July 01, 2006

And Still One More Time: Stop Helping the Warmongers

[AND: Excerpts from Seymour Hersh's latest article about Iran and the administration's war with the military, here. Overall, the news is not good. I understate considerably.

...and still more on these issues here: Our Date with Armageddon.]

I am going to keep hammering this issue until at least 50 people understand what I'm talking about and indicate they agree with me. The current count is 10 or 15. Given the crucial nature of this principle, and in light of the fact that it is critical to our foreign policy in general and to the question of Iran in particular, that is not nearly enough.

And very regrettably, not one of the people who agrees with me writes for a major national newspaper. In today's Washington Post, Walter Pincus reports as follows:
Do the 20-year-old Iraqi chemical munitions found by U.S. and coalition forces support the prewar contention that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and justify the invasion of Iraq?

That question divided Republicans and Democrats again this week, this time at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on the estimated 500 rockets and artillery shells containing degraded mustard gas or sarin nerve agent.

Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) contended that an April report by the U.S. Army's National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) is clear evidence of Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

"Some may want to play down the significance of this report or even deny that WMD have been found in Iraq," Hunter said at Thursday's hearing, using the abbreviation for weapons of mass destruction.

Citing the United Nations resolutions that called for destruction of all of Hussein's banned weapons, Hunter added that "the verified existence of such chemical weapons" proves they were not destroyed and "in part because of such violations, we voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq."

But Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), the senior Democrat on the committee, countered that the NGIC report did not address Baghdad's prewar chemical weapons program. Rather, he said, it was "written to address the force protection concerns of our service members in Iraq."
Take another look at Pincus's opening question: "Do the 20-year-old Iraqi chemical munitions found by U.S. and coalition forces support the prewar contention that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and justify the invasion of Iraq?"

Let's translate this, to get at the precise issue involved: Was the intelligence right? In terms of the way the debate is always framed and as Pincus states, the answer to this question carries a single, inevitable implication: if the intelligence was right, then the invasion was "justified." If the intelligence was wrong, it was not.

However, and as I have pointed out at least 100 times, the key critical assumption is never stated explicitly by anyone: this argument assumes that the decision to go to war was based on the intelligence, at least in significant part.

This assumption is plainly, unqualifiedly wrong. It is almost never true, and it certainly was not true in the case of Iraq. As I have also noted, most Democrats and liberals are no better on this point than Republicans and conservatives:
I continue to see many references on political blogs to the "importance of getting the intelligence right." At the moment, such comments obviously come up most often in discussions about "what to do about Iran." It's no surprise that this perspective shows up on conservative and rightwing blogs -- but I continue to be astounded that so many liberal and progressive bloggers still fall for this line.

People don't seem to grasp the necessary meaning of this approach. If you contend that it is crucial for the intelligence to be correct and given how the argument is almost always presented, you are assuming that major policy decisions are made on the basis of that intelligence, at least to a significant degree. This is buying into Bush's defense entirely: "But everyone thought Iraq had WMD and was a serious and growing threat!"
This latest "discovery" shows that the Democrats' primary aim is to show that these weapons are not the dreaded WMD. But if they were, what then? The war was a grand idea, or at least a necessary one?

No, it was not:
I would argue, and indeed I did argue at the time, that even if everything the Bush administration claimed had been true, the war still was not justified -- and that it was definitely not strategically advisable longer term.

I submit that even if WMD had been found in Iraq, the negative consequences flowing out of the U.S. occupation still argue conclusively against this war. As explained in this post and the Peter Bergen article it excerpts, we vanquished one foe only to breathe life into a worldwide jihadist movement. We traded one enemy for a multitude of enemies. Had Iraq possessed WMD, that is still a remarkably ill-advised exchange. And make no mistake: we would have had a prolonged occupation in any case, and it would have led to the identical, profoundly negative results.
I added:
In short, even if I were absolutely convinced that we had found towering piles of WMD in Iraq, I don't care. Neither should you or anyone else. It doesn't matter.
See the earlier posts for more details on these points.

And still once more, I quote Barbara Tuchman on the broader, absolutely critical point:
Acquiescence in Executive war, [Fulbright] wrote, comes from the belief that the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only was this questionable, but major policy decisions turn "not upon available facts but upon judgment," with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge "whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve the overall interests as a nation."


The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones.
And with regard to Iraq, I also recently wrote: "The interested parties have wanted to invade Iraq and rearrange the Middle East since the calamitous presidency of George W. Bush was merely a glint in Karl Rove's malignant eye, and even before that."

The issue matters so much because the error in the way the debate is framed may very well lead us into disaster once again, and even into a global nuclear war. With regard to Iran, everyone who is at all prominent in the debate about what we should do -- everyone, Democrat, Republican or otherwise -- insists that we have "to get the intelligence right this time." In other words: if we are convinced that Iran is actually trying to get nuclear weapons (even though all the best estimates indicate they still won't have even one for five to 10 years), then something has to be done. Usually, the proponents of this view add that something has to be done now, or very soon.

Just as I argued with regard to Iraq, I offer a resounding no. Once again, the decision is one of policy and judgment, and the intelligence will have nothing to do with it. Even if Iran had nuclear weapons in five or 10 years, many factors strongly argue against the likelihood that they would ever use them against the United States. There is no evidence to suggest that Iran's leaders are entirely suicidal: any attack that could be traced back to Iran would surely result in the large-scale destruction of that country. They know that, so do we, and so does everyone else. Given our current foreign policy of attacking and occupying any country on earth that our current leaders take a strong dislike to -- whether that country constitutes a threat to us or not -- it is hardly surprising that Iran and other nations want a nuclear deterrence of their own, to protect them from our lethal lunacy. Moreover, it is well-known, despite the fact that it is almost never mentioned in our polite political debates, that Israel has a very sizable nuclear arsenal. I should remind you that Israel is not a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and that Iran is. If Iran and Israel both had nuclear weapons at their disposal, that might actually serve to stabilize the Middle East situation, and make a wider regional war less likely. This is not a complicated or controversial thought. It is blindingly logical and straightforward. (Obligatory point for the thinking-impaired: this is not to say that I view a nuclear Iran as a good thing. I don't view it as a remotely good thing that anyone has nuclear weapons, including us. [That is especially true, since we're the only country that has used them-- even when we did not have to, and even when we lied about the devastating human consequences.] I am simply suggesting that the results may not in fact be the End Times calamity that so many assume.)

But the current administration seeks to impose its will on the entire world, and the Middle East is only the first stop on their global hegemonic journey. And the Democrats -- fully cowed and terrified of being seen as "weak" on national security -- for the most part seek only to show that they're "gutsier" and "stronger" than the Bush crowd, which means only that they're even more willing to bomb countries that don't threaten us in the least. At this point, no one should have any doubts on one issue: if the Bush administration wants "intelligence" that shows Iran is a "serious" and "growing" threat, they will find it or create it out of nothing, or next to nothing. The atmosphere of growing hysteria will be amplified by a press which continues to view itself primarily as an adjunct to the powerful (some rare exceptions to the contrary notwithstanding, as noted here). With only one or two exceptions, the craven Democrats won't dare to oppose the tide -- and Armageddon, here we come.

And none of it will be the result of the intelligence. It's never mattered in any significant way, and it won't matter in the next chapter in our neverending war. But keep in mind that the next chapter may be the last one.

Yet everyone will claim that we "had no choice," because of what the intelligence showed. It will all be a lie, and almost no one will dare to say so, forcefully and unapologetically. The American public will go along as well, just as they always do. As I wrote the other day:
The truth about the American public is much worse than a general lack of concern with the truth: the fact is that we affirmatively do not want to know the truth. It poses too much of a danger to our preferred vision of ourselves -- so we bury it under the details of our lives, and avoid reading or hearing anything that might challenge our ignorance.
There is still time to reach a critical number of Americans, and perhaps to change their minds. But that will never happen if the entire public debate continues to be conducted in the same dishonest and inaccurate way.

To the extent you discuss the intelligence question in the manner dictated by conventional wisdom, you are helping to ensure the inevitability of the next war. I would hope you would seriously give this issue some further thought.

Every element in is place for an attack on Iran. The Bush administration has laid the foundation with consistency and deliberation over the last several years. They have met no serious opposition at any point. To the extent they have been temporarily derailed from their plans for further conflict, we can only thank the "mad mullahs" themselves, in the greatest irony of all. Iran has been so determined to engage in diplomacy, and has been so public in its efforts, that it has backed the Bush administration into a corner to a certain degree -- but only for the moment. And the numerous setbacks the administration has suffered don't make an attack on Iran less likely: if anything, they probably make it more likely. The administration might well conclude that it can only salvage its political fortunes through another "crisis," real or invented. A crisis over Iran, with hostilities begun just in time for maximum electoral impact, would fit the bill perfectly.

I would assume most people reading this don't want to make that profoundly grim prospect easier for them. So, to put the point very simply: Don't.