral (and which brought up my initial reference to supporting Hitler, had he have won, because he won, and was able to write the history).

That was a different matter, and you misinterpreted it as me being unable to discern the difference in your "the relative value of deception" thesis, when in fact I was discussing the nature of power and the victor, writing history, and whether that should be considered "the good" as other commenters in this thread had suggested.

In sum, I do not support "the ends justify the means" as a standard of determining just or moral behavior, and I do not support "the relative value of deception" except in cases where the information that would be needed to convince Congress and the people of the threat could not for some reason be shared with them, and even here would prefer that this be owned up to and that deceptive reasons not be invented.

With that caveat in mind, I also support "the freedom of information, full transparency and accountability" in democratic governing processes, so this would pretty much cancel out or leave very little room for the caveat of not being able to share information about the threat.

I would leave very little wiggle room for deception, if at all, would decide each case on its individual merits, and always would prefer frankness about an inability to communicate the nature of the threat rather than deception about other more popular but untrue reasons based upon folkloric information.

Ultimately, this gets down to whether the elite leaders in charge are crafting such awesome strategies that the common people just wouldn't understand their merits if even given access to all the information (which isn't really an option with the current emphasis on secrecy).

If this is the case, and an argument can be made for it, we still need to assure accountability and constitutionality by having Congress declare wars and not the president. Otherwise, the defense of corporate strategy power structures does not address the nature of accountability, and actually operates completely outside the purview of our standard conception of governing and free society.

Posted by: jimm at February 9, 2004 02:50 PM | PERMALINK

Jimm, if Congress ducks it's responsibility, I don't think that can be blamed on any particular President. As to Roosevelt, your position now seems to be that Roosevelt's deceit-laden attempt to involve the U.S. in the European conflict, while telling the citizenry that he was actively attempting to keep the U.S. out of the conflict, was made less onerous because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. This seems a bit of a stretch, to put it mildly. Frankly, I'm quite happy that FDR engaged in such deceit, because failing to contest German Fascism was a far greater evil, and it is much, much, easier to say with confidence that one would oppose such "unacceptable" practices, until one is charged with the responsibility of dealing with the consequences failing to pursue those practices. As I stated above, it is quite easy to proclaim, "Let justice be done, thought the heavens fall!", but when push comes to shove, and the heavens actually appear to be on the verge of falling, nobody really believes it. In short, I think the difference in deceiving to defeat Hitler, and deceiving to support Hitler, is extraordinarily worthy, and that the people who actually were charged with that terrible task would agree.

I'm sorry we had a disagreement due to semantic differences regarding the word "democracy", and I am largely in agreement that Congress should be more energetic in defending it's turf, although I fear that "authorizing resolutions", instead of the much more clear "declaration of war", is now a permenant feature. In any case, I appreciate your effort to keep a civil tone.

Posted by: Will Allen at February 9, 2004 03:17 PM | PERMALINK

My two cents re:

". . . I'm not saying that FDR deceived the nation into war. The only way to prove that would be to show that FDR knew about and allowed Pearl Harbor to happen."

How about this - FDR knew the Axis was going to attack an American military base, just not which one, and he decided not to do anything to protect all such military bases, knowing that such attack (when it came) would push us into war. I don't (or can't) think for one minute ANY President (FDR or GWB) would know the specifics like that and fail to act.

". . . I clarified my point that the president has no right to declare war . . ."

And I agree with all of that. However, if FDR knew the six carriers were going to attack Pearl Harbor, and the only way to stop them was to destroy them in Japanese harbors (an act of war), you surely aren't saying FDR as Commander-in-Chief could not so act, right? I think that would fit in with the Hitler hypotheticals too.

Posted by: Charlie at February 9, 2004 03:27 PM | PERMALINK

Charlie, the president may defend the nation against attack without a declaration of war. At all times and places. In the case of a preemptive attack, we get back to a lot of the debate that has been spurred by Iraq.

Will, I enjoyed the discussion.

Posted by: jimm at February 11, 2004 01:08 PM | PERMALINK
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