Thursday, September 30, 2004

Volokh's Iraq challenge

The Volokh Conspiracy has issued a challenge to "pro-war" bloggers to answer his three questions. Here is my response:


First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?


First of all, using hindsight does not change the situation in which the decision to invade was made. Every major intelligence service in the world believed Saddam possessed WMD, including the British, the French, the Saudis, and the Egyptians. He certainly behaved as if he had them, obstructing UN inspections {according to Blix} in violation of UNSCR 1441.

I suspect that Volokh really wants us to answer if it was a good idea EVEN IF no stockpiles of WMD were discovered.

The answer is still "Yes." Saddam did have the means with which to quickly reconstitute stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons whenever he chose, and once international pressure eased {note that France, Germany, and Russia were already violating the UN sanctions in place}, his nuclear scientists possessed the knowledge to proceed on developing nuclear weapons.

Saddam was a ruthless dictator, inimical to the interests of the United States and his neighbors, who harbored, succored, and funded terrorists, had invaded two of his neighbors and launched Scud missiles into two other countries, and had attempted the assassination of former President Bush.

In the first Gulf War, we listened to "our allies," the UN, and the "sensitivities" of Arab regimes, and backed off, leaving him in power. We continued to pay heed to these outside influences as Saddam flouted the ceasefire agreement for nearly 12 years, violated the UN economic sanctions, diverted funds from the UN "Oil for food" program, and regularly fired missiles at American and British planes enforcing the "no fly" zones.

Invading Iraq was not only a good idea, it was implementing US law as well as several UNSC Resolutions. In 1998 the Congress passed, and President Clinton signed into law, legislation setting the official US policy as "regime change" in Iraq.


Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

I don't like to hear bad news, especially when lives are being lost. Who does?

However, bad news is news. News media has always covered bad news, because that attracts more readers or viewers than good news. It would be a mistake to believe that these reports mean our policy is failing, however. Have there been mistakes in strategy and tactics? Of course there have. There always are in war.

After the defeat of Germany in WWII, we occupied that nation for a full seven years before returning sovereignty to the German people, and maintained a strong military presence there to this very day, nearly 60 years after the "end of major combat operations."

Now, it is true that more American soldiers have lost their lives in the Iraqi occupation than in the German occupation. Three times as many have died during the occupation as were lost in combat. I grieve for every one of them, including Chance Phelps.

Despite the unseemly attitude evidenced by some on the left and in the media by our losses hitting the "magic number" of 1000, I seem to remember they were predicting our men would be coming home "in tens of thousands of body bags" before the invasion.

Come to think of it, they said the very same thing as we went into Afghanistan, didn't they?

To keep the number in perspective, remember that more Americans have been murdered in Washington, DC since we invaded than in Iraq.

I suppose they want us to get out of DC, too?


Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?

Let us clearly understand that it would be a grave error to assume that because criteria a, b, c . . . etc. are met, we have necessarily "succeeded," or that failure to meet one or more of the criteria we now set means we have "failed."

That being said:

We need to bring security and control to those areas still lacking them, and the Ba'athist insurgents and foreign terrorists must be defeated. Elections must be held freely and fairly. A stable Iraqi government must be able to govern the country without relying on US military forces for internal security.

But even fufilling these conditions would not necessarily mean "success" in the longer term. The essential institutions for a free society cannot be simply willed into being. These include an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and respect for the rights of property and contracts. In a nation and a culture which has no legacy of these institutions, implanting and establishing them is a daunting task.

"Success" in Iraq, as in life, must be measured in degrees. In neither case is "success" an all-or-nothing proposition. But deposing Saddam and his Ba'athist murderers is a damned fine start.


UPDATE: The challenge was posted not by Volokh himself, but by Orin Kerr, a featured poster at the Volokh site. Kerr is a former clerk to Mr. Justice Kennedy, and is now a Law Professor at GMU.

Sorry for the mix-up.


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