Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Argument Against War

Argh.  I don’t necessarily think that I’m smarter than other people (though it’s quite possible), but I’ve got a great imagination as well as a fear of underestimating the worst case scenario.  Perhaps it was my Cub Scout training to Be Prepared, I don’t know, but when it comes to dreaming-up bad outcomes, I don’t screw around.

I say that after reading this from Eric Alterman:
The Bush/Cheney war in Iraq has proven to be even more catastrophic than those who had the good sense to oppose it could have predicted.

I’m hoping that he was just being hyperbolic, because I thought things could have been far worse than they were.  I also thought they could have been much better.  In fact, I didn’t really have a “prediction” as much as a wide, wide range of possible outcomes; and many of them were far worse than any threat Iraq realistically posed.

And that’s why I opposed the war, because it was much too unpredictable and we couldn’t know where we’d end up after it was over.  I wasn’t blogging back then and only wrote about it on the now defunct Yahoo messageboards (which is where I honed my rhetoric before it was blog-ready); so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  But I’m telling you now the same stuff I was writing back then…and being dismissed as a whackjob traitor by all the nutjobs who are still trying to justify the crap they were told to believe back then.

Possible Outcomes

Let’s see the bad side.  First off, say Saddam really did have WMD’s that he’d suddenly need to dump quickly.  He could have snuck them over to Syria and given them to terrorists, who would then bring them to America and cause all kinds of mass destruction, death, and mayhem.  And that’s based on all the same assumptions the wingnuts were using at the time (which many are still clinging to); except they thought Saddam was already planning this.  But war would certainly have made that option far more likely, had it been possible.

Or heck, they could have just toted a nuke over to Kuwait and detonated it in the middle of one of our big bases; killing large numbers of soldiers (including our top brass there), as well as numerous contractors and Kuwaitis.  And what could we do about it?  Invade Iraq again?  That’s far, far worse than what happened, and was one of the many scenarios I wrote about.  

And let’s face it, if Saddam really was planning to harm America, then an invasion of Iraq would be a perfectly legitimate opportunity to do so.  And we couldn’t even complain about it, as we started it first.  And let’s not forget that it could have angered thousands of Muslims and other sympathetic people here in America to turn extremist and attack us.  The fact that these things didn’t happen really go far to demonstrate that the threats were probably overstated.

And there are all kinds of permutations along those lines that would also have been worse.  Like say if our soldiers’ actions during the invasion angered the OPEC nations enough to boycott us.  Or had Saddam actually had his men put up a real fight, things could have dragged on for a lot longer.  Or hell, even the civil war thing could have broken out a lot sooner, and been bloodier and more expensive for us.  And don’t even get me started on how much worse the Halliburtons could have ripped us off.  They can always do things worse.

Or conversely, what if things had turned out so well that we immediately took the neo-cons up on their offer to invade Syria, Iran, North Korea and a few others (China, perhaps); and then we found ourselves tied-down all over the globe with a massive, intractable war that really did threaten to ruin America forever?  That would also be far worse than the situation we’ve found ourselves in.  As things stand, the worst that has happened to us was to ruin our reputation and damage our wallets.  That’s a mere pittance compared with the suffering we could have faced.

And that’s why we shouldn’t have invaded.  Because war is always an extremely risky proposition with too many variables to properly calculate, and that’s why it should always be considered an option of absolute last resort.  Just ask Hitler, or all those dudes in WWI.  Or Saddam, whose dumb invasion of Iran was topped by his much dumber invasion of Kuwait.  Or just about any major war that’s ever been conducted.  Even Caesar had unexpected trouble with the Britons, and he was fricking Caesar.  There are no assurances in life, and war makes things that much shakier.

Osama, Iraq, & WMD

And I also warned liberals to take it easy in the prediction department.  For example, I wish that people would stop tying Bush’s fate to the capture of Bin Laden.  He will be dead someday, and then every conservative will rub every statement of “Bush can’t get Bin Laden” in our faces.  Even if Osama dies of old age or AIDS, they’ll attribute his death to Bush and be completely obnoxious about their supposed victory.  Sure, it’s easy for us to score points by referencing Bin Laden’s continued freedom, but it will work just as easily against us someday.  Time is against us on this one, and conservatives will be the likely winners.  The only way out is if his dead body is never recovered or if he ends-up taking over the world.  I’m fairly doubtful of that second alternative, but with a boob like Bush still in charge, anything’s possible.

Or take Iraq (please).  Iraq still might someday succeed as a healthy democracy.  And if it does, conservatives will attribute it entirely to Bush and his boneheaded policies, even if it was entirely in spite of his policies.  Too many liberals describe it as unwinnable, but why?  It IS winnable.  That’s not a likely scenario, but it’s certainly possible.  And so it’s just plain stupid and dangerous to insist that it can’t be won.  Because then we’ll look stupid if things turn out ok.  And seeing as how much of the political establishment already thinks of us as stupid losers, this won’t be doing us any favors.  

Same with WMD’s.  I didn’t know that Saddam didn’t have them.  I thought he probably would have something.  But that it just wasn’t worth it, and that we were being lied to about it.  But they could have turned up.  Hell, they still could turn up, assuming Saddam had some super-secret team of scientists and research that we haven’t found yet.  So we should stick with what we know (that Bush lied about what we knew); rather than base everything on unknowns.  Frankly, I can’t figure out why they didn’t just place WMD’s there and be done with it.  That’s what I always suspected would happen, so I was never basing anything on them not turning up.  I’m sure Cheney’s still upset that he didn’t use some of his personal WMD stash for the job; but perhaps he thinks he might still need them for a rainy day.  Like once the impeachment proceedings begin.

Because this isn’t about Osama, or Iraq, or WMD’s.  This is about risks and necessity.  And on all these issues, the risks are too great and the necessity nonexistent.  That’s what this is about.  Not the specific issues of people or places, but on the greater issues of war and security.

Outcomes v. Incomes

Overall, this wasn’t about how things turned out.  Hindsight is easy, but unless you’ve got a time machine or a working crystal ball, you don’t base judgments on hindsight.  You base them on foresight; on what you knew beforehand.  And what we knew beforehand was that this was a risky, unpredictable scheme that we should have avoided.  Not because it turned out badly, but because it could have and we just couldn’t know what would happen.  

Again, we should count ourselves damn lucky that things have turned out as well as they did.  That’s what I’ve been saying since the war began and what I’ll say for all future wars.  You don’t do them unless you need to, and we most certainly didn’t need to do this one.

So perhaps Eric Alterman sees all this as a really bad outcome, but I will continue to praise Allah (metaphorically speaking) that things have gone as successfully as they have.  I’m not dead.  America wasn’t attacked.  Saddam didn’t have nukes to give to terrorists.  We’re just in a really, really bad situation that’s embarrassing politically and more expensive than we can afford.  And there are a lot of worse things that can happen.

So all things considered, Bush’s war went relatively well.  Bush wasn’t a victim of a bad turn of events, and the unpredictability was entirely predictable.  He was a damn lucky man that history won’t hate as much as it should.  But our judgment shouldn’t be based on how badly things went, but on how much worse things could have been; and things could have gone a lot worse.  That’s how all decisions should be judged, and by that measure, Bush’s war was a disastrous decision.  It’s unfortunate that things had to go as badly as they did; but it was a bad decision even if things had gone perfectly.

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