hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Friday, November 12, 2004
comment on Winds of Change:

Late to the party, I see. Well, call it the rope-a-dope school of blog commenting;)

In my opinion, there were two separate cases for war, the national security case for war (we have to remove Saddam & occupy & reconstruct Iraq because it will make America safer) and the humanitarian case for war (we have to remove Saddam and occupy and reconstruct Iraq because the Iraqi people will be better off, at least in the long run).

The national security argument for war was, and is, to me, bogus. I am not impressed by talk of leakages, and all the things Saddam could have done, if the US had somehow abandoned sanctions and left Saddam blissfully unhindered. We had a US military response to Saddam throwing out the inspectors in 1998, conducted by Gen Zinni, and it seems to have been pretty damned effective. My judgement was that Saddam was weak and getting weaker, not stronger. For gods sake, we had soldiers roaming around Iraq, recruiting Iraqis, with a fair amount of success, months before war was declared. If Saddam had any military capability at all, he would have at least been aware of this, but he wasn't. My judgement was that Saddam had next to nothing in nuclear, next to nothing in biological weapons, and probably some residual chemical weapon capability, but not the ability to use or deploy them effectively. Charles Duelfer is the adminstration's man, and I think we will find if Kerry gets in that his report exaggerated Saddam's potential ability to deploy chemical weapons. As for Robin Burk's argument that patrolling the no-fly zones was stressing the Air Force, it seems preposterous to me, in view of the burden of a 100,000 soldier occupation, and all the flying the Air Force must have to do in support of those soldiers. But I have no real knowledge in that area, and Burk obviously does.

Now the humanitarian case for war was not bogus, though I think the "sanctions are causing Iraqi deaths" argument is wrong. I am somewhat skeptical of the "excess deaths compared to normal times" argument, and very skeptical about attributing excess deaths to sanctions, as opposed to war with Iran, war with Kuwait, and Saddam's misrule in general. In any case, if the sanctions were causing misery, the simplest and most direct way to remedy that suffering would have been to directly ship the medicines, food, etc. to Iraqi hospitals, and to crack down on corruption in the UN programs. If cracking down on UN corruption is an impossibly difficult and complex task, well then what about nation-building? In other words, "sanctions killing Iraqis" is not a reason for war, it's a justification for war. And I am skeptical that the war in Iraq has decreased the number of "excess deaths compared to normal times" in Iraq, now or in the near future.

Nation-building in Iraq and constructing an Iraqi democracy is an indisputably noble endeavor, and in hindsight I think that the Clinton administration can be strongly criticized for not talking or doing enough about the suffering of the Iraqi people under Saddam, especially if Saddam was as weak as I say he was. (In that vein, its very heartening to me that Kerry said that the human rights of the North Korean people would be an issue in his negotiations with Kim Jong-Il) But we should have been clear about what we are doing and why, and if our primary purpose for this war was the long-term well-being of the Iraqi people, we should have gone about in pursuing regime change in a different way. Above all, we should not have shattered our credibility by falsely asserting Iraq was a national security threat to the US, and we should have held elections as soon as possible, (May or August 2003?) as Jay Garner and Sistani and Juan Cole wanted to do, and tried to deal with legitimate Iraqi leaders trusted by the Iraqi people, instead of trying to install leaders that we liked, or thought we liked.

Lastly, I'll just mention that Salam Pax around May 2003 was getting a lot of questions "Was the Iraq war the right thing to do?". His slightly exasperated response was basically "What fool cares? Maybe once upon a time we might had a nice chat about what the alternatives were, but its a moot point". That's basically right, but since you asked. . .

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