Karl Gallagher (selenite) wrote,
Karl Gallagher

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Reply to Ian

After my “Let's get serious” post below, iclysdale wrote me asking some questions about the war. I’ve interspersed my answers with his email.

> OK, in that case, I've got a question for you, since you've always
> struck me as a fairly intelligent person, and I've
> actually yet to hear
> what I consider a well-thought-out response to this.

Fair enough. Most of the debate I’ve seen has foundered on the participants having different axioms, so I’ll try to spell out my assumptions.

> Taking as given that:
> - terrorist attacks (ie. attacks on civilian
> infrastructure, rather than
> combat between militaries) are a crime against humanity,
> and must be prevented and punished

First point of dispute. “Terrorism” to me means attacking civilians. Blowing up infrastructure is sabotage. And both are acts of war, not crimes.
> - the CIA has been completely unable to show any meaningful links
> whatsoever between al-Qaeda and Iraq, beyond the fact that
> they're both Arabs and they both hate the US, and that at some point
> Iraq might have funneled some money to al-Qaeda

Funneling money is a meaningful link, and Iraq has extensively supported other terrorist groups. The rest is debatable but I’ll stipulate that there’s no links between Iraq and Al Qaeda for this discussion.
> - terrorist attacks are, inherently, something that can be done on
> relatively close to a shoestring budget, without the
> support of much of a nation

Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations raise a lot of money to support their attacks. They also need training sites and safe houses. All of these are easier to get in nations that favor or tolerate the terrorists, as opposed to ones that track and capture them.
> How does an attack, especially a unilateral attack, on
> Iraq do anything other than:

USA, Britain, Australia, Kuwait, Turkey, Czech Republic, Oman, and more are unilateral? Looks pretty multilateral to me.
> - increase hatred and resentment of the West throughout
> the Arab World

The West is hated because it offers a more attractive life than sitting in your peasant village only reading one book in your entire life. The Islamic fundamentalists see themselves being outcompeted by a more dynamic culture, and hate us for destroying their culture. To keep their children on the “right and proper” path they have to destroy the temptations leading them away. Namely, us.

So invading or not invading Iraq doesn’t affect this. What it does affect is the image of Western weakness described in Al Qaeda’s recruiting pitches. They show the defeat in Somalia and ineffective responses to other attacks as proof that American can be easily defeated and recruits can look forward to participating in glorious victories. Afghanistan put a dent in that. Occupying Iraq will shatter it. And then fewer young men will sign up to be suicide bombers.
> - add to the incredible pain and suffering that the Iraqi
> population has suffered
> - further damage any resilience of civil society in Iraq
> - destroying another nation's complete civilian infrastructure

The occupation of Iraq will cause fewer deaths and far less suffering than one year of Saddam’s reign. Currently civil society is almost nonexistent, suppressed by the security requirements of a paranoid dictator. After one year of occupation the civilian infrastructure and society will be in better shape than it is now.

If you’re expecting the US Army to take Iraq the way the Red Army took Berlin, you have not been paying attention to how we do business.
> - INCREASE the risk that if (as I wouldn't be surprised
> either way) Iraq has prohibited weapons, that they WILL use them,
> given that the military leadership won't have much to lose at
> that point

Better they be used on their soil than our soil, and at a time of our choosing rather than theirs. The goal is to put an end to the long-term risk. If that means incurring short-term risks, so be it.
> I don't think that . . . becoming the bully of the world is
> going to DECREASE the chances of people taking vengeance-based
> attacks out on us.

Will conquering Iraq produce more vengeance attacks? Possibly, because the increase is from a base of zero. Not likely, because the Iraqis are going to be thrilled to get rid of Saddam, and his fan club will mostly be in jail or executed for their various crimes against the Iraqi people.

What this will do is reduce the attacks motivated by the desire to restore Islamic preeminence over the world and eliminate competing cultures, by convincing potential attackers that they won’t succeed.
> The UN estimates that 1.5 million people have died DUE TO
> SANCTIONS since the end of the gulf war. . . .
> Of those, 500,000 were children.

So if the USA had deposed Saddam and cleaned out his WMD stockpile in 1991, those people would have lived? A very good argument that this offensive is overdue and shouldn’t be postponed any longer.
> Americans are rightly scared and angry about the terror
> that happened when some angry lunatics dropped a plane onto New
> York and killed 5000 people. But doing EXACTLY THE SAME KIND
> OF THING in response merely makes their behaviour EQUALLY

Okay, let me get this straight. You’re saying that intentionally killing thousands of civilians is EXACTLY THE SAME as destroying military targets and enemy leaders? If so, our moral principles are in direct conflict.

Or are you expecting the US military to intentionally kill Iraqi civilians? If so, you ignore our stated intentions, standing doctrine, and the history of our actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Not to mention slandering all members of the US armed forces, including me.
> These acts were performed by INDIVIDUALS - that is the essence of
> terrorism. Taking it out on broad civilian populations violates
> the Geneva Convention, and only encourages the growth of
> terrorism.

The essence of terrorism is choosing civilians as targets, and it can be done by individuals or governments.

As for the Geneva Convention—have you ever read it? I’m a military officer, it’s my duty to understand it. Keep in mind that the people writing that included the lawyers of the US and Soviet Union. The agreements it built on were written by a group including representatives of the Kaiser and the Czar.

http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/92.htm Note article 28. What that means in practice is that if someone puts an anti-aircraft gun on top of a hospital or orphanage or mosque, it’s now a military target. Not pleasant, but part of war. The US military has often avoided such legal targets in order to avoid inflicting noncombatant casualties, resulting in greater US casualties.

If you think the US military is going to target civilians, you’re wrong.

> It is precisely at the levels where *democratic* change might
> happen that it has been ignored and suppressed. The only support
> for opposition groups in Iraq has been primarily targeted at
> armed insurrections, like the Kurds, suggesting that if you want
> any help from the outside world, you'd better pick up
> weapons. The mass population is trying desperately to
> survive, and a population desperately trying to survive needs
> an awfully big catalyst to try to change things politically.

We should support *democratic* change in Iraq. Uh-huh. Hmmm. May I suggest you read:
http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2002/05/bowden.htm Skip down to “Qaswah” and read from there if you don’t want to read the whole thing. Anyone attempting to make a democratic change in Iraq would quickly wind up dead. Along with his family, and any friends and coworkers who didn’t denounce him quickly enough. Encouraging people to commit suicide like that is a bad policy.

Nonviolent democratic change can only happen in places that already have freedom of speech.
> Anyways. Enough of ranting.
I hope I answered your questions.

To put all this in perspective:

What changed on 9/11 was our view on how much risk we can tolerate. For the past decade we’d known that various maniacs wanted to kill us, and dictators were collecting weapons to support their aggression. But we assumed that the haters were too incompetent to be dangerous, and dictators were too cautious. We were proven wrong. Now we have to take those threats seriously, and act on them before we’re attacked again. Saddam has too much of a track record of aggression to be ignored, and too much potential for damage to be contained (not to mention we need those troops elsewhere). So he goes. And we’re going to remove other threats where we can (NK, alas, is protected by China).

What are we after? What Bush told the UN: “If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world. These nations can show by their example that honest government, and respect for women, and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond.” Bringing freedom to the world one dictator at a time, because no one is safe while dictators are breeding fanatics.

Tags: iraq, war
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