October 3, 2006

"You don't know what you're talking about"

[This article was originally posted on another site; the "last blog" of which I speak does not refer to the last blog on the present site.]

My last blog stirred a fiery reaction in a fellow blogger. This blogger, who is a veteran of the Iraq War, felt my comments about the war revealed that I didn’t know what I was talking about and have been brainwashed by the media. I certainly appreciate this young man’s comments, not to mention his evident passion, but I am unconvinced by his arguments. In what follows, I argue against three of his claims.

Claim #1: The war has made Iraq safer: "I had my face and hands kissed by elderly Iraqis who thanked us for coming in to their neighborhoods and putting a stop to death squads and kidnapping rings."

Iraq may be safer for some people, but certainly not for others.

Death squads still reign supreme in Iraq, although the roles have reversed and the Shi’ites are now the perpetrators and Sunnis the victims. Here’s how a Washington Post editorial described the situation on December 4, 2005:

"Of all the bloodshed in Iraq, none may be more disturbing than the campaign of torture and murder being conducted by U.S.-trained government police forces. Reports last week in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times chronicled how Iraqi Interior Ministry commando and police units have been infiltrated by two Shiite militias, which have been conducting ethnic cleansing and rounding up Sunnis suspected of supporting the insurgency. Hundreds of bodies have been appearing along roadsides and in garbage dumps, some with acid burns or with holes drilled in them."

That was almost a year ago, but anyone who follows the news knows that the situation has not improved:

"Iraqi Hospitals Are War’s New ‘Killing Fields’" (Washington Post, August 30, 2006)

"Death Squads Strike Iraq Hard" (Associated Press, September 13, 2006)

"Death Squads Target the Iraqi Next Door" (Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2006)

Like Sunnis, members of many non-Muslim religions enjoyed relative peace under Saddam’s secular regime. And like Sunnis, these groups have been severely persecuted since the U.S. invasion. The Christian and Other Religions Endowment reports that over 200,000 non-Muslims have fled Iraq since 2003. Iraqi Christians have been especially targeted: many have been kidnapped, many murdered, and many have seen their churches bombed and businesses shut down (The State Department, "International Religious Freedom Report 2006").

Iraq is not safer today than it was three years ago. Iraq is a nightmare; the country is a bloodbath on the brink of civil war. The violence has been so horrible that in the last seven months alone 240,000 Iraqis have registered as refugees. Just yesterday, police in Baghdad found the bodies of 40 people, "bound, tortured and murdered" (Reuters, "Quarter million Iraqis flee sectarian violence," September 28, 2006).

Even Ayad Allawi, the first prime minister of the new Iraqi government, stated that human rights abuses have not improved since the invasion. According to Allawi, "People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse. It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things" (The Observer, "Abuse worse than under Saddam, says Iraqi leader," November 27, 2005).

Claim #2: Saddam isn’t a great guy: "According to you, Saddam was a great guy, no way akin to Stalin or Hitler. Ask the people of Birjinni in the Kurdish part of Iraq if Saddam was such a great guy."

In this instance, my fellow blogger has made a straw-man argument, pure and simple. He claims that I believe Saddam was a great guy and then goes on to show that Saddam in fact wasn’t a great guy. Well, I never, ever said this, and I never would. In fact, in a blog dated July 30, 2006, I called Saddam "a cold-blooded murderer who deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law."

Claim #3: Iraq was a threat: "Ask Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait whether or not they thought Saddam was a threat. You don't know what you're talking about. …The reason we invaded was…because Saddam had the capability of supplying terrorists with more sophisticated weaponry."

It is my belief that, even if Saddam had WMDs, he was not a threat—not to the Middle East and not to the United States. This belief hinges on a thesis made by Ivan Eland and Bernard Gourley of the Cato Institute (Policy Analysis No. 464, December 17, 2002). According to this thesis, Saddam was rational, rational in the sense that social scientists use the term, rational meaning that he always strived to maximize his own good. And, as his past actions revealed, Saddam believed his greatest good to be his own physical and political survival.

Given that Saddam was a rational agent who placed supreme importance on his own survival, it follows that the United States could have kept him in check. How? By merely making it clear to Saddam that any act of aggression would have resulted in the end of his reign. In other words, we could have prevented him from attacking other countries and from aiding anti-American terrorists by merely making it clear that doing so would have led to his destruction.

There are perhaps two main objections to this thesis, both of which I’ll now address.

Objection #1: Given Saddam’s history for invading other countries, how can you say that a mere U.S. threat would have prevented him from future aggression?

Yes, Saddam twice invaded other countries (Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990). But both of these invasions, although not moral, were certainly rational.

The invasion of Iran was rational because Saddam believed he would have the support of the international community, which was leery of the new fundamentalist Iranian government. And Saddam was right. Not only did the UN turn a blind eye to Iran’s plight, but the United States came to Saddam’s aid and supported Iraq diplomatically, financially, and militarily.

The invasion of Kuwait was rational because Saddam had good reasons to believe that the U.S. would again turn a blind eye to this act of aggression. On July 25, 1990, after Saddam had already positioned large numbers of troops and artillery near the Iraq-Kuwait border and just eight days before the invasion, he met with U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie. Transcripts of the meeting reveal that Glaspie took a conciliatory tone with Saddam; she never stated or even implied that the U.S. would intervene if Iraq invaded Kuwait, and at one point she even said that "we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait" (New York Times, September 23, 1990). On July 31, just two days before the invasion, John Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, testified before Congress that "…the United States has no commitment to defend Kuwait and the U.S. has no intention of defending Kuwait if attacked by Iraq" (House Foreign Affairs Committee, 1990, Developments in the Middle East, p. 6).

Objection #2: Given that Saddam has used chemical weapons in the past, how can you say that a mere U.S. threat would have prevented him from using WMDs in the future or at least giving them to anti-American terrorists?

Yes, Saddam used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War. But this was a rational use, given that, as we just saw, he had no reason to believe it would incur the wrath of the Western world.

Saddam also had chemical weapons during the Persian Gulf War, but he never used them against the United States. Why? Because he knew that the results would be devastating, as the U.S. warned that such an attack would result in a nuclear counter-attack.

In conclusion, Saddam was not a threat to the Middle East. After the Persian Gulf War, he knew that he could ill afford to ever again invade another country.

And Saddam was certainly not a threat to the United States. It seems highly unlikely that he would have ever given WMDs to anti-American terrorists, as he knew that the United States would have quickly ended his reign had it been proved or even suspected that the WMDs had come from his government.

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