January 12, 2004

Case for War

I've recently had to defend my support for the war in Iraq to some close friends and it has made me think back to the case for war that I wrote last March on e.thePeople. I had always thought that it would be worthwhile to revisit that post to see how well it stood the test of time, and I suppose that now is as good a time as any.

In general, I think it still holds up pretty well. In retrospect, I would have placed less emphasis on the oil point. While it does frame our interest in the region, I've concluded it's less relevant than the other points — at the time, it seemed important to counter the "No blood for oil!" crowd. Also, I actually was a bit harder on the Bush administration's foreign policy than I would be now. Events have convinced me that their was little to no chance of getting France, Germany and Russia's blessing, although more skillful diplomacy could certainly have made their obstinance more costly to them.

I would also emphasize my third point about the non-proliferation regime more. The recent moves by Lybia are hopefully an example of the effectiveness of this strategy. North Korea and Iran show the importance of getting this right and I, for one, actually do feel more secure in a world where despots fear the results of non-compliance rather than scheme about how much they can game the system.

Anyway, read the whole thing and judge for yourself:

This article is an attempt to put forward a pragmatic, rational case for the war with Iraq. I fall in to the camp of citizens who support the war despite being appalled by our recent ham-fisted moves that pass for diplomacy. I believe the war is justified without condoning an "oderint dum metuant" mentality. I tried to reach my conclusion by weighing the facts as I see them, rather than resorting to partisan or ideological reasoning.

First, it is about the oil -- and it should be. But it's not about the oil in the "greedy oil companies looking for profits" way. It's about the oil because it's in our national interest and the world economy's interest to control (or at least not allow others to control) the supply of oil. I will be the first to call out the Bush administration for their short-sighted energy policy that benefits their campaign contributers' coffers. Their lack of vision is atrocious and I would support a massive strategic effort on the scale of the Apollo project to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. But that is neither here nor there. For the foreseeable future, whether we like it or not, commit to change it or not, our economy and the economy of the entire world is dependent on the oil supplies of the Middle East. In fact, the developing world, whose oil consumption is growing far faster than the US's, has many of its hopes pinned on that energy continuing to be cheap and available. No amount of wishful thinking will change this for the next 10 years at least. Though not a happy conclusion, we must protect our access and deny hostile regimes control even if it does mean "blood for oil".

Second, it is about liberation of Iraq. Even if this is simply a nice side benefit to a policy we would choose anyway, it is still an important and morally strong argument for the war. Those that oppose war because of the certainty of civilian casualties ignore the repression of the people, ignore the fates of the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds, ignore the stories of torture and rape, and suddenly become worshippers at the altar of national sovereignty. Those that say that it's folly to think that the Iraqis can support democracy are caught up in their own form of cultural chauvinism. Although it will surely be difficult, and I pray we have the resolve to stick it out as long as it takes, I do believe it's the right thing to do.

Third, it is about viability of the current non-proliferation regime. If a country can flaunt the UN for 12 years and give just enough to avoid the "serious consequences", how much longer until dozens of countries learn to play the game. The peace of the Gulf War was conditioned on disarmament, and that condition has not been met. If we continue to countenace open defiance and nuclear blackmail from the likes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il, their ranks are likely to swell with immitators. The world must do the unpleasant to avoid the unthinkable.

This leads to my final argument -- the absence of any realistic alternative means of disarming Iraq besides the use of force. Despite Martin Sheen's unconvincing "inspections work, wars don't", I have yet to see a reasonable alternative put forward by the anti-war movement. Even if you believe that the recent moves by Saddam are not just another cat-and-mouse game, but reflect real compliance with the UN resolution, you still cannot possibly argue that "inspections work". At best, you can argue that inspections, backed by an imminent, credible threat of force, work. You can argue that international demands, backed by 200,000 troops on your doorstep, work. What would lead someone to the conclusion that these "gains" would continue, and not reverse, after the pressure was off? Certainly not Saddam's past behavior. The most responsible and thoughtful public figures speaking out against the administration's tactics (e.g. Sen. Biden) admit this, and balance their misgivings about going to war against this realization. As Tacitus said, "si vis pacem, para bellum" -- if you want peace, prepare for war.

Of course, everyone acknowledges that if you have to go to war, going with the blessing of the UN is better than not. And I believe that if we had handled the lead up to this situation better we could have had that support. But it appears that we don't have it now, partially due to our own arrogance, partially due to struggles within Europe as to who will dominate the Union and whether to define that Union in terms of opposition to America or not.

But not having UN support does not change the underlying calculus of the decision. If we were France, whose only role on the international stage is membership, predicated on past greatness, in multilateral institutions, we would be forced to relate to the world through those institutions and privilege the products of their processes. But we are not, we are America, and we are forced to engage each country individually and bear the vast majority of the enforcement work around the world. Sometimes we are forced to do the heavy lifting for NATO or the UN, as in Kosovo and the Gulf War. Sometimes we are pushed to "handle" it alone as people seem to insist in North Korea. Sometimes we must address interests that are ours alone. Because of this we have a vested interest in people taking us seriously above and beyond our interest in people taking the UN seriously. This is a fact of being a superpower and it always has been. And it is guaranteed to put us at odds with others in the international community from time to time.

You'll notice that my reasoning does not invoke the spectre of Al Qaeda and I deplore Bush's reliance on that tenuous link. I hope we find more evidence (like the recent deportation of Iraq's Phillipine envoy for contacts with Abu Sayyaf) after the war, but only to give the administration some credibility back. I believe the case stands without the link at all.

Although my arguments may be too pragmatic for some, they lead me to conclude that war is justified.

Posted by richard at January 12, 2004 12:12 AM