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Once again: Why Iraq?

From MSNBC, Iran harboring al Qaeda deputies:

Two figures who have assumed critical roles in the al Qaeda hierarchy in recent months, including one reported dead by the Pentagon, are being sheltered in Iran along with dozens of other al Qaeda fighters in hotels and guesthouses in the border cities of Mashhad and Zabol, according to Arab intelligence sources.

Combine this with Will Saletan’s recent deconstructions of Tom DeLay and Dick Cheney, and I have to ask again: Why is it Iraq we’re planning to invade? Why Iraq and not North Korea, or Iran, or Syria, or Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia? What one reason applies to Iraq and not to any other WMD-hoarding, terrorist-sponsoring, America-hating, despot-impaired nation?

If and when Team Bush ever cogently answers those questions, then they can count on my support. Until then, this threatens to be the kind of naked, imperialistic aggression that the US used to rightly denounce when practiced by other countries.

MSNBC link via Lean Left.

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  1. R. Alex says:

    My answer to the “Why Iraq” question is that you have to start somewhere. Of the nations you listed, Iraq is the only government of the ones you’ve mentioned that openly declared us an enemy and the most likely to try something. If anyone is going to risk implication in a serious attack on the US, it’s Saddam.

    Plus, Iraq is the only one giving us the immediate grounds to in regards to weapon inspections and his refusal to allow them. Those that say “Of course he’s not going to let us inspect if we’re going to attack him” forget how long he had to comply and he refused.

    As opposed to Syria, the grounds on Iraq are more clear in that Iraq submitted to the weapons check after we defeated him in 1991.

    Prior to 9-11, the United States was considered a paper tiger for two reasons: our half-hearted attempts to get bin Laden (which, unlike most Republicans, I don’t lay on Clinton’s doorstep) and our failure to tighten the screws on Saddam Hussein as he has pussyfooted around with us. So why not start with Iraq?

    I’m still not entirely convinced on the Iraq thing myself, but that’s more of a “do we really know what we’re getting in to here” question than a “Just because we haven’t knocked down tyranny everywhere, we can’t anywhere” which is, to me, faulty reasoning.


  2. Alex, I can appreciate all that, but I’m still uncomfortable with a unilateral attack in the absence of provocation or a documented link to 9/11. It’s unprecedented and I don’t believe that Team Bush has thought through the consequences.

    I could still support an attack on Iraq in the absence of those conditions, but I’d need clearer evidence that Saddam no longer feels constrained by the threat of massive retaliation in the event of a WMD attack on us. I’d feel a lot better if we were working with our allies and making a case to other Arab states that we have a clear call to action. Right now I’m worried that the price we’ll pay for action is greater than the gain we’ll get as well as the potential price of inaction.

    Which is why I come back to “why Iraq?” It’s both a question of why not someone else, and why anyone in the first place. I wish I could say that I find the answers I’ve seen from Team Bush and their supporters compelling and reassuring, but I can’t. They just raise more questions in my mind.

  3. Preventative wars are anything but unprecedented. If there is a growing danger involved with regards to Iraq, one which could spill over in time, then an attack ought to be justified.

    I actually supported action to dislodge the Taliban before September 11th because I thought they were a persistant threat that oppressed their own people. I think the situation is little different in Iraq.

  4. R. Alex says:

    The “why anyone” argument is a better one than “Why Iraq” and I’m relieved that’s your argument.

    As to the specifics, I am assuming that you’ve read what J.J. Marshall has had to say on the matter and he is doubtlessly a more credible voice than I am on why this is necessary.

    As for convincing the Europeans and Arabs and coalition-building and the like, I don’t think that would be productive. In both cases, the more waffling we are the less likely they are to consent. The Europeans don’t seem to care what Hussein does (and I’m not saying this because they oppose an invasion, but based on their behavior since the Gulf War ended) and what’s the point in asking if there answer is likely to be no and we don’t need them to.

    As for the Arab countries, they fear us more than they fear Hussein. Hussein may or may not be able to build WMD in the near future, but we have them now. If we invade Iraq, who is next? That’s the question they’ve got to be asking themselves and why the idea of it is very disconcerting to them.

    Remember, they opposed our overthrowing the Taliban (a government many of them never ever officially recognized) for largely the same reasons. The more places we land, the more they fear us. Given how many of their governments behave, that might not be such a bad thing.


  5. I have read Josh Marshall’s piece, and it is compelling. Of course, he’s also written that the way we’ve been going about this is sufficiently counterproductive that we may be better off doing nothing anyway.

    I’m not so much concerned about getting allies to fight alongside us – they wouldn’t be that much help anyway – as I am with getting them on board the idea that we’re doing something that’s right and in their best interest as well. I’m worried about putting a large strain on long-term friendships. I want our allies to be with us, not against us, and I think it’s extremely dangerous to disregard their considerations, even if we think they’re a bunch of “Euroweenies”. We haven’t done a good job of getting them to see it our way, and I think proceeding under those conditions is going to exact a high price.

    Owen, I’m not arguing that a preemptive strike is in itself unprecedented or immoral. I’m arguing that a preemptive strike on flimsy evidence and in the face of strong opposition is unprecedented and immoral. All I’m saying is that in the absence of visible provocation, a higher standard of evidence is needed. Sure, Iraq is a threat. Are they more so now than they were before? How do we know that? Are they enough of a threat that we must attack now to safeguard ourselves? I’m not satisfied with Team Bush’s answers to these questions.

  6. R. Alex says:


    What I was trying to say is that I don’t think we *can* get them on board. I think left-of-center governments in Europe would take great pleasure in denying us permission if we asked for it. They feel relatively invulnerable to Saddam and, in all honesty, they’re really not that vulnerable to him because he doesn’t have his sights set there.

    As for the Arab world, your earlier comments explain that aptly. Why should Saudi Arabia support us if they fit many of the criteria we are using to attack Saddam? The only way we could get them on board is to make promises it may be strongly against our interest to make.

    The US is attacked abroad on two main points: That we are hyperactive and hypocritical. If we attack Iraq without their consent, it will be proof that we are hyperactive. If we make deals to get their support, it will make us hypocritical. Either way, it will later be used as justification if we are attacked again. If we don’t do anything and we are attacked again, even is Saddam is implicated, I doubt we’ll even get an “Oops. Sorry.”

    The United States needs to stop pretending that we can act “above the fray” when it comes to our national defense. Everyone else in the arena is acting in their own best interest. It makes sense to the Europeans to play both sides in the conflict. It makes sense for the Arabs to try to stave off American power (and buck the US). Appealing to the fighting-for-what’s right of the deflated Europeans and the benevolent side of the dictators in the Middle East simply isn’t going to work.


  7. Alex,

    Unfortunately, you may be right. I do think there was a time when we could have gotten many of them on board, but I don’t know that we can now. This is not entirely Team Bush’s fault – you are correct about the attitude some of our allies’ governments have regarding the US and Saddam – but they do share a lot of the responsibility.

    Which brings me back to the “why Iraq?” and “why anyone?” questions. Are we better off attacking and dealing with the fallout from our friends as well as our not-really-friends, or should we be looking for a face-saving way of backing down? If the threat is really that great (and again, at this time I don’t believe that it is), then I’ll support taking unilateral action. Team Bush has a long way to go to make this case.

    I do disagree that “making deals” with Europe et al would be hypocritical. As I said, our job was to convince them that taking out Saddam was in their best interests. We didn’t do that, either because we didn’t care to or because we didn’t have a convincing argument.

    BTW, there’s no reason why this sort of thing can’t be a bit heavyhanded as well, as in “Hey, Mubarak! You like that money we give you every year? Then you better find a reason to support our action against Iraq.” We didn’t do that, either.

  8. R. Alex says:

    I believe Gore would probably be having an easier time of this for a number of reasons. Well, with the Europeans anyway. Bush’s refusal on the ICC and Kyoto and such make it so that they would enjoy poking him in the eye. Gore would have stuck with Kyoto and may or may not have consented to the ICC, and even if he hadn’t he would probably be given more leeway with the Europeans because he’s a Democrat and the “lesser of two evils” in their mind.

    However, I think Gore would have consented to the ICC and that is reason enough to give the Bush team leeway in my mind.

    I agree that Saddam is not that dangerous at this time, but how dangerous do you want him to be before we act?

    Making a deal with Europe would not be hypocritical, but I don’t think it’s possible. Unlike the Arab dictators, we can’t bribe them because they don’t need us.

    We can’t convince the Arab leaders that it is in their best interest because it isn’t. Their concerns that if we go after Saddam we may some time go after them is not entirely unfounded. Last time there was a coalition because Saddam was a threat to everyone. In the forseeable future, he is only a threat to us therefore they won’t like it and there won’t be a coalition (even in the sense that they support us and don’t do anything about it).

    You may not call us hypocrites, but the charge will resurface as sure as day in order to justify the next attack on us. In any case, what does their support really mean? They’re not democratically elected and if they go against the will of their people, which all oppose any further “interference” on our part, it’s not likely to mollify anyone.

    In any case, I think that the criteria you are requiring is impossible. Who knows what threats he has issued? What happens if they call Bush’s bluff? Imagine that Egypt still refuses to go along then in one fell swoop we invade Iraq AND cut off support to the Middle East. That would help us how? That would make Bush look incompetent and make everyone even angrier.

    If the money matters to them, they will probably quiet down anyway.

    We can’t make anyone do anything. We can’t always convince them, either. And, because we can’t, does not mean that we are wrong.


  9. Captain Spaulding says:

    Gearge W is fighting in Irag because Saddam made threats to his father. That is the main reason; make daddy proud. Come on now people. Has he given us real reason for this invasion?
    Perhaps he is also concerned with his own oil interests. This could be why we have spent 5 years looking for BinLaden. Bush knows where bin laden is. That’s why we cant find him. Bush flew the entire Bin Laden family out of the US before he even commented on the 9/11 attacks. Bush has too many ties to Americas arch enemies. We have one option people; IMPEACH BUSH NOW. Show the republicans we are not going to be lied to. Show the world that the U.S. citizens do not stand behind this DICTATOR. We now have a real threat on our hands with N.Korea and Bush is not doing anything. He screwed up our nation by not helping with the hurricanes, not helping NY after the attacks and now he has our soldiers dying without any real justification. Isn’t this murder? We needed to bomb N. Korea before they tested their nukes. What the hell is wrong with this country? Bush should resign from office and show America he cares for the people. He knows he is far too incompetant for this position. Why does he continue to put us in such danger? Please resign Mr Bush. Daddy will be proud of you anyways.