Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 17, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WAR FOLLOWUP....Going back and forth on the war is probably a mug's game at this point, but I guess I really need to follow up on my earlier post about the left and the war. It must have been written pretty poorly for so many people to misconstrue it so badly. I suppose that's the danger of blogging while sick. So a few points:

  • There were lots of reasons to oppose the Iraq war and I agree with most of them. There's no argument there.

  • I said in the earlier post that I didn't remember the precise arguments made by the most prominent war critics back in 2002, and that's just the simple truth. It would take a tremendous amount of work to try to research this question and summarize the main strands of thought fairly, and since I can't do that I figured it was better to just admit that I didn't remember and leave it at that.

    (However, it turns out the archives for Kos and Tapped are still available. I didn't know that when I wrote the original post. Kos's war posts are here and Tapped's archives are here [in the right hand column]).

  • I agree that people who got the war wrong ought to do some soul searching. I agree that anti-war voices who got it right ought to be more prominent in the media. People who get big questions right deserve respect.

  • However, I also made a specific comment about preventive war: namely that the failure in Iraq doesn't especially vindicate the argument that preventive war is almost always wrong. It is almost always wrong, and the fact that Iraq was a preventive war was a good reason to oppose it. But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive.

On that last point, I'd welcome argument. Maybe I'm off base. Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive? Maybe so, though everyone seems to think we would have been screwed in 1991 if we'd gone all the way to Baghdad in the Gulf War, and that wasn't a preventive war. But I'm wide open to argument on this point.

Kevin Drum 12:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (150)

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I think this war was ill-conceived all around, and that in general, any 'war' against Iraq would have failed similarly, though probably not quite as spectacularly as this one has.

The problem is the fact that this is being fought like a war at all. If this was really about stopping terrorism, we'd have long shucked the idea of going after a enemy based around a state, considering terrorism is a much more amorphous entity than a rogue state. And the fact that the more we go into Iraq, the more we realize that, despite how much Saddam might have WANTED to be a major threat, and how his close council might have convinced him of such, that he was barely a regional threat makes it even more of a stunning botch up. The war was a disaster in the making, and we are seeing that disaster unfold and grow.

Posted by: Kryptik on January 17, 2007 at 1:16 AM | PERMALINK

In my view, Iraq just wasn't a threat. So no need to do anything. If for some reason, it could be demonstrated that Iraq was a threat, and a big one (WMD), then more thought needs to be applied as to what to do (mostly about the difficulties of dealing with an artifical country, occupation issues, etc.).

But with the inspectors in there and with Powell et al giving sketchy "evidence", there was no reason to go past step one.

Posted by: Quiddity on January 17, 2007 at 1:17 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin --

maybe I'm still missing your point.

The fact that a preventive or preventative war is illegal should be enough but has nothing to do with how it has gone -- success or failure.

In fact, the doubts that Saddam presumably harbored until it was too late allowed it to go better.

The course we have taken to this point can squarely be layed at the feet of incompetent planning, underestimation of the difficulties in occupation or the organization needed.

Whether the end run would have brought us to the emerald city if all had been done perfectly is extremely unlikely given the vagaries of war.

Given all that was left undone or made un-done, the odds are we might be at a much better point.

Trying to game the war is useful but will not lead to any definite result only a range of outcomes, of which this present might still be a possibility.

The fact that this administration still holds to all its fateful wrong assumptions means we are doomed.

Posted by: notthere on January 17, 2007 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, when you say that the antiwar voices who got it right deserve respect, it sounds like you are damning with faint praise. Perhaps you'll advocate a Pulitzer Prize for someone who said water was wet?

The issue is not that they were right. The issue is why their voices were excluded at the very time they were most needed. The issue is not hindsight, but foresight. I don't care how the hawks monopolized the discourse back in 2002, it's too late for that. I care about making sure it NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on January 17, 2007 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

A key difference between the Gulf War and the Iraq War was that the first was seen internationally as legitimate, and so Bush 41 led a coalition of 37 nations with 650,000 troops. Bush 43 went to war against the wishes of the UN Security Council and many Western allies, to say nothing of the Arab world.

What this meant was that in 2003, the US found itself invading Iraq largely alone (10,000 Brits the only major non-US contingent), and without any Muslim or Arab presence in the occupation force. The lack of Arabic speakers or persons sensitive to Islamic concerns seems to have contributed to the unpopularity of the occupation.

So I would say the go-it-alone nature of the Bush Administration meant that the US had to do much of the hard work itself, and this has proven to be too much.

Posted by: Charlie on January 17, 2007 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

In my view, the question isn't whether the war would've gone better if it hadn't been preventive. The current situation reminds us that any war has a good chance of going badly. So you shouldn't fight wars without a very good reason, and there isn't a very good reason to fight preventive wars.

Posted by: Matt Weiner on January 17, 2007 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

The only thing that would have turned out different about an actual preventive war with Iraq would be a sustained mid to high level of public support. All the awful mistakes committed in this war are, I believe, inherent to the W administration. They couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a pumpkin launcher from 20 feet away. But all the mistakes may not have translated into loss of public support if, for instance, Iraq actually used WMD or fired a Scud at Isreal or something.
IMHO, the current loss of public support is due to the mistakes made but even more to the lack of a clear objective to the war. Even people in the Red South can see that the goalposts have been moved too many times.

Posted by: suthrnboy on January 17, 2007 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

I thought I understood your point from the last post until I read this one: now I'm confused...

I thought when I read your last post that one war wouldn't vindicate critics wholly and absolutely. I'm with you there. Where I'm confused is that from your last post the war-critics stated there's no good reason, morally or tactically for pre-emptive war becuase the nature of the war-advocator is always going to be dishonorable. Pre-emptive war, or preventive war, is an idea latched onto by madmen. Whereas sane people discuss and bargain and engage in diplomacy. It takes a real monster to sacrifice innocent civilians for said persons personal profit.

So my question, Kevin, if you would please clarify: are you distinguishing between moral and tactical justifications for preventive war? Are you saying militarily there may be a technical tactical reason where preventive war brings positive outcomes? Wouldn't the motives and goals then have to be noble? And then aren't we back at square one, wondering what kind of person would use war - indiscriminate destruction, lies and violence - to bring about positive change?

Does my question make sense? Can we seperate the war from the warrior?

If the war wasn't preventive, the goal would be self-defense - a goal that is clearly defined and achievable. What goals in this war were/are achiveable? Maybe you're asking the wrong question: Instead of whether a war being preventive has any effect on outcome, maybe you should ask, is the war noble (in goal)? Otherwise I get stuck in a loop: Madmen like Hitler and Cheney see war as viable policy. Not diplomats. Not politicians. Positive effect cannot come from senseless violence. A preventive war that is noble can work, but I can't imagine a noble person resorting to war.

Posted by: A different matt on January 17, 2007 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

I'd have trouble matching names to arguments from four years ago. But what I do remember are the smug "We-told-you-so's" from war supporters after the fall of Baghdad.

They were quick--a little too quick--to throw the gloomier predictions in the faces of war critics, believing that they hadn't and wouldn't come true.

When U.S. troops seized Baghdad, they were greeted with cheers; there was no quagmire; there was no uprising on the Arab street; there was no mass exodus of refugees; there was no wholesale slaughter of civilians.

Those were the arguments war critics made before the invasion. And they all proved true.

I'll give the pro-invasion crowd this one: some war critics predicted an environmental catastrophe with Saddam setting the oil fields on fire. That was adequately prevented.
Is anyone

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on January 17, 2007 at 1:33 AM | PERMALINK

Matt Weiner --

just to add to your fine point, I would add that, by definition, a preventive war has not exhausted diplomatic means. It's really an excuse to launch a preemptive-preemptive strike. I fail to see the difference.

Only idiots like we have now could possibly play with life and treasure so casually as pieces on a game board.

It IS criminal.

Posted by: notthere on January 17, 2007 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum is right that it is not in a quagmire in Iraq because it was a "preventative war". If it truly was such a war, we could have left long ago victorious with our mission accomplished. Saddam was removed, and there are no WMDs. The quagmire stems from the war being about something else.

Posted by: david1234 on January 17, 2007 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

"But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive."

And this is where you are precisely wrong. Consider how much more patience, support, and effort this war would have gotten, domestically and intrenationally, had Iraq actually been the perpetrator of 9/11. That would have been a defensive war.

Also, "preventative" might describe something like the Israeli bombing of Osirak in 1981, or the U.S. blockade of Cuba in 1962. It does not describe the purveying of endless lies, half truths, and shabby fearmongering that led to this disgrace.

Posted by: HeavyJ on January 17, 2007 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

I can't help but perceive all this talk of preemptive and preventive war as anything more than a semantic game. Both definitions assume that there was a danger of us being attacked by Iraq, either immediately or somewhere down the line.

Shouldn't it be clear by now that Iraq was never a threat?

Or is the definition of "preventive war" so loose as to include any conceivable scenario where we could possibly be attacked? And if that's the case, couldn't the definition be used to justify attacking virtually anyone?

Posted by: DH on January 17, 2007 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?

Again: the word you're looking for is "aggressive," not "preventive."

Posted by: dj moonbat on January 17, 2007 at 1:47 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you're right and you're wrong. The thing is, wars CREATE quagmires. The reason preventive wars are bad is because the risk of creating quagmires is almost always worse than whatever you think you're preventing. It's like an inversion of "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush".

There are some additional costs to preventative wars -- aggression tends to antagonize both rivals and those who get occupied, which can create a host of problems. And there's also moral questions -- is it right to invade a country that's not threatening you.

But the pragmatic point is that if you don't need to fight a war, you don't fight one. Because wars are bad. People die. Things blow up. The only reason any rational person would submit to war is because they think there's no other alternative.

And if you're curious about my reasons for opposing this war as stated on the eve of war, you can read them here. And while I was wrong on the fear that Turkey would attack the Kurds in northern Iraq, I think everything else holds up pretty well.

Posted by: Royko on January 17, 2007 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive. ... Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?

I think this is related to the concept of Just Wars and the old rules of casus bellum that were dismissed so quickly by the advocates for the war.

I think the Just War concepts were formulated based in part on the experience that unjust wars do not result in lasting peace. Even if victorious on the field of battle, the aggressor will never be seen as legitimate. And 2 or 5 or 10 years down the road there will be a rebellion and more war.

Maybe so, though everyone seems to think we would have been screwed in 1991 if we'd gone all the way to Baghdad in the Gulf War, and that wasn't a preventive war.

We would have been screwed in 1991 going to Baghdad because we assembled our coalition to liberate Kuwait, not to conquer Iraq. And if we moved the goalposts our Arab allies would have left the coalition, our invasion would have been seen as illegitimate, and we'd be in the same mess.

As far as it being a preventive war... I don't remember Iraq attacking us. I do remember them invading Kuwait after being given a go-ahead by one of Bush's officials.

Posted by: Wapiti on January 17, 2007 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin i'm a great fan and a longtime reader, but I'm so glad you heard the concerns on this. I marched in SF before the war with a quarter of a million people who were prescient about its flaws. Were they wacky hippies? Absolutely not. It was my first protest, and most peoples first protest. There were doctors and lawyers and CEO's. There wasn't even any chanting because we were so unsure of what to do. We marched in a huge wave because we knew it was a lie, we knew there was no WMD, and we knew the sham before the UN was just that. We also knew it was a done deal --- that months before congress even voted the military had purchased tons and tons of suncreen.

Here is something I read then, that I remember being struck by, the conversation between the peacenik and the warmonger. http://www.orwelltoday.com/peacenik.shtml

A final reason why I knew the Iraq war was wrong. Its an old joke about the man who was bent down on the floor looking for something. His friend says what did you lose? He answers, "my contacts, I have to find them". The friend bends down to help saying, "you lost them somewhere in here?" and the man shakes his head.

"No, I lost them in the kitchen. But the light's better in here."

I was fairly certain that we were going to Iraq because the "light" was better than in Afghanistan, and that we were not going to find answers anymore than that man found his contacts.
I can remember arguing this point with my 70 year old father at the dinner table. We had a prewar vigil in protest in our small suburban town and 90 people showed up and signed their names.

Were liberals right for the wrong reasons? I don't think so. I think much of america was so damaged by 9/11 that they lost the ability to think critically. I think people developed a traumatic bond to this administration and were afraid to break it by seeing reality.

Posted by: Shrink in SF on January 17, 2007 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive.

Why are you focusing on the preventive nature of the war?

Could it be that the seeds of the quagmire lay in the deceptions that were to used to justify the war? Could it be that that real reason for the quagmire is that the warmongers came to believe their own falsehoods?

Posted by: gregor on January 17, 2007 at 1:56 AM | PERMALINK

I certainly don't see that the problems with the Iraq war were at all by it being "preventive". Suppose Saddam had got up on the wrong side of the bed one day, started up the bio labs again, and shipped a big pack of anthrax to Osama who got one of his buddies to drop it on San Francisco. Further suppose we got pretty good evidence that all that happened, and ended up invading Iraq as result. Is there any reason to believe Iraq would be anything other than the howling chaos it is now?

I think what was obviously special about the Iraq war was not that it was preventative, but that the aim was to put Iraq in state that never existed.

Had somebody managed to talk the US, the UK, France, and Poland into launching a "preventative war" against Hitler in 1934, it seems reasonable to think Germany could have spun back up rational liberal democracy in short order (maybe a little autocratic on the Gaullist model, big deal.) I don't see there was ever a chance for Iraq.

(Lots of interesting wargaming on whether such an alliance could have easily defeated Germany in 1934, but I think it's not to the point.)

Posted by: Rich McAllister on January 17, 2007 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?

It wasn't *really* preventive. It was driven by the neo-con fantasy of spreading the magic beans of democracy in the middle east.

Posted by: bawb on January 17, 2007 at 2:13 AM | PERMALINK

"But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive."

You're wrong, Kevin. One of the reasons preventive war is wrong is that it means, by definition, that the state is not yet aware of a reason that would justify preemptive war. A preventive war is, by definition, premature. Premature wars are bad for many reasons, including the possibility that the state's animating fears will turn out to be unfounded. Like WMDs. Like we'd be safer if Saddam were removed. Like there was an operational relationship between Saddam and Al-Queda. Iraq is a very good example of how preventive wars, relative to preemptive wars, are much more likely to be based on false threats.

Posted by: Rat on January 17, 2007 at 2:15 AM | PERMALINK

Jesus, Kevin. That's quite a can of worms.

First, lets not group all the people that were right about the war together. They all had their reasons, some rational, some knee-jerk, and some mystical. If you're looking for answers go to some people with expertise. WMD: Scott Ridder (sp), Blitz, etc. Foreign Policy: Ford, Carter, GHWB, Clinton and cabinets, etc.

Many influential and knowledgeable people didn't say what they knew or felt at the time. It's almost more important to address the reasons behind this silence/meekness than anything else.

Second, I'd like to say that I don't think I'd trust this administration to clean my toilet; I damn well wouldn't let them walk my grandma across the street; and if it involves money, oil, giant corporations, and things that go boom I just give them my wallet and hope they don't use the pipe wrench again.

Third, they screwed up a lot more than the concept. Any number of things could have made it less of a disaster. It was a stupid idea based on many many other stupid ideas (and a few grudges) sold with stupid half-hearted propaganda to ignorant media who were really really excited about the viewership they might get. It was conducted with efficiency and skill by Clinton's military and then promptly handed back to a bunch of stupid CPA ideologues and other administration members whose concept of reality must be based upon some novels or videogames that i haven't played.

Fourth, they've killed the concept of preventative war for several decades. I'm not saying some idiot president won't break it out for a joy ride, but that only an idiot president incapable of following it through with sound and rational decisions would try to revive it.

Posted by: B on January 17, 2007 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

We naturally and constantly judge the morality of those we see around us.

If I punch someone (call him USA) and he punches me back, a neutral observer might not think that USA is as moral as he might be if he turned the other cheek, but they'll still think the action is justifiable. "Not Jesus- or Gandhi-like", the observer might think, "but certainly understandable."

If I pull my fist back to take a swing at USA, but he hits me before I get a chance to hit him, the observer might think of USA: "maybe a little too quick to judge - I don't approve of being the one to draw first blood - but understandable."

But if I'm yelling at USA, or insulting him, or being generally offensive to him in some way, or taking any other sort of aggressive posture that does not meet the definition of assault, and he punches me first, both the observer and the law will say USA's an asshole, no matter how much he argues that I was probably going to punch him soon or some day.

The problem is the observer's innate moral judgment of a not-clearly-provoked attack. It's exceedingly hard to forgive dramatic losses in standard of living, or the loss of loved ones, just because some people in another country thousands of miles away thought that they might be in danger some day. And to the extent the problems in the occupation of Iraq have always been largely political, this lack of forgiveness has always been a multiplier on our difficulties. I don't think anyone knows the magnitude of that multiplier, but it's hard to deny that it's been a factor.

Posted by: Chuck on January 17, 2007 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

I thought Saddam had WMD. I didn't think it mattered much, at least as far as US concerns were the topic.

Seriously, we were told that he had the ability to deliver nerve gas via drone vehicles. Our own drones are so limited in capability...who would believe this.

It was simply obvious that the capbilities of Saddam were over-sold...only a simpleton would believe otherwise (sorry to those folks who believed this, but seriously, it was obvious). If he had WMD...so what, he couldn't get us (US) with it. Anyone with half a brain knew this.

So the question is...why did so many people believe, or make believe, that Saddam had the ability to harm us.

Who knows. But the very idea that he posed a threat is, uh, bullshit. Always has been, always will be. Takes a moment of thought.

And that, Kevin, is why pre-emptive, preventitive, etc. wars are laughable (tragically) to those of us who know what to be concerned about, and what not to be.

Face it, you squealed in delight at being threatened, knowing you could answer the threat with a massive military response.

You need to examine why you were so thrilled that a country obviously at your mercy on a military scale made you so excited.

Your putting your foot in a weak country's ass has killed innumerable people. And that is that. Pre-emptive wars have been fought by Israel and others. This was a war of choice, and sorry dude, your shiny victory and delight have not happened, and they have cost thousands their lives.

BTW, I think you have a great blog and are a great thinker, but I also feel you need to wrap your head around this. There were plenty of us who thought (wrongly, it turns out) that Saddam had WMD. We just didn't think that he was a threat to us. We were right in any case. The idea that Iraq posed an imminent or gathering threat....silly. Silly then, tragic now. What kind of person thinks that Iraq ever posed a threat to our national security? Seriously. What kind of person could reaosonably believe that?

When armies mass or your borders, or when folks with ICBMs thrathen you, that is an imminent threat. Otherwise...not so much. Not hard to understand, although the hysteria and march to war of so many on the left side of the aisle is truly incomprehensible. War ain't fun. Study it, and stop apolgizing for killing so many young men and women. Own up to it.


Posted by: abject funk on January 17, 2007 at 2:26 AM | PERMALINK

All this is not to mention the fact that "preventive war" is a horrible Orwellian oxymoron.

Posted by: Chuck on January 17, 2007 at 2:27 AM | PERMALINK

Preventive war just means aggressive war with a defensive figleaf and isn't a new doctrine, it's at least as old as civilization. These days it's insufficient political cover to maintain almost any occupation.

Posted by: Boronx on January 17, 2007 at 2:34 AM | PERMALINK

I retract anything that I said in my previous post that was insulting to Kevin. I don't need to do that, and I read and generally respect what he has to say.

I do stand by my main points, but I'm not trying to say neener-neener-neener, I'm just trying to make the point that being pro-war is easy, being against it is hard, and that we all tend towards fighting and not actually solving things through other channels.

It's just more fun to fight, for some sick reason.

Posted by: abject funk on January 17, 2007 at 2:37 AM | PERMALINK

I'm generally a fan of your blog, Kevin, but I'm really having trouble understanding what you're getting at here.

You state: "the failure in Iraq doesn't especially vindicate the argument that preventive war is almost always wrong."

Well, no single incident could prove or refute a proposition like that. If I were making a general argument that preventative war was in principal a bad idea (I dislike that phrase; war of aggression or of war of choice would be closer to the mark), I wouldn't argue that Iraq proved it; rather I'd make general arguments, and then use Iraq as a illustrative case for them, which it obviously is.

For example, I would argue that war is so potentially destructive and the consequences so unpredictable, that it is insane to ever be the one to initiate it. One should only go to war when the other party forces it, either by attacking you first, or by initiating a humanitarian disaster that cannot be addressed through any other fashion.

I would then continue that one example of how wars can be so unpredictable and destructive that one shouldn't let the genie out of the bottle is what happned in Iraq. While it's not proof that every such venture will turn out so badly (indeed, I doubt it would), it surely illustrates the general principal I am arguing. Also, I don't like saying this, but I don't think we've seen the worst of the consequences.

Again I don't like the term preventative war applied to Iraq; I think it was a war of aggression. But if we're using that terminology, I would argue that preventive wars are a bad idea, as they assume our leaders are so smart and can see the future so well, that they will be able to judge when events many years in the future will justify going to war now. As an illustration that such trust on leader's powers of predictions are misplaced, I'd point out that in Iraq, they were wrong about everything. Wrong about weapons of mass destruction, wrong about links to Al Queda, etc. Again, while one case doesn't prove an argument, Iraq offers about as powerful evidence and illustrates the principal involved as strongly as one case possibly could. How could one possibly argue that we can trust are leaders to make such judgments after a debacle like that?

Again, I'm really not sure what we're arguing about.

As for your last question, "Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?", it's hard to make sense of what you mean. Iraq wasn't such a war, so you'd have to outline how things would have gone differently precisely before it could even be addressed.

But one thing is clear. Even if it had gone as badly as it has now, if it hadn't been a war of choice as it was, we would at least know we'd gone in because we didn't have a choice. Maybe Iraq would be a mess, but we had to go in because they invaded America. Or because Saddam had a nuke and was going to use it. Or because there was genocide happening right that moment. So even though things would be screwed up, at least we'd pushed Iraq's armies off American soil, or at least we'd prevented Saddam from nuking kuwait, or at least we'd prevented a genocide (again, I'm trying to imagine what you mean by suppose this wasn't a preventive war, and this what I come up with; I'm still not sure I get what you're driving at) At least we'd have something to show for the nightmare we've unleashed. And I suspect America's reputation would not now be so far in the toilet. People supported us when we invaded Afghanistan, because they recognized we were responding to aggression against us.

Hope that addresses your questions; again I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.

--Rick Taylor

Posted by: Rick Taylor on January 17, 2007 at 2:55 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, are you going to lump in as "anti-war" the Representatives and Senators who voted against the Iraq war resolution? Did a "nay" vote there constitute "opposition" to the war in your eyes?

Because there were over 120 Democratic members of the House -- most of them still there -- who voted against the AUMF in October 2002. There were also 21 Senators. Five of the Senators who voted against the AUMF were on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; that was a majority of the Democrats on the committee. One of them -- Bob Graham -- was the chairman of the committee, because the Democrats had a slight majority in the Senate at the time.

So basically, I have to wonder what your argument is. People on the anti-war "left" were in agreement with 60% of the Democrats in the House and 40% of the Democrats in the Senate -- including a majority of the Democratic Senators who are supposed to have the best intelligence available to the legislative branch -- that Bush should not have had the authority given to him by the AUMF. Carl Levin, Ron Wyden, Dick Durbin, Barbara Mikulski, and Bob Graham all voted against the AUMF. All of them were on the Intelligence committee. Those aren't exactly wild-eyed bloggers people like myself were in agreement with.

I wasn't just paying attention to bloggers or some sort of ideological theory of preventative/pre-emptive war when I made my decision about whether Iraq had WMDs. I looked at the evidence presented in the media. I listened to the words coming out of the mouths of various elected officials. I used my little knowledge of science to consider how the Iraqis could build drones that could fly around the world when even the US couldn't do that. I got the same sort of feeling I did in the 80s when I heard about how Nicaraguans (a population of a few million at the time) were going to be driving their tanks across the border into Brownsville, Texas ("It's only a day's drive!") which was why it was justifiable for Ollie North to sell arms to Iran to fund the contras. It was prevention!

I view the whole preventative war thing sort of like the death penalty. Which it is writ large, because you kill a lot of people in a war. I'm not totally opposed to the death penalty. But you sure as hell better not be killing people who don't deserve to be killed.

Posted by: darrelplant on January 17, 2007 at 3:52 AM | PERMALINK

Your statement "But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive" is based on a number of mistaken assumptions.

First, the way you phrase it gives the Bush Administration and its supporters the benefit of the doubt on an issue where it is clear that they do not deserve it. Calling the war a "preventive" one not only treats the stated rationale offered by Cheney et al. (WMDs, tubes, yellow cake, drones, mushroom clouds, etc., etc.) as if it were the actual reason they dragged us into war, but assumes that it is the only conceivable reason. But everything we know about this crowd tells us that the decision to go to war was not a series of blunders, but an an imperial adventure, in which the goal was to turn Iraq into the world's largest air base in order to dominate the region for the next several decades. March 2003 was not August 1914.

On the other hand, if by "preventive," you mean a war of aggression, in violation of international law, then saying that the quagmire we are in has very little to do with the fact that we attacked Iran without justification is astonishingly naive. If I hear you correctly, you are saying that if we had gone in with 250,000 troops instead of 150,000 and avoided the egregious blunders of the CPA (debaathifying every institution, privatizing everything in sight, leveling Fallujah to pacify it, allowing the Shi'a militias to return fully armed, etc.),.then the Iraqi people would have meekly accepted the leaders we gave them?

That was the dream that the supporters of the war had. But the Iraqi people never accepted the Chalabis and Allawis we chose for them. The politicians they did elect may depend on the U.S. military for their immediate personal safety, and sometimes as an instrument to use against their enemies, but they have no use for our political plans. Nor is there any reason to think that the dynamics of Iraqi politics would have somehow produced the era of good feelings if we had kept the crowds from looting the museum and the ministries in April 2003. Or that we will get there by 2013 if we embrace the alternative -- an occupation of indefinite length, probably lasting a decade or more, in which we resume our authority to countermand any decision we do not approve of.

We never belonged in Iraq in the first place. Ignoring that point in order to imagine, as you do, that things could have gone okay if only we had let Colin Powell run the war, is not merely wishful thinking, it's wishful self-delusion.

I also regret the somewhat personal tone that this message takes, since I also like you from what I can glean from your blog, but these are serious issues that deserve serious thought.

Posted by: Henry on January 17, 2007 at 4:06 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a link to some representative thinking on the war and its justification before the war (from Slate):


And here's one very interesting and relevant entry:

Paul Glastris is editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.

The case for invading Iraq grows stronger with every day that Saddam defies the U.N., and with each new ally that signs up to challenge him. Presuming that present trends continue—that Saddam does not back down, that Dick Cheney's unilateralist urgings are ignored, and that Colin Powell is allowed to continue to build as much international support as is possible—I favor an invasion sooner rather than later.

Posted by: Jimm on January 17, 2007 at 4:19 AM | PERMALINK

For what it's worth, I called this war a fraud before it started and still believe that to be the case. Also, I clearly didn't come up with that opinion in a vacuum, but informed myself through alternative media outlets (including web-based), so there were plenty of others coming to the same conclusions. I also haven't forgotten the 1/2 million people protesting in New York, the site of Ground Zero, against the impending war, or the millions around the world, North South East West, similarly registering their protest and grievance.

In terms of informed opinion, I'd say a very small minority of folks supported the war.

Posted by: Jimm on January 17, 2007 at 4:23 AM | PERMALINK

One more from the Slate piece...I encourage all of you to go read the whole thing, as there are a few dozen cases presented:

Arianna Huffington is the author of Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America.

I'm against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The administration has not proven how Iraq constitutes a clear and present danger or why it presents a graver threat than al-Qaida or indeed North Korea. It's particularly ironic that as we ratchet up the war preparations, the nation's security alert went from yellow to orange, but it's not Iraq that is threatening us.


Posted by: Jimm on January 17, 2007 at 4:28 AM | PERMALINK

Okay, the last, best and most cogent response from the Slate article I'll drop here, from Spike Lee:

Not in favor of war on Iraq. Bush is hoodwinking and bamboozling the American public.
Posted by: Jimm on January 17, 2007 at 4:32 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin: "Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?"

Military occupations of Mesopatamia have historically never been long term for good reason. Even the Ottoman Empire found it prudent to allow the region to be self-governing. The British went in and then pulled out several times in the first half of the 20th century. Why the neocons would presume that our experience would be any different, I don't know.

Oh, that's right -- white House aide Dan Bartlett told journalist Ron Suskind that we're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.

Never mind.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 17, 2007 at 4:55 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin --
First, try to posit some why for the contrapositive to be true. The war would not be preventative if it were, say, the result of getting involved in a preexisting war.

But that actually did happen -- Saddam was at war with "his" own population, the Kurds. And the US and UN went to war against him for it: with a no-fly zone, and a very modest footprint on the ground in Kurdistan. It worked extremely well, and only went bad when the larger environment changed. By all accounts Kurdistan was thriving in 2001. It is doing worse today; there were no raids on Iranian consulates in those days.

So yes, getting involved in a non-preventative war does tend to have better outcome, because from the start you are going against a genuine common enemy. And you are not making the immediate environment worse, by going from peace, however awful, to outright war. There aren't nearly as many obstacles to overcome for genuine progress to be made.

It's the difference between being occupied by liberators and by invaders. There is very little patience for the latter, with concommitantly little room for mistakes.

Posted by: mac on January 17, 2007 at 5:02 AM | PERMALINK

The proper view point isn't about the word "preventive"; It's about wisdom, as in: "Because you can, Should you? And if you do, was it done well"?

All military actions are two parters: "Decide on action, and How well was the action done".

This is the dilemma of a superhero: If a village needs saving, and you decide to save the village because you can stop that which is threatening the village, how do you go about it?

Do you fight the supervillain in the village? The end result could be a destroyed village. What was the purpose again? Save or destroy the village? If the village is destroyed then who's the supervillian? The superhero, or the supervillian who wanted to have the village destroyed anyway? (Thanks superhero. You did my job for me, even though you defeated me in the end.)

The arguement about Iraq is like the superhero and supervillian.

Back to the two parter: Do I go in? If I go, do I do it CORRECTLY?

Iraq COULD have been invaded correctly. It wasn't.

Bush COULD have been a hero even though in the eyes of the world the reason for the invasion was wrong. (ie, Bush got away with it.)

Bush didn't simply guess if he should take military action.

Bush created a fake world and thought it was reality. [1st part of the two parter: "Must take action".]

On the 2nd part: "How to do it", Bush's complete belief in his fake world coupled with his unprincipled character assured Bush would take completely wrong actions that insured failure.

Does the term tilting-at-windmills mean anything to the reader?

Bush was a character in his own story, and many many people helped Bush create the fairy tale Bush , (and all of his kind like him), is living.

Some fairy tales end in tragedy...like a Greek play; This sad fairy tale is almost done.

Posted by: James on January 17, 2007 at 5:03 AM | PERMALINK

However, I also made a specific comment about preventive war: namely that the failure in Iraq doesn't especially vindicate the argument that preventive war is almost always wrong. It is almost always wrong, and the fact that Iraq was a preventive war was a good reason to oppose it. But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive.

You're conflating two related but ultimately separate questions: (i) was the war successful (i.e. the fact that it's now a quagmire) and (ii) was the war right?

The first is largely a question of strategy and tactics, and can be divorced from morality. The second, however, cannot be. So even if the war had gone well, even if we were winning and the only injury to our troops had been due to being pelted with roses, it still wouldn't get to heart of the issue of whether an illegal and unprovoked invasion of a country which hasn't attacked one can be morally justified. Or, more simpy, might does not make right, and a good result does not justify evil means.

Posted by: Stefan on January 17, 2007 at 5:30 AM | PERMALINK

I wish people on our side, such as Drum, would stop using the Bush regime's Orwellian use of "preventive" war since, as we all know, there was nothing to prevent -- no WMD, no ties to al Qaeda, no threat to the neighbors, etc. Our attack on Iraq is an aggressive war, plain and simple.

Otherwise we might as well say that Hitler's invasion of France and the Soviet Union were "preventive" wars -- after all, he was just doing to them what they wanted to do to him someday....

Posted by: Stefan on January 17, 2007 at 5:41 AM | PERMALINK

I have been reading you almost daily from the time you were Calpundit.

This is the first time I have ever heard you sound, well, stupid.

Would the war have gone better? Well, that's not the question really. The war wouldn't have gone AT ALL because the only excuse they had to launch it in the first place was the doctrine of Preventive War. However, if you want an answer, JUST LOOK AT OUR FIRST WAR WITH IRAQ! I think we can all agree it was a success.

This war was doomed to failure before it began. How anyone with half a brain could fail to see that is an absolute mystery to me. Hell, even Bush '41, in the midst of his greatest triumph, had better sense than to continue on to Baghdad and depose Saddam.

Posted by: Craig U. on January 17, 2007 at 5:42 AM | PERMALINK

Charlie dont surf: "The issue is not that they were right. The issue is why their voices were excluded at the very time they were most needed."

Shrink in SF: "I think much of america was so damaged by 9/11 that they lost the ability to think critically. I think people developed a traumatic bond to this administration and were afraid to break it by seeing reality."

The most salient and urgent question is WHY the anti-war voices were so aggressively overruled and dismissed. Four year too late & one clusterfuck on-going, repentent Hawks are finally beinning to allow the possiblity that those who opposed the war were...well...you know...right. But they still protect their bullheaded egos by adding, "for the wrong reasons!"

That's interesting. They were so deeply, passionately, emotionally committed to this particular act that they could pridefully, willfully override the objections raised by wise people and our leaders and friends: the Pope, Jimmy Carter, Brent Scrowcroft, our French friends, and millions of people worldwide. That raging passion is what we need to comprehend and heal.

It is a powerful enough metamorphosis that it can be framed in religious terms: Having willfully committed evil, we need to repent, that is, we need to become aware of why we were led to do such wrong, and with that awareness, transform our hearts and move forward, doing good.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 17, 2007 at 5:51 AM | PERMALINK

Wasn't it obvious, even to Americans, that ...

taking to a hornet's nest with a baseball bat wouldn't work?

'cops' who don't talk the lingo couldn't handle the post shock and awe phase?

a clown who'd been nattering on about an 'axis of evil' was not a guy for details, or even rationality?

guys like Saddam & Bin Laden don't mix?

nutzoid neocons, already champing at the bit, were seizing their opportunity?

a military infested with fundamentalist pseudo-christianity was incapable of dealing with the arab street?

a country infested with fundamentalist pseudo-christianity just wanted to kick arab ass and any arab would do?

oil men and likudniks were running the show?

FoxNews was batshit crazy? (I was in NYC in Oct 2002 and saw O'Reilly interview Ritter and couldn't believe the insane aggro)

Chalabi was a con man?

mainstream US media was obsequious pap?

unbought europe knew the score?

Blix was being excessively polite to the US?

the 'intelligence' was dodgy? (Powell's presentation to the UN was woefully unconvincing)

Hell, I could go on and on with zero benefit of hindsight.

Posted by: AlanDownunder on January 17, 2007 at 6:01 AM | PERMALINK


On that last point, I'd welcome argument. Maybe I'm off base. Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?

Yes, it would have gone better, because of several reasons, but the biggest is that we would have had much more material support from other nations, and would have had enough troops on the ground.

That said, any non-preventive war that still demand the complete disintegration of the current government (i.e. Saddam's regime) would not have gotten support from the whole world.

Is there any example where a coalition of nations took it as their policy 'regime change?' World War II is not an example, because the stated goal was not the change of regime in Germany and Japan.

The Iraq situation as is, would not have had the needed support anyways.

Posted by: Dan on January 17, 2007 at 6:55 AM | PERMALINK

I guess I really need to follow up on my earlier post about the left and the war. It must have been written pretty poorly for so many people to misconstrue it so badly.

—Kevin Drum

Fair enough. Then, why don't you start by FULLY retracting this slick, evasive and totally bankrupt statement from the previous post:

"After all, Iraq didn't fail because it was preemptive (though that didn't help); it failed either because George Bush is incompetent or because militarized nation building in the 21st century is doomed to failure no matter who does it."

This statement is SO fucking wrong -- so out of the Joe Klein playbook -- that it shows you've learned nothing from either the events on the ground or all the posts that the vast majority of your readers have made over the last three years about the war.

The statement implies that had Bush only been competent and/or were nation building feasible in the 21st century -- never stated as an objective of the war in the first place, by the way, by a president who ran against the idea explicitly -- Iraq may have been a success.

The statement has NO fucking redeeming value. None. It is total bullshit -- simply more self-vindicating flailing by a would-be pundit who got the largest moral and strategic question of his lifetime WRONG and won't admit it.

Stop digging, for Christ's sake!

Posted by: EconoBuzz on January 17, 2007 at 6:59 AM | PERMALINK

I have to make a comment here that Kevin and maybe others won't appreciate, but have you ever heard of a library? God forbid that anyone might actually set foot in a house of books in this day and age of the Internet!

Kevin, you make it sound like it is the hardest thing in the world to do some historical research about the mood of the country four or five years ago! Take your laptop to the nearest library and go through the microfiche or microfilm and read the newspapers from that time. It is easy to get a sense of the way people felt. The library probably has a Wi-fi connection, so you can blog from there. For Chrissakes people, so many of you act like if you can't Google something up on your computer, it doesn't exist.

Start using libraries, or we will lose them forever!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 17, 2007 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK

There is something unsavory in all this hair-splitting.

First of all, there is no way of knowing what would have happened in some hypothetical world.

Second, what preemptive scenario would have necessitated an invasion and decapitation of the regime? How is regime change ever justified under the banner of preemption?

Third, it is difficult to imagine that having the support of the international community could possibly have made things worse or failed to make things better. Granted, we can't be sure.

Bottom line: Why are we splitting hairs here? What is our purpose other than shoring up our instinctive urge for aggression?

Posted by: obscure on January 17, 2007 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

If anything Kevin, you have it exactly backwards.

The reason not to wage preventive war is because it is wrong. Just because this war was also incompetently run, poorly planned and has devolved into the debacle we have now is no reason to assume that preventive war is any more correct in retrospect. Those add to the wrongness of this particular war, but do nothing to subtract from the wrongness of preventive war as a doctrine or strategy.

At its heart and by definition you are attacking a country who has not attacked you, and has no immediate plans to attack your nation. You are trying to discern the intent of a country 10, 20, 30 years down the road and acting on your assumptions about what that country's future actions will be.

By that same logic and reasoning, if we were somehow "right" to attack Iraq based on actions they had yet to take, then Iraq would have been "right" to have attacked us to "prevent" our future attack.

If, charitably, Iraq was 10 years away from developing WMD and becoming a real threat and that is our threshold for having a "justifiable" preventive war, then Iraq would have been correct in 1993 to invade the U.S., since at that point we were 10 years away from attacking Iraq!

Iran or Syria would have been correct to begin attacking us in 1997, 10 years before whatever debacle of a war escalation Bush unleashes on us next. That way leads to a bitter spiral of unproved attacks that is just absurd to even contemplate.

It is an unjustifiable downward spiral that clearly and predictably leads to constant war and turmoil. And nothing that has happened since has done anything to show that preventive war is any more correct. It was correct to oppose it for that reason alone.

Posted by: JR on January 17, 2007 at 7:44 AM | PERMALINK

I think for the intellectuals and pundits who supported the War (which includes most of them, and almost all the most prominent ones outside the blogosphere) did so primarily based on ideology, theory, and political science 101. They liked to argue about the benefits of preventive War.

Orwell recommended that we avoid arguments like that, and to a large degree the Left argued specifically that this was not the argument to have. The Left viewed that as fundamentally flawed - a detachment from reality and escape into the worst kinds of vanity.

Preventive Wars will almost always be a bad idea, but if there is one lesson to take from this debacle, it's that you have to discuss the war you're going to have, not the theoretical war you want.

Most Hawk criticism of the Left actually boils down to - "you're arguing specific concerns about Iraq and the current Administration. That's not fair! you are obligated to prove that all preventive wars are wrong in political science 101 BS land." The left doesn't want to do that because it's WRONG. It's WRONG to debate a real War in the real world involving a Nation of 24 million people with an epic history and an American political culture with it's own epic history based on political science 101 BS land. It's morally wrong. It's empirically wrong. It's a horribly bad idea. It leads to wars like Iraq.

We have a fundamental disagreement about what "seriousness" is, and I think the Left has proven that our approach is preferable.

Posted by: MDtoMN on January 17, 2007 at 8:01 AM | PERMALINK

It is true that the wrongness of the war and the incompetence with which it is being fought are two seperate issues. A war of agression, which is what this is, is wrong whether it goes well or not. Speaking purely for myself, I have never suggested that the fact that the war is going badly is the reson the war was wrong. Although, there were many who opposed the war because they knew that it was going to end up exactly like this, and those people have every right to feel vindicated. I take no comfort in the quagmire that Iraq has become. But I must say that, had things gone well, the supporters of this war would have seized on that as justification for their aggression. (Remember the toppling of the statue?) So, I do take some small comfort in the fact that I do not have to endure the insufferable rantings of those who claim that might makes right.

Posted by: G'kar on January 17, 2007 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

People who get big questions right deserve respect.

Conversely, of course, the people who get the big questions wrong don't deserve respect. Or columns in prominent newspapers, for that matter.

Posted by: Gregory on January 17, 2007 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK


Part of the problem is the very framing of the question, as you noted in your earlier post. The prevention part in Iraq was the UN inspection regime. Just like crime prevention isn't about going out and arresting everyone you think might commit a crime.

What Bush and his supporters did was preemption, as you said, and it has worked about as well as Japans preemptive war against the United States in 1941, albeit for different reasons.

But, it is true, that Iraq is not a failure because it was preemptive, per se. Why that matters, I'm not sure, other than some desire to say, "Well, I was wrong about Iraq being a good preemption, but not all preemption is wrong. So, I wasn't wrong for supporting preemption because sometimes preemption is right. So, I may have been wrong, but not totally wrong."

The preemptive part in Iraq is a marker for why it has failed, though. It has failed because it was based on a pipe-dream. And that was perfectly obvious to reasoning observers before the invasion.

I opposed the invasion of Iraq before it happened because I came across the Project for a New American Century report (probably because I found it linked on Kos or Atrios or Juan Cole) before the invasion. That told anyone who read it what Iraq has always really been all about. And it was thinking that the report represented any kind of reality that led folks on the right who didn't simply buy into the I'm-scared-Daddy-do-whatever-it-takes-to -protect-me-Iraq=9/11-perpetrators lie into supporting the war.

Seeing the PNAC report and having a basic understanding of the region made the outcome in Iraq perfectly predictable. Of course our military would easily overwhelm the Iraqi army, but then what. According the the PNAC, democracy would magically mushroom in the power vacuum that followed. But what I and other saw as the realistic probability was that Shia, who had been repressed for decades, but represented the majority, who rush to fill the power vacuum, supported by and aligned with their Shia brethren in Iran, democratically, or not - although there would be battles over who their Iraqi leader would be, i.e., which Shiite sect would control. Sunni Baathists, used to power, would not go quietly into that good night. Kurdish nationalists would press for an independent Kurdish state, and both Iran and Turkey would fiercely oppose that. Etc.

Iraq was a failure because it wasn't well thought through. Nothing was done, if anything could have been, to prevent what I described above.

Afghanistan may have been more morally correct (although randomly bombing Afghanistanis from 30,000 feet, not so much), but the outcome there was also predictable to anyone who watched the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. After all, we trained the Taliban in how to resist a mighty army.

So, as I said, preemption wasn't the reason for the failure, but so what. The Soviet preemption in Czechoslavkia in 1968 was a "success." Did that make it right? The opposition's argument about preemption wasn't that the invasion would fail because it was preemptive. We opposed preemption because it was wrong and illegal in and of itself.

Posted by: markt4 on January 17, 2007 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

What was the war intended to prevent? Essentially, it was sold as a war to prevent Saddam from having an opportunity to use WMD we supposed he probably had but weren't sure he had. But that rationale was effectively mitigated by Saddam's agreement to let the arms inspectors back in. After that point the war could no longer legitimately be construed as a war meant to prevent Iraq from having an opportunity to use WMD it had - we could wait to see if he actually had WMD. So, if someone still wanted to call it a preventative war, what was it that the war was supposed to prevent - some nebulous long term threat that Saddam might be at some future point in time? Geez, on that basis we could rationalize going to war with dozens of nations right now - and probably forever.

Posted by: TK on January 17, 2007 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

Most of the anti-war left thought in 2002 that the US would have a relatively easy time toppling Saddam, but would have a very difficult time governing Iraq afterward. We predicted that we were almost guaranteed to face an insurgency. Bush consistently presented rosy scenarios about occupation troops being greeted as liberators but NEVER offered a coherent plan for after the war. Once Baghdad fell and the looting went unabated, our predictions were confirmed.

There were other measures that could have been used to pressure Saddam to leave short of invading the country.

Posted by: bakho on January 17, 2007 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

I missed the first debate, but I'll put in my two cents. I don't pretend to be a major voice on the left, but on my own then-blog and in comments here and elsewhere, I opposed invading and occupying Iraq for the same reasons George H. W. Bush and Colin Powell did: The risks inherent in occupying a Muslim country, topped by the difficulties in maintaining a balance among Iraq's competing factions.

No warflogger was ever able to address these arguments with anything other than facile "we'll be greeted as liberators" bullshit, which, I might add, Bush I and Powell knew better than to claim.

And given that the arguments about Saddam's so-called "threat" and alleged ties to al Qaeda never held up to even a moment's scrutiny -- not to mention the fact that we had inspectors, you know, actually in the country* and they found nothing -- pretty much sealed the deal.

*The irony is, that if Bush's rhetoric forced Saddam to accept inspectors, and Bush had had the sense to be satisfied with demonstrating, through his actions, that Saddam was in fact no threat, it would have been in fact a stunning foreign relations victory, and I'd readily admit it. That Bush was obviously lusting for war no matter what information surfaced, of course, was all the more reasons to oppose him.

Posted by: Gregory on January 17, 2007 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

This war wasn't preventive-it was ginned up with false evidence, lies and exagerations. It was done as an exapmple to the middle east that the US could kick the ass of any middle eastern country. As reports now say, the war was undertaken because it was "possible". War with Iran or Syria was seen as too difficult. Mussharef was rolling on his back like a submissive dog. It was part of grand experiment to remake the middle east. Why else was there so quick a move to dismantle all of the systems of order in Iraq (dismantling the army and bureaucracy) and putting into place all of the wet-dream laws favored by the Republican looters in the US. This was not a preventative war, it was an expansionist war based on ideology. Also, it didn't hurt that there was a lot of oil there. That is why Afghanistan is not seen as being as important an example as Iraq could be. This administration still harbors the delusion that a short bombing campaign in Iran will result in Iranians rising up and overthowing their government and replacing it with the glorious future of the American dream of the benevolent democracy of big business.

Posted by: Neal on January 17, 2007 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

The failure of the war came about because the Republican looters within this administration thought you could start and run a country with inexperienced GOP political operatives, ass-kissers, and incompetents, utilizing wet-dream programs that have no basis in real-life situations.

Posted by: Neal on January 17, 2007 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

What many people have forgotten about the lead-up to the war is that even then it was clear that the Bush administration was either embellishing the truth or outright lying about the situation in Iraq. This makes the Iraq War not merely a "preventive war" but "a preventive war under dubious pretenses." Those may not be always, always, ALWAYS wrong - but they are indeed, almost always wrong.

Posted by: Thomas Garvey on January 17, 2007 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

This would have been a good post to test drive as a sock-puppet comment. It wouldn't have got people quite as excited though.

Posted by: toast on January 17, 2007 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

If it hadn't been preventive we would have committed more resources to it and we would have an endgame -- an objective -- that is a lot more tangible than prevention. It also would have been more explicable not only to us but to our opponents. For those three simple reasons and probably some others, the war might have gone better.

Posted by: Barbara on January 17, 2007 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

Wrong model. It's not "preventive war", whatever that is; it is 4GW.

This explains 4GW better than I ever could:

Posted by: Bob M on January 17, 2007 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, Kevin, Kevin. You have bought into Bush's arguments, haven't you?

So by agreeing that it is possible that preventive war COULD be justified you reduce the argument to one thing: is this war worth fighting. The Bushites would be proud of you.

All preemptive war is crime. To assume that it is OK to attack another country before you yourself are attacked means that any tyrant can use the excuse to attack first. It becomes only a matter of details, not principal.

I wrote previously that Americans have not learned any lessons from Iraq, and I still believe that. Americans believe, in general, that they alone have the insight necessary to judge their fellow human beings -- and the war has not changed that.

See how many of these statements you can agree with:
1) there should have been more troops
2) there should have been a plan for after the war
3) the lack of WMD makes the war a lie.
4) you can't fight a war without the support of the American people

If you agree with even one of these statements then you have learned nothing.

1) there should have been more troops: wrong, no troops should have ever crossed the border at all. Introducing more troops only makes the invasion more success, not more justified.
2) a plan. Hitler had a plan for after his war. So a plan to dominate the after war environment is all you need to justify breaking international law?
3) WMD. How does this justify war. China, Russia and Israel (etc) all have WMD. Hell, just about everyone does.
4) Support. So what if a majority of the people are in favor of committing a crime, it still doesn't justify committing the crime.

Why is so much time spent trying to figure out how this crime could have been done better. It was, and is, a crime to invade a nation that does not threaten you. (And, I might add, what if Saddam HAD threaten the U.S. So what. )

Americans are still belligerent, still arrogant, and quite capable of repeating the mistakes of Iraq again and again. Nothing has changed.

Posted by: Dicksknee on January 17, 2007 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

To do a preventative (preventive? . . . I'd consult Luntz before settling on the adjective) war correctly you have to follow through and place threatening populations under close watch in small enclosed areas. You also need an excellent propaganda machine, less free press, a nationalistic youth program named after your party's leader, and some sort of signature salute/phrase to signify loyalty to the cause.

Posted by: toast on January 17, 2007 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

Was it morally wrong, or just stupid?

It was both.

Posted by: Bat Guano on January 17, 2007 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

. Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?

This is the wrong question. In the first place, it wasn't really a preventative war. It was an imperial adventure. Once you accept the notion that there was something in Iraq that had to be prevented, you've already left the world of reality. Mind you, this was absolutely clear before the invasion was launched. Blix's team said that very clearly, and the Security Council agreed that there was no reason to move to military action.

Starting with that pretext makes hash of any kind of analysis of the real situation. It is, in fact, very difficult to conceive of a preventative war that could be justified. No nation has the capability of threatening the United States.

Leave aside that it's not a true characterization of the war. It's still the wrong question--because the reason for a war is not necessarily relevant to its success. Even if there were good and true reasons to wage this war, that doesn't make it more or less winnable. There were better reasons to direct a war at NK or Iran.

But even though there were better reasons, in fact, because of those better reasons, it was deemed imprudent. An easier target was needed.

Now, could the war have been run better? Yes. But the way in which it could have been run better would have made it impossible to wage. The way it could have been run better is if they had planned for what was going to be needed, ten years or more of occupation, starting off with the imposition of martial law enforced by the troop levels Shinseki said would be necessary.

Raising those troop levels, if it could be done at all without a draft, would have taken at least six months, more likely a year. By that time, it would have been clear to everybody--except Bush, Laura and Barney--that there was nothing to prevent, nothing to preempt, no threat at all.

Moreover, there would have been very little public support for an expensive, protracted imperial adventure in Iraq. The reason this was done on the cheap was because that's the only way it could have been done.

Making things still worse was the continued unwillingness, for public relations purposes to confront what was really happening on the ground. First, you couldn't say "guerrilla. "Then you couldn't say "insurgency." Now you can't say "civil war." The insistence on painting the situation as rosily as possible profoundly detracted the ability of the military to respond to what was really happening.

Posted by: jayackroyd on January 17, 2007 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK
However, I also made a specific comment about preventive war: namely that the failure in Iraq doesn't especially vindicate the argument that preventive war is almost always wrong. It is almost always wrong, and the fact that Iraq was a preventive war was a good reason to oppose it. But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive.

And, again, I think you are in part right and in part wrong here. It doesn't "especially" vindicate the argument because the argument is largely deontological and thus not subject to vindication through facts. Nevertheless, to the extent that the argument is pragmatic (that the absence of any substantive provocation, as well as making war a priori immoral, also negatively affects the perceived moral position of the aggressor and prevents that party from having the kind of relations with the people that would be necessary to have any chance of carrying out the kind of nation-building that was clearly going to be necessary for a guided democratic transformation) the results are consistent with it.

There simply is no basis for the claim that the problems in Iraq have nothing to do with the lack of justification of the war, you are simply asserting the point in controversy.

Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?

Hard to tell. Particularly, you can't just have the same war and call it "not preventive". A "not preventive" war would have occurred in radically different factual circumstances, its not a single factor that logically can be changed in isolation, even hypothetically.

Maybe so, though everyone seems to think we would have been screwed in 1991 if we'd gone all the way to Baghdad in the Gulf War, and that wasn't a preventive war.

That depends on who the "we" was. If every nation involved in the war had agreed, then "we" wouldn't, IMO, have been screwed. If just the US had gone to Baghdad against the wishes of much of the Coalition, it would have been bad, for reasons other than it being preventive, but the fact that other problems could occur in a nonpreventive war does not mean that substantial problems in the present war do not stem from it being "preventive".

Posted by: cmdicely on January 17, 2007 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Iraq wasn't a 'preventive' war. It was and is an oil war. All the given justifications, from WMD to spreading democracy, are pablum for the masses.

Posted by: nepeta on January 17, 2007 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Hi Kevin,

I'm on thin ice here. At the risk of being unfair (and insensitive myself) I think that you, by your manner of addressing these issues, resemble the pro-war pundits.

You're intellectualizing something that desperately (I'm not exaggerating) needs to be responded to with moral outrage, deep contrition, and very, very vigorous attempts by all of us to stop it and, to the extent that it's possible, repair the damage.

Detachment is an appropriate response down the road somewhere. Not now.

The common thread in most of the comments to your earlier post was passion. That's the correct response to an unnecessary war that's causing the destruction of a society and is requiring a fourth tour of duty to get it done.

If you want to post on the war, Kevin, nail the pro-war pundits. Discuss our (definition of insanity) compulsion to repeat this catastrophic error (because when we honor the people who talked us into it the first time, we must be displaying our willingness to do it again....)

Posted by: exasperated and afraid on January 17, 2007 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

This all seems a bit silly. Every argument that was given in favor of the war has been proven wrong, while nearly every argument against the war has been proven right. The only question at this point is why did anyone fall for any of those ridiculous pro-war arguments.

And if your point is the preemptive/preventive war thing, I don't see how you can not interpret this fiasco as a big smack down on that theory. It highlighted all the shortcomings of the theory and produced none of the supposed benefits--we are clearly less secure now then before. If this doesn't sour you on preemptive war and convince you that the horrors of war must wait for a real threat (like armies massed on the border), then you must be a lunatic.

Posted by: cramer on January 17, 2007 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Let me take a crack at that last point. We all know war should be the very last resort to acheiving whatever. But why? Obviously, because it kills people, it makes others into killers, which can fuck them up, and costs a huge amount of money. All good reasons not to want to go to war.

But also, war should be a last resort because it's a policy instrument that's inherently full of all kinds of nasty uncertainties. All else equal, it's *much* more likely to result is all kinds of bad unintended consequecnes than is, say, diplomacy or sanctions or whatever. Bad consequences like a massive destablization of a strategically important region of the world, just to name one.

Now, the Iraq war offers an argument against preventive war in just this sense. Consider someone who was not inclined to take the above considerations seriously when weighing the pros and cons of going to preventive way--i.e., a war that wasn't *absolutely necessary.* Now, in 2007, the Iraq war stands as an illustration of how that thinking was badly misguided.

Preventive war is something you could think was a generally useful policy instrument *only if* you you forgot that wars, by their very nature, can and sometimes do turn into clusterfucks, and therefore not useful policy instruments. The Iraq war shows what's wrong with that thinking.

Posted by: Scott E. on January 17, 2007 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Drum,

You neglect the fact that if the war hadn't been preventive it would have had *goals,* besides prevention. Those goals would then have driven strategic decision-making, which would then drive tactical decision-making. Success becomes possible when it becomes a meaningful category.

Since the war was preventive, and AIMED AT PREVENTING SOMETHING THAT WASN'T HAPPENING regardless, it lacked proper war aims. This is where the war's moral enormity dovetails with its catastrophic outcome. (And yes, I think preventive war is a moral enormity regardless, because there's nothing in the structure of its definition to prevent demagogues from launching them willy-nilly.)

The war is a fiasco not because it had the wrong kind of goals but because it had NO COHERENT GOAL at all. The military means did not match any political ends. Deposing someone isn't a goal unless you know what comes afterward.

All of this was proven even to dunderheads by the revelations about al-Qaqaa before the 2004 election, if only analysts with a pulpit had been able to connect the dots. It's very simple: NO WAR PLAN that had ANY interest in creating a stable Iraq would have left enormous caches of high-grade plastic explosives unguarded. (And likewise no plan focused on establishing the moral legitimacy of anti-WMD sanctions would have left the ministry containing all the weapons paperwork unguarded, a fact that emerged recently.)

See my op-ed in the Harvard Crimson from May '06 for more on the anti-intellectualism of goal-oriented thinking that neglects the question of WHAT THE GOAL EVEN IS.

Al-Qaqaa should be one of the first topics on the lips of anyone who wants to have this argument again. I'm not clear why you do, since the main point right now is to keep momentum in the effort for there to be accountability for this disgusting Republican Party with its cynicism and its six years of disgusting 'party discipline' trumping American values.

(Wishful thinking alert, to change the tone of this back-and-forth.) The GOP should disband now that its incoherence as a moral force has been exposed. Corporatism and theocracy can each form their own party, and maybe a legitimate second party of libertarianism could congeal from elsewhere to oppose future Democratic excesses.

Jim von der Heydt

Posted by: Jim von der Heydt on January 17, 2007 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

There is, of course, one way in which fighting a legitimate war would have made it easier to fight: troops and bankroll from other countries. Nobody would help us this time (as opposed to Gulf War I), because our motives were plainly illegitimate. Why Kevin refuses to see this, I don't know.

Posted by: dj moonbat on January 17, 2007 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I disagree with your assessment that Iraq was enough of a potential threat to characterize the war as "preventive".

If you accept the Iraq War was preventive then what war of aggression wasn't a preventive war?

Life entails risks. C'est la vie. Nations need to be able to not go to war just because at some future point another country may pose a risk.

Please reflect on the Golden Rule and preventive war.

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on January 17, 2007 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

I did a google on April Glaspie.

Wiki has this:
It has been argued that Saddam would not have invaded Kuwait had he been given an explicit warning that such an invasion would be met with force by the United States as turned out to be the case.

Also, you may find this from The Moderate Independent useful in understanding some of the back story on the current Iraq War.

Posted by: NeoLotus on January 17, 2007 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Okay, back in March, 2003, the Onion, as usual, had the best take on the point-counterpoint that occurred before the Iraq War:

Point: "This War Will Destabilize The Entire Mideast Region And Set Off A Global Shockwave Of Anti-Americanism"
Counterpoint: "No, it won't"

Many, many people on this thread have given very articulate reasons why the doctrine of "preventitive" war is immoral, stupid, paranoid and wrong. Making the case for preventitive war to reduce the possibility of future hostility is like making a case for sex slavery to reduce the incidence of rape. Yeah, sure, it might work, in theory.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 17, 2007 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK
There is, of course, one way in which fighting a legitimate war would have made it easier to fight: troops and bankroll from other countries.

Not just other countries, either. Had there been actual provocation, the American people would have been committed enough to the war that the Administration wouldn't have needed to trot out proxies and fire truth-tellers in order to sell how cheap the war would be, how quick it would be, and how few troops would be needed.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 17, 2007 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, does Glenn Reynolds have a gun to your blog? Has he finally lost it over all his spectacularly wrong predictions and poorly informed opinions ranging from the existence of WMD's to the nature and scope of the violence in Iraq to our complete lack of progress there? And is he threatening to take it out on Political Animal unless you show agreement with him to prove that he is not an complete and utter loser and a total boob?

If so, nod the blog twice.

J/K, of course, your clarified what you meant. I just needed an excuse to bash Glenn Reynolds over what were truly amazing failures of analysis.

Posted by: trex on January 17, 2007 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

BTW, how do you prevent war by going to war? This is like saying "preventive arguing" where you start an argument to prevent a snide remark somewhere down the line.

Countries, like people, require lots of dialogue and discussion to have good relations. Misunderstandings and stubborn feelings are what lead to arguments.

On the other hand, bullies and abusers need no excuse to pound on someone, they just do it with the thinnest veneer of an excuse.

Why are you, Kevin, enabling such behavior?

As for the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I kept hearing the 5 second sound bites of the likes of Scott Ritter and Hans Blix who were weapons inspectors in Iraq saying they hadn't found anything yet. Why were they pulled out early and summarily ignored?

Posted by: NeoLotus on January 17, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK
I'm on thin ice here. At the risk of being unfair (and insensitive myself) I think that you, by your manner of addressing these issues, resemble the pro-war pundits.

While he started posting some reservations about the execution of the war before it was launched, Kevin was, up until sometime after the war started, a "pro-war pundit", and even before the war was initiated framed the alternatives for Iraq as a dichotomy between accepting the flawed war being pushed by Bush and the pro-war right or pulling out of the region entirely as (supposedly) was the position of the anti-war left.

That Kevin is still committed to arguing that the anti-war left was wrong from the start and was not "vindicated" by the results of the war is sad, but unsurprising.

Though, going back through the archives, things like this post from March 27, 2003 are interesting to read in the light of history:

PREDICTIONS....Here are my war predictions:
  • How long will the war last? Answer: 6 weeks.
  • How many American deaths will there be? Answer: 700.
  • How big will the occupation force be by the end of the year? Answer: 80,000 troops.
  • How long will the military occupation last: Answer: 3 years.
  • How much will the war cost this year? Answer: $110 billion.
  • How much will it cost next year? Answer: $25 billion.
  • How much actual democracy will we bring to Iraq? Answer: 4%.

    All answers are plus or minus a factor of two.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 17, 2007 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: "But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive."

The Iraq war was NOT "preventive".

It was sold to the American people and the United States Congress as a "preventive" war -- based on the repeated, elaborate, and sickening lies told by Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and other principals of the Bush administration about what they knew at the time to be a nonexistent "threat" from nonexistent "Iraqi WMD" and nonexistent "links between Saddam and Al Qaeda".

But there was no threat, imminent or otherwise, and there was nothing to "prevent".

The Iraq war was -- and is -- an illegal war of unprovoked aggression for corrupt purposes of private financial gain, for the purpose of seizing control of Iraq's vast oil reserves for the Bush administration's cronies and financial backers in the US-based multinational oil companies.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq was not a "preemptive war". It was not a "preventive war". It was, and is, a crime.

Its perpetrators are guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and treason. Every single one of them should be impeached, removed from office, indicted, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned.

The US military should be withdrawn from Iraq, completely, immediately, and as quickly as possible, and the US should undertake to pay reparations to the people of Iraq for the death and destruction caused by this monstrous crime.

The people of Iraq must determine their own fate. It is not up to the war criminals of the US government to dictate to the people of Iraq how they should live or what kind of government they should have.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 17, 2007 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?
This question is completely circular in nature. A preventative war is one where there is no imminent threat, and the attacking country is trying to prevent an imminent threat. Its best summed up by the "One Percent Doctrine" as applied by Cheney.

Of course the war would have "gone better" on some level if it were not preventative. If not preventative, it would have been based on a legitimate "imminent threat." Then it would have been JUSTIFIED, LEGAL, DOMESTICALLY SUPPORTED, INTERNATIONALLY SUPPORTED, MORE TROOPS PROVIDED (see e.g. NATO and Afghanistan), CONTROLLED BY MORE THAN THE U.S., etc. Perhaps we would have had the 400-500K troops necessary to secure the nation after the initial invasion (why do Shinsheki's predictions get discounted by you Kevin?)

To add to this, there were no WMDs or any real serious plans or infrastructure to create them, so in a very real sense this "prevenative war" failed to prevent anything -- there was nothing to prevent.

Posted by: Palooza on January 17, 2007 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK
Why are you, Kevin, enabling such behavior?

Kevin is enabling it, as best as I can tell, because he believes in that kind of war, as demonstrated by his early support for the war on the same kind of grounds cited by the Bush Administration, support that eroded not because he came to think the war was fundamentally wrong but because he felt Bush was executing it improperly.

So he doesn't want to see the idea of preventive war discredited by what he sees as the incompetence of the Bush Administration in carrying out preventive war.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 17, 2007 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Lastly, in the months after 9/11 I did a LOT of research on the Middle East. One thing I ran into is the nature of Bedouin culture.

They live in a desert. Harsh conditions make for a tough people but also very aware of the need for strict social relations to maintain any kind of peace both within and between tribes. (See: Lawrence of Arabia -- yes, history goes back farther than yesterday.)

So, I knew that when Bush Co. was making noise about going into Iraq, especially without a bona fide causus belli, that we would be walking into a killer bee nest and there would be hell to pay for it.

Posted by: NeoLotus on January 17, 2007 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

What does it say that a major political blogger doesn't remember the arguments that were put forth in 2002 against invading Iraq? What does that say about the state of the discourse during the selling of this war?

Posted by: ly of brooklyn on January 17, 2007 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

If it hadn' been a preventive war, it would never have happened. Or what possible scanario would have lead to any other kind of war with an actual threat to the US as a starting point?
Saddam firing ICBMs at New York? The Iraqi Fleet in the Gulf of Mexico? Or what?

Posted by: Jörgen in Germany on January 17, 2007 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Re: Lawrence of Arabia and history. There is already a whole lot of bad blood between the West and Middle East and therefore it is no wonder the Arabs want the West OUT of the Middle East in the same way China wanted the Brits OUT of the Far East and Vietnam wanted the French OUT of their lives.

America is simply the dumbest nation on earth. Feh. Reminds me of Sgt. Schultz from Hogan's Heroes who was always going around saying, "I know nothing!"

Posted by: NeoLotus on January 17, 2007 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

With regard to terrorism, not only was Iraq not a threat, the Hussein government was a potential ally in the struggle against Al-Qaeda. The bin Laden crowd hated the secular Baathists about as much as they hated the west. And Hussein had the intelligence capabilities to keep Al-Qaeda out of Iraq. We could have cut a deal with Hussein to help track Al-Qaeda elsewhere in the Middle East.

Posted by: Amory on January 17, 2007 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

cmdicely--wow. nice research.

Jim Van der hedyt-- good point about the inherently undefined objectives in preventitive war.

Reminds me of when I worked in the psych hospital, there were group leaders that would jump the gun with twitchy teens to show who was boss, and it would always escalate, and sometimes get others engaged in their defense. Smart leaders would ignore the initial subtle provocation, continue to be inclusive, and sometimes that would be the end of it. When things were really going to get difficult they would wait until the trespass got obvious enough for the entire group to see. That way it was clear why they took the action they did, and were able to enlist some support from the group as well.

Preventive war is a war you fight alone, or with members of your folie-a-deux.

Posted by: shrink in sf on January 17, 2007 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you are conflating too many disparate elements to be clear. You seem to want to discuss the abstract possibility that 'preventive war' might have value, which could be one discussion. But you also want to discuss Iraq, which is another thing completely. You ask, "Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?", but though Iraq was painted rhetorically as preventive, it was in fact merely aggressive.

In the abstract, the concept of preventive war has a lot against it, which is why it is shunned in international relations. At the very least, absent a clear act of attack as in a defensive war, there must be a high standard of what constitutes "grounds" for engaging in such a war. One can conceive of edge cases where the threat is so well-defined and universally obvious that 'preventive war' might be acceptable morally, in the way that we generally regard as self-defense shooting someone who has just shot the guy standing next to you when he points the gun in your direction.

Sadly, the whole question of whether or not legitimate 'preventive war' cases exist has been permanently, collossally muddled by the cynical use of that argument by the administration to launch a war of aggression against a target it had wanted to hit for a looooong time, in a situation so far away from actually preventive.

Whether or not it is abstractly possible that a situation might call for preventive war, this one clearly didn't.

Posted by: biggerbox on January 17, 2007 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

I'm beginning to wonder if the point that Kevin was fishing about for was this:

Had the war gone well, we still would have maintained that the decision to go to war was bad. So how can the war's failure validate our opinions if the war's success wouldn't have proven them wrong?

Is that what this is all about? Because if it is, I guess I would say that a large part of the reason that we opposed the war was because we didn't think it would go very well, and that part of our argument has come to pass. But say, for argument's sake, that war had gone swimmingly. Our arguments certainly would have looked a bit weaker (none of us would expect to be hired for the LA Times op-ed page,) and we'd have a harder time convincing anybody next time. That said, I think most of us would still say the the inherent risks of this war, of preventative war, remained; just because you don't blow your head off playing russian roulette doesn't make it a smart thing to do. I suppose, continuing in hypothetical-land, that if we repeatedly invaded countries without any dire consequences, I'd have to revise my pragmatic assessment. Of course, none of that happened because wars are difficult and destructive things, as shown not just by the past four years but all of human history.

Of course, there were moral arguments against the war that were outside the pragmatic. Those are harder to prove or disprove with outcomes as they are built around subjective value judgments.

Posted by: Royko on January 17, 2007 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: dd on January 17, 2007 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

I think much of america was so damaged by 9/11 that they lost the ability to think critically. I think people developed a traumatic bond to this administration and were afraid to break it by seeing reality.

That is spot on. Not enough attention is paid to that dynamic, or how to prevent it from happening again the next time there is a terrorist attack on US soil.

Posted by: Disputo on January 17, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

It must have been written pretty poorly for so many people to misconstrue it so badly.

In Bandler and Grinders' seminal book on NLP, "Frogs Into Princes," they said something that I have always kept with me. To paraphrase:

The response you receive is the meaning of your communication.

I think that is good advice for bloggers as well as therapists. And commenters, too.

Posted by: Brojo on January 17, 2007 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

I remember quite clearly why I opposed the war and I think my thoughts ran pretty parrallel to most of the anti-war cyber pundits out there.

#1- The case for war made zero sense.

#2- The administration was continually lying.

#3- Everyone who had any business calling themselves an expert on Iraq wmd's said the same thing- they don't have any.

#4- The white house was waging an obvious, blatant fear-mongering campaign (remember taping up your windows and all those convenient color bar changes?).

In short: nothing added up. It wasn't about preemptive anything, the white house had no serious argument for war, just a bunch of lies and a bunch of scare-tactics.

And yes, we were right. Not be all "told you so", just simply, we were correct.

Posted by: The Tim on January 17, 2007 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

KD:Maybe so, though everyone seems to think we would have been screwed in 1991 if we'd gone all the way to Baghdad in the Gulf War, and that wasn't a preventive war.

{{if others have made the following points, i apologize for the repetition, but i wanted to write this while i was thinking about it, before reading comments}}

KEVIN: conflating the preventive/non-preventive nature of a war and the ability of our military to tactically carry it out is a bad idea.

prevention vs non-prevention is a moral question. to say that starting a war because you're afraid that another country might do something to your country puts your country's government on shaky ethical ground. it comes down to what your gov't's evidence is, and whether that evidence is credible. maybe there is a case to be made that some preventive wars are acceptable. but the onus will always be on the aggressor in the "preventive" war to make the best case that war was the only option, and that the threat being prevented is grave enough to justify the war itself. personally, i'm not sure what circumstances would qualify meeting that burden.

it's another question entirely to ask is any particuarly war/invasion/decaptitation of govt tactically achievable, and what the plan is for the aftermath. those are questions which need to be answered based on the history of the area to be invaded, the demographics/dynamics of the populace, and lots of intelligence on any number of questions that i can't even think of. not to mention your own military's strengths and weaknesses.

using OIF as the starting point in a discussion of whether or not preventive war is justified is a really bad idea. firstly, it was a weak case from the get go on the concept of prevention. secondly and perhaps more importantly, because the warplan was so completely and inherently flawed there's no way to tell whether the failure is because it's a so-called preventive war, or because the war planners, and administration didn't listen to anyone who knew what they were talking about.

to turn the question around and say, well Desert Storm wasn't a war of prevention, and if they'd have invaded Iraq it would have turned out badly just proves the point that the execution of a war plan has little to go with the political justification for it.

Posted by: e1 on January 17, 2007 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely wrote: "So he doesn't want to see the idea of preventive war discredited by what he sees as the incompetence of the Bush Administration in carrying out preventive war."

Which is even more regrettable given that the invasion of Iraq was not even really a "preventive" war, but merely a war of naked greed-driven imperialist aggression to seize control of another country's valuable resources, which was sold to the American people and the US Congress as a "preventive war" through lies.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 17, 2007 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin writes that everyone thinks the Gulf War would have gone badly had we gone all the way to Baghdad, but the Gulf Was was not a preventive war, so this tells us nothing about the prospects for success in a preventive war like the current Iraq War. However, if we had extended the mission of pushing Saddam back inside his own borders to regime change, we would, in effect, have transformed the Gulf War into a preventive war--one waged presumably to prevent any future mischief from Saddam Hussein. Thus, the argument against going to Baghdad does apply to preventive war in general.

Posted by: pat on January 17, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

"However, I also made a specific comment about preventive war: namely that the failure in Iraq doesn't especially vindicate the argument that preventive war is almost always wrong. It is almost always wrong, and the fact that Iraq was a preventive war was a good reason to oppose it. But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive."

And the sky is blue.
So what?


Posted by: agave on January 17, 2007 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

There is only one way rational people who want to avoid mass murdering unnecessary wars and promote peace can earn the respect of the hawks: bring the war hawks to justice. Imprison fucks like Wolfowitz and Perle and everyone else, including W. Bush. The hawks claim that a show of force is necessary to vanquish our adversaries. They were wrong about the Arabian people, but what they really meant is they will bow to a superior force. Let us become that superior force through democratic means, and make them pay with the forfeiture of their freedom as an example to future hawks who would waste our American values on their enrichment.

Posted by: Brojo on January 17, 2007 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

I think everybody is forgetting that the confusion of preventive war with the prospects for the war's success is not Kevin's error, but one that he is picking up on from a comment made by Atrios.

Posted by: dj moonbat on January 17, 2007 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK
Which is even more regrettable given that the invasion of Iraq was not even really a "preventive" war

That's debatable. Surely, there were lies told to highlight its "preventive" aspects, but preventive war (and this is one of the many problems with it as a justification for war!) fundamentally differs from preemptive war in that the threat it responds to is a general, not specific, speculative threat that may materialize in the future, and certainly one cannot say that it isn't possible that Iraq could have posed an actual, imminent threat in the future, thus the war, in a sense, was "preventive". It is the uncertain, speculative nature of the threat that "justifies" prevention that makes preventive war (as distinct from preemptive war) categorically a form of aggressive war.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 17, 2007 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK
I think everybody is forgetting that the confusion of preventive war with the prospects for the war's success is not Kevin's error, but one that he is picking up on from a comment made by Atrios.

No, I don't think its either a "confusion" or an "error" by Atrios, and I don't think anyone is attributing it to Kevin, but instead responding to and often rejecting Kevin's argument that Atrios is in error in suggesting that criticisms of the war based on its preventive character have been vindicated by the results of the war.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 17, 2007 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

My definition of a pre-emptive or preventive war: I sense Kevin is going to write something idiotic and nonsensible, so before he ever has the chance to do so, I whack him on the head.

Posted by: coffeequeen on January 17, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

ShrinkinSF:I think much of america was so damaged by 9/11 that they lost the ability to think critically. I think people developed a traumatic bond to this administration and were afraid to break it by seeing reality.

i agree with this completely. i had a discussion with my supervisor a month or so ago, where he admitted essentially that very thing. then tried to argue that 'everybody' in the country felt the same way, and that's why so few people had opposed the invasion in first place. my co-worker and i begged to differ. she and i had had many a discussion in fall of 02 and spring 03 about how bogus the rationalizations were, and i told my boss this. and that whatever he had believed at the time, i wasn't going to pretend that i had believed the administration then.

cmdicely- nice research. i wonder if Kevin is regretting any of those predictions now. they seem almost flippant in comparison to reality.

Posted by: e1 on January 17, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Royko wrote: "Had the war gone well, we still would have maintained that the decision to go to war was bad."

Just as many who supported the war still maintain that the decision to go to war was justified, despite the fact that it's been a disaster in just about every way. The two primary lines of thought from them that I have seen are a) the war isn't over and we can still "win," and b) the war was a good idea but Bush totally screwed it up.

The problem with Kevin's recent comments is that by the time we actually initiated combat in early 2003, the information was already there to demonstrate pretty clearly that going to war was, at best, premature, and that the justifications for doing so were falling by the wayside, leaving nothing but a house of cards.

In early 2002, you might have been able to reasonably claim that preventive war with Iraq was (potentially) justified. By early 2003, you could no longer legitimately make that claim. And yet we went to war anyway, with no justification, no exit strategy, no plan for dealing with the war's aftermath and consequences, along with insufficient force, insufficient planning, insufficient resources, and so on.

To get back to Kevin's original point, I'm not asking for any special "credit" for being right about Iraq. I got much of it right; I got some of it wrong; that's life. What most of us are asking for is the following:

1. That there be some consequences for those who got it so badly wrong in the Bush administration. Sure, Rummy was finally let go, but only after he had spent several years thoroughly screwing things up and only after he had become a serious political liability to the Bush administration. Tenet, Franks, and Bremer actually got Medals of Freedom, for gosh sakes.

2. That there be some consequences for those who got it so badly wrong among the press, pundits, and foreign policy "experts." The nation's media and pundits should explain just why they got it so badly wrong and just what they are going to do to keep from getting it so badly wrong again. And the foreign policy "experts" should be shunted to the side, since it's quite obvious that in many cases they have no particular expertise and should not have a prominent role in our national discourse.

3. That the reverse of points 1 and 2 happen for those who got it right -- that they be rewarded, that they be given a more prominent role in our national discourse, and so on.

4. That the national media, pundits, and the like stop pretending that anyone opposed to the Iraq War is (and was) necessarily anti-war, extremist, or fringe.

5. That the national media, pundits, and the like stop pretending that only those who support war are "serious" about, and "strong" on, terrorism, national security, and other related issues.

All of these things are absolutely maddening and as long as they continue, the likelihood is that we will once again repeat the mistakes we made in Iraq and that we will once again have this discussion at some future time.

Posted by: PaulB on January 17, 2007 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely wrote: "Though, going back through the archives, things like this post from March 27, 2003 are interesting to read in the light of history."

What's really sad is that Kevin's comment archives of that time appear to no longer exist. There was extensive debate in this blog and Kevin could easily find the answers he claims he is interested in by looking at the responses to his own posts.

Posted by: PaulB on January 17, 2007 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

PaulB wrote: That the national media, pundits, and the like stop pretending that only those who support war are "serious" about, and "strong" on, terrorism, national security, and other related issues.

This will never happen. America is now ruled -- and "ruled" is the exact correct word -- by the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about. And the "national media", which is entirely owned and controlled by giant corporations, is part of this ruling structure.

It is absolutely essential to their continued rule -- and the continuing success of their program of concentrating wealth and power in the hands of America's tiny, hereditary, ultra-rich and ultra-powerful corporate ruling class -- that anyone who questions militarism, war, the half-trillion-dollar-per-year military budget, or the decisions of the ruling class to lauch wars of aggression against whomever they choose whenever they choose be marginalized and discredited.

So the national media will continue to marginalize and discredit anyone who questions the doctrine of perpetual war.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 17, 2007 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

"But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive."

It has something to do with it. Hard to say exactly how much. The fact that our real motive for invading and occupying iraq is unclear because the case for our primary motive of preventative war was so ridiculously thin before the war and proven false during the war causes Iraqi's and others to speculate about our real motives even more than they would have had the preventative argument been found to be plausible.

Iragi's were predisposed to dislike us because of general US policy toward the middle-east and toward Iraq in particular. Having our primary justification for the war fall apart even before the invasion, and proven completely false after it hurt. It probably hurt just as much as torturing all those prisoners. I imagine it didn't hurt quite as much as protecting only the oil ministry and letting the others be looted.

But just what is it that you are trying to say? That even given beleiving the wmd nonsense, al qaeda links, or whatever Iraq was still stupid and you were still wrong to support it? Even if we had found WMD's it would have been a disaster? Well, yea I think that's probably true. It just makes you even more wrong and the anti-this-war-left even more right.

Would the war have gone better had the reasons for it not been obviously false? Yea. Maybe not significantly but it is pretty ridiculous to think that it would have gone worse. How is it that being caught lying and incompetent about the primary reason for the war did anything but hurt us? Maybe the whole timeline of insurgency would have been pushed back a week or so.

Posted by: jefff on January 17, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

BTW I think it primarily wouldn't have made much difference because you would have to be pretty dumb to beleive that wmd's were the bush administrations main motivation even if they had existed.

As thier actions have repeatedly demonstrated domestic politics, oil access, and war profiteering are all more important reasons.

American's may be ignorant enough to fall for Bush's war marketing campaign, but perhaps because the rest of the world is a bit more knowledgable about the middleastern situation, or perhaps because the marketing campaign wasn't tailored to convince them they pretty much didn't fall for it.

Posted by: jefff on January 17, 2007 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I'm struck by how you keep circling back and back and back to try to find some way to make this war "okay".


We are at a point in human history -- with our ultra-powerful technologies of destruction -- in which we simply must stop looking at war as "okay" on any level. It's not. We must move *rapidly* to new ways of dealing with conflict. Even a couple of hundred years ago, maybe we had the luxury of fiddling around with war as a strategy and a method.

I'm 50 years old. There are now 2x as many people on the planet as when I was born (1956). There were what?, 2 maybe 3 nations that had nukes back then? And how many today? And how many will there be in 50 more years?

We have *got* to start thinkiing in serious timelines of hundreds or thousands of years on this question and so many others. We are well past the infant-in-a-nursery stage of the story of life on this planet. We must mature. Grow up. Be adult. NOW. Not "somewhere down the line". War is not a "solution" any more, if it ever was.

GIVE UP YOUR FASCINATION WITH WAR. Yes, I'm proposing a change in your consciousness. Will you rise to the challenge?

Posted by: Piehole on January 17, 2007 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

We couldn't even save the innocents in that Waco compound; so what made us think we could manage Iraq without burning that place to the ground, too?

We need a monument in D.C. to the idea that mere success in government or business does not imply that you're smarter than average. I propose a statue of a grandee in a fine suit, surrounded by fancy sycophants, getting trounced in chess by a barefoot, Third-World girl.

Posted by: ferd on January 17, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

The feasibility of a preventive war is tied to the question of "What are we trying to prevent?"

1. We were sold on a war to prevent Saddam from advancing a WMD program, or allowing "terrorists" from obtaining any elements or byproducts of Saddam's WMD program.

All evidence to support the first point was quite flimsy. In the buildup to the war, the Bush Administration failed to provide a single point of evidence that met the sniff test. Period. It's unfortunate that the war hawks failed to debate the war on these terms.

Let me state that last point again: [b]It's unfortunate the war hawks failed to debate the war on the shared, verifiable facts and instead debated their own reductionist assumptions.[/b]

[i]Would[/i] the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive? Holy Asinine Crap, Batman! What does this question even mean? Are you asking if the war would have been better if we didn't go? Are you asking if the war would have been better if Saddam had claimed responsibility for 9/11? Are you asking if the war would have been better if Saddam decided to bomb Pearl Harbor again? If Saddam did not openly attack us, what other type of war would we have declared on Saddam? Or are you asking if it would have been better if Saddam had been actively seeking WMD? That leads to the next ugly point...

2. The war "plan" failed to secure WMD locations. The war "plan" failed to secure egress points along the border that might have allowed WMD to be moved out of the country.

Even if you accept that the preventive war argument is a good idea, you have to deal with the fact that the actual plan did not have the resources to resolve the WMD issue. And God forbid what would have happened if Saddam's army had been prepared to fight, or if Saddam actually had WMD to use against the invading Army.

It is unfortunate that war hawks (liberal and conservative) were inclined to support the Administration's war in the first place. If this was truly a war to prevent a WMD holocaust in the United States, then why the hell were we trying to do it on such a small resource budget? This entire war (planning, selling, execution) has been an enormous train wreck in slow motion.

I'm still waiting for a war supporter to explain [i]why[/i] it was our most critical national security issue and [i]how[/i] the plan was supposed to be successful. I think the real question should be "[i]Would[/i] the war have gone better if we had supported executed a realistic plan to meet our objectives?" If we had done that, then we could actually say we prosecuted a preventive war and debate its merits. We poured our resources into a funnel that emptied in Iraq, and expected that the people of Iraq would give us cake and a map to the buried WMD treasure. That's not a preventive war; that's an arrogant, offensive display of money and power that is arguably criminal. That's how gangs control territory, that's not how a civilized society resolves a real impending threat.

Posted by: Tuna on January 17, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Whoops, sorry about using the wrong format tags. :(

Posted by: Tuna on January 17, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Or, at least what on earth made us think it would be easy? A "cakewalk"!?

Posted by: ferd on January 17, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

I think preventative diplomacy is a billion times more effective. Something Bush should try sometime.

Posted by: colinm on January 17, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

"Could it be that the seeds of the quagmire lay in the deceptions that were to used to justify the war? Could it be that that real reason for the quagmire is that the warmongers came to believe their own falsehoods?"

I don't think the neo-cons ever believed their own lies. However, the neo-cons are all Starussians, who believe that in order to get the masses to take some action, they must be motivated by "noble lies." The truth is known only by the elites (e.g., The Project for a New American Century), who must disguise the truth and keep it hidden via esoteric teachings, i.e., the noble lies. What the neo-cons failed to take into account is that both their lies and the action they sought to have the masses accept were ignoble. The neo-cons employed a corrupted and debased Straussian method. The result was the eventual rejection of the neo-cons lies by the masses.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on January 17, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, we now know that the Iraq War was not a preventive war. Little or nothing was happening in Iraq that endangered the U.S.

On the other hand, it was a war of choice advocated by Neocons who suggested that it would be quick, easy and cheap. Thoughtful people like James Fallows wrote extensively about the danger of this kind of thinking with any war, let alone a war in the Middle East. His example of where this kind of thinking had led in the past was WWI.

Juan Cole's archives go back to 2002 and are instructive about the complexity of the challenges in Iraq and the middle east.

The leaders of "Old Europe" (the chocolate makers according to Rummy) advised caution.

But Bush allowed Cheney, Rummy, Wolfowitz, Perle and Dougie Feith to make U.S. policy and turned a deaf ear to those who advised caution. This crowd was so sure of itself, they developed no "Plan B" in case Plan A did not work out.

The quaqmire we are in stems from a complete failure to grasp the history and complexity of Iraq and the Middle East and a failure to grasp that no country and no peoples care to be occupied by a foreign army

Posted by: John Eaton on January 17, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

I agree that anti-war voices who got it right ought to be more prominent in the media. People who get big questions right deserve respect.

Want to name some names? Presidential candidates, say, senators, governors?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 17, 2007 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

"On that last point, I'd welcome argument. Maybe I'm off base. Would the war have gone better if it hadn't been preventive?"

This is the wrong question. The right question is, would we be better off now if we had a policy of not fighting preventive wars? The answer is almost surely yes. We would not have gone to war at all. Iraq was never a threat to the United States, and after sanctions it was never a threat to its neighbors. So absent a doctrine of preventive war, we would not have gone to war, and practically everyone agrees the war has been a disaster (and we may not have seen the worst of it).

So unless you believe following this doctrine further will get us into more wars whose benefits will outweigh the immense costs of the catastrophe we've unleashed, I'd say the doctrine of preventative war has been thoroughly discredited in the field; we would be far better off if we hadn't adopted it. Maybe in some fantasy land, with different leaders and a different history, we could make up something where preventative war served a good purpose. And maybe communism really is a worker's paradise, and the Soviet Union and China just didn't get it right.

--Rick Taylor

Posted by: Rick Taylor on January 17, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

There is no general principle of preventive war anyone serious is defending...the issue is preventive war tied to WMD and/or "vital interests".

You have to acknowledge one or the other of these trailing items to discuss preventive war with any pretense of liberal or moral action.

With Iraq, what was sold as "preventive war" + "WMD" was actually "preventive war" + "vital interests" (while always hoping to find some WMD to help after the fact).

Too bad we really didn't have that debate about our "vital interests", and whether was a sound assessment, or what these interests really were (some combination of energy and regional dominance).

Too bad we really didn't have the debate over whether preventive war should ever be waged for "vital interests", as opposed to "preemptive" concerns about WMD.

Posted by: Jimm on January 17, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK


Just because the specific bad outcome predicted by some on the left did not occur does not mean that the war was a good idea.

Atrios has it right: the war was a BAD IDEA. Bad outcomes were overdetermined - debating which sort of bad outcome was most likely seems rather pointless. Don't fall into the cognitive trap of "scenario thinking". General opposition is always more likely to be right than specific opposition.

In retrospect, the most accurate predictions were the arguments from incompetence - essentially, to paraphrase John Kerry, "we expected him to fuck it up."

Posted by: EthanJ on January 17, 2007 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

The result of that debate likely would have been "only for clear and compelling reasons facing imminent danger", and this Iraq War never would have happened, inspectors would have finished their jobs, we would have greatly increased our intelligence assets in Iraq during the inspections (with war threats forcing Saddam to the table), and there would be a lot less dead Americans, and at least 100,000 less dead Iraqis.

Oh, and there would be little to no Al Qaeda presence in Iraq.

Posted by: Jimm on January 17, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

You can blame the flu, but it's hard to interpret "Why don't anti war voices get more respect? Because they don't deserve it" in a kindly way. You recapitulate that point here, but perhaps only under duress?

As to the substantive point: invading and occupying countries is in general a very poor idea. In almost every historical case, invasions have not worked out. People don't tend to accept it and you end up with some kind of guerilla war, which you either (Soviet Satellites) oppress through sheer brutality and cultural hegemony, or else it doesn't work out.

The WWII examples trotted out to Japan and Germany don't wash here. We didn't up and invade those people: they were led into war by a leadership that held the national identity together in defeat. While there were incidents of resistance in both countries, they weren't popular. The people more or less accepted that Hirohito and Hitler were wrong, and they themselves were wrong for following them, and they wanted to get on with peaceful life.

The fact that people seriously considered these to be analogous to the situation we'd be left with in Iraq is an object example of how unserious and blinded by fairytale notions of American power and exceptionalism many in our "leadership" class are.

Posted by: Outlandish Josh on January 17, 2007 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Also, considering Afghanistan and our campaign to bring the world together against terrorist extremists, an old remark says it best:

Bush bit off more than we can chew.

Posted by: Jimm on January 17, 2007 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

So, wrapping it all up, not only should we not have bit off Iraq, irrespective of our chewing capacity, in choosing to do so we were biting off more than we could chew.

Bush, Cheney, D Rumms and Wolfablitz sold that bite as a tenderloin, even absurdly a filet mignon, when in reality it was a really tough piece of meat, and we already had something in our mouth, so as a Texas man W should have known to throw that stuff in a slow-cooking cowboy chili and let it simmer for a long time, softening that meat up before taking a bite into it.

Posted by: Jimm on January 17, 2007 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Terry Jones (yes, that Monty Python guy) has a collection of essays (Terry Jones's War on the War on Terror) written contemporaneously with the unprovoked assault on the nation of Iraq in which he demolishes the notion of WMDs and the idea that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the UK and, by extension, the United States.

The classic one is where he works up to murdering most of his neighbors based on the same quality of evidence presented for the then pending slaughter of the Iraqi people.

In other words, the only thing "preempted" by this war was some television programming - in the interest of giving the liar-in-chief a platform to sell his war crimes.

Posted by: heavy on January 17, 2007 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

For your next misunderstood post, maybe you ought to do a thought experiment on this question:

If this occupation hadn't failed, would it have proved that preventative war was right and good?

Think the implications through. What kind of world would result if the United States, emboldened by success in Iraq, abandoned diplomacy and other non-military means, went on a preventative war spree against each and every country that it deemed a potential future threat?

Putting it another way: Do you worry that because we fucked up this instance of preventative war that we will be afraid to do it again?

Frankly, no one can ever know whether this war went bad because it was a preventative war. But maybe we ought to just let people think so because that will discourage us from doing it again.

We do know (see Digby) that it would never have even happened, much less gone bad, if it hadn't been preventative, because there was no other basis for going to war.

Posted by: bob on January 17, 2007 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

"Want to name some names? Presidential candidates, say, senators, governors?"

Some names have already been listed, both on this thread and on its predecessor. I'd throw Al Gore's name into the hat, certainly. Even Howard Dean's.

Posted by: PaulB on January 17, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

Again, it would be nice if we could clarify our terminology. Several commentators here have already tried to do so but others seem to be missing it. Preventive war and pre-emptive war are two different things. Pre-emptive war is internationally recognized and sanctioned; there's nothing wrong either legally or morally with launching an attack on someone to prevent the imminent attack they are about to launch on you. It's just anticipatory, and justified, self-defense. Preventive war is launching an attack on someone who at some future point MAY launch an attack on you. Preventive war is considered by many philosophers, political scientists, historians, and religious leaders to be immoral, and it is not recognized as a legal justification for war by international law.

Why is the distinction important? I can't say it any better than Rat does above:

Iraq is a very good example of how preventive wars, relative to preemptive wars, are much more likely to be based on false threats.

This is exactly the point. Preventive wars are waged for far less clear reasons than pre-emptive wars are, because the bar is set so low. There's so much room for error, because almost anyone can dream up any kind of quasi-convincing rationale for launching a war on someone who MIGHT attack you at a later point in time. As rat says, the low bar that permits a preventative war to be waged in the first place, permits bogus arguments about over-hyped and intangible threats. And while one is busy hyping reason for a war of dubious legality and morality, one is also probably underestimating the likely consequences of that war. So while yes one can argue that preventive wars are always wrong, there is also a relationship between preventive wars and the failure to anticipate the consequences of that war. The quagmire we're in now does not retroactively and automatically justify opposition to the war in Iraq as a preventive war, but had we waited until the threat was imminent, and our war thus pre-emptive, wouldn't that have altered our reasons for invading? Wouldn't we be invading not as part of some grand democratic experiment, but merely to defuse the threat to ourselves? And if we had waited until the threat to ourselves was the overwhelming rationale, would we be talking about a grand experiment in democracy? I hardly think so.

I guess what I'm saying is the atmosphere that permits the "doctrine" of preventive war to be bandied about (without the recognition that preventive war is illegal war) is an atmosphere that permits one to be blissfully unaware of the consequences of the war. This has nowhere been proven to be more true than in Iraq.

Posted by: Xanthippas on January 17, 2007 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

"I said in the earlier post that I didn't remember the precise arguments made by the most prominent war critics back in 2002, and that's just the simple truth. It would take a tremendous amount of work to try to research this question and summarize the main strands of thought fairly, and since I can't do that I figured it was better to just admit that I didn't remember and leave it at that."

That's a cop out that is too big to be worthy of this blog. You'd have to google about 3 blogs billmon.org, dailykos.com and stevegilliard.blogspot.com. That's a tremendous amount of work ? Its not as though they were making their points latin. I think you just don't want to go back and read it because its uncomfortable for you. You can't grow unless you get uncomfortable. At the moment if Iraq III came along in another guise you have nothing to stop you making the same mistakes of support all over again.

"However, I also made a specific comment about preventive war: namely that the failure in Iraq doesn't especially vindicate the argument that preventive war is almost always wrong. It is almost always wrong, and the fact that Iraq was a preventive war was a good reason to oppose it. But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive."

The fact that the war was preventitive meant it had NO LEGITIMACY, both within Iraq and within the international community. It is possible to have a legitimate preventetive war by getting a strong UN vote of endorsment. But that's about the only way. A country that starts a war without a widely accepted legitimate reason is automatically the bad guy. Its very hard to win support from anyone if you're seen as the bad guy. You can only win allies by changing that image or bribing people, and everyone who's not with you is against you because, well, you're the bad guy. That's the key problem with a preventetive war. In war legitimacy is everything. Why do you think Hitler had all the crappy countries in his coalition while the allies got countries on their side without even trying?

Let me explain directly how this relates directly to Iraq. Iraq has three problems.
1) Not enough Iraqi's willing to work with the Americans.
2) Insufficient troops to do the job at all.
3) Incompetence in Washington.

The lack of legitimacy within Iraq makes a political solution impossible. It makes anybody who works with the Americans is a traitor. If the Americans were seen as legitimate it would be possible to work with them and not be a traitor. No legitimacy --> no Iraqi support --> no working political process.

The lack of legitimacy in the international community led to America doing Iraq on its own. This meant:

a) There were not enough troops. No matter how you slice it you needed 400,000 troops. America does not have that many. The only way it could be done was with lots of serious allies. No legitimacy --> few serious allies --> too few troops.

b) Washington had to make all the decisions on its own. If there were 200,000 troops in Iraq from countries besides the US with long experience in insurgency or guerilla war you can bet there would have been have been hundreds of voices with a lot of weight ready to tell Bush when his neocons came up with a stupid idea. And Bush would have had to listen because when the president of France and the prime minister of the UK ring up and tell you that firing the Iraqi army is stupid you have to listen. You can't shut them up by moving them to another department, and you can't prevent them talking to the press themeselves. They have a stake in getting decisions right and the leverage in the form of troops on the ground to be heard. No legitimacy --> few serious allies --> no checks on Washington stupidity.

Kevin, this is not really all that complicated. Its not as though these ideas are limited to the anti-war left. It is implicit in the Powell doctrine's emphasis on allies and has been the staple of Washington thinking for a long time. Its bread and butter even to the James Baker type realists in the Republican party. A bigger question is why don't you get this ?

Posted by: still working it out on January 17, 2007 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Reviewing my emails from 2002 and 2003:

1. Likely to become a geo-political disaster for the US, because of

A. Unintended consequences rippling throughout middle east

B. Lack of international legitimacy

C. Lack of real multi-lateral support.

2. Unconvinced by WMD and 9-11 link.

I vividly remember watching Powell's speech to the UN, looking at his photographs of purported mobile weapon labs, and asking myself how any idiot could look at that picture and conclude it was a mobile weapon lab. Maybe it's obvious to the experts, but as a layperson, I found it completely underwhelming. I also found Hans Blick's and David Kay's testimony to be persuasive - they were the two foremost experts, and the two people least likely to have a political agenda in the matter of war.

3. The Historian's perspective

There's simply nothing in the history of the Iraqi nation or the modern middle east that suggested that the purported transformative power of democracy, brought in at the barrel of a gun, would inspire them to great us with chocolates and roses. Civil and religious warfare was always the most likely outcome, barring a massive, massive invasion force. Any competent historian could have told you that.

Posted by: Transmission on January 17, 2007 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

Seems obvious that the UN was NOT going to back the invasion of Iraq because there were no grounds for invading Iraq. The argument that there should be no invasion without UN support was an argument against invading a country (actually, overthrowing its government) without cause.

This is directly relevant to the disastrous occupation. Had the UN backed the invasion (i.e. if there had been cause for invading), there would have been international support for restoring the sovereign republic of Iraq. It's hard to believe that things would have deteriorated as badly if the whole world was involved in post-war Iraq.

Posted by: smintheus on January 17, 2007 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

Because we were attacked on 9/11 by the growing threat of Al Qaeda and all resources should have been focused on capturing Osama Bin Laden and demolishing Al Qaeda.

A preemptive attack and invasion of a nation which had nothing to do with the attack upon our country seemed as logical as attacking Mexico after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Maybe preventive war can be good, but it is almost always the reason given by those who don't have a basis for war yet desire one for political purposes.

Posted by: Ben on January 17, 2007 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, do you secretly believe that anyone who was anti-war (in the sense of being against all wars) doesn't deserve respect for getting the analysis right on Iraq? If so, please be honest about it.

Because I think that's the reason most liberal hawks can't come to grips with this issue. They are just astounded that a bunch of patchouli-drenched slackers who don't even wear leather could have gotten it right and they, worldly, centrist types that they are, could have been wrong. "Hey," cry the liberal hawks, "That guy's just against war, period. He didn't analyze the questions, he just got lucky."

Which, as I pointed out before, is like saying that Noah didn't deserve to survive the flood because he had inside information.

Posted by: erica on January 17, 2007 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

The US went to war because Bush and Cheyney (and their ilk) WANTED it. Period. The use of words like "preventive" or "pre-emptive" had the sole purpose of selling it to the rubes, many of whom
scarfed it up with gusto.

Preventive or pre-emptive wars aren't.

Posted by: dcnataro on January 17, 2007 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: But the specific quagmire that we find ourselves in now has very little to do with the fact that the Iraq war was preventive

Isn't our biggest problem that we have few allies, and isn't that because the war was preventive?

Posted by: calibantwo on January 17, 2007 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

I opposed the war from the beginning because it was immoral to attack a country that had never done anything to us. Even if Saddam had had WMDs, he never would have used them against us because we would have retaliated massively. There never was any threat, in other words, whether Saddam had WMDs or not. Zip! Nada! It was all fear and bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit from the get-go. I never could comprehend why you didn't see it like that originally.

And now we have to face the fact that hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died as a result. The war was WRONG, period. And it's still going on...

Posted by: John H. Farr on January 17, 2007 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

I just don't agree that Iraq was a preventive war. That was just one of the many justifications floated, and they were all fake, as was proven by their interchangeability. Some other fake reasons floated were that it was to bring democracy to Iraq, or to end human rights abuses by Saddam.

Having said that, if you persist in considering this a preventive war, which was supposed to lessen the threat a future attack, then the result definitely bolsters the view that preventive war doesn't work. The level of danger to the United States is much higher now after the invasion; Al Qaeda's recruitment has benefited; the Middle East is destabilitzed as Sunni and Shiite tensions increasingly become inflamed; Iraqis hate us more than ever; and we are much less liked and trusted by the world. And our own moral wellbeing as a culture has been damaged.

Posted by: DanM on January 17, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'm afraid that Kevin has missed the point (someone may have already pointed this out, haven't read all the posts): the resulting quagmire is based solely on the fact that the war was "preventive".
Had we actually been forced into fighting, as in WWII or Korea, the administration would not have been able to tell everyone "don't worry, we'll take care of everything". EVERYONE would have been involved. There would have been House and Senate Committees on the war; the Joint Chiefs would have been in charge of preparing the forces, people would be expecting and willing to make sacrifices (rationing?, draft?)
That was just what Bush didn't want. He thought it would be a cheap, easy victory(ask Wilhelm II). And because his managerial style is "my way or the highway"; he avoided those who tried to warn him (Powell, Shinseski) and listened to yes-men/women and tales of rose petals and Iraqis thirsting to be democratic.
Since the preventive war didn't require vast mobilizations of people and goods ("you go to war with the army you have"), no effort was made to truthfully explain what we were doing and why. Any effort to do so would have destroyed the rationale for the war. It also prevented any well-wishers from offering valid criticsms that could be taken into account when war/peace plans were drawn up.
Since the war wasn't necessary, and to prevent any unwanted scrutiny, it was sold to US citizens as something that would be over in a month or two with the defeat of Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein WAS defeated.
By choosing to go to war, however, we've lost over 3000 military dead, billions in taxes, probably 100,000's of Iraqi civilians dead, the respect of the civilized world, and quite probably Afghanistan as well.
And Osama bin Laden is still free.

Posted by: Doug Stamate on January 17, 2007 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum is a smart guy, and it's thus highly unusual and rather interesting to see such a large number of the posters in comments getting this point so much more accurately and clearly than he does. Xanthippas, citing Rat, is as succinct as can be. There is a scale of uncertainty involved in calculating threats. Someone who has already attacked you is definitely a threat. Someone who is massing armies on your border may be a threat (though the threat may be based on their perception of the threat you pose, and may be amenable to negotiation rather than a first strike -- see World War I, the Cold War, etc.). Someone who may or may not be developing weapons that might be used to strike you is near the fuzziest end of that scale of uncertainty. It's hard to imagine a case in which a preventive war could be based on a certain threat. And where the threat is extremely uncertain, it is outweighed by the certain death and destruction which a war will cause, and by the huge downside risk of unanticipated negative fallout from the war, or simply of defeat.

Furthermore, in war as in any large public political effort, one must reckon with public opinion -- one's own country's, and the world's. (One forgets that in 2003 we were still engaged in a war for the world's hearts and minds, as part of the struggle against terrorism -- and that the Iraq war in and of itself lost that war, once and for all.) Because preventive war is based on uncertainties, it can never garner the unanimity of public opinion that defensive, reactive war does. Just look at the divergent reactions to Israel's 1967 war in the Western and Arab worlds: it's seen as pre-emptive and legitimate in the West, but as an aggressive war of conquest in the Arab world, because we disagree on whether or not the Arab countries were threatening Israel in June 1967. And that was Israel. The case is immeasurably harder for a country like the US, which faces no existential threats. It's instructive to see how even in Israel, which has about the best case for preventive war likely to be developed by any country in the world (in the sense of facing real and intractable threats from its enemies), the argument for preventive war has really just warped into a twisted justification for colonial domination. It is hard to imagine any country ever developing a case that would really legitimate a preventive war. India had a much better case for a preemptive strike on Pakistan's nuclear facilities in 1998 than we had in Iraq or have in Iran; needless to say, the horrific war that would have resulted would have been vastly worse than any of the consequences of letting Pakistan get the bomb have turned out to be.

Posted by: brooksfoe on January 17, 2007 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

I don't understand the question. If Saddam really had WMD, it would have been worse.

Isn't that why we never went to war with the USSR?

War is a stupid way to prevent war. A good way would be not to piss people off enough that they want to attack you.

Posted by: Avedon on January 17, 2007 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

No, it would not have gone better. The decision to engage in preemptive war was a clear outgrowth and symptom of the administration's blinkered arogance and bone-deep ineptitude. A mind which saw preemptive war as a way to cure what supposedly ailed the middle east is a mind incapable of carrying out such an enormously complex and challenging undertaking as invading - and then running- Iraq. This was evident to anyone who cared to think about it at the time.

By pressing ahead with its plan, regardless of the wishes of a large percentage of the American people, and in the face of furious opposition from the rest of the world, doomed us to fighting essentially alone and without any credance or moral standing to prop us up when things went south.

Say what you will about Bush Sr., he grasped the importance of garnering approval from the wider world before going after Sadam.

A preemptive war will always begin under a cloud of skepticism. Preemptive war will always be suspect. It's a violent, uncontrollable response to a perceived FUTURE danger. It's really just building a war on a foundation of sand.

Posted by: Peter on January 17, 2007 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, with all due respect, the very notion of "preventive war" is nothing more than a fig leaf for those wishing to put lipstick on the grotesque pig that is Chosen War of Aggression. Nothing will ever change that for one simple reason: the entire premise of preventive war depends on one having near perfect knowledge of a situation to be anything resembling ethical, much less moral or legal.

Without possessing genuine, irrefutable evidence of intent to attack, any argument for preventive warfare is just bullshit. You can't justify mass murder (which is what war is, no matter how you slice it) on the basis of lies, rumors or hyperbole and expect to be viewed as anything less than a war criminal in the ensuing period. Sorry, but after the "spin" the Nazis and Japanese provided the world to justify their last wars, no one on this planet is ever going to buy into the argument for preventive war again. Remember that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was an effort at preventive warfare.

What you and a lot of other "reasonable" people fell for is exactly what the German people fell for in 1939. It's the same crap people fell for in 1914 and countless other times as well.

You bought into the idea that it's better to kill a few thousand people up front and prevent the next Pearl Harbor than it is to "wait for it to happen." What you didn't bargain for is a half million dead civilians. You didn't bargain for it because you didn't bother to think about it. You didn't bother to think about because you (along with a few million other well meaning people) didn't bother to consider what invading another country actually entails. You bought into the anti-septic notion of precision bombing and other canards intended to make mass murder more acceptable to "reasonable" Americans.

You also didn't bother to consider, and apparently still seem reluctant to accept, that this war of choice is and always has been about colonial interests and had absolutely nothing to do with American National Security. If you had, you would have fallen in with the DFHs (Dirty Fuckiing Hippies, as apparently we all are now) and wouldn't be trying to rationalize all this shit away.

Preventive war is a canard of truly diabolical proportions. Oh how I wish those who rule us would start to get that notion!

In all my years, I've yet to hear a real argument that can make the case for preventive or preemptive warfare that doesn't immediately fall into the category of an Unjust War. You can use your "ticking time bomb" scenarios until the cows come home, but it won't mean anything if it doesn't actually occur.

Think about it. If we had attacked Japan before they attacked us, who would have been viewed as the aggressor there? Of course we would have been viewed as the bad guys there, even if our knowledge of Japanese intentions was PERFECT!

I've been suggesting for some time that one of the least discussed aspects of strategic success in war is ACTUALLY BEING RIGHT in that struggle. Well, you can't be right if you're the one starting the slaughter, can you?

We can't be the aggressors and be right at the same time. No one will buy it. No one except gullible Americans with no real memories or concept of what total war is really like.

That means we can't be the ones to throw the first punch if we wish to be viewed as righteous in our actions. We have to be willing to absorb some pain in order to take the appropriate actions agains the appropriate enemies. We can't just go around slaughtering people willy nilly and expect to be supported in the court of global public opinion. If you think about it for a moment, that's as it should be, isn't it?

So, preventive war will always be a strategic disaster, no matter how correct it could possibly be in practice (not that it really could in practical terms). And in the case of Iraq, it was always wrong and will always be wrong. That sorry bastard Hussein never was in with AQ. He didn't possess WMD, thus he couldn't threaten us, much less his neighbors. There was no threat.

Our invasion of Iraq was based on lies, so there was nothing to prevent, now was there?

Nothing will ever change that. Everything else is just desperate rationalization.

Posted by: Emocrat on January 17, 2007 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

Damn, Kevin, I'm very disappointed that you continue, after all these years, to accept the Bush framing of the arguments in advance of the Iraq war. I simply don't respect you intellectually or morally for this continuing, painful flaw in your viewpoint here.

The Iraq war was not a preventive war.

In advance of this war, many of us hit the streets understanding what was before us. All those months of war selling that everyone in the Administration had put forward, finally capped by Powell's dutiful trip to the U.N., and still, many of us saw that this war was unjustified, illegal, immoral, and would not end well, nor get us to Bush's stated goals.

The discoveries we've made since March 2003 have made the argument that this was a preventive war weaker, not stronger. The opinions, and the votes, of the American public now strongly reflect this.

Kevin- in this post, you give us a bunch of points, but why do you maintain this myopia on the last point?

That point is the most important one.

Posted by: centerfielddj on January 17, 2007 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

Think of the Iraq War and Social Security together. What? What's the connection?

1) Addressing both were top priorities of the incoming Bush/neo-con administration in 2001.

2) The Iraq War presumably can be traced back to the first Gulf War...which the neo-cons believed was a failure because Saddam Hussein was left in power (and still not allowing U.S. access to Iraqi oil exploration and production), but at the same time, the oil men in the White House were projecting forward 40 to 50 years when worldwide oil supplies supposedly will be rapidly depleting.

3) With a huge surplus now, the Social Security fund doesn't face any immediate emergency, but 40 to 50 years from now, once the surplus is depleted and the SS fund principal begins to be tapped into, then SS revenue collection will not be able to keep up with SS outlays, thus leading to a decrease in SS payments to retirees by 15 to 20 percent.

4) In other words, the incoming neo-cons in 2001 had an agenda, and in at least two instances, Iraq and Social Security, they created an emergency where no immediate emergency existed. But, then again, the neo-cons are extremists, and liars, and power-mad money-grabbers.

5) Thus, the neo-cons two responses:

Concerning Iraq, they lie America into invading a country for the sole purpose of Bush and Blair seizing control of the Iraqi oil NOW for the neo-con oil companies in the U.S. and Britain. Any sensible person with any foresight would have addressed the potential oil shortages to come in 40 to 50 years by working on alternative energy sources and weaning the West off Middle Eastern oil. Instead, the extremist neo-cons launch a multi-trillion dollar attack on Middle East countries today that actually weakens our hand 40 to 50 years from now.

Regarding Social Security, the neo-cons essentially want to dismantle this Depression Era program and replace it with a K Street middle-man, for-profit scheme which would destroy the solvency of Social Security, leaving millions of our nation's elderly in the future distraught and destitute. On the other hand, a sane, compassionate person would make sure that a slight amount of additional money would go into the SS fund today to help shore up any SS shortfalls projected for 40 to 50 years from now. (P.S. By Congress raising the minimum wage, additional payroll taxes will be collected which will pump up Social Security and help delay any shortfalls projected in SS for the future. This is why Bush must veto any minimum wage increase bill).

So, you see, two programs (oil and Social Security) that could have been addressed sensibly by establishing stages of improvement over the next 40 to 50 years had to be "taken care of" immediately by the incoming neo-cons in 2001. Luckily, even some Republicans balked at destroying Social Security, but they still went along with the neo-con scheme for transforming the oil equation in the Middle East...with invading Iraq (and controlling it's oil) being the first part of the neo-con plan.

Heaven help us if Democrats (and some of the more sensible Republicans) let the neo-con nuts try to "solve" anymore of our nation's and the world's problems. The cost to all of our children will be astronomical (if it isn't already).

Posted by: The Oracle on January 18, 2007 at 1:30 AM | PERMALINK

Rereading this thread, I am struck by how excellent the commentary is. Really impressive. Significantly better than 95% of the published pundits out there. Really.

Now that TIME has declared YOU the man of the year, perhaps we could have YOU run for POTUS in 2008?

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 18, 2007 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

The Iraq War has been a just about perfect example of how people only see what they are prepared to see. A person prepared to see Iraq as a threat will, in turn, be prepared to see evidence of WMD in grainy reconnaisance photos and flawed, even faked intelligence. They're prepared to see in Chalabi a popular freedom fighter.

Truly, the Iraq war is an object lesson in how most people most of the time are unable to overcome their cognitive filters, are unable to see the world as it is, as compared to how they believe it should be. It's a lesson in how most people, most of the time, will go to great analytical contortions in order to avoid dealing with complexity: after all, simplicity is so much easier and more reassuring. It was a failure in the reasoning skills of a majority of the population, and frankly, it's not particularly surprising. Psychological studies have regularly and repeatedly established that most adults simply do not have the cognitive capacity or personal interest to handle nuance and conflicting or contradiction information. It is that failure that brought us into a war that should have been a patently obvious bad idea, and it is that failure of human reasoning that will continue to compel us towards ideas that should be patently stupid.

Posted by: Transmission on January 18, 2007 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin - It seems to me the question you're seeking to ask is:
"Putting its' spurious justifications & status as a 'preventitve war' aside, was the invasion & occupation of Iraq necessarily doomed to become a quagmire?"

The answer is, of course, yes. The reasons for that were well understood & wisely articulated by the 1st Bush, Scowcroft, Baker, Clinton, Albright & most capable minds that had considered the question.

Quite simply, Iraq was since its' inception an artificial, post-colonial construct like Yugoslavia, held together, securely, at gunpoint by a tyrannical thuggish regime. Remove the thug & his regime & the country would almost certainly descend, like Yugoslavia before it, into a bloodbath of ancient sectarian hatreds, revenge killings, tribal purges, ethnic cleansings, unchecked criminality etc. The only way to prevent that descent was to have either an invasion force of commensurate & massive size (500,000+) to occupy & peacekeep, or to have the primary push towards tyrant-removal/ democratization, originate within the country. Successful, post-colonial Filipino & Indonesian democracy (after comparable decades of brutal tyranny) show how bloodless & swift democratization can be when the impetus for change is internal. Indonesia's democratization as the world's largest Islamic state (with an ethnically diverse pop of 180 million) is particularly instructive since it emerged bloodlessly & precisely as Iraq was becoming a quagmire. Like Iraq it was also a relatively pluralistic, secular & moderate Islamic state. Like Iraq, it has vast oil reserves, potentially secessionist states, ancient ethnic rivalries etc. However, despite being almost 10 times as populous, it has in less than 5 years, become the world's largest & most successful new democracy - & a moderate, pluralistic Islamic one at that - without an invasion, occupation, bloodbath or quagmire.

So yes, Kevin, even apart from the fact that it was an illegal, unjustified, preventative war based on lies & bad intelligence, Iraq was doomed to become a quagmire because the occupation/peacekeeping force deployed was too small, the planning for the occupation ill-conceived to non-existent & the primary impetus for democratisation wasn't internal. As such, the reverse domino theory justification, the "beacon of Middle East democratization" hype that you, Tom Friedman & other credulous liberals fell for, was ALWAYS as implausible, ahistorical & real-politic irrational as the verifiably nonsensical claims about WMDs & al Qeda links.

And frankly, all of you that served as invasion enablers should apologise - not to the millions who warned you it was wrong - but to the tens-of-thousands of American & millions of Iraqi families that have been destroyed by your complicity. You should stop looking for "right-for-the-wrong-reason/wrong for the right reason" justifications for your unconscionable support & start thinking of ways you can repay all those who foot the bill for your credulity.

Posted by: DanJoaquinOz on January 18, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

The Iraq war was never a "preventive" war (or "preemptive" war). That was just one of the lies the administration used to get it going. It was supposedly going to prevent Saddam from helping Islamic terrorists attack us sometime. There was never any basis for believing Saddam was allied with al Qaeda or other Islamic terrorists and Bush, Cheney, et al., just made up that allegation, as was obvious at that time they did so. In other words, calling it "preventive" was only an excuse for attacking a county without any purpose. Surely the lack of any good purpose for this war is a large part of why it has been a fiasco.

Posted by: Steve on January 18, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't go so far as to say I would "never" support a preventative war, but the bar to be met for such an event is extremely high - even higher than most wars, and I think that the bar to go to war should be set extremely high as it is.

Wars are extremely unpredictable events - much more so than people realize. That is why a country should only go to war only when it is positive that its most vital interests are threatened. In the twentieth century there were a lot of wars where the Conventional Wisdom beforehand considered the outcome to be a slam dunk - only to see the underdog trounce the favored party. The entire world was shocked when tiny Finland gave the Soviet Union a black eye and a bloody nose in the Winter War of 1939-1940. Then, to the world's surprise, the same Soviet army that looked so inept against Finland went on to defeat Nazi Germany. No one thought that Israel could defeat the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in only six days in 1967. And everyone was surprised that the same Arabs that were so badly humiliated by Israel in 1967 came close to defeating Israel only six years later in the Yom Kipur war. And let's don't forget - North Vietnam, a tiny Third-World country of only 25 million people defeated our country when we were at the heighth of our power. The unpredictability of war should not be underestimated and is a good reason in itself to avoid going to war unless it is absolutely necessary.

I was not convinced that Bush had made the case that a war against Iraq was necessary. I was also concerned that we were underestimating our potential risks, perhaps influenced by our easy victory in Desert Storm. Like Israel in 1973, we let our earlier victory lull us into complacency.

There were no WMDs in Irag. Now we are stuck in Iraq and may well lose this war, with considerable loss in prestige, money, and blood. Like other opponents of the war I saw these issues and risks beforehand. Is it so hard to understand now why people like me were against the war?

Posted by: Cathexis on January 18, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

The best answer to the idea that this was a preventitive war is the obvious question: what was the USA seeking to prevent by invading and occupying Iraq?
And...since extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence or proof, where was this extraordinary evidence or proof that we had to wage a "preventitive war"?
I never heard compelling answers to either of these two questions at the time. Instead I heard a lot of preremptory responses along the line of "STFU you terrorist-loving cowards".
Kevin, you are still disobeying the first law of holes. Stop digging, come out and utter a mea culpa. You were wrong, and you would be doing your profession a great service if you just admitted as much, instead of hemming and hawing and looking for semantic solace. Admitting to error would immediately differentiate you from the majority of war supporters, who still seem unable to accept that they were wrong and show some humility.

Posted by: Graham Shevlin on January 19, 2007 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK



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