July 23, 2007


Republican students videoed here are keen to repeat again and again that there is a great war going on and that liberals and Europe do not have the stomach for the fight. That is despite as this film notes the fact that most Republican students will not themselves go and fight for liberty- if this really were as serious as the Second World War then they themselves should don the flack jacket and go to Iraq. Or maybe they are content to be like Dick Cheney and sit this one out, whilst the John Kerrys go and fight and die for the United States.

To some extent this debate is deeply unfair- afterall you should still have an opinion on something even as serious as war if you are unwilling to go yourself. I agonised for months about the Afghanistan war and the ethics of supporting a war as an adult whilst not being willing to fight in it. There are circumstances in which it is possible to do that- most of the wars of today are fought with volunteer and not conscript armies- and there are people who whilst being incapable of holding a gun are definitely capable of holding a view. One of my best friends was a strong supporter of the Iraq war, but his coordination is such that if ever handed a gun his own safety would be in more danger than anyone else's! Having said that he is remarkably intelligent- to send him to war would be to endanger his life- whereas to have him say as a foreign office bureacrat would be to save others' lives.

The point though is that within Republican students and Republican commentators is a kind of resurgent masculinity- that going to war proves that you are manly and stand up for your principles- that not supporting a war in another country, like Iraq, is proving you hold 'girly' opinions or that you are a weedy academic. That war is good for its own sake- that all problems can be solved through the use of military force. It isn't in my view incumbent on Republicans to go to war to prove their credentials to advocate war- but I think they lay themselves open to the chicken hawk accusation by using these militaristic arguments- by demeaning those that oppose their justifications as traitors, by saying that support for war is a token of courage.

Of course it isn't- courage is shown when you run up to an enemy over bogged down land and place your life in the hands of chance- John Kerry has shown courage, George Bush in the skies above Texas has never shown equivalent courage to senator Kerry. War needs to be argued for on its merits- Iraq and Afghanistan can be supported on their merits- but should anyone support them because going to war demonstrates masculine courage and not going demonstrates a weak lily livered liberal conscience- well then its appropriate to call them a chicken hawk.


Vino S said...

Indeed. It does strike me that if people support a war and do not wish to fight in it, they should be very careful about bandying words like 'traitor' or 'coward' about at those who opposed the war.

By all means the armchair warriors can accuse liberals of being wrong and making a mistake. That's the nature of political discourse in a free society. But it strikes me as silly and hypocritical macho posturing for them to accuse their opponents of cowardice when they themselves are not prepared to step up to the crease.

Political Umpire said...

One point is that the US and UK have all-volunteer armies. Soldiers can therefore be presumed to have been compensated ex ante for death in combat. To be sure, one could argue for exceptions: where a war is launched illegally, for example, or where the government has failed to provide them with the equipment they might reasonably have expected (both of which have been levelled against Iraq, and the latter in regard to Afghanistan). Conversely, where the soldiers are conscripted they had no choice in the matter, which is why political capital can, will and should be made about 'draft dodgers' such as President Bush was alleged to be.

Cheney is a strange one. He seems to have been one of the chief architects of Iraq War 2003, and is reviled by the left in this country. I can't quite figure it out how 9/11 skewed his judgement in the way that it did. This is because he said this in 1992:

"I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today. We'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home.
And the final point that I think needs to be made is this question of casualties. I don't think you could have done all of that without significant additional U.S. casualties, and while everybody was tremendously impressed with the low cost of the (1991) conflict, for the 146 Americans who were killed in action and for their families, it wasn't a cheap war.
And the question in my mind is, how many additional American casualties is Saddam (Hussein) worth? And the answer is, not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the President made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq."

Pretty much exactly what happened. Mr Cheney should be careful what he wishes for.

CityUnslicker said...

A good article that gets to the hear to fhte matter. Appelaing to the base desires of certain types of voters is what both Republicans and Democrats are very good at.

Chicken Hawk is a good phrase, but in some ways I thin kit applies more to many pundits than actual politicians. it is people like Rush Limbaugh who have the worst record in this area.

Lord Nazh© said...

"Of course it isn't- courage is shown when you run up to an enemy over bogged down land and place your life in the hands of chance- John Kerry has shown courage, George Bush in the skies above Texas has never shown equivalent courage to senator Kerry. War needs to be argued for on its merits- Iraq and Afghanistan can be supported on their merits- but should anyone support them because going to war demonstrates masculine courage and not going demonstrates a weak lily livered liberal conscience- well then its appropriate to call them a chicken hawk."

SO basically since Kerry asked to be put in a non-combat role and got shipped to combat and George volunteered for the most dangerous piloting role, but never got sent to combat; then Kerry has more courage?

Courage or lack of usually don't determine who actually fights. Most people that signed up (pre-9/11) in the armed forces didn't do it out of courage, they did it for finances, school, etc. And only then were they ordered into the battle. Throwing the chickenhawk label at anyone is hard to do unless you know EXACTLY why someone isn't in the fight they are in favor of.

Is it really cowardice to think and believe that the fight against terrorists has to be won and not actually be in the armed forces? How much greater then is the cowardice required to call the same forces fighting the in war barbarians, child-killers, murderers and etc.

Lord Nazh© said...

and also: political umpire: you're quote and post doesn't take into effect ANY of the things that happened between 1992 and the present. Aside from 9/11, don't you think there may have been reasons (as were stated beforehand) for the invasion and capture of Saddam?

Political Umpire said...

Lord Naz, in many previous posts I have argued why I thought the Iraq war was mistaken: not because I think there is no terrorist threat to the UK; not because I thought Saddam was a benign ruler loved by his own people; not because I thought that democracy was incompatible with the middle east; nor even because I thought that a show of American strength in the region would be altogether bad.

It is because I thought Saddam, in ruthlessly crushing all internal opposition including religious extremists was, in the old fashioned realpolitik sense, actually an **ally** in any 'war on terror'. No chance of Al-Qaeda getting a foothold in Iraq whilst Saddam was about, and though I didn't think of it at the time, Iran was kept quiet to an extent by having a mortal enemy next door. Those are two of the reasons why Saddam was in America's good books prior to the Kuwait invasion.

Now, of course, Iraq is a haven for terrorists, Al-Q and otherwise, and Iran is stirring up no end of trouble there because it keeps America occupied. The war has killed off American public support for military adventures, which was at a high after the successful first few months of the Afghanistan invasion.

So no, nothing changed from 1992-2003 that justified invading Iraq.

Here is what I said in March this year:

"Prior to the fall of Saddam, there was no ‘axis of evil’: North Korea was an atheist, communist regime, Saddam a secular dictator, and Iran a religious dictatorship. The three had nothing in common. After the fall of Saddam, Iran has busied itself encouraging the rise of religious clerics in Iraq, and will be hoping they form part of any Iraqi government in the future. Conclusion number one: the invasion has created, not disturbed, an axis of evil.

The case for war in Iraq was that Saddam had WMD. The case was shown to be wrong. It is likely that a majority of Parliament and the public will not accept any case presented by the intelligence services concerning Iran’s WMD and their threat to the West. Tony Blair should have read the fable about the boy who cried wolf. Conclusion number two: the invasion has undermined the credibility of the intelligence services and the major political parties, not enhanced it.

America no doubt hoped for a swift and emphatic display of its military power. It got this – for three weeks. Thereafter it has been bogged down by an insurgency and a multi-faceted religious conflict that it cannot control. It has therefore advertised its weakness to any future enemy. An invasion of Iran would therefore not be opposed by columns of the Iranian army, but by a well-integrated insurgency in any major town which the Americans tried to control. Conclusion number three: the invasion has America to be unbeatable in a conventional war (which was known anyway), but has also shown the aspects in which it is vulnerable.

America would have hoped to send a message to any other enemies in the region. Instead, it has decreased any chance of public or political support for any future military action. Conclusion number four: America has become less influential, not more, in the Middle East.

The long-term hope of the invasion was that a stable, democratic Western ally would be created in place of a stable if brutal dictatorship. To-date, an unstable and in parts ungovernable country has been created, even if there has been some enthusiasm amongst Iraqis for the votes that have been held. Conclusion number five: Iraq has been made worse, not better, for the majority of its citizens. There’s always a faint hope that the situation will improve, but it seems that it will take a matter of years not months.

Back to Iran. As much as the Iranians will have taken heed of America’s misfortune in Iraq, it will also have noticed a lesson for itself: military action seldom goes to plan. An attempt by itself to attack Israel (or whomever) would be just as subject to the law of unforeseen consequences as America’s misadventure in Iraq."

Lord Nazh© said...

Except for the small insignificant facts that Saddam actually did help terrorists (against Israel) and had indeed met with some of Al-Qaeda (not implying he had anything to do with 9/11), then yes he had not let terrorists in...

Of course his many violations of the cease-fire with the US and his many violations of UN Mandates not withstanding, his record of human rights abuse and his total supression of his people made him an 'ally' on the war on terror.

I see what you're saying, I don't believe any of it, but I see how you could.

The case for war in Iraq had I believe 19 reasons or so. WMD would only cover 1 (and yes there were indeed WMD found in Iraq, not what they expected, but there were some). Of course the WMD angle is wrong after the fact and now everyone knows it, but just who knew it beforehand?

America made a huge mistake in 'small war'ing this situation instead of committing total war. But that is another after-the-fact scenario. An invasion of say Iran after this would be much different in that the US knows how to respond to the same threats and would likely not small war Iran in the same way.

You see, it is possible for the US to learn from its mistakes just as you give credit to its enemies for learning.

And note: I supported the war in Iraq without any WMD's. I supported war in Iraq after the 1st time (and 2nd and twentieth) they violated the cease-fire from the last war. I supported the war when Saddam decided that the UN wasn't his boss (even though I honestly think the UN is worthless) and kicked out the inspectors (who couldn't find anything anyway, since they could only inspect where he let them).

I totally understand why countries such as France didn't support it, in lieu of the evidence of their under-the-boards deals with Saddam vis-a-vis oil-for-food scandals, that doesn't make me hate them for it, just allows me to have contempt for them.

I have nothing against someone that was against the war before and is against the war now, I have little patience with people that claim that leaving the 25 million Iraqis in Saddam's loving care would be a good thing.

Political Umpire said...

If you read what I said:

1. I didn't say Saddam was a benign ruler, of course he wasn't. But there are dozens of bad rulers throughout the globe, many worse than Saddam (check out Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe and any many other African examples). Being a bad domestic ruler really wasn't the problem of the West - after all, they supported him till August 1990 so they agreed with me on that one.

2. In fact his oppression WAS a help to the west in the sense that it prevented the rise of the Zaqawi types who've wrecked havoc ever since. It is religious extremists who are the root cause of terror, and they had no say in Saddam's Iraq.

3. Even if he did have WMD (as you say, most reputable sources thought he did), that omits one point. Cast your mind back to 1991: shortly before the expiration of the UN deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, James Baker, met Tariq Aziz in an attempt to stave off the conflict. I am sure neither harboured the slightest doubt that there would be a war, but they met nonetheless.

One thorny issue was that Iraq possessed WMD. They had used them against Iran and against the Kurds. So Baker cut to the chase, and said that if any were used against coalition troops, America would ‘retaliate’, and moreover had ‘the means to retaliate’. It isn’t clear what sort of retaliation might have taken place. Would America really have obliterated Baghdad? Or would they simply have used small, tactical nuclear weapons against military targets and possibly the Hussein regime? Either way, Aziz delivered the message and Saddam Hussein took the hint. Iraq did not use WMD even as its forces were crushed in short order.

The lesson is that Saddam was indeed deterred by the threat of Western nuclear power, just as the Soviets had been during the Cold War. He knew that use of WMD against the West would write his own death warrant. He was deterred from using WMD even though he could not have been sure that America would not renege on its promise to the Arab coalition forces not to depose him, nor could he have been sure that enough of his forces would remain to protect him from internal opposition (America’s miscalculation on that one was a very serious error, the significance of which has not received enough subsequent attention.)

4. Not sure what you mean by 'small war'. Presumably that they should have sent more troops. That might have helped to some extent, but not with the basic problem, which is that America has an offensive army, ground up. It is neither trained nor equipped nor experienced in being a quasi police force. There's a great clip on Youtube, from just after the invasion, when the looting started. An M1 tank pulls up in a village, decides that some firewood on a car has been looted, so drives back and forth over the car. Turns out the car was a taxi, its owner's livelihood. Thus you have troops not trained for the situation using weapons not suited and alienating the populace in the process.

5. Next major error: disbanding the public services. Left no-one to stop the looting, plus a lot of pissed off unemployed guys with access to weapons (the former army and police). Not smart. They should have rounded up all police etc after the invasion, doubled their pay and shot any deserters. Only way to do it. Wouldn't have washed in Washington - which is simply another reason not to invade in the first place.

6. Final error: inside every Iraqi, there is not an American, trying to get out. If you create a power vacuum, as the US did by removing the regime, army etc, then the principled and virtuous won't rise to the top, the most ruthless and sadistic will. Which massively compounds the error in 5 above.

Thanks for an interesting discussion!

Lord Nazh© said...

Small war has nothing to do with the number of troops (what I was referring to) but how they commit 'war'.

Small war is objective based, low casualties for the enemy, preserving the country you are attacking.

This is very humane and necessary in today's world I guess, but Germany would never have lost WWI or WWII with this small war idea.

Political Umpire said...

You've not answered most of my points. You say Saddam's brutality was a reason to invade, then you regret not doing 'large war' ie smashing the country to smithereens - would that have been more benign to the Iraqis than Saddam's rule?

Actually WWII is a good example - the American army is trained and equipped to destroy the likes of the German army, ie a conventional enemy. It is not equipped for nation building. Which is one reason why Iraq hasn't gone to plan.

I set out how the invasion might have worked - good old British C19 colonialism: keep the rulers onside. This you achieve by maintaining the existing structure but dropping in a puppet dictator to do your bidding. America, by contrast, disbanded the Iraqi army etc thus creating chaos.

At all events they should have stayed out of Iraq and concentrated on Islamic fundamentalism - Iran and Afghanistan. They chose Iraq because they thought it would be easy. They've come unstuck on that.