Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Debate #1: Why Did We Go Into Iraq?

As promised, The Yellow Line is beginning a debate series about the war on terror and the war in Iraq. All the questions we will cover can be found here.

The purpose of this series is to share the thoughts and ideas of all of us average citizens. Intense passion is welcomed, strong rebuttals are expected but keep the language focused on the issue and not on the person. The best advice I ever received is: try to assume that those who disagree with you are just as honest and just as reasoned in their position as you are in yours. That’s not always the case of course, but I do find it really helps to treat those with whom you disagree with respect.

It’s not about not getting angry (we all get angry) it’s about not defaming your opponents. There is so much divisiveness over the war in this nation that we can barely talk about it. That’s not good.

The only other point I want to make is that while all facts and figures are welcome, I’d like to keep this focused on the big picture and not get tied around what each specific fact means. Really, this is about opinions more than anything else.

I will be participating, but I’ll keep my own thoughts to the comments section.

Question 1 is: Do you feel we went to war because of WMD and specific threats or was the Bush administration more concerned about installing a democracy in the Mid-East and Iraq was the most obvious target? Or was there another reason? If so, how do you know?

Question 2 will be tomorrow and we’ll post a new question each weekday until we’re through (or until interest dies off).


At 1:05 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Here’s what I think: I think Bush and many in his administration were convinced, even before 9/11, that Iraq was a time bomb just waiting to go off. I also think they were intrigued by the long-standing neo-con theory that if we could just get one Arab democracy installed in the Middle-East we could create a snowball effect. The neo-cons have long believed that it is the totalitarian regimes of the Mid-East more so than any other factor that breeds terrorism. And, they’ve considered military action to be the most viable way to install a democracy.

But there’s no way they could go to war just to “install a democracy.” Which is why Iraq made the perfect target. Given that they were already known to be a violent threat to the region, we could justify invading on national security grounds. September 11th taught us that it’s not always wise to wait until an enemy gets out of hand before attacking. In fact, most agreed that we should have done something about the Taliban before 3,000 American lives were lost. So, attack Iraq and you 1) take out a potential threat and 2) install a democracy which hopefully will inspire more democracy throughout the region. Kind of a two-birds with one stone idea.

Here’s where I think Bush went wrong: his administration made what can be called a marketing decision to heavily sell the WMD aspect to the exclusion of most other arguments. They also liked to implicitly (but not directly) link Saddam to 9/11. Now, Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 but that didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of carrying a similar attack out. Yet that distinction was not often made.

The result is that most of us were left with the impression that we were going to war specifically because of WMD and an imminent threat. The problem is, the WMD wasn’t there and there was no capability for Iraq to have posed in immediate danger. Whether we should have known that or not, I don’t know. It was clearly a massive intelligence failure but I don’t personally think Bush “caused” it, although he, like everyone else, was too eager to believe in WMD.

So because they relied so heavily on WMD as a justification, it makes it really hard for a lot of people to understand why this was necessary and it leads a lit of people to think Bush really knew the facts but was lying to get us into war for more nefarious reasons. Personally, with 20/20 hindsight, I don’t think the war was necessary on the rushed timeline we used. We had more time to investigate and convince allies But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have supported a war eventually based on other rationales.

In summary: the decision to go to war rationale and understandable and didn’t involve criminal deception. Way the war was sold, not good and is partially responsible for the current animosity.

At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Corey said...

Here's my 2 cents...

There were 3 main reasons I've heard for justifying the war:

A) WMDs that could be used against the U.S. and our allies
B) Establishing a democracy would help freedom to the whole middle east
C) Saddam was a tyrant that tortured and killed his own people and he had to be ousted for human rights reasons

While I think that all three of these reasons played a part in the admins decision, I don't think they would have gone forward with the invasion if not for the threat of WMDs.

At the time when we first started discussing Iraq, the American people wanted to feel like the Admin was making them safer right now. I don't think they could have convinced us, as a nation, that we needed to invade a country in order to establish a safer middle east in next five years.

If the U.S. intelligence had come back and said that they didn't think that Iraq had WMDs, does anybody think the Bush Admin would have invaded Iraq? I personally do not think they would have.

At 3:55 PM, Anonymous Chris Holcomb said...

I largely agree with the first two comments but would add mention of the Iraq Survey Group who reproted that although there were no WMD's, Saddam's weapons programs were primed and ready to go once sanctions had been lifted and the no-fly zones rolled back. Given what we are learning about UNSCAM, creating such conditions were in progress.

At 4:26 PM, Anonymous Yan said...


On some of your points:

There is precious little evidence to suggest Iraq was a 'timebomb' of any kind. Saddam was contained, and weak.

The neo-cons are inexorably linked with Israel, and Israel's protection. A far greater motive for war/removing Saddam?

There was no terrorism being bred in Iraq, Saddam's totalitarian regime saw to that. He even got rid of Abu Nidal.

Democracy is a new experience for most Iraqis. It has never worked there before. There is nothing to say it will work there now.

The Taliban, like Saddam had nothing to do with 9-11.

Saddam chose to clear the cupboards of WMD in about '95/'96. Since that time Iraq was increasingly pressed to prove a negative. It suited the administration at that time to portray him as the 'bad-guy', so
the status quo prevailed up and until, and including today.

GW Bush wanted Saddam 'cos Saddam called his Dad's bluff back in '91.

(If you check out National Security Directive 54 paragraph 10 you will find the reason why GW launched this war.)

(What was that again? Something about some "missing" weapons?)

Other rationales. What other rationales were/are there?

At 5:42 PM, Blogger Rob Jackson said...

Bush very much wants his legacy to be a democracy in the middle east. Bush markets himself as a plain and simple, straight shooter in everything he does, so I'm not sure we need to go fishing around for complicated answers. Iraq was most vulnerable and sellable so that's where we went.

At 10:26 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

Oddly enough, I agree with Alan. I think Bush honestly believed if we could topple Saddam's regime, creating a functionaing democracy would be a breeze. This was a little naive on his part. He may (in the end) have a little luck and succeed. But if he does, it will be a few years in the future. Whether he misled the American public in an attempt to achieve this goal is another question and another debate, but I will say that WMDs and terror ties were never part of the true impetus behind the invasion. If those were the main reasons, we had better targets (albeit not as weakened and contained).

At 11:12 PM, Blogger Joe Weedon said...

I haven't been able to post in a few days -- one more day of 24 hours of meetings then I'll be back with a vengance -- but I couldn't pass the debate up.

If you look at the Bush rhetoric prior to the 2000 election, they were looking for an enemy (they used China). Throughout the campaign, they attempted to postion the Bush team as stronger on national defense than Gore (this despite the fact that Bush had absolutely no foreign policy experience, and Gore had been VP for 8 years). In a sense, it worked at least among the core Republicans (yes this was a Rove strategy). While national defense didn't win Bush the 2000 election, it didn't hurt him either.

The individuals Bush surrounded himself with on foreign policy and defense issues were primarily the same individuals who advised Bush I and Reagan (from Cheney and Rumsfeld on down to a lot of the senior management teams in both departments). This group of peopler were (and still are) of the Cold War mentality that we have enemies and we must spread Democracy throughout the world in order to make our country safe.

This group of advisors were willing to be misled into believing and later convincing the President and the American public that Saddam Hussein was evil (true) and was a treat to the United States (probably not true).

I don't believe that there were deliberate attempts to mislead anyone. But, they found facts that lead them to the conclusions that they wanted to make. We all do it. Following the 9-11 attacks, they followed the evidence and, to them, it said Iraq was a danger.

Was the decision to go to war just? Yes. At least in the minds of those who are in positions of power. Do they think it is still justified now after discovering Iraq didn't have WMD? Yes again. We still took out a potential threat and, as an added benefit, we have launched democracy in the region.

At 11:58 PM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

I wish I had more time with this one but I have had a sick 9 year old Grandson with me all day today, tonight and will have all day Wednesday. So for now I will have to stay with my answer from yesterday, (all the above yet not one single reason,) except I will add this… WMD was a very big part of going to war with Iraq. I think that argument is clear. Yet again I say it was not the only reason. Did Bush lie or trump up the info to take us to war? No… I’ll never believe that to be true are that President Bush are anyone in his administration thought it would be a cake walk going in and getting out. I believe this true if for no other reason than because our past Secretary of State Colin Powell was in the mix… That man is in a league all by himself....

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

aubreyj said "No… I’ll never believe that to be true are that President Bush are anyone in his administration thought it would be a cake walk going in and getting out"

Unfortunately, either aubreyj believe Cheney and Rumsfeld aren't very smart or they were misleading the American people. It has to be one of those two scenerios because of the following quotes.

The war “could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [2/7/03]

We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . . I think it will go relatively quickly... (in) weeks rather than months.” – Vice President Cheney [3/16/03]

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Robert, do you know if they were talking about the invasion or the occupation? In my mind, I don't remember much talk about the occupation at all. I don't think too many Americans expected us to still be there over 2 years later, but maybe they did.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Ted Carmichael said...

Subtitle: Did Bush Lie?

I've come out very strongly against President Bush in this matter. I've said he and his administration have skewed the truth, covered up some facts, and delt harshly with opposing viewpoints. Regardless, I cannot say that Bush actually lied ... that is, said something to the American public that he knew to be untrue.

Really, I consider the point moot. I don't care if he lied or not. What I care about - what I believe is pointedly immoral about his methods - is that he seems decidedly against giving due consideration to other opinions, or the facts that back them up. He too quickly dismisses dissent based on his quick judgment of the person making the case. Here's a quote that says it well:

"Bush typically seems less curious about people's arguments than their motives for making them. That has its drawbacks. When the French warned about the potential hazards of occupying an Arab country--lessons learned from their colonial history--Bush's focus on their motives for avoiding war left little room for consideration of their arguments. Maybe Hans Blix wasn't just a peacenik but truly couldn't find weapons stockpiles. In fact, lots of people in a position to warn about risks that needed to be factored into the planning--we won't be welcomed, we will need more troops, the oil revenues won't pay for it, we will end up with a civil war--were seen as arguing against the war by other means."

Why does he do this? Well, I think he does it because he believes he is right. He believes he is doing the right thing, and so he and the people around him make the case to sell the idea politically any way they can.

"And once he believes something, he's not likely to doubt it because it becomes a sustaining belief, a personal way to get through the challenges of the day."

"A President has got to be the calcium in the backbone," Bush told author Bob Woodward. "If I weaken, the whole team weakens. If I'm doubtful, I can assure you there will be a lot of doubt."

I agree with Alan, and I believe the facts thoroughly back up the view that Bush saw Iraq as a regime worth getting rid of. It was an evil regime with a history - a "perfect target" for a new domino-theory for the Middle East, this time for democracy rather than communism. It's also why plans for invading Iraq started early on, even before 9/11.

And it's also why planning for the invasion was "well advanced" at the time of the DSM. Bush knew that Iraq wouldn't back down, he knew that war was inevitable ... not because he wanted it, but because he had made his judgment of Saddam Hussein. He had seen Hussein invade Kuwait, gas the Kurds, kick out the UN inspectors, and push the envelope of duplicity. He believed in his heart that Saddam wouldn't truly back down, and he simply didn't have any patience with talk of half-measures.

Asked by TIME just after the election how he would respond to a challenge from Saddam, Bush replied, "I've learned one thing--I'd jump on him. If we launched strikes and they're halfway to the targets, we wouldn't turn them back. I assure you that. If they're launched, they will unload unless [Saddam] backs down. I won't turn them back based on some focus groups."

Bush famously took Richard Clarke to the side right after 9/11 and said something to the effect of "I know Iraq had something to do with this. Find the connection." He didn't do this becuae he wanted Clarke to manufacture evidence. He did this because such a connection fit perfectly in his view of Saddam Hussein. It had to be true ... it was just too perfect. If you encourage your people strong enough, and don't show any doubt, that will give them the tenacity they need to find the proof.

Why is this immoral? Well, it's very dangerous to have a President that is incapable of challenging his own assumptions, especially when the challenge is based on fact. And it leads to disingenous methods for 'selling' the policy. "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," and all that.

I am convinced that Bush believed in his heart that invading Iraq was the right thing to do. But now he and his administration had the task of selling the war. How do you do that? You play up the threat ... WMD's and terrorism, with 9/11 as the implicit effect of not acting decisively. You downplay the time - "weeks, instead of months" - and the costs. (When Lindsey dared to suggest the war could cost "$100 to $200 billion," he was being disloyal by being off message, so he was soon out.) The Iraqis will welcome us with open arms. Oil revenues will pay for the war. The rest of the world will fall in line behind us if we act.

And you don't get distracted by half-measures ... containment rather than invasion. Because Bush knew - he knew - that Saddam couldn't be contained, and he wouldn't broker any argument to the contrary. He knows that Iraq will foster democracy in the Middle East, facts be damned.

What's depressing about all this is that being wrong doesn't seem to affect him in the slightest. Because admitting a mistake is bad politically, he doesn't ever allow that he may be wrong ... even ,it seems, to himself.

Sorry about the length...


At 2:33 PM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

I believe Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to both be very, very smart men and NO… I do not believe they were trying to mislead us. For one, BOTH the comments you posted above are TRUE. Both men were talking about the war, (invasion) not the aftermath of it. Don’t cut and paste a transcript and then show me what you got. Show me the entire transcript so I can get a feel of the overall statement being made. The problem with to many people these days is that they will take a few words out of a mile long statement and try to say that these few words or the sole truth of said man or women. That’s cut and paste and I can not form an opinion by such things.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

For aubreyj and Alan. When in the course of history has the occupation of a country cost the invading country more lives than the invasion? In my mind, the war is still going on. We still have combatants on both sides.

Just because President Bush said "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended," doesn't make it true. That statement was made over two years ago. Do you think the more than 1,000 men and women who have died since Bush made that statement didn't die in a war?

Semantics aside, people are still dying and some of us think the entire operation was unnecessary and the loss of life was dissipative.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Robert, fair enough. I would indeed say we are still at war. But I do think those quotes were specifically addressing the time it would take to overthrow Saddam and not how long it would take to get in and out.

That said, I don't think anyone expected us to still have this many troops there over two years in. Aubrey and I disagree on this, but I do think there was a failure of planning. I don't believe such a strong insurgency was inevitable or unforseeable.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

When in history has any country been able to take another country down in just a few short weeks? Your answers lie in these realities… (The way war is waged is not the same animal as it was back during our fathers and their father’s days. With all the people lost on 9-11... All the people lost in Afghanistan and Iraq to date does not come close to the men lost in just one day of Beach Storming in the wars of past…)Don’t take me wrong. Modern warfare like all wars of past just flat out suck...

At 12:42 AM, Blogger Jami said...

there was one good reason and one bad the neo-cons wanted war: install democracy and get a pantload of oil. neither of these were admitted in the "run-up" to war, which (understandably) infuriated people who like to be told the truth.

in that the place is a kind of chaos we certainly wouldn't want for our own country, i think we need brains besides rumsfeld's thinking about how to achieve those two goals, democracy and oil.

At 1:45 AM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

Show me the OIL...
Where did Bush and his Administration ever bring up oil as a reason for going to war? Help me here... Please!!! Show me anything on paper or tape that proves this point. I really don’t think you can for it is not there. Well maybe in the cut and paste world of Michael Moore. Oh yea-- He don't count for nothing........

At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Yan said...

Posted by aubreyj:

"Show me the OIL..."

This invasion was originally called "Operations Iraqi Liberation" (Ari Fleisher, March 2003).

What does that spell?

The invasion then had to be re-christened "OIF" - Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Too obvious by far?

At 4:02 PM, Blogger ChrisJ said...

There is not going to be "quote on quote" blatant convictable evidence that this was a created war by our current administration. I am about evidence and unfortunately there is not any direct insdisputable evidence that Bush and the others created evidence or manipulated or even lied, however, with that said sometimes common sense has to come into play.

Sometimes all you can do is cut and paste. Some say it was not wrong for the administration to have a plan for war and then work their evidence or find evidence to fit their plans. Well then it is equally alright for others to "cut and paste" evidence and comments from the administration that contradicts their reasons for war. I believe, however cannnot prove, that Bush went to war for the reasons of uprooting Sadamm, gaining majority control of the oil(not indepently, he has lots of friends to share it with), and creating business for contractors that they have stakes in.

Bush is a man and men have faults, these are my personal opinions and probably will never be proven, however, when you add 2 and 2 it is 4.

Also, if it weren't for cut and paste Bush and the administration would not have had any evidence or support for their plans.

At 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Dave said...

When in the course of history has the occupation of a country cost the invading country more lives than the invasion?
The Philippine Insurrection

At 7:20 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

The occupation of the Phillipine's is actually a great comparrison to Iraq. It was fought with a mainly volunteer force and national guardsemen and the American public was generally uncomfortable with it or ignored it (easier to do in the days before TV). But it is a lost bit of U.S. history.

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im a little surprised by some of the discussion on this board, one that I though might, in avoiding the ugly attacks of the right and left, be somewhat more rational and thoughtful about significant issues. Here are some basic facts that are often not addressed or missed in discussions:

1. Reason for War in Iraq. The Security Industry of the US, composed of some of the brightest minds our country has ever produced - for both Democratic AND Republican administrations - all believed Iraq had WMD. Im talking about Ashton Carter, Graham Allison, Robert Blackwill, et al. These are career leaders in the field and have saved us and the world from destruction many times over. Their loyalty is to us, not those in power. I have attended their public and private meetings since the war and they admitted they believed Iraq had WMD and they were wrong. Any president would have to take them at their word, just as Kennedy and every president since.

2. Iraq Democracy. Democracy in Europe never existed before the French Revolution, so why is it that some people believe its impossible in the Middle East? At the heart of that argument, is racism, not brutal perhaps, not intended perhaps, but nevertheless present. The world saw the bravery that self-determination brings out in all human beings, the great and innate desire to be free, when Iraquis defied bombs and showed their stained fingers on election day. Look at the evidence, democracy is a fact in the Middle East (Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, soon Libya, even Syria, and somewhat in S.A., Jordan, et al), just not the way we envision it, and it is demonstrably a fact in Muslim countries across the globe.

3. Iraq is the cradle of civilization. These people are very smart, very educated, and very capable of governing themselves. Mesopotamia was the first great civilization and that is Iraq! Rome fell, Greece fell, The British Empire fell ... but they are all still great societies, as is Iraq. They will find their way.

4. Democracy will not be the same everywhere. Right now the most important person in Iraq is the cleric Al-Sistani ... he moves the majority. He could control the country much like clerics in neighboring Iran. But he doesnt. He wants to create the first Islamic Democracy, combining Islamic sharia law, traditions and beliefs in a real democracy, as codified in a new constitution. He is studying every major constitution to do it. He will be regarded, when he is done, as one of the greatest statesmen of our times, and will win the Nobel prize for his grand efforts. Not enough credit is given to this great country and its potential, given its past.

Lets keep the middle, the middle, and not fall into the trap that current political evironment has set for us all. Keep rational debate alive.

At 2:24 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Anonymous at 1:48pm today:

Great thoughts. I would agree completely, particularly the point that the Iraqis are a great people. As for some comments not being particularly "middle of the road," that's why I started this debate series. While we here at The Yellow Line try to get beyond the propaganda of both left and right (and I'd like to think we succeed most of the time) many of our readers, both regular and casual, are much more "sold" on one side or the other's view of issues.

There is no more contentious issue than Iraq. I am reminded of this everytime I write about it and receive angry comments. I think one problem is that not many of us (and I will include myself in this) are well versed in International relations in general or Iraq in particular. I have tried to do as much independent reading on these subjects as I can, but I claim no great expertise.

Yet many others seem convinced they know how the intelligence community works or what a people on the other side of the world prefer. They make their assumptions based off of a gut instinct. Of course, assumptions have a habit of being wrong. They also have a habit of being simplistic and those who too often assume are too often pulled in by propaganda.

Anyway, my hope has been that by providing a forum for both "sides" to express their feelings and debate the issues, some might come to more rational conclusions. I, for one, have learned a lot by reading what other's think. Rational, of course, doesn't mean right. But it does mean using reason over instinct and eschewing assumptions in favor of knowledge.

Thanks for the comment and I hope you check out the other questions in this series and provide your thoughts.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger TekBoss said...

NewAmericanCentury.org can answer this question quite concisely.


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