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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Myth-making about Iraq

Over at Volokh, Randy Barnett recently sent readers to an article in the NRO by Victor Davis Hanson called "Legends of the Fall; More myths about the current war."

Barnett really doesn't blog about it, but I presume he's sympathetic to the argument since he sent his readers to the National Review.

The article is a crock. Shall I count the ways?

1. Hanson makes a big deal of the minimal casualties felt by the US in Afghanistan and Iraq -- comparing the total (he uses 400 deaths, though this doesn't include the 1800 more soldiers seriously wounded) favorably to the 3000 lost on 9/11.

Of course, he doesn't mention innocent Afghan and Iraqi casualties. Many put the Afghan total at 3000 and I've seen estimated Iraq casualties in the 7-8 thousand range as well. It is unhelpful that the Pentagon makes virtually no effort to document them.

Oddly, Hanson does mention 1000 Iraqi deaths associated with Bill Clinton's bombing of Iraq. Funny how he counts dead Iraqis for partisan purposes only.

2. Hanson claims:
In fact, those who employ terror of the type that culminated (rather than began) on September 11 are real people with real government backing. They cannot operate without money, havens, and at least passive complicity.
Yet, there is widespread dispute about the degree of complicity. Hanson specifically points to Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, so he is clearly worried about both indirect support and terrorists that do not primarily target the US. Indeed, he mentions Hezbollah, which is primarily focused on targeting Israel in the hope of creating an independent Palestine.

Arguably, the way to address this problem is via negotiated settlement, not war.

I'm all for focusing more attention on Saudi Arabia, but the administration isn't on board with that and I do not mean we should attack them.

Doesn't anyone want to talk about other means of countering terrorism?

Do we really want a war with Iran? Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (for Bush's father) told the BBC earlier this year that he'd support impeachment if Bush next attacked Iran or Syria.

3. Hanson also says the costs have been relatively low, but does not explain who will pay for the $100 billion in reconstruction he guesses is still to come. Remarkably, he estimates the costs of 9/11 at $1 Trillion -- so you know he's being somewhat dishonest with his numbers. This is clearly a partisan attempt to downplay the potential costs of rebuilding poor nations and overstating the effects of 9/11 so as not to blame the recession on policies of the current administration.

I wonder if Hanson would have argued to reject the recall of Gray Davis because 9/11 had inadvertently destroyed California's economy and created a huge budget deficit?

4. Hanson then addresses war dissent and notes the lack of "sit-ins, daily demonstrations, and teach-ins...military resistance and the cut-off of funding."

Where was Hanson in February? Seriously, did he notice the millions of people rallying in the streets in the world's major cities? The war, as conventionally defined, is over. Americans and others are not yet protesting the occupation, but I suspect that could happen as the human costs become more clearly evident over the long haul. Moreover, I suspect that the military resistance he's looking for is right before his eyes. The Iraqis killing American soldiers are fighting occupation. As I've said before, self determination is a very powerful idea.

Hanson also pretends that many of the Democrats running for President support the current US policy. He refers to a statement General Clark made before the horrible machinations that lead to the Iraq war (many US allies were likewise safely on board the "war on terror" before about October 2002) and implies that Dean doesn't have an alternative plan; yet, Dean and other Democrats clearly want to get the US out of Iraq as quickly as possible and turn the problem(s) over to the UN.

It's the exact move than France, Germany and Russia are asking in return for their support. Such a changed policy would lead to a UN Security Council resolution that likely means international money for reconstruction and troops from places like India.

Why is the US resisting this? Is it related to the crony capitalism many suspect?

5. Next, Hanson addresses international opposition. He asserts that only a handful of states are peeved at the US ("Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden, Greece, Syria, Palestine, Algeria, and a few other Arab states"), but ignores world opinion surveys that reflect global (not diplomatic) views. The British government doesn't currently reflect British public opinion on this issue, for example, so you know Hanson's view is quite misleading.

Plus, he's already listed a number of America's closest friends. I blogged just the other day about opposition to the US occupation of Iraq by the 57 state Organization of Islamic Countries.

Here's a challenge for people like Hanson. Name 5 countries where public opinion polls show clear support for the US position on Iraq -- either before or after the war.

6. Finally, Hanson ends by attempting to debunk the "WMD crisis" myth.

Except he doesn't debunk it. Instead, Hanson relies upon two highly dubious arguments. First Hanson counts on the fact that we'll learn more in the next year that will make Iraq seem better, rather than worse. Maybe, but David Kay pretty strongly implied that he's unlikely to find any serious ongoing WMD program in Iraq. And he acknowledges that Iraq had no nuclear program whatsoever. None.

So much for the mushroom cloud imagery administration officials like Condi Rice often used to sell the war.

Second, Hanson says that North Korea and Iran will learn a lesson from this crisis and develop their bombs "before invading neighbors or confronting the United States."

What a crock. Does anyone think either state plans to invade neighbors? Deterrence theorists and policymakers have long agreed that nuclear bombs are not useful for offensive invasions. Deterrence works. The US has nukes deployed in South Korea. Why would North Korea risk holocaust for a dubious gain?

The same logic applies to Iran. What precise threat does Iran pose to any neighbors -- or to the US for that matter? Iran does support anti-Israeli terrorism, but it's a huge leap to imagine them moving from funding suicide bombers in Israel to arming terrorists with nuclear bombs to target the US.

And don't forget the lesson I mentioned previously on this blog. Arms control worked in Iraq (the inspectors found and destroyed Iraq's arsenal 1991-1998) and Iran is cooperating with the IAEA even now.

If this is the best PR related to the "war on terror" that the administration's backers can mount, the President is in for a very long year in the run up to the 2004 election.

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