Friday, March 21, 2008

Debating the Invasion of Iraq

Shell Casings Iraq

Glenn Greenwald, like many other disastrously implacable opponents of the war, can't get a grip on the current realities of progress in Iraq, and instead remains stuck in a pre-surge time-warp of denunciations against the evil Bush/Cheney regime.

Here's Greenwald taking down Anne-Marie Slaughter's criticism of war opponents' endless recriminations over the origins of the war:

This plea that we all just forget about the unpleasant past - stop trying to figure out who was responsible for the Iraq War - has become the principal self-defense weapon of the pro-war political establishment. That's their only hope for evading responsibility for what they've done. It's also the central hope on which the entire McCain campaign rests -- that we should just all forget about the painfully wrong and misleading things John McCain said and did in making himself into the prime cheerleader for the most disastrous and unpopular war in American history, and focus instead on how he (somehow) has the experience and judgment to lead us to glorious Victory.

But why would we, and why should we, just ignore the question of who spawned this disaster? In trying to determine what to do now, isn't it rather important to know whose judgment and knowledge can be trusted and whose should be considered worthless? From the perspective of their own-self interest, the demand by war advocates like Slaughter and McCain that everyone forget about what they said and did in the past is understandable - it's natural to hope that one's own wretched and destructive conduct would be forgotten - but for the country, doing that would be completely irrational.
Wretched conduct?

What's so wretched about upholding a series of
16 UN resolutions that Saddam Hussein had ignored or defied. As Michael Glennon recounts, the Iraq war was authorized by the United Nations after the U.S. Congress issued its resolution on the use of force against Iraq's violation of international law?

But check Peter Feaver, in his essay over at the Weekly Standard, "Why We Went Into Iraq":

On the night that John McCain secured the Republican nomination, he said about Iraq that "it is of little use to Americans for their candidates to avoid the many complex challenges of these struggles by re-litigating decisions of the past."

He is right that it would be a mistake for his campaign to focus on the past at the expense of the future. Either of his Democratic opponents will be on far more vulnerable terrain defending the incoherencies of their proposed plans to "end" the war than if they get to cherry-pick debates from the past with the benefit of hindsight.

But there are at least four reasons why Senator McCain would be making a mistake if he avoided entirely the historical debate.

First and foremost, the historical case remains an important factor in determining votes....

Second, even if you are focusing narrowly on shoring up public support for continuing the mission, the historical case matters. People who think the war was the right thing and also think we will succeed have a stronger stomach for continuing American efforts than people who think it was a mistake but still think it is winnable.

For the public to believe that a commander in chief can bring the Iraq war to a successful conclusion, they must have a strong degree of trust in that leader. If the public only hears unrebutted attacks about the original decision to invade Iraq, the lies and myths will take hold and undermine public confidence in the continuing effort in Iraq.
For instance, after the 2004 election, the Bush administration largely stopped "relitigating the past" and focused almost all of its Iraq messages on the future. The Democrats, in contrast, kept up a barrage of partisan attacks about the original decision. The Bush nolo contendere stance may have been interpreted by many Americans as tantamount to a guilty plea. Is it any surprise, therefore, that according to one CBS/NYT poll last year, as many as 60 percent of respondents said they thought "members of the Administration intentionally misled the public" in making its case for the war with Iraq whereas before the 2004 election (when the Bush team was making a stronger defense) only 44 percent believed that myth.

Third, the historical case for invading Iraq is much stronger than conventional wisdom pretends. It is not as strong as the administration thought in 2002, but it is far stronger than the average listener to late-night comics or talking heads - i.e., a normal American--might think today....

Finally, the failure to defend the historical case has allowed Democrats to avoid answering tough questions about their own stances. Senator Obama, for instance, loves to praise his own judgment in coming out against the Iraq war in 2002, favoring instead containing Saddam Hussein with a vigorous weapons inspections regime. What Obama has never explained is how he thought the United States could reconstitute the containment/inspections regime absent a credible threat of force. When Obama gave his 2002 speech, there were no inspectors on the ground in Iraq and the U.N. sanctions were falling apart. It was the U.S. threat of force--the very threat Obama was protesting--that reinvigorated the Security Council and reestablished the inspections regime.

McCain cannot stake his entire candidacy on trying to persuade people to support the original war decision. After several years of one-sided propaganda, American attitudes on this are fairly entrenched and unlikely to move much. But he shouldn't cede the ground without a fight.

Feaver, a political scientist, provides a level of fairness and objectivity you never see in the likes of surrender advocates like Greenwald, or any of the others among the hare-brained antiwar hordes.

He makes a good case too: Don't cede ground to the antiwar nihilists. Don't let their campaign of evasions, lies, and myths take hold in the public consciousness. We've come too far - through thick and thin - to surrender to the same forces who cheer the hostage beheadings and Downs syndrome suicide bombers killing Americans today.

Our cause was just in 2003, and remains so today, and the costs that so many have borne for Iraq's liberty and security demand nothing less than maintaining the public's confidence that we're doing the right thing.

See also, "Shame on You: The False Testimony of the Antiwar Movement."

Photo Credit: New York Times