Jake Weisberg called his post "The Case Against the Case Against War." I'd describe my position the same way. I don't buy most of the administration's arguments, and when the question is reduced to whether war in Iraq is necessary right now, I have a hard time making the affirmative case. But I don't think we can leave it at that. Vice President Cheney is right that we ought to scrutinize the non-war option as carefully as we scrutinize the war option. And the non-war option is every bit as dubious.
In the spirit of Steve Chapman's post, I'll start by discarding the pro-war arguments I don't buy. I've waited and waited for evidence to back up the administration's theory that Saddam is in cahoots with al-Qaida (more so than Iran, Syria, or any other regime is). I haven't seen it, and I'm certain that if the administration had it, we'd have heard it by now. Furthermore, Brent Scowcroft and Al Gore are correct that Iraq is a separate issue from the war on terror. If you pay close attention to the theory put forward by the administration—i.e., that Saddam will use nukes to keep us at bay so he can pursue the same regional aggression he pursued before the Gulf War—you'll see that there's no strategic parallel between Saddam and al-Qaida. And I agree with Steve that Saddam won't use nukes against us the day he gets them.
That said, I see a few problems with Steve's argument. He makes two distinctions that in my view aren't nearly as clean as his policy requires. One is between the offensive and defensive use of nuclear blackmail. Steve asks: "But does anyone believe that if Pakistan invaded and seized Indian territory, India would let the conquest stand? Nuclear weapons are highly effective for defensive purposes—deterring an attack on one's own territory. But they're useless for offensive conquest." The problem with this distinction is that Pakistan and India disagree precisely over what is or isn't Indian territory, just as Iraq and Kuwait disagreed over what was or wasn't Kuwaiti territory. History is littered with cases in which one regime attacked another in the name of defending or recapturing what it perceived as its own territory. Each of those cases is a case of failed deterrence.
The other suspect distinction is between strength and weakness. Steve thinks that because deterrence worked against Stalin and Mao, whom he views as strong, it should work against Saddam, whom he views as weak. But as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others in the administration have cogently argued, sometimes what looks like weakness is really strength. The less you have to defend, the more freedom you have to attack. That's the particular strength of non-state actors such as al-Qaida. In Saddam's case, the maxim would be slightly different: The less you have to lose, the more freedom you have to attack. Stalin and Mao were building vast empires. They had a lot to lose. Saddam has less. It might be enough to deter him. But the fact that deterrence worked against Stalin and Mao doesn't prove that it will work against Saddam.
More broadly, are we willing to live in a world governed only by deterrence? Many people, myself included, wonder where an American policy of trigger-happy pre-emption will lead. But we ought to wonder as well where a policy of non-intervention in nuclear matters will lead. Steve is consistent about non-intervention: He's against most gun control. But those of us who don't think it's OK to let people run around with guns until they shoot somebody should ask ourselves why it's OK to let Saddam Hussein run around with nukes until he annihilates somebody.
If you think there's a better way than war to stop Saddam's nuclear program, I'm all ears. But to get to that discussion, you have to get past the idea that deterring the use of nukes is good enough.
Just to be clear about things, I am writing this small contribution to Slate's debate while frantically trying to finish a book on Soviet concentration camps in general—and a chapter on World War II in particular. That perspective caused me to jump when I read Steve Chapman's contribution. Steve points out that Saddam Hussein didn't make use of his biological and chemical weapons during the Gulf War, because "President Bush had let him know beforehand that if he did, we would turn Baghdad into a smoking pile of nuclear rubble." He went on to argue that Saddam's nukes/chemical/biological weapons have been (or will be) acquired largely for the purposes of deterrence, and that there is no reason to believe he would actually use them against us, if he knew he and his countrymen would be blown to smithereens in response.
To assume that is to assume that Saddam operates according to the same rational criteria that you and I operate by—or that the United States and the USSR operated by (more or less) during the Cold War and that India and Pakistan operate by today. It is to assume, in other words, that Saddam would never make use of his weapons of mass destruction, simply because he would be too frightened of the possible consequences for his country. This is a big assumption, given that not every dictator in history has always had his country's best interests at heart. As you might have guessed, Hitler, the man in the forefront of my brain, comes to mind here: Faced with defeat in 1945, he refused to let his countrymen stop fighting. He preferred, instead, to see them die in suicidal last stands, actively willing the devastation of his country. As his capital city was turned into a wasteland—the ground zero of its day—he hailed the arrival of Armageddon and committed suicide, leaving the rest of Germany to its fate.
Although I dislike the modern tendency to compare every mad dictator to Hitler, in this narrow sense, the comparison to Saddam might be apt. Are you sure Saddam would not risk the destruction of his country, if he thought, for some reason, that he or his regime was in danger? Do you want to wait and find out? In my view, Saddam's personality—which I would really like to see more carefully and more frequently dissected by people who know him and his regime—ought to be as much a part of the debate about whether to intervene as his putative nuclear arsenal. We really don't know whether deterrence will work in the case of Iraq. Megalomaniacal tyrants do not always behave in the way rational people do, and to assume otherwise is folly.
Moving away from substance, back to public relations: If I have any real qualms about the potential war in Iraq, they are not so much about the central issue—should we fight or should we not (I think, with caveats, that we should be prepared to do so)—but about the peculiar way in which the administration has until now gone about making its case for the war. There have, it is true, been a few statements from Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice made an appearance on the BBC. But most of the time, both the president and his Cabinet have acted as if they don't really need to make the case for engaging in some kind of action in Iraq—and almost as if they expect the media, and Tony Blair, to make the case for them.
Within the United States, this is indeed, as Michael Kinsley wrote earlier, deeply undemocratic. Outside the United States, this is simply bad diplomacy, and I am mystified by it. If they don't really have a case for intervention, then I don't know what all the fuss is about. If they do have a case and aren't making it because they think it is self-evident, then they shouldn't be surprised when it turns out they have no allies. If they aren't making it because they don't want any allies, then that's an even bigger error of judgment. The United States needs allies of all kinds—European, Arab, whatever. Maybe they can't help us fight, but they can help with other things: espionage, finances, and explaining the rationale for the war to the rest of the world.
Obviously, this latter task looks set to be extremely difficult. If the administration isn't committed to explaining the rationale for the war, then they can hardly expect anyone else to be either. In fact, quite a lot of the general debate about the war, in the United States and abroad, would be taking place in different tones of voice if President Bush himself were more than sporadically involved in it. His U.N. speech was a good beginning, but its effects were almost nullified by his off-the-cuff remark about Saddam, "the guy who tried to kill my father." Perhaps Bush (like Clinton in his first years in office) hasn't yet realized that every word he says—even if meant to be ironic, sarcastic, or light-hearted—is immediately repeated around the world in 100 languages and taken deadly seriously. By the same token, he may not yet understand the power of his presence on television in 100 languages: If he wanted to bring the world around to his argument, he probably could do it. It's not as if no one is listening.
—Anne Applebaum is a journalist based in London and Warsaw.
Anne Applebaum makes a distinction, in her post, between what she calls "the central issue"—should we go to war or not—and the, presumably, side issue of how the administration has made its case for doing so. Jacob Weisberg similarly distinguishes between what he calls "process questions" and, presumably, substance questions. For most of us in this discussion, though, with the possible exception of Steve Chapman, whether we support going to war depends on whether we think these are actually separable issues. I do not.
To start with, there is the simple issue of having enough information to answer the "substance" questions. Anne says she thinks we should be prepared to go to war, but she also confesses that she's mystified by the administration's reticence ("If they don't really have a case for intervention, then I don't know what all the fuss is about"). Jacob claims to be able to weigh the substance issues without help from the administration, but when faced with what is for him the crucial question—do we attack Saddam now or later?—he decides that he'd best leave that to Donald Rumsfeld. So in this sense, the substance and process questions are not separable: As Michael Kinsley pointed out, the administration hasn't made enough information available to us.
Or maybe they have. Maybe the picture we're getting—yes, Saddam is a dangerous nut, but he's not yet an imminent threat—is pretty much accurate, despite Rumsfeld's and Ari Fleischer's efforts. In that case, then even if we could separate out the substance question (if, say, all of Europe were behind us in invading), there would still be a strong argument against risking American lives to confront an as yet uncertain threat.
Most crucially, however, the major process question—do we take action with allies or alone?—determines what risks we're taking. And risks are a very substantial matter.
First, in attacking Iraq at all, we would destabilize the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and say goodbye to any intelligence and policing cooperation we've been getting from other Arab countries. (Timothy Noah lays this out here.) These risks are much greater if we go it alone.
Second, by supplying Al Jazeera with footage of American troops killing Iraqi civilians, we would inspire and inflame thousands of new al-Qaida recruits. The presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia after Gulf War I made Osama Bin Laden determined to destroy us, and a lengthy American occupation of Baghdad (which will be necessary) will generate a few more Bin Ladens. As Robert Wright argues, if we take all the responsibility for doing the world's dirty work, we also take all the blame.
Third, when you're the most powerful country in the world, it's possible to think that international law is just something you pay lip service to, a moral nicety that only eggheaded philosophers care about. But, again as Robert Wright has argued, in Slate and elsewhere, there is little reason to believe, and much historical reason to doubt, that we will maintain our supremacy forever. We, too, will come to appreciate how respect for international law has made the world a safer place. We should not be the ones to destroy that respect.
Yes, we do need to worry about the possibility of terrorists acquiring unconventional weapons, but the best way to prevent that is with international weapons control, for which the Bush administration has little enthusiasm. Will, in his post, introduced the funny idea that supporting gun control has something to do with supporting a war on Iraq. I wouldn't belabor any analogy, but a more appropriate one would align supporting gun control with supporting international nonproliferation agreements. In this, then, the Bush administration is at least consistent.
Will says that Saddam may be less deterrable than Stalin and Mao because Stalin and Mao were building big empires that they'd have lost in the course of a devastating American counterattack, whereas Saddam just has a dinky country. "They had a lot to lose. Saddam has less." Anne, too, suggests that maybe Saddam could bear to watch Iraq get decimated. He may be one of those dictators who doesn't have "his country's best interests at heart," she says.
But the question isn't how much he loves his country—it's how much he loves his life. Does either of you really think that if Saddam lobbed a nuke at American troops, or into Kuwait, or into Israel, there is any real chance that he wouldn't ultimately be killed as a result? Do you think he thinks that? Do you think he considers his life less important than Stalin and Mao considered their lives?
If there is one theme that emerges clearly from Saddam Hussein's political career, it's that he's a survivor. In fact, that's one lesson of the Iraq hawks' staple anecdotes about the various cruelties he's inflicted on his own people: The man will do anything to survive politically. And physical survival is a prerequisite for political survival. Anne suggests that Saddam may be the kind of guy who would "risk the destruction of his country, if he thought, for some reason, that he or his regime was in danger." Precisely. He would do anything to survive—and that is the key to successful nuclear deterrence.
At one point Anne does briefly touch on the question of whether Saddam is not just ruthless but actually crazy. She says it is "folly" to believe that "megalomaniacal tyrants ... behave in the way rational people do" and brings up the example of Hitler, who committed suicide. But—even if I grant you that Saddam is in Hitler's psychological league, which I don't—the fact is that Hitler didn't choose death over life. He chose one form of death over another. He no doubt knew that we'd kill him if we caught him, and Nuremberg proved him right.
So far as I can tell, then, neither Anne nor Will has laid a glove on Steve Chapman's formidable critique of the argument that Saddam isn't containable. Having said that, let me stress that I don't think Saddam's containability settles the matter of war. In an age when governments can secretly give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists who can then deliver them without a return address, containment isn't enough. We have to somehow make sure that Iraq isn't making weapons of mass destruction. Looking further ahead, we have to (as Kate Taylor suggests) figure out a way to make sure no one else is making them either—that is, we have to start building an effective international mechanism for policing weapons of mass destruction.
It is this daunting but essential long-range goal that our Iraq policy should be subordinate to. There is no basis for the Bush administration's claim that Iraq per se poses some kind of urgent, eminent threat. I'm not aware of any reputable expert who believes that Saddam Hussein now has a true weapon of mass destruction—i.e., either a nuke or a highly contagious germ for which there is no vaccine. Besides, there's no reason to believe he'd give such things to al-Qaida, whose long-run plan is to eliminate regimes like his. So we can afford to calm down and play this thing coolly, with the long-run goal in mind.
I'd support a war against Iraq that was in the service of this goal—a war that was part of an earnest effort to a) get an intrusive inspection team into Iraq; b) shore up respect for U.N. inspections mandates generally; and c) make some progress toward the evolution of a viable international weapons policing mechanism. But I can't support a war that uses an insincere inspections ultimatum as a pretext for pre-emptive "regime change."
In other words, I'd support a war that was truly being waged on behalf of international law and its further evolution, rather than in violation of international law. So far I see no solid evidence that that's what the Bush administration has in mind. Then again, what the Bush administration has "in mind" can change on a daily basis, as the struggle for its soul continues. So I guess there's still hope.
—Robert Wright writes "The Earthling" column for Slate.
I've been avoiding this Slate "Dialogue" because while I support the war in Iraq, I haven't been able to explain to myself (much less anyone else) why I support it. A faint stink of dishonesty clings to most of the arguments for war. Evidence is absent for the claim that Saddam Hussein helps al-Qaida. Iraq doesn't seem remotely close to nuclear weapons. Saddam is too weak to seriously menace his neighbors or us.
And the arguments against war are compelling. We have succeeded in penning Iraq without war. The inspections regime, even when it's been sabotaged by Saddam, seems to limit his WMD programs enough to keep us safe. The no-fly zone protects the Kurds and permits the development of a proto-Kurdistan but doesn't create enough Kurdish autonomy to enrage Turkey. Israel is probably safer without war. There will be no oil shock without war. Etc.
So, why do I support the war? One reason that persuades me (and one that no one else has mentioned) is that toppling Saddam is the best way toward what should be our main goal: a bourgeois Middle East. We don't really expect the Arab and Muslim regimes of the region to be democratic. We don't really expect a Jeffersonian blossoming in the Euphrates Valley. And we don't really anticipate an East Asia style boom. But what we hope for is countries with reasonably stable governments that listen to their citizens, encourage capitalism, and offer enough opportunities to keep young men busy. Basically we'd be satisfied with a region of Jordans or Qatars.
Conquering Iraq will inflame young Muslim and Arab men across the region with hatred against the United States. Some of them will join al-Qaida or Hamas or start their own terror outfits. But conquering Iraq may also produce the vaccine against that rage, because it should usher in better economic times for Iraqis and for Arabs in general. As long as Iraq is an unsteady thug, capital avoids the Middle East. The uncertainty of the area makes it an undesirable place to invest. Countries in the region spend too much on their militaries, trade isn't free, the best and brightest flee to Europe and the United States.
Iraq's commercial life has been destroyed by Saddam. But Iraq is the geographic heart of the Middle East. Its population is well educated. It has a strong tradition of entrepreneurship. It is a crossroads with lucrative trade opportunities east, west, south, and north. If the Iraqi economy is uncaged, the region will become more prosperous: Goods will flow back and forth with Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and Iran. Toppling Saddam and ending the U.N. sanctions are the only way to liberate the economy and tempt capital back to Iraq. (Yes, there's some foreign capital in Iraq now, but the French and Russian investors are predators, extracting wealth, bribing off Saddam and his cronies, and doing nothing to build native Iraqi business.)
I'm not arguing we should make war to create free markets. I'm arguing that better economic conditions in the Middle East will inoculate against terror and constant instability, and war is the best way to create those better conditions. Economic growth is not a cure-all—Osama Bin Laden is proof enough that terrorists grow in rich soil as easily as poor—but it's the best solution to instability we are going to find. In Afghanistan, we are already seeing the renaissance of a bourgeois class. What will prevent another Taliban revolution? A lot of merchants who want to protect their assets, and enough jobs for angry men.
There's not enough propaganda in the world to soothe the Arab rage our war will create. But propaganda is not what we need. If we're lucky, a free Iraq—and a stable Middle East—will create enough opportunities that today's angry idle teenagers grow up into busy, greedy young men who have better things to do with their time than plot against America.
David Plotz has offered a not-unconvincing argument for Saddam's removal, but let me offer a better one: aflatoxin.
In 1995, the government of Saddam Hussein admitted to United Nations weapons inspectors that its scientists had weaponized a biological agent called aflatoxin. Charles Duelfer, the former deputy executive chairman of the now-defunct UNSCOM, told me earlier this year that the Iraqi admission was startling because aflatoxin has no possible battlefield use. Aflatoxin, which is made from fungi that occur in moldy grains, does only one thing well: It causes liver cancer. In fact, it induces it particularly well in children. Its effects are far from immediate. The joke among weapons inspectors is that aflatoxin would stop a lieutenant from making colonel, but it would not stop soldiers from advancing across a battlefield.
I quoted Duelfer, in an article that appeared in The New Yorker, saying that "we kept pressing the Iraqis to discuss the concept of use for aflatoxin." They never came up with an adequate explanation, he said. They did admit, however, that they had loaded aflatoxin into two warheads capable of being fitted onto Scud missiles.
Richard Spertzel, who was the chief biological weapons inspector for UNSCOM, told me that aflatoxin is "a devilish weapon. From a moral standpoint, aflatoxin is the cruelest weapon—it means watching children die slowly of liver cancer."
Spertzel went on to say that, to his knowledge, Iraq is the only country ever to weaponize aflatoxin.
In an advertisement that appeared in the New York Times on Tuesday, a group of worthies called upon the American people to summon the courage to question the war plans of President Bush. The advertisement, which was sponsored by Common Cause, asks, in reference to the Saddam regime, "Of all the repugnant dictatorships, why this one?"
I do not want, in this space, to rehearse the arguments for invasion; Jacob Weisberg and Anne Applebaum have done a better job of that than I could, and they have also explained why multilateralism and congressional sanction are not the highest moral values known to man. There is not sufficient space, as well, for me to refute some of the arguments made in Slate over the past week against intervention, arguments made, I have noticed, by people with limited experience in the Middle East (Their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected). I will try, instead, to return to the essential issues: the moral challenge posed by the deeds of the Iraqi regime; and the particular dangers the regime poses to America and its allies. Everything else, to my mind, is commentary.
There are, of course, many repugnant dictators in the world; a dozen or so in the Middle East alone. But Saddam Hussein is a figure of singular repugnance, and singular danger. To review: There is no dictator in power anywhere in the world who has, so far in his career, invaded two neighboring countries; fired ballistic missiles at the civilians of two other neighboring countries; tried to have assassinated an ex-president of the United States; harbored al-Qaida fugitives (this is, by the way, beyond doubt, despite David Plotz's assertion to the contrary); attacked civilians with chemical weapons; attacked the soldiers of an enemy country with chemical weapons; conducted biological weapons experiments on human subjects; committed genocide; and then there is, of course, the matter of the weaponized aflatoxin, a tool of mass murder and nothing else.
I do not know how any thinking person could believe that Saddam Hussein is a run-of-the-mill dictator. No one else comes close—not the mullahs in Iran, not the Burmese SLORC, not the North Koreans—to matching his extraordinary and variegated record of malevolence.
Earlier this year, while traveling across northern Iraq, I interviewed more than 100 survivors of Saddam's campaign of chemical genocide. I will not recite the statistics, or recount the horror stories here, except to say that I met enough barren and cancer-ridden women in Iraqi Kurdistan to last me several lifetimes.
So: Saddam Hussein is uniquely evil, the only ruler in power today—and the first one since Hitler—to commit chemical genocide. Is that enough of a reason to remove him from power? I would say yes, if "never again" is in fact actually to mean "never again."
But at a panel this past weekend on Iraq held as part of the New Yorker festival, Richard Holbrooke scolded me for making the suggestion that genocide was reason enough for the international community to act against Saddam. Holbrooke, who favors regime change, said the best practical argument for Saddam's removal is the danger posed by his weapons programs. He is right, though the weapons argument, separated from Saddam's real-life record of grotesque aggression, loses its urgency. Because Saddam is a man without any moral limits is why it is so important to keep nuclear weapons from his hands.
On the subject of Saddam's weapons programs, let me quote once more the Common Cause advertisement: "Do we have new information suggesting he has obtained or is about to obtain weapons of mass destruction (including nuclear warheads) and the capacity to deliver them over long distances?," it reads.
Yes, actually. There is consensus belief now that Saddam could have an atomic bomb within months of acquiring fissile material. This is not unlikely, since the international community, despite Kate Taylor's assertion, is incapable in the long run of stopping a determined and wealthy dictator from acquiring the things he needs. It is believed now that Saddam's scientists could make the fuel he needs in as little as three years (the chief of German intelligence, August Hanning, told me one year ago that he believed it would take Saddam three years to go nuclear).
The argument by opponents of invasion that Saddam poses no "imminent threat" (they never actually define "imminent," of course) strikes me as particularly foolhardy. If you believe he is trying to acquire an atomic bomb, and if you believe that he is a monstrous person, than why would you possibly advocate waiting until the last possible second to disarm him?
After returning from Iraq, I dug out an old New York Times editorial, which I recommend people read in full. It was published on June 9, 1981 under the headline, "Israel's Illusion."
"Israel's sneak attack on a French-built nuclear reactor near Baghdad was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression," the editorial states. "Even assuming that Iraq was hellbent to divert enriched uranium for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, it would have been working toward a capacity that Israel itself acquired long ago."
Israel absorbed the world's hatred and scorn for its attack on the Osirak reactor in 1981. Today, it is accepted as fact by most arms-control experts that, had Israel not destroyed Osirak, Saddam Hussein's Iraq would have been a nuclear power by 1990, when his forces pillaged their way across Kuwait.
The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.
—Jeffrey Goldberg is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a frequent contributor to Slate.
I have to respond to David Plotz's post of yesterday, although I see that a hefty chunk of the Fray has already beaten me to most of my objections. The upshot of David's argument seems to be that there aren't any good arguments for going to war, but there is a really bad one: We can level Iraq to rubble, thus fostering economic growth, social contentment, and confidence in the region.
Why would a costly and deadly war—a war not supported by most of our allies—do anything but impoverish both the region and ourselves? Why would it do anything but tarnish the appeal of capitalism and democracy around the world? Even if we could successfully bring about total regime-change in Iraq, who's to say that the bourgeois semi-democracy of our dreams would replace the status quo? History suggests quite the opposite: a return to feuding clans or the ascendancy of an even crazier dictator. And all this delicious post-Saddam democracy assumes a Bush administration with a taste for (or even a mild interest in) the sort of costly and time-consuming nation-building necessary to establish even a non-Jeffersonian democracy in the region. I've not seen even a micron of evidence that the Bush administration is inclined in that direction.
So. Even if we beat the outrageous odds, manage to oust Saddam, and replace him with a Jordanian or Egyptian "I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-democracy," we'd still have not only further polarized and radicalized the Muslim youth David seeks to appease, but we'd have lost any Muslim allies we may have had in the region. To make matters even more combustible, we'd follow up with other wildly unsuccessful trappings of pseudo-capitalist democracies—such as Western-style universities—where affluent, well-educated former capitalists currently go to major in becoming a better terrorist …
Foisting the institutions of democracy onto Arab nations that hate us has fostered only bitterness and resentment, even when we did so passively and peacefully. Why, then, would we possibly win their hearts by doing so with carnage?
Finally, Jeff Goldberg has now posted his own eloquent defense of launching a war, and, his arguments—predicated mostly on his own conversations and firsthand knowledge—are among the most compelling I've heard. But this only reinforces the initial point made Mike Kinsley: If there are good reasons for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, why can't the Bush administration be bothered to share them? Why have we been treated to an undifferentiated babble of half-truths, clichés, and pretexts? These so-called "process" arguments aren't marginal. They are the only basis we can have for trusting in our leadership. Whether or not we go to war is only half the issue; who takes us there and how is the important half. Lacking firsthand knowledge, Jacob Weisberg is willing to trust Bush's experts. Lacking firsthand knowledge, I trust Jeff Goldberg. I remain far less certain about trusting an administration that's done less than nothing to earn it.
Jeffrey Goldberg says that the arguments against invading Iraq made in Slate's pages this week have been made by people "with limited experience in the Middle East" and adds that "their lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected." Well, as someone who has spent only a week in the Middle East, I suppose I'm not really qualified to dispute this claim, but I'd nonetheless like to try.
Note the binary way in which Goldberg frames the question—"loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected." Of course, none of the people he claims have made this argument actually puts it so simplistically. They realize that Arab opinion isn't monolithic. Obviously, America will be both loathed and respected for invading Iraq, and the question is who will loathe us and who will respect us.
What is the answer? Here's my guess: Some of the people who loathe us as a result—or whose loathing is intensified as a result—are the kind of people who will work hard to kill lots of Americans. (Meanwhile, the people who respect us as a result are probably people who weren't going to do us much harm anyway.)
The Persian Gulf War is instructive here. We kicked butt—and, lest anyone miss the point, we left troops in Saudi Arabia afterward. I'm sure lots of Arabs—maybe even a large majority—respected America as a result. But, if standard accounts are to be trusted, one Arab named Osama Bin Laden was so incensed by the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia that he went off the deep end and put the tormenting of America at the top of his agenda. As a result, 3,000 Americans died in New York a decade later. I assume that, before the Persian Gulf War, Goldberg would have assured the American public that the war would lead America to be "respected, rather than loathed." We now know that this view would have been naive.
Of course, there's one difference between the coming Iraq war and the previous Iraq war. Now there's Al Jazeera, so a much larger number of Arabs will see video images of Muslim corpses than last time around. Does Goldberg think this will make us universally respected? Then how does he explain the appeal of Osama Bin Laden's recruiting videos? They show image after image of Muslims suffering at the hands of Americans or Israelis—Iraqi babies that the narrator says are starving under American-backed sanctions, Israeli soldiers shoving Palestinian women, etc. Apparently not all displays of power breed universal respect. And increasingly, a few disrespectful men will be able to kill a whole lot of people.
That's why I focus my concern not on Saddam Hussein—who I believe is thoroughly containable—but on his weapons of mass destruction, which could get into terrorist hands. (Although, as I argued earlier, it is highly unlikely that he would give such weapons to al-Qaida, a group that files him under "long-term enemy." Goldberg asserts confidently but without elaboration—just like Donald Rumsfeld!—that Iraq has "harbored" al-Qaida fugitives, but that's a long way from giving them a nuke. Besides, if you define "harbored" vaguely enough, lots of countries have harbored al-Qaida members.) The growing threat of weapons of mass destruction getting into terrorists' hands is the reason I said eight months ago that I could support an Iraq war with a genuine purpose of getting at its weapons of mass destruction, whether by force or (ideally) by forcing it to accept weapons inspections. I said we should insist on a new round of inspections—"more robust and intrusive" than the first round—as the only alternative to war. The administration didn't start insisting on such strengthened inspections until a few days ago—one of many signs that the essential purpose of Bush's war is not to shore up the strength and stature of international weapons policing, but rather to effect "regime change."
Goldberg succeeds in establishing that Saddam Hussein is the nastiest leader on the world stage today. Then again, there's always someone who holds that title, but America hasn't ever made that a sufficient cause for war—not even when the person is "by far" the nastiest on the stage. One reason is that American foreign policy has generally been in the hands of people who consider the consequences of their actions. Goldberg, in contrast, doesn't even address the possible downside of war—except, obliquely, in his aforementioned assurance that war in the Middle East won't breed any hatred.
I suspect Goldberg is proud of the absence of cost-benefit calculations from his analysis. His is a moral argument—he uses the words "moral" or "morality" five times in his post, with a dollop of "evil" thrown in for good measure. Of all the annoying undercurrents and overtones of the pro-war rhetoric, this is the one that annoys me the most: the suggestion that those of us who are clinically weighing all the possible downsides and upsides of war, rather than spending all our time marveling at how evil Saddam is, are being something other than moral. When I think about war in Iraq, I think about the long-term results in terms of human suffering and human fulfillment. I consider that a morally grounded framework. The fact that, within that framework, I try to be rational, rather than employ the Iraq hawks' tone of pre-emptive outrage (a tone that is also used on the anti-war left), is not something I'm ashamed of. I agree that Saddam Hussein is a terrible man. The question is how you end his terror without creating lots more terror.
Speaking of trying to keep the Iraq debate rational: Goldberg says Saddam Hussein has "committed genocide." My dictionary defines genocide as "the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group." Obviously Saddam hasn't "committed genocide" in this strict sense of the term. Has he, like Hitler, so clearly tried to commit it as to put himself in a special moral and legal category? God only knows whether Saddam's mass murder of Kurds was, in his mind, the first step toward ridding the world of Kurds, or was even the expression of deep-seated anti-Kurdism. I personally suspect it was just an act of political calculation by a man completely lacking in scruples, a man who would have been just as happy to kill members of any other ethnic group—or of a multiethnic enclave—if they had been the threat du jour. In any event, I would urge Goldberg to use language carefully when advocating an invasion that will lead to many deaths.
Finally, I'd like to compliment David Plotz. He says he favored war against Iraq long before he had found a rationale for it. I suspect there are millions of Americans in this boat, but David is the only one I know of who has admitted it. Now he has found a possible upside of war, and he hopes it will outweigh the downside. David, I hope you're right. And I compliment you, also, on acknowledging that there's a downside. America needs more Iraq hawks like you.
—Robert Wright writes "The Earthling" column for Slate.
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2071670/