Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005
 
Well, I expected President Bush's speech to be fairly content-free, and he delivered.

But I do wish he would stop doing one thing: changing the subject from how we are going to win in Iraq to why we are in Iraq.

I wish he'd stop doing that for two reasons.

First, because I hate when people change the subject like that. I really do want to know how we are going to win in Iraq. Rehashing how we wound up there, or why we're still there, is not an answer to that question.

Second, because I'm not sure going there gets him anywhere. Let me explain why by reference to NRO's new editorial about the Iraq War and 9-11. I'll go point by point.

"Bush was absolutely justified in invoking repeatedly Sept. 11 and the fight against terrorism in his speech from Fort Bragg Tuesday night," the editorial reads. "Let's count the ways."
  • There never would have been an Iraq war without 9/11, which drastically reduced the country's tolerance for a hostile Arab dictator thought to be in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

    That's true. And yet, that's a also a fairly damning indictment, inasmuch as it amounts to saying: because of 9-11, we erred on the side of war when the threat was ambiguous. That may (or may not) excuse an error - but it does not transform an error into a retrospectively correct course of action.

    Moreover, while it's true that 9-11 made us far more willing to risk war with Saddam, it's not at all clear to me that it drove the assessments of the WMD threat specifically. Because, after all, we've done almost nothing about North Korea, which actually has the bomb (so they say, and we believe). Rather, I think in retrospect the fairest way to characterize our approach to the WMD question was: we knew what we wanted to believe, because that would provide another justification for a war we felt was necessary, and we interpreted the ambiguous facts to suit that desire. That kind of thing happens alot, particularly under stress. But there comes a point where you stop repeating in public things that aren't quite so, even if you once believed them, and that point has certainly passed when the public knows they aren't quite so.

  • Saddam's regime had a web of connections to Islamic extremists and terrorists, as explained by Andy McCarthy elsewhere on NRO.

    Well, that certainly distinguishes Iraq from, say, Iran, or Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, or Syria, or Libya, or Sudan, or . . . you get the idea. The question is not whether Saddam was willing to work with al-Qaeda, because a whole host of regimes in the region have had one or another degree of involvement with al-Qaeda. The question is: how important was Saddam to al-Qaeda, and, to the extent that Saddam was a threat, what was the best way of neutralizing it? The Administration has consistently refused to embrace the strongest claims made by some war supporters that Saddam was actually involved in 9-11 or was importantly involved with al-Qaeda for any purpose other than to plan for his own defense of Iraq in the case of an American invasion. There is no plausible reason why the Administration would not embrace these claims if they were credible. That ends the conversation as far as I'm concerned.

    I'll take the next several points together.

  • Foreign jihadists are now pouring into Iraq to fight on behalf of Abu Zarqawi who has explicitly allied himself with Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept 11 attacks. The case for a connection between the Iraq war and the sort of terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 is — sadly — stronger than ever.

  • Bin Laden himself has, as Bush noted Tuesday night, called the Iraq war a crucial front in the war on terror. He has said that the war will end in “victory and glory or misery and humiliation.”

  • If we lose in Iraq, a Sunni rump state could emerge that would provide a haven for terrorists, the same way Afghanistan provided a haven for the 9/11 terrorists.
    If we fail in Iraq, it will be a blow to America's prestige. One reason the terrorists struck on 9/11 is that they thought America was weak and making it bleed would prompt it to abandon its allies in the Middle East. The signal of weakness sent by a loss in Iraq wouldn't placate our enemies, but invite more attacks.

  • Supporters of a radical Islamic ideology struck American on 9/11. The war on terror is not a fight against a tactic (as the name falsely suggests), but against that ideology. The appeal of an ideology ebbs and flows with perceptions of its success. Communism advanced in the third world after its victory in Vietnam. The Islamists would get a similar boost if they were to prevail in Iraq.

    All of the above are true, and they are good reasons for seeing the war through to a reasonable conclusion. But they all describe threats to America that are consequences of the war in Iraq, rather than reasons to have gone in already. It is certainly the case that now that we are there, we have to finish the job in a way that leaves us more rather than less secure. It does not therefore follow that going in the first place was a good idea.

    I remember Mickey Kaus during the election campaign saying something very smart along the following lines. He view was that the Iraq war had been a serious mistake that had made America less secure. But it was obvious that, once begun, ending the war badly - cutting and running, say - would make America even less secure. Because Bush "owned" Iraq, and Kerry didn't, it actually made sense to prefer Bush to Kerry on the question of Iraq - while (in Kaus's view) preferring Kerry to Bush on the question of overall strategy in the War on Terror - because Bush could not afford to "lose" Iraq, while Kerry could (and would be tempted to do so). Without endorsing every aspect of that analysis, it struck me at the time and still that there was a lot of sense there.

  • Competing interpretations of Islam are at war in Iraq — that of Aytollah Sistani, who says Islam is compatible with democracy, and that of Zarqawi, who believes like bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers that Islam is a religion of violence. It is imperative that Sistani win out.

  • Islamic extremists justifiably fear a Middle East that turns away from radicalism and anti-Americanism. Victory in Iraq will be a step toward that goal.

    Well, I've written before about Sistani, and how his notion of what democracy is might not be precisely what we mean by the term (he differs importantly from the Iranians in that he opposes clerical rule, but on the other hand he certainly expects Iraqi law to conform to Islamic law, and he would support clerics telling people how to vote - so long as clerics did not themselves wield power). But that's a nit-pick; Sistani is, in the spectrum of Iraq and the Middle East generally, both a good guy and an important guy.

    But the real point is that these are precisely the political objectives that are so hard to achieve by military means. It is one thing to topple Saddam Hussein, and quite another to shepherd Iraq to the place that, apparently, our war aims require it to get to. We need to hear from the President how we are going to get there, and not only what the goal is. Simply reasserting the goal without any substantive explanation of how we're making progress towards it only reduces our - and the President's credibility.

Look: I supported the war, and many of the reasons why I supported it do not hold water in retrospect. Repetition of those reasons is not reassuring.