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A dissenting view on Iraq and intervention

I recognize that some of the other contributors to this blog believe that military intervention in Iraq was justified.

However, it appears that, after expending literal trillions of dollars, and after countless deaths, Al Qaeda, which had not even a slight foothold in the country before the U.S. led invasion, is in a position to take over the bulk of the country. Certainly it is a real risk in coming days, even if it does not actually happen.

Iraq had no involvement in 9/11. Trained weapons inspectors said that it possessed no weapons of mass destruction, and that claim proved to be correct, while the claims of politicians that they were actively developing WMDs proved to be wrong. Today, however, Iraq stands on the threshold of being a location actually controlled by Al Qaeda, an outcome that would have been unimaginable if Saddam Hussein had remained in control.

Some might ask, “who could have predicted that the U.S. would leave the country with a corrupt, ineffectual government capable only of looting foreign aid and oil revenues?”

I would argue that anyone with an understanding of what government programs are like could have predicted that.

One might have a beautiful, seemingly airtight argument for why an ideal intervention into Iraq might have been of enormous benefit both to the Iraqis and to the world. This is not very different from the beautiful, seemingly airtight arguments made by Statists for why the government should run health care, or why it should help train the unemployed for new jobs, or a raft of other claims.

However, in the end, your beautiful idea will not be executed by angels, or even by you. It will executed by bureaucrats.

Perhaps (and I say at most “perhaps”) if angels had invaded Iraq they would have produced a wonderful outcome. However, the nation was invaded by the same keen minds responsible for such disasters as the U.S. Postal Service, the Veterans Administration hospitals, the Internal Revenue Service, and other organs that are hardly paragons of good management and reliable execution.

Libertarians are (correctly) fond of telling collectivists in debates that utopia is not an option. One cannot compare one’s idealized government program against the alternative, one must compare what will realistically happen under state control with the alternative.

The current disaster is simply another example of this. Iraq was not, in fact, invaded by angels, it was invaded by the U.S. government, the occupation was run like any government program, and the resulting disaster was entirely predictable.

The lesson to us all is that it is all fine and well to muse “if I ran the world”, but in reality no one person can run the world. Even if a leader actually has the best of intentions (which is rare in itself), they plan as men do, not as gods do, and they rely upon men, not gods, to execute their plans. Dreaming about what might be accomplished by gods is insufficient. One must instead discuss what is actually achievable by men.

142 comments to A dissenting view on Iraq and intervention

  • Some might ask, “who could have predicted that the U.S. would leave the country with a corrupt, ineffectual government capable only of looting foreign aid and oil revenues?”

    I would argue that anyone with an understanding of what government programs are like could have predicted that.

    So, ultimately the lesson is that no country should ever invade another country unless it was in response to a clear and present danger? Certainly sounds like a good policy.

    If Iraq had been left to its own devices they might well have got rid of Saddam and the supporters of his own regime and they might have done it in an organic nature that retained the integrity of Iraqi society, even despite its ethnic and religious divisions.

    By invading and occupying Iraq, the US laid the foundations for the present chaos. It would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie (especially rabid sleeping dogs like Saddam)

    He was already rendered toothless by the combination of sanctions, UN weapons inspectors and the Northern and Southern no-fly zones, the invasion itself just caused chaos.

  • The US did not have the luxury of maintaining the status quo. Firstly their army was detested in Saudi Arabia and their continued presence would likely have led to al Qaeda attacks in that country. Remember, it was the presence of American forces in Saudi that was *the* primary motivation and gripe of Osama bin Laden. Secondly, Russia and France were busy normalizing relations with Saddam Hussein – whilst simultaneously voting to continue the sanctions which were harming the US politically and economically. This farce had to end. Thirdly, the US was rightly worried that the second their attention is elsewhere, Saddam Hussein would be back to the borders to threaten Kuwait and Saudi again (especially if Russia had increased their diplomatic and economic ties in the meantime). The Kuwaitis still considered Saddam Hussein a threat, as they refrained from upgrading their crumbling infrastructure until he had been removed (I took part in the upgrade works). And it is worth noting that a year or two after the Iraq War, the USA moved it’s army out of Saudi and into Qatar.

    The real disgrace of the Iraq War was not the incompetent US leadership, it was that the entire world let the security of the Middle East oilfields rest completely with the US and sniped from the sidelines; and some, notably Russia and France, actively sought to undermine those efforts whilst enriching themselves, yet pretended to be the voices of reason and moral authority. The US should never have been out in such a position, but given the rest of the world put them there, they cannot complain too much when they act in a manner that might not be to their liking. The world had 10 years to grasp the Saddam nettle, but preferred to giggle with delight as the US struggled with a failing sanctions regime. Fuck ‘em. And Saddam.

  • George Tobin

    Part of the reason for taking out Saddam was that he would either develop a working realtionship with Sunni terror groups if he remained in power or that upon his passing, his successor would be Islamist or Iran-allied. So not invading also carried a substantial downside potential.
    That Saddam was rendered “toothless” by UN weapons inspectors who were no longer on the ground and no-fly zones is perhaps a surprise to the large number Kurds and Shia killed toothlessly and to many intel pros who thought Saddam had considerable leeway for dangerous behavior. Invasion was arguably the best choice from a set of options which all sucked.
    Mr. Obama has managed to effected the worst of available outcomes — piss away the narrow opportunity presented by a hard won status quo that avoided the worst outcomes to instead allow the broader region to come under Islamist or Iranian control.
    The invasion per se did not cause the current chaos. In a global power vaccuum, it would likely have happened post-Saddam with no invasion and with certainty in a post-invasion vaccuum.
    I agree that the current outcome in Iraq makes the invasion seem pointless but that has more to do with gross mismanagement of the post-invasion than the invasion itself.

  • Sigivald

    Trained weapons inspectors said that it possessed no weapons of mass destruction, and that claim proved to be correct, while the claims of politicians that they were actively developing WMDs proved to be wrong

    True.

    Except remember that it wasn’t just “politicians” saying that.

    It was, as far as I know, the consensus of the entire world’s intelligence community that Iraq was one or more of actively developing WMDs or in possession of secret stockpiles of them.

    This belief was encouraged and promoted by the state of Iraq to keep Iran worried; but the brinksmanship failed, obviously.

    Let’s not make it sound like the war was just ginned up with false pretenses, shall we? That’s been untenable for everyone but rabid Democrats and conspiracy theorists since at least the Robb-Silberman report.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    That something can be done badly is no excuse for not doing it at all. That it will inevitably be done so is, but that wasn’t obvious in 2003. And even today, the failures of Bush the kackhanded and Obama the uber-kackhanded don’t add up to the inevitability of intervention’s failure. The Axis was, after all, defeated and to excellent effect.

    The great strategic failure in Iraq was in not turning left at Baghdad and proceeding to the Mediterranean Sea. Taking out Assad as well as Saddam would have made the invasion about ‘brutal and corrupt Arab governments as a spawning ground for violent movements’. As it was, stopping at the border made it all about Saddam, which it never was.

    Had Bush explained that “The Arab World needs an enema, and for various practical reasons Iraq is the place to stick the hose” and included Syria as well, everyone not educated beyond their capacity would have understood – especially the leaders of Arab countries not invaded. But he was seduced by the need to appear righteous and so we got a lot of bumf about Iraq and terrorism that didn’t hold up.

    Seventy years ago, leaders on both sides in WW2 justified the invasions (well, at least their invasions) of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Lichtenstein, and Iceland on purely pragmatic grounds. Like those countries, Iraq may have been a neutral in the War on Terror but, like those countries, neutrality wasn’t a shield and didn’t keep it from being a legitimate target. Against international law, of course, but as the saying goes, “In times of war the law is silent.”

  • Snorri Godhi

    It is difficult to disagree with the hard-headed realism of this post. One can still quibble, though, and i think my quibbles are not irrelevant.

    I recognize that some of the other contributors to this blog believe that military intervention in Iraq was justified.

    My quibble here is that “justified” is poor framing: the issue in this post is not whether the intervention was justified, but whether it had positive consequences. (It’s consequentialism, not deontology.)

    Some might ask, “who could have predicted that the U.S. would leave the country with a corrupt, ineffectual government capable only of looting foreign aid and oil revenues?”

    I would argue that anyone with an understanding of what government programs are like could have predicted that.

    But what would you have argued after ww2? that there was no chance that Germany, Italy, and Japan were going to have economic miracles?

  • Regional

    The good thing about the defeat of America by the armchair strategists is that America will never intervene in Middle east politics again. I try to explain to my family the position Iraq holds in the Middle East, I imagine if you will standing in Iraq, no-one in the Middle East is far away and the perps who carried out the 9/11 attacks which were more devastating than Pearl Harbour came from the Middle East. Congratulations people, you’ve given the green light to extremists to attack the people in America’s big cities. But it’s not all doom and gloom, America staying out Middle East politics lets them get on with killing each other and remember they’ll always sell their oil to America and Europe as the oligarchs need the revenue to stay in power. Facts are never real unless they’re history and then they’re debatable. I’m alright Jack.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Arrghh!! For “Lichtenstein” read “Luxembourg.” Sorry, brain fart.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Forgive me not fully engaging with the debate – I’m feeling a little off at the moment.

    I’d just like to say that even in my gloomiest moments regarding the hopes I once would have had for a better life for people in the Muslim world I still think there’s one great thing the Iraqi invasion did.

    Put a dictator in a noose. Sent all the right messages, that did.

    Incidentally, though I make no prediction, it is proverbial that insurgents “run both ways”. There is a history in that part of the world of hugely dramatic advances followed by equally dramatic collapses.

  • Codebanger

    He was already rendered toothless by the combination of sanctions, UN weapons inspectors and the Northern and Southern no-fly zones, the invasion itself just caused chaos

    . The “sanctions” were routinely subverted by Saddam’s cash and what little they were holding was being nibbled away (see “Oil for Food”). All sorts of folk were howling about the hundreds-of-thousands the sanctions were killing then.

    . Saddam was playing games with the UN weapons inspectors and the CIA reported that Joseph Wilson gave them a different report than he claimed in the op-ed.

    . The same folk that now claim Saddam didn’t have WMD also claimed at the time that if we invaded he’d use what he didn’t have anymore.

    If Saddam had stayed in power, by now he’d be 77 (barring assassination, coup, age) but the media reports didn’t seem to make either Uday or Qusay look like the sort of heir-apparent that could hold things together after the old monster was gone.

    It was, as far as I know, the consensus of the entire world’s intelligence community that Iraq was one or more of actively developing WMDs or in possession of secret stockpiles of them.

    It was the consensus right up until Bush looked serious about doing something serious to Saddam. Then, suddenly, those same intelligence communities started doing 180s.

    Kind of like “Is Iran developing nuclear weapons” annual US intelligence community report. For awhile, every year the answer flipped from the previous year.

  • Laird

    I’m not quite sure of the point of this essay. I suppose it’s analogous to debating whether Lincoln should have fired on Fort Sumter: an exercise in historical second-guessing. Very well, I can play that game.

    “Iraq had no involvement in 9/11.” Strictly true, provided that you insert the word “direct”. Because it is clear that Iraq was home to a number of al Qaeda training camps, and it also was a frequent transit point for al Qaeda operatives. Iraq’s hands weren’t squeaky clean with respect to 9/11.

    “Trained weapons inspectors said that it possessed no weapons of mass destruction.” Again, strictly true in that none were found after the invasion was finished. But clearly Iraq had them at some point because it is documented that Saddam Hussein used them on his own people (the Kurds). So is your argument that he simply used them all up at that time? Improbable. The more likely scenario (and one for which there is some evidence) is that they were secretly shipped to Syria prior to the invasion. I would remind you that every intelligence agency in the world, and the UN, believed at the time that Iraq had WMDs. They could have all been wrong, or all lying, or taken in by Hussein’s boasts about having them, but again that seems improbable. In any event, it’s not as cut and dried as you would have us believe.

    I don’t dispute that the US left Iraq with a “corrupt, ineffectual government.” That was probably inevitable given the nature of governments, especially in the middle east. But that doesn’t mean that the invasion itself was wrong, merely that the aftermath was bungled. Which, as you say, could have been predicted by anyone with an understanding of governments. The invasion itself was justified (or at least justifiable), but we should have left it at that; once the mission (destroying the terrorist training camps and ensuring that there were no more WMDs or the facilities for manufacturing them) was complete we should have left Iraq to its own devices. It was not our job to clean up the mess, or to engage in a fruitless “nation-building” exercise; that was for the Iraqi people to handle. (In fact, I believe we should have demanded war reparations for our costs, taken in the form of some fixed percentage of their oil production until paid in full.)

    None of which should be taken as an argument for re-intervention in Iraq now. Even if the ISIL forces should take over the country, so what? Sure they’re “Islamists”; every organization in that part of the world is. Are they al Qaeda? I don’t think so. They may have some ties, but again all the Islamist groups do. We do need to keep a close watch on them, and if they become a serious threat to the US we can deal with it then. But not now; let Iraq deal with its own internal affairs.

  • Dom

    I think Tim Newman hit the nail on the head. The entire comment should be SQOTD.

    But I’d like to address a point from John Galt:

    If Iraq had been left to its own devices they might well have got rid of Saddam and the supporters of his own regime and they might have done it in an organic nature that retained the integrity of Iraqi society, even despite its ethnic and religious divisions.

    Or not. Certainly the North Koreans are not getting rid of the Kim dynasty, which is getting nastier with each generation. When you look at Sadam’s sons (who managed rape rooms in their day) it’s clear that nothing “organic” would have gotten rid of them. People who are nearly always opposed to military interventions should admit that a good portion of the human race is forever doomed to slavery and misery.

  • However, in the end, your beautiful idea will not be executed by angels, or even by you. It will executed by bureaucrats.

    So what? As with disease, degree matters. Costa Rica is preferable to North Korea. Post Nazi German is preferable to Nazi Germany. Post Soviet Russia is preferable to the Soviet Union. Post Saddam Iraq is preferable to Ba’athist Socialist Iraq… particularly if your part of Iraq is protected by the Peshmerga rather than the Iraqi Army (indeed if anyone can be said to have truly ‘won the war’ when all the chips were counted, it is the Iraqi Kurds).

    Yeah it is a mess, no surprise there, but Saddam is dead (sic semper tyrannis), and frankly the USA/UK could probably have got the hell out a whole lot sooner and things would not be materially worse than they are now, but we live in an imperfect world. The problem is not “The USA invaded Iraq”, it is “The USA invaded Iraq, and then having got rid of Saddam, it did not declare victory and get the hell out”… ditto for Afghanistan.

  • RRS

    But, what ho!

    Observe the effective “intervention” of the Quds forces of the Iran Revolutionary Guards.

    It is quite possible that we are seeing the results of subtle Saudi (or Wahhabi) intrigue aimed at diverting Iran from extending its hegemony over Syria.

    The present Taliban/Al Qaeda territorial demarcation from Aleppo to Ramada is an enormous expansion (perhaps an overextension) of territorial control. Perhaps the largest they have ever attained. By pressing further into Iraq they are likely to draw the Iranian forces now fighting in Syria to attack in a salient somewhere between Mosul and Falluja.

    That will leave the radical “jihadist” forces in Syria in a much more important and perhaps dominant role in the ongoing insurgency against the Allawites.

    Meanwhile, “Super Squirrel” in Ankara will have some tough decisions to make, possibly requiring reversing course back toward continuing westernization.

  • jdm

    I recognize that some of the other contributors to this blog believe that military intervention in Iraq was justified.

    I believed this, or more precisely, I believed that we should replace Saddam’s regime with something “better”. My intellectual justifications for this were laid out in this blog posting from Steven den Beste.

    I now think that approach was wrong and I admit I was wrong. I don’t believe the peoples in the Middle East (outside of Israel) are “ready” for a Western-style democratic/republican regime.

    I (now) agree with Perry’s prescription (June 12, 2014 at 5:45 pm).

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    The Primary Perry writes:

    However, in the end, your beautiful idea will not be executed by angels, or even by you. It will executed by bureaucrats.

    So what? As with disease, degree matters. Costa Rica is preferable to North Korea. Post Nazi German is preferable to Nazi Germany. Post Soviet Russia is preferable to the Soviet Union. Post Saddam Iraq is preferable to Ba’athist Socialist Iraq…

    Certainly the world has better and worse, and we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Of course, that’s part of my point. Iraq started with a brutal dictator, but ISIS is said to be so radical that Al Qaeda itself renounced it, and they’re now in control of a large chunk of a large chunk of the Sunni portions of the country. This outcome may indeed end up much worse than what existed before.

    particularly if your part of Iraq is protected by the Peshmerga rather than the Iraqi Army (indeed if anyone can be said to have truly ‘won the war’ when all the chips were counted, it is the Iraqi Kurds).

    Recall, btw, that the Kurds had effectively seceded before the US invasion and were already running their own state-within-a-state. That was the reason for the Northern no-fly zone etc.

    Yeah it is a mess, no surprise there, but Saddam is dead (sic semper tyrannis),

    He certainly was a horrible criminal, but perhaps his punishment could have been arranged for in a less costly manner.

    and frankly the USA/UK could probably have got the hell out a whole lot sooner and things would not be materially worse than they are now, but we live in an imperfect world. The problem is not “The USA invaded Iraq”, it is “The USA invaded Iraq, and then having got rid of Saddam, it did not declare victory and get the hell out”… ditto for Afghanistan.

    Is not the problem you point out evidence for my hypothesis, which is to say, that the state does not do what we would prefer it to do, but rather what it chooses to do, and that we should not compare our preferences against the alternative but rather the realistic possibilities against each other?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Laird writes:

    “Iraq had no involvement in 9/11.” Strictly true, provided that you insert the word “direct”. Because it is clear that Iraq was home to a number of al Qaeda training camps, and it also was a frequent transit point for al Qaeda operatives. Iraq’s hands weren’t squeaky clean with respect to 9/11.

    I am unaware of any credible evidence to that effect, and I’ve seen numerous People Who Should Know (including former insiders like Richard Clarke) state that no evidence for such a connection ever existed. Saddam Hussein was many things, but he was not an ally of Islamic radicalism — he had reason to fear such people, not to coddle them.

    “Trained weapons inspectors said that it possessed no weapons of mass destruction.” Again, strictly true in that none were found after the invasion was finished. But clearly Iraq had them at some point because it is documented that Saddam Hussein used them on his own people (the Kurds).

    They did indeed have them prior to the first Gulf War, but they were destroyed by the weapons inspectors and never re-built. Even the US was forced to reluctantly admit that the weapons inspectors were probably correct in their claim that no such weapons or near-term ability to construct such weapons existed in Iraq at the time of the US invasion.

  • Is not the problem you point out evidence for my hypothesis, which is to say, that the state does not do what we would prefer it to do, but rather what it chooses to do, and that we should not compare our preferences against the alternative but rather the realistic possibilities against each other?

    No, I think “doing the job and then getting out” is actually not an unrealistic expectation. It has happened.

    In both Afghanistan and Iraq, they “did the job”… they just then stuck around for a great many years too long afterwards instead of departing with unseemly haste so they could hold a ticker-tape parade, which was the rational thing to do.

    Put another way, I got exactly what I wanted for my tax money in the Balkans (I even got to see that first hand and there is nothing quite like the frisson of watching with some binoculars as a gun emplacement full of cetniks eats a 500kg laser guided bomb and thinking “Sweet! Goodbye motherfuckers, I actually paid for about 0.00001% of that!”)… but unlike the Balkans, ‘we’ did not get the fuck out after quite effectively winning, but rather hung around trying to turn some Third World shit hole into Arkansas. Talk about dragging defeat from the jaws of victory. I was expecting Bosnia or Kosova redux but it seems all the wrong lessons got learned by the people that matter. Sheesh, I never thought I’d miss Bill Clinton but guess what…

  • Codebanger

    They did indeed have them prior to the first Gulf War, but they were destroyed by the weapons inspectors and never re-built.

    Uhh, no. IIRC, Saddam claimed to have destroyed them but had no proof. Nobody believed him because a) he still had chem-warfare suits and treatments and b) he kept hinting he’d use them (at least to his army officers).

    Even the US was forced to reluctantly admit that the weapons inspectors were probably correct in their claim that no such weapons or near-term ability to construct such weapons existed in Iraq at the time of the US invasion.

    Easily explained by “hiding the evidence”. There’ve been lots of folks claiming to have seen large numbers of trucks going into Syria prior to the invasion.

    Weren’t there reports of a chemical weapon going off in Damascus a few years ago? Also, didn’t Israel flatten some Syrian desert installation too?

    Hmmmm.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Uhh, no. IIRC, Saddam claimed to have destroyed them but had no proof

    That’s factually inaccurate. The destruction was done under the supervision of UN weapons inspectors, who then proceeded to undertake (for years) a program of unannounced inspections all over the country to assure new weapons were not built.

    As best as I can tell, no one had real evidence to the contrary.

    It appears that what actually happened was that the Iranians desperately wanted the West to get rid of their most fearsome enemy in the region, and proceeded to undertake a disinformation campaign that almost entirely succeeded. They must be rather proud of themselves.

    Weren’t there reports of a chemical weapon going off in Damascus a few years ago?

    I’m unaware of such reports, certainly unaware of any evidence for them. The Syrian regime were mortal enemies of the Hussein regime. Both were technically Baathist, but as often happens in such situations, there was a schism some decades ago and relations became very, very bad. The idea that Syria would have in any way cooperated with hiding Iraqi weapons is risible.

    Most importantly, after nearly a decade of looking, the US was unable to find any evidence of any sort — equipment, documentation, witnesses, you name it — to demonstrate that anything had been rebuilt after the first Gulf War, and US intelligence itself concluded that the weapons had been a myth.

    Weren’t there reports of a chemical weapon going off in Damascus a few years ago? Also, didn’t Israel flatten some Syrian desert installation too?

    The Assad regime had chemical weapons until recently and was known to have them this entire time — for most of the past several decades at least. (They were recently turned over or destroyed following the US/Russian brokered agreement, though there is some doubt as to whether they’ve truly turned everything over.) The Syrian regime did indeed use them during the current rebellion, but no one has ever suggested these weapons originated in Iraq. The Israelis did indeed bomb an installation in Syria, but there is not even the slightest shred of evidence available that this had anything to do with Iraqi WMDs.

  • Codebanger

    That’s factually inaccurate. The destruction was done under the supervision of UN weapons inspectors, who then proceeded to undertake (for years) a program of unannounced inspections all over the country to assure new weapons were not built.

    The above appears a bit of a simplication. The reality seems quite a bit more messy.

    For the first few years, Iraqi officials failed to disclose much of their special weapons programs to the inspectors. In 1995, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law Kamel Hussein defected. He had been in charge of the bioweapons program and revealed to UNSCOM that there was a vast arsenal of weapons they had failed to uncover, including biological weapons, and described how the Iraqis were hiding them. This was a breakthrough for the inspection teams, and they continued their work until 1998, when Iraq blocked further access and expelled UNSCOM.

    The article mentions lots of “unaccounted for” but I expect awful record-keeping (and not just Iraq’s) plays a big part in this too.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/gunning/etc/arsenal.html

  • The Sanity Inspector

    We did a decent job of nation-building in Japan, post-1945. A few of the many problems in Iraq was the artificial origin of the country, and the fact that Arab society is still tribal and clannish at root. They believe in their tribes and sects, but not in their nations. That’s why they make such poor armies but such effective guerrillas.

  • I have always assumed the WMD were a Saddam ploy along these lines:

    Saddam: We will pretend we have WMD so the Yanks do not dare to attack us.

    Bush: OMFG, he has/is working on WMD! We have to take him out!

    Saddam: Actually no, I do not have WMD! Joke! Really!

    Bush (option 1): The fucker is lying, we have to take him out!
    Bush (option 2): Yeah he probably doesn’t but he might and we want a good excuse to take him out anyway as this asshole did not get the message first time it seems.

    One of those. It probably is that trite.

  • We did a decent job of nation-building in Japan, post-1945.

    Imperial Japan. Sophisticated industrial society. BOOM! Nation Building FTW!
    Nazi German. Sophisticated industrial society. BOOM! Nation Building FTW!
    Ba’athist Iraq. Third World Shithole. BOOM! What are you fucking kidding me? I’m outta here!
    Taliban Afghanistan. Third World Shithole. BOOM! What are you fucking kidding me? I’m outta here!

  • John Mann

    As a way of getting rid of Saddam Hussein, it was rather expensive, not least in terms of human life.

    And if we are going to take out Saddam Hussein, there are a lot of other people worth taking out.

    But if the aim was ever to leave Iraq in a better state than we found it – well, anyone who has any appreciation of the Arab world knows that the probability of getting an Iraq that was democratic AND pro-western AND stable was pretty close to nil.

  • Mr Ed

    …the country with a corrupt, ineffectual government capable only of looting foreign aid and oil revenues…

    Clearly not the UK, as we let other countries loot us by handing foreign aid out even if the recipients don’t really want it.

    This Israeli General, who looks reassuringly tough, a Carlsberg General, wasn’t that far off the money in 2011.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/8744913/Full-scale-Middle-East-war-is-imminent-warns-Israeli-general.html

    And compare him with the head of the British Army, well suited to surviving s siege.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2652515/Defence-cuts-no-General-Election-says-Army-chief.html

    However, if we can frack ourselves a decent hydrocarbon supply and can police our own borders, who cares what happens in Iraq?

  • RRS

    For all the worthwhile comments about those events, is it not more important that we try to understand their place in the flow of history and in particular in the history of that region, its peoples and the ideologies that have prevailed from time to time?

  • Mr Ed

    the ideologies that have prevailed from time to time?

    1. Nuttiness
    2. Self-flagellating nuttiness
    3. Collectivism.

    But a pick and mix of 1, 2 and 3.

  • Chip

    “I am unaware of any credible evidence to that effect, and I’ve seen numerous People Who Should Know (including former insiders like Richard Clarke) state that no evidence for such a connection ever existed. Saddam Hussein was many things, but he was not an ally of Islamic radicalism — he had reason to fear such people, not to coddle them.”

    Saddam increasingly embraced Islamism after the first war. Zaqawi was in Iraq by 2002 waging attacks on the Kurds.

    And Richard Clarke? Seriously?

    Not only was he among the most responsible for looking the other way in the run-up to 9/11, he clearly went bonkers shortly after, repeatedly calling for Bushs arrest for war crimes and being a fan favorite at Democracy Now!, Think Progress and Demicratic Underground.

    I guess we know where you do your research on Iraq.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    And Richard Clarke? Seriously?

    Not only was he among the most responsible for looking the other way in the run-up to 9/11, he clearly went bonkers shortly after, repeatedly calling for Bushs arrest for war crimes

    I’ve called repeatedly for Bush’s arrest for war crimes, so I suppose I must be “bonkers” too. So far as I can tell, many of his actions, and that of Obama, fit the definitions — see, for example, ordering deliberate bombings of civilians and torture of prisoners — so both of them should indeed be sharing cells at The Hague.

    and being a fan favorite at Democracy Now!,

    You are a fan of the ad hominem fallacy too, eh?

    Regardless, if you have evidence that contradicts my claims, then feel free to present it. If your main arguments are innuendo, ad hominems and the like, I’ll presume you don’t have such facts.

  • Mike Giles

    “Ba’athist Iraq. Third World Shithole. BOOM! What are you fucking kidding me? I’m outta here!
    Taliban Afghanistan. Third World Shithole. BOOM! What are you fucking kidding me? I’m outta here!”

    They only thing we should have done was to make sure ALL factions were well armed before we left. That would have assured they were too busy trying to kill each, rather then bother us or their neighbors.

  • Regional

    Perry Metzger,
    The Congress committed troops to military action against Sadam’s Iraq and Afghanistan, not GWB, get your facts right. If you’re going to try someone, try the Congress.
    But I do agree with you, these perps can kill New Yorkers till the cows come home, Jeez there’re about eight million of yous, what’s a couple of hundred thousand.

  • RRS

    Hey Ed,

    May I recommend:

    The Middle East” A brief History of the Last 2,000 Years by Bernard Lewis (Scribner, N.Y. 1995)

  • Michael Sol

    Trained weapons inspectors said that it possessed no weapons of mass destruction, and that claim proved to be correct, while the claims of politicians that they were actively developing WMDs proved to be wrong

    “Discovery” Channel aired a documentary prior to the beginning of the Iraq War, which interviewed dozens of UN Weapons Inspectors who were quite adamant that Saddam DID have weapons of mass destruction.

    That was before George Bush asked CIA Director George Tenet if he “was sure” about WMDs in Iraq. “It’s a slam dunk, Mr. President.”

    A few years ago, wondering if I had recalled the program correctly, I ordered a DVD from Discovery Channel. It was just as I had remembered; it was entirely UN personnel being interviewed, and they were adamant. The DVD has since disappeared from the catalog.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Regional” writes:

    The Congress committed troops to military action against Sadam’s Iraq and Afghanistan, not GWB, get your facts right

    Actually, no, and regardless, the Congress did not order or authorize violations of the laws of war or the commission of crimes against humanity.

    Afghanistan is claimed to have been authorized by Pub. L. 107-40, passed September 14, 2001, whose only substantive section reads: “he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States”

    Note that this merely authorizes force, it does not require or “commit” the US to such actions.

    More to the point, there is no statement there that the US was, for example, to kill teenagers sitting in restaurants with drone strikes, or to torture people, or even (for that matter) to occupy and run the nation of Afghanistan.

    On Iraq, presumably you are referring to Public Law No: 107-243, aka “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002″, which, after pages of semi-fictitious “Whereas” clauses, states only this substantively: “The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”

    Again, this authorizes but in no way requires military force. Note also that the President, not Congress, is in the chain of command, and it was the executive, not congress, that broke the law in ordering torture, bombings of civilian targets, coverups of war crimes, etc. — the statute does not obligate the president to torture, to drone bomb weddings, to “double tap” weddings to kill rescuers, to cover up the machine gunning of unarmed civilians at checkpoints, to cover up or order the cover up of the machine gunning Reuters reporters, etc.

    However, thank you for your entertaining revision of history.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Regional” also writes:

    But I do agree with you, these perps can kill New Yorkers till the cows come home, Jeez there’re about eight million of yous, what’s a couple of hundred thousand

    I’m not sure what you are “agreeing” with, but I thank you for your consistent commitment to barbarism. It is appreciated. When one’s ideological opponents say such transparently uncivilized things, one need not go through nearly so great an effort to persuade third parties as to who is correct.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    BTW, “Regional”, isn’t the “we conquered Iraq because of Al Qaeda and you should be grateful” argument wearing a little thin when Al Qaeda, which never was in Iraq before the invasion, is now on the verge of actually running most of the country in the form of ISIS?

    What happens when the Taliban takes over Afghanistan again, as seems inevitable, and maybe takes over Pakistan too (where they never had a foothold before but which now also seems possible) — will this also represent a great victory for Western foreign policy, and demonstrate to me why I should be grateful that the US spent almost four trillion dollars combined on these wars, only to have the purported enemy in control of vast new territories they never previously occupied?

    Perhaps, in the manner of those who advocate for the war on drugs, or for “quantitative easing”, you will explain that the policies never really got an “honest chance”, and that if only “meddlers” like me had not prevented even more money from having been pissed down a hole in the ground for more decades the plan would have inevitably succeeded?

    If a policy doesn’t work, if things get vastly worse, never question, just dig in and do it twice as hard, three times as hard, five times as hard? “If four trillion and a million dead aren’t enough, make it eight trillion and two million dead, and then we’ll have taught them to love Democracy and embrace Western style governance!”

    How much of the Middle East and Central Asia needs to be under the control of extremists before we admit that perhaps the policy is not working?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Michael Sol writes:

    “Discovery” Channel aired a documentary prior to the beginning of the Iraq War, which interviewed dozens of UN Weapons Inspectors who were quite adamant that Saddam DID have weapons of mass destruction.

    Strange that the official report of UNSCOM didn’t say that, and that Scott Ritter, who ran their work, said:

    “When you ask the question, ‘Does Iraq possess militarily viable biological or chemical weapons?’ the answer is no! It is a resounding NO. Can Iraq produce today chemical weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Can Iraq produce biological weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Ballistic missiles? No! It is ‘no’ across the board. So from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq has been disarmed. Iraq today possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction capability.”

    That’s a direct quote. Funny, it isn’t very hard to find quotes from Ritter or other UNSCOM officials online, and they’re all more or less like that.

    So far as I can tell, there were no minority reports among the UN inspectors, and also so far as I can tell, Ritter’s claims proved to be absolutely correct. However, I’m sure your uncited “Discovery Channel” documentary is a more accurate source of information than either the official reports or the subsequent inability of the United States to find any evidence of undestroyed WMDs whatsoever in spite of nearly a decade and literally billions of dollars desperately spent seeking evidence.

    Regardless, however, I’m sure all of this is retroactively justified by the fact that Iraq is now a Western-style multiparty democracy with guaranteed human rights for all. Oh, pardon, did I misspeak there?

  • Regional

    Perry there is only one rule in war. Thankyou for admitting you support barbarism.

  • Fred Z

    Rubble makes no trubble. With apologies and thanks to Derbyshire and the God of spelling.

    By which I mean, let them evolve in peace until they cause us the slightest brow tremor, at which point destroy as much of their property and as many of them as possible, in situ.

    And do not, ever, allow them to immigrate.

    If I wanted to befriend ignorant cave men, I’d publish my phone number at the Guardian.

  • Mr Black

    This is an uninteresting post. If an analysis requires “forgetting” the facts at the time to this degree, it probably wasn’t worth writing.

    Disappointing.

  • Barry Sheridan

    Alas much of the commentary here is drearily predictable. Opinions aired through the prism western eyes that invariably end up concluding that when we do something its wrong and when we don’t do anything that is also wrong! The point surely is this, the overthrow of Saddam gave the people of Iraq a chance to determine where they might head. I recall that people there turned out in considerable numbers when they were presented with the chance to vote, alas no leader has emerged who is capable of using this interest for the benefit of all Iraqi’s. This failure of leadership is not so different from the situation in the older democracies where finding someone able to bridge the gaps between the various factions has become difficult. The advantages inherent in the part of the world we are fortunate to live in owes everything to a stable well established culture and governing structure. This homogenous stability is under threat both in the United States and Europe, primarily from those who want to rule without bothering about accountability or much else. Is this really so different from the attitude that has destroyed the chances for most Iraqi’s?

  • Mr Ed

    On the bright side, should Iraq disintegrate, it is ultimately because not enough people who matter believe in it, and let the Kurds and Sunnis secede.

    Secession can only be a good precedent for liberty, even if it lays bare the vicious undercurrents of Iraqi politics. The problem that the decent people have is that they now have to fight the evil scum. Running away won’t be an option for ever.

  • Regional

    Mister Ed,
    He runs today lives again to run another day.

  • Mr Ecks

    Regional–so you’ll be in the first rank of volunteers to fight against this ISIS group will you? And while war is barbarous it does not need any extra barbarism. That the US–which was once a shining light to the world now practices torture and tries to cover it up is disgrace indeed.

    Perry Metzger calls it right.

  • Mr Ed

    Regional

    The British Army ran (swam/sailed) away at Dunkirk, but the Nazi beast still had to be tackled. Sooner or later, you cannot run (and run) and you cannot hide. The time to run for the moderate Sunni and all Shia in Iraq appears to have passed.

  • Libertarian

    When the U.S. was ramping up for it’s invasion of Iraq, the situation bordered on farce. Going to war? Why? Why? Why? It was insane, for many of the reasons cited above. But to STILL believe it was a good idea is absolutely nuts. And to argue your point, today, against the people who told you ahead of time that was a bad idea, boggles the mind.

    And please, let’s not compare Germany in WWII to the Iraq in 2003: the balance of power was beyond laughable in Iraq. Iraq couldn’t even get a single aircraft into the air during the fighting. And that was with months of warning! Iraq was not a threat.

  • Mr Ed

    Libertarian

    Here in the UK, I was deeply, deeply worried in 2003 that Iraq might attack British Sovereign Bases in Cyprus, I feared Scuds with fearful warheads raining down on our (waterskiing) troops at 45 minutes notice. I did not occur to me that it would seem odd that Saddam (one of the few people known by his first name without being at all popular) might have other fish to fry, or that he might prefer to lob his Scuds on Kuwait, Israel, Iran but no, he would opt for Cyprus despite the risk of hitting harmless Greek Cyprus or Northern Cyprus, effectively part of his large and powerful neighbour Turkey.

    I was mightily relieved when the Blairmacht set off into Iraq, invading in case we were attacked, such a wise precaution, and I still feel safer in my remote village due to that war. I am glad that our political elite shared my fears and made Iraq safe for everyone.

  • Barry,

    “The point surely is this, the overthrow of Saddam gave the people of Iraq a chance to determine where they might head.”

    But in reality, you’ll just get another warlord soon enough.

    Democracy depends on a prior economic weakening of the state. You need a country to get educated and be productive in their own right rather than depending upon land production. When the people then have some economic power, they can start to change their countries. The UK only got votes for all (as in, irregardless of wealth) long after the start of the industrial revolution.

    If you look at countries that aren’t democratic, they generally have a high dependence on land. Either they have lots of oil, or are dirt-poor agrarian economies (like Afghanistan).

    And a country with a high dependence on oil (Russia) that switched to being a democracy we can see how well that worked out. It had 8 years of Yeltsin before Putin came along and within a short period of time it became a dictatorship.

    You’ve got a simple choice in oil states – either good time bastards like The Shah or Saddam Hussein… people who like the high life and leave people alone as long as they don’t challenge their authority. Or theocracies where people are no better off, but also can’t go around wearing miniskirts and listening to the Sex Pistols.

  • And please, let’s not compare Germany in WWII to the Iraq in 2003: the balance of power was beyond laughable in Iraq. Iraq couldn’t even get a single aircraft into the air during the fighting. And that was with months of warning! Iraq was not a threat.

    My main reason (of several) for wanting Saddam dead and Ba’athism crushed was not because I was worried he might drop a Scud on the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea but rather I tend to support the overthrow of tyrants. My ilk of libertarian prefers a world that does not regard mass murderous dictators as off-limits because notions of national sovereignty trump all else. Ideally locals should be able to do this, but we live in an imperfect world. Yes I grant you that the US/UK did a fairly poor job with the aftermath, but that does not mean crushing Saddam and Ba’athism was a bad idea itself. They just should have left the locals to sort out the Iraqi (and Afghani) end-state many years earlier.

    Oh and looks like my guess back in 2005 as to what Iraq’s end-state might look like may have been right on the money.

  • BTW – Just to reiterate Samizdata’s editorial policy:

    Feel free to disagree with Perry (Metzger) post but if you simply go ad hominem, your comment will be deleted.

  • Longtorso

    Imperial Japan. Sophisticated industrial society. BOOM! Nation Building FTW!
    Nazi German. Sophisticated industrial society. BOOM! Nation Building FTW!
    Ba’athist Iraq. Third World Shithole. BOOM! What are you fucking kidding me? I’m outta here!
    Taliban Afghanistan. Third World Shithole. BOOM! What are you fucking kidding me? I’m outta here!

    All known at the time of the war, and all giving us reasons to predict the post-Saddam Iraq wouldn’t necessarily be an improvement over the Saddam led one. You don’t get to say people who opposed the war basically supported Saddam, then say you didn’t support the chaos they’re experiencing now just because you supported the war that led to it. Perry, if you break it, you bought it. Show some integrity and admit that.

    Lies have consequences, even pro war ones. Obama got nominated because he opposed the war. Obama’s loss in Iraq flows from the lies in support of the war that got him elected. If you lie us into a war, you risk the loss of support that leads to things like this.

  • Mr Ed

    I tend to support the overthrow of tyrants

    So do I, but I baulk at asking someone daft enough to join up for the British Armed Forces in the time of Blair to go to war for what I support when it is not the defence of the UK.

    I always thought that the Ba’athists and Labour should have been friends.

  • Feel free to disagree with Perry (Metzger) post but if you simply go ad hominem, your comment will be deleted.

    Who? Where? Have I actually left a comment here despite my best efforts not to do so? :-P

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Alisa, I believe PdeH was referring to a comment that was moderated away, and which was most certainly not from you.

  • Yes, I figured that much, Perry – was being sarcastic.

  • Iraq was not a threat.

    It was a threat to the Saudi and Kuwaiti oilfields, at least according to:

    1) The Kuwaitis, who refused to upgrade their oilfield infrastructure through fear of a repeated invasion (the operators of their facilities told me this personally).

    2) The Saudis, who were so concerned they let a detested, infidel US army remain on its territory to defend them.

    Yes, it’s easy for somebody without skin in the game to say “Iraq was not a threat”. But if the Saudi or Kuwait oilfields stopped producing, for whatever reason (either deliberate or not) the world would be so fucking fucked you couldn’t even describe it. The Iraq War made the Kuwaiti and Saudi oilfields *much* safer, which is as noble a goal for *everybody* in the world as I can think of.

  • Perry, if you break it, you bought it. Show some integrity and admit that.

    Mate, if you look at my comments, I am happy to ‘own up’ to supporting both wars, and moreover I think the *only* mistake has been not getting the fuck out after achieving the war aims: destroy the Taliban government and state in Afghanistan… turn them back into a bunch of guerillas in the hills and leave the Northern Alliance to deal with the aftermath (remember the Northern Alliance? They were the ones who actually marched into Kabul thanks to the air strikes)… and destroy Saddam and the Ba’athist State. Done and dusted. Mission accomplished. Twice. The mistake was not the wars or their mission. The mistake was the mission creep and therefore not then going home immediately afterwards.

    You want to see how it should be done? You do not need to examine ancient history but rather very recent history. Bill Clinton in the Balkans. Strike from the air, tip the scales in favour of the lesser evils, declare victory and go home.

  • Mr Ed

    It was a threat to the Saudi and Kuwaiti oilfields, at least according to:

    That was not how Blair put it, was it? Why not?

  • The mistake was not the wars or their mission. The mistake was the mission creep and therefore not then going home immediately afterwards.

    Exactly. That was especially the case in Afghanistan, where there wasn’t even a government in place recognised by more than 3 countries (Saudi, Pakistan, and the UAE IIRC).

  • That was not how Blair put it, was it? Why not?

    Because he is a twat? The arguments put forward for the war were bloody awful, largely because the whole operation had to be shoehorned through the UN in an ill-fated attempt to get the Russian and French to stop being complete c*nts and do the right thing. So we got all this bollocks about Niger uranium, Colin Powell’s, dodgy dossiers, etc. And I suspect they didn’t make the case for protecting the Saudi and Kuwaiti oilfields for fear that dumbass lefties would label it “war for oil”, which they did anyway. It was a war for oil, but in a far grander sense that effects *everybody*, and not the “enrich American corporations” sense that it was made out to be (and was demonstrably bollocks). Had I been Bush I’d have said something along the lines of:

    “Hey, dickheads. When we had the Gulf War, you asked us to step in, and we’re still fighting the same war for much the same ends. You don’t think we’re fighting the same war? Well, *you’re* not the ones spending the blood and treasure so forgive us for deciding for ourselves who we are and aren’t fighting, thank you very much. You’ve not done anything but bitch and whine for the last 10 years and frankly I’m fucking sick of it. So this ends here and now. Yes, I know you don’t like it, but as I said, you’ve had 10 years to come up with something other than piss and wind and you’ve not done so. So tough shit, as they say in Texas.”

    Which would have been more than enough justification IMO.

  • It was a threat to the Saudi and Kuwaiti oilfields, at least according to:

    That was not how Blair put it, was it? Why not?

    More is the pity. When all those people were marching screaming “NO BLOOD FOR OIL” I wanted to go replace their signs for ones reading “NO BLOOD FOR KEEPING MODERN TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY FUNCTIONING”

  • Richard Thomas

    Something had to be done. Invading Iraq was something. So it was done.

    Never mind that the aims were nebulous and endgame and exit strategies not even considered, the knee was jerked and here we are.

  • Richard Thomas

    Mike Giles, perhaps rather than make sure the factions were armed, make sure the civilians were well armed so when the factions come-a-visiting…

  • Mr Ed

    Nothing had to be done, the 1991 Gulf War showed Iraq that going for Kuwait or Saudi Arabia would meet devastating force, and the no-fly zones were up and running. Iraq had no control over a lot of its airspace and was heavily watched.

  • Nothing had to be done, the 1991 Gulf War showed Iraq that going for Kuwait or Saudi Arabia would meet devastating force, and the no-fly zones were up and running. Iraq had no control over a lot of its airspace and was heavily watched.

    All of which was dependent in the US army remaining in Saudi Arabia, where it was detested and contributing to the instability in that country – and this was supposed to go on for how much longer? Another 20 years? 30? And the Yanks knew that the second their attention is elsewhere and the army withdrawn, the Iraq tanks would be back on the border.

    Also, the no fly zones had a limited life once France and Russia started normalizing relations with Saddam Hussein, which was moving ahead at quite some pace. The US had a window of opportunity to act, and took it. Wisely so, IMO. Not a barrel of lost production!

  • Richard Thomas

    Mr Ed, yes. It was a rhetorical device.

    If you ever see a couple fighting, you may be best to steer clear because if you step between them, there’s a good chance they will both turn on you. So it is with the middle east. We have made no friends there for all the blood we’ve spilled.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    One other point: even successfully installing democracy in a country which is traditionally Moslem isn’t going to result in a freedom-respecting state. We ignored the need to train up Iraqis in the (very un-Islamic) principle of limited government, possibly because our own leaders have no use for it.

  • Tim, if you ever covered this on your blog, I’d appreciate a link – thanks.

  • RRS

    It is very interesting to watch this thread back up through the more recent history in the Middle East arena.

    Perhaps we will come next to the period of the attack on Iran by the then Iraqi regime.

    Maybe we will see some opinions that the Iraqi regime was inadequate or incompetent to deal with the rising Iranian hegemony under the direction of a revitalized ideological politics and culture (which forebode problems for the industrialized world, indicating a need for containment).

    The establishment of a different kind of regime (abutting Iran) with supposedly more “westernized” orientations (which somehow got confused with “democratization”), thus leapfrogging the Western foothold from the nation of Israel further east, could very well impede incipient cultural developments that might disrupt Western interests in maintaining the status quo of the area.

    In the meantime, ideological reactions to the previous Western intrusions had already begun to generate other cultural developments that had much more intrusive impacts on Western interests and security.

    Keep backing this thread up in history to the conditions extant shortly before the permitted (encouraged?) Overthrow of Mohamad Reza Sahh Pahlavi, and the events currently being discussed may take on a different color.

  • Alisa, I don’t think I ever wrote a post about it…but I’ve posted it in many a blog comment. I’m thinking maybe I should write something.

  • Indeed – especially the points about oil. I for one have never seen it put quite like that, and it makes a lot of sense.

  • Regional

    Mister Ed,
    Boat people from the U.S. landed in France to rid Europe of a tyrant but all they’ve received is hatred, same ole shit, different day, fuck ‘em all.

  • Longtorso

    Strike from the air, tip the scales in favour of the lesser evils, declare victory and go home.

    The original post addressed this – the govt doesn’t do things your way, it does things their way. You knew that when you supported govt action.

    What we’re seeing isn’t due to the attempt at nation building you oppossed, it is the result of getting rid of Saddam in the first place, which you supported. Declaring victory and going home would have had the same result, unless you have some argument otherwise. We got rid of one murderous tyrant out of dozens still around and untouched, and his replacement isn’t looking much better. Life isn’t a Michael Bay movie; you can’t just pay your $15, watch stuff blow up, and then call it a day.

    Fighting for the stability of the region where we get our oil? THIS result is making the Mideast more stable?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Just a few comments to follow up — these may or may not get expanded into a posting later on.

    I’d like to make it clear that I am not a pacifist. I think if there’s a threat to you, from one criminal, a gang of twenty, or a gang of 200,000, it is all much the same thing, and you are certainly allowed to use violent force in such circumstances, both to prevent injury to yourself and others and to retaliate.

    This is, however, very different from supporting state based interventions on the far side of the world on flimsy pretexts.

    This is also very different from supporting indiscriminate use of force.

    If there’s a bank robber holed up in an apartment building, bombing it while it is also full of innocent people is not a reasonable move. This judgement does not change if the criminal is a terrorist. It also does not change if the apartment building is on the other side of the world and the other residents of the building happen to be members of [insert arbitrary foreign sect or tribe here].

    Certainly it would be easier for the enforcers of law if they could simply bomb a whole building or even a small town if there’s a suspected criminal inside. It involves less risk to themselves, it is cheaper, etc. However, it is also a vicious crime in itself. A policeman’s life is easy only in a police state. It does not matter that it is “riskier” if one takes targeted actions that will not harm innocent bystanders but which also exposes the enforcers to a potential for personal injury — it is not their place to decide that the life of a child who happens to live near a “terrorist” is less important than their own, and is thus “expendable”.

    It is also entirely reasonable that society have individuals whose job is to investigate crimes. I have no problem with that. Such people may even have to ask suspected criminals questions here and there. This is very different, however, from saying that one may torture suspects to get them to talk to you. As it happens, the evidence from numerous studies says that evidence obtained through torture is of the lowest possible quality, but regardless: torturing people, especially those who haven’t been convicted of any crime, is barbaric.

    My problem, therefore, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is not such claims as “Saddam Hussein was a bad man who deserved to be arrested, and if he could not be captured alive, killed”, or the similar claim for (say) Osama bin Laden or a host of others. Those are perfectly reasonable claims.

    My problem is that the engagements in question were not simple, narrow attempts to capture or kill criminals, and that the vast amount of what is euphemistically termed “collateral damage” involved is unacceptable.

    I would also like to reiterate, in the strongest possible terms, that there are indeed other options between “let the bad guys go” and “bomb the fuck out of a wedding party in Waziristan because some bad guy happens to be attending the event.” These in-between options are, as I acknowledged, substantially more dangerous for those participating — but part of the price we pay for civilization is that you don’t get to give Arnaud Amalric’s answer when asked how to distinguish the Cathars from Catholics.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    A small addendum: I believe it is a great shame that Letters of Marque have fallen into disuse — they should instead have been modernized. They would have been a fine answer to Al Qaeda that did not involve a global scale conflagration, and they also present, even now, a fine answer to the Somali pirates and a wide variety of other groups that violate the peace.

  • Fighting for the stability of the region where we get our oil? THIS result is making the Mideast more stable?

    I don’t know anyone who claims the war was to stabilize the region. I thought it was fought to secure oilfields, or at least should have been. And the Kuwaiti and Saudi oilfields have been as secure as at any time since the Gulf War. Even the oilfields in northern Iraq are secure, thanks to the Kurds. I’ve worked in Nigeria long enough to know that you secure your producing assets, not the surrounding country.

  • Mr Ed

    Has anyone asked ISIS where they get their money from? I was just wondering if the Saudi and Qatari hydrocarbon sales help them.

  • Mr Ed

    Tim Newman

    The US had a window of opportunity to act, and took it

    You again fail, I note, for want of an answer I conclude infallibly, to address the point that the invasion of Iraq was not about securing oil fields anywhere, it was about WMD, which did not exist.

    Does that not mean that you are either a dupe or a dissembler?

  • RRS

    Ed Asks:

    Has anyone asked ISIS where they get their money from? I was just wondering if the Saudi and Qatari hydrocarbon sales help them.

    In response to RRS:

    the ideologies that have prevailed from time to time?

    Ed says:

    1. Nuttiness
    2. Self-flagellating nuttiness
    3. Collectivism.

    But a pick and mix of 1, 2 and 3.

    OK Ed, scroll back to RRS 6/12@6:14 p m
    and again to RRS 6/12 @ 8:56 p m

    Cultures of human groupings are formed from the motivations of the individuals comprising the group.

    Motivations are heavily influenced, if not dominated, by ideologies. Ignore or denigrate the appearances and influences of ideologies of others at peril to your own culture.

    Social orders are formed from aggregations of cultures. Civilizations are formed from aggregations of social orders.

    What we are likely witnessing are serious attempts to restore the basis of a previous set of cultures through the motivations of ideologies. The restoration of those cultures might form the basis for sufficient aggregations to impair the continuing dominance of Western Civilization. That certainly seems to be the hope and desire of particular ideologues of 2 slightly different outlooks, but with similar ends in mind.

    The recommendation posted 6/13 at 12:59 AM still stands.

  • You again fail, I note, for want of an answer I conclude infallibly, to address the point that the invasion of Iraq was not about securing oil fields anywhere, it was about WMD, which did not exist.

    Yup, you got me. The war was about WMDs which didn’t exist, but the side effect was the securing of the worlds most important oilfields. Personally, I don’t take much interest in intentions, especially those publicly spouted by politicians. I’m more interested in outcomes.

  • Am I the only one who remembers that one of the principle war aims was “regime change”? The regime got changed, WMDs was the excuse used to do it.

  • Longtorso

    but the side effect was the securing of the worlds most important oilfields

    Again, is the Mideast more secure if Iraq collapses into chaos or is taken over by ISIS?

  • joel

    Naturally, NONE of this mess is due to the incompetence of the current US adminstration.

    Not Afghanistan. Not Iraq. Not Egypt. Not Libya. Not Syria. Not South Sudan. Not the continuing nuclear weapons program in Iran.

    Being a Democrat means never having to say you are sorry or ever taking responsibity for your actions. Like children, blame others.

    Imagine if Harry Truman had offered a cease fire to the Germans on the death of FDR, and then pulled out US troops, or if Eisenhower had pulled US troops out of Korea, and they blamed their predecessors for the mess they left behind.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “joel” writes:

    Imagine if Harry Truman had offered a cease fire to the Germans on the death of FDR

    I believe you are operating under the mistaken impression that had the United States government spent another four trillion dollars (which it does not have, and which it has to borrow), lost another five or ten thousand soldiers, maimed another few tens of thousands of soldiers for life, and killed another half million or million Iraqis over another decade, that this would have made the slightest difference in the long term outcome.

    I believe you are also operating under the mistaken impression that the United States was given the option to choose to stay if it wished but declined voluntarily. The Obama administration wanted, after all, to leave U.S. troops in Iraq for years to come, but the al Malaki government refused to sign a new Status of Forces agreement, which meant that the U.S. government had to either withdraw its troops or overthrow the government they had just spent a great deal of time, money and blood installing.

    Now, it is understandable that someone who pays insufficient attention might be under the mistaken impression that the Obama administration chose to withdraw its forces, since President Obama crowed loudly about how he had successfully ended the war, but that was political spin — turning lemons into lemonade, claiming credit for something that he hadn’t wanted to do in the first place and was forced into.

    Please, though, by all means, if you wish, believe that the Obama administration wanted to withdraw its troops, but that if it hadn’t, that eventually Iraq would have been a nice, stable, Western-style democracy just like we have back home.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    (By the way, I should point out that, yes indeed, rather than withdraw at the insistence of the Iraqi government, the United States could have always overthrown it, or have chosen to look the other way while this happened. There is ample precedent for this sort of behavior — see, for example, the November 1963 coup against President Ngô Đình Diệm of South Vietnam. Perhaps “joel” would have applauded such a move against Nouri al-Maliki. It would not, however, have changed Iraq into a liberal Western democracy any more than the coup in South Vietnam turned that country into one, it would have just added to the suffering of all involved, including U.S. soldiers and U.S. taxpayers.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    I would just like to point out, not for the first time on Samizdata, that there had been several attempts to assassinate Iraq’s sociopathic dictator in the 1990′s. These were, as far as know, mostly projects by nominal Iraqis and Interested Others in The Region, which for our purposes here probably includes Russia.

    Some of those had some degree of support from the Yanks. Iraqi, and Iraqi-Kurdish, groups were led to believe that the U.S. would not be looking to lynch them if they succeeded in offing the scumbag.

    As far as I know, the pinnacle of this ongoing boondoggle was the absolute assurance that State/CIA gave to a group with which CIA Officer Robert Baer had been working for some time, promising them support. Mr. Baer and the leadership of the local group (and I am very sorry I can’t remember the man’s name anymore; I think it was rather well-known around the time of the Coalition’s invasion) worked to put together a plan, the logistics were figured out, the weapons and manpower were gathered, and everything was good to go. Baer was told by his HQ that the OK was cast in stone and would arrive by carrier pigeon by 0-dark-thirty. The Take-out Team readied itself. And just as it was about to move — Baer got orders from headquarters to stand down.

    The locals were stunned and enraged. Baer was stunned, and enraged….

    He wrote about all this in his book See No Evil, which you can find at Amazon. Now it is true that this book was written with gawdhelpus Seymour Hersch, who is not known for his honest reporting. And it is true also that my own CIA field-officer contact has not been entirely admiring of Mr. Baer. But the larger point is that the Clinton Administration had several opportunities to deal summarily with Saddam in the fashion several above have suggested, and that it didn’t do so is yet another indictment of Slick Willy’s bunch. Mr. Clinton was also the one who turned down the Yemenis’ offer of Mr. bin Laden, to be dealt with by the U.S. as he deserved.

    (For a discussion of that particular misfeasance by Mr. C., see the article from as recently as 2011 at

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2011/05/05/bin-laden-lived-to-fight-another-day-thanks-to-bill-clinton/ .)

  • Again, is the Mideast more secure if Iraq collapses into chaos or is taken over by ISIS?

    Again, I don’t know anyone who claims the war was to stabilize the region. I thought it was fought to secure oilfields, or at least should have been. And the Kuwaiti and Saudi oilfields have been as secure as at any time since the Gulf War. Even the oilfields in northern Iraq are secure, thanks to the Kurds. I’ve worked in Nigeria long enough to know that you secure your producing assets, not the surrounding country.

  • Paul Marks

    Sadly this post misses-the-point.

    The point is NOT “government intervention” – Saddam was a government to (he was not example of the free market).

    It may be the correct policy for governments to “intervene” against OTHER GOVERNMENTS.

    For example the “intervention” against the Communists in Korea was the correct policy (the Korean War).

    Also the CIA operations against the Communists in the France and Italy after World War II was a correct policy.

    Against people who use force = force is the correct response.

    The reason I opposed the Iraq war (and wish I had opposed the Afghan war – sadly I was too dumb to oppose it) had nothing to do with the idea that every government war is a bad idea (as if the American government was “intervening” into a free market – rather than, as is actually the case, fighting other governments and armed bandits) and everything to do with the NATURE OF THE POPULATION.

    Islam (yes I am going to the use the word) is not something recent that was not part of the central culture of the population (as with Communism in Vietnam, or National Socialism in the case of Germany, or Fascism in the case of Italy).

    Islam (of various sorts) is central to the culture of the population of Iraq (and Afghanistan).

    The problem with Iraq was not Saddam and his supporters – the problem was (and is) the general population (or at least those of them who actually believe in the doctrines of Mohammed – who are not just “nominals”).

    One can not liberate people from THEMSELVES.

    This is why I had no real sympathy for either side in the Iraq war debate – as both sides shared the “lovely people fallacy”.

    “The lovely people of Iraq are being savagely persecuted by Saddam – we must help them”.

    Versus.

    “The lovely people of Iraq will be harmed by war – many of the lovely people of Iraq will be killed”.

    Lovely people fallacy, lovely people fallacy, lovely people fallacy.

    Kipling was more realistic about populations of Islamic believers (as was Winston Churchill – see “The River War”).

    As Kipling put it……

    “When you lay wounded on Afghan plains and the women come out to cut up what remains, just roll on your side and blow your brains, and go to your God like a soldier”.

    No “lovely people” fallacy for Kipling.

    And they will not be any more lovely in Paris, Manchester or the Twin Cities of Minnesota than they are at home.

    And the ones who are born here will not be any more lovely either.

    Either one holds that Mohammed is a model for one’s own conduct – or one does not.

    If one does not then one is NOT a Muslim (not a true believer) and if does hold that Mohammed is a model for one’s conduct then one will certainly not be “lovely people”.

    By the way – please no stuff about how fundamental beliefs are not needed.

    Or how it is O.K. for Western culture to be “banal” or how “soap opera” can provide the answers to the fundamental questions of human life.

    People (ordinary people) need fundamental beliefs – answers to the fundamental questions of human existence.

    Islam provided such answers – false answers, but answers.

    If the reply of the West is “banal”, if it is “soap opera”, then the West will die – and the West will DESERVE to die.

    If a civilisation no longer offers fundamental beliefs (fundamental answers to the basic questions that trouble most people, no matter how “low” we ordinary people are, ask about human existence) then that time of that civilisation has come to an end.

    Drugs, booze and porn may be pleasant – but one can base a civilisation on them.

    If the West really has become “banal”, if all we have in reply to the fundamental questions (yes the spiritual questions) is “soap opera” then our time has come to an end.

  • Libertarian

    I say this as someone who doesn’t have a dog in the fight (neither Left or Right): the absolute worst reason for sending troops to the Mideast is to “secure oil fields.” Bush was criticized for doing that by some on the Left, but I hope to god even HE wasn’t that stupid. I’ve heard people on both sides make the argument, either for or against. Either way it is asinine.

    Why? Because oil in the ground is worthless until it is sold. Those countries, any country, is going to sell its oil on the market — that’s the only thing it’s good for. What’s more, the oil is fungible, and it doesn’t matter who it is initially sold to. The global oil market will determine the price.

  • RRS

    Ah! Paul Marks on Ideologies.

    And rightly so.

    Is there A Western ideology; or was Nietzsche prescient?

    Is there a fragmenting void into which many “smaller” ideologies are seeping;in and out?

    How are those ideologies shaping (or failing to shape) the motivations that make up our cultures that form the social orders of Western Civilization?.

    Surely, we are facing motivated if not “lovely” peoples who in their places of origin and in their coming into our social orders carry their motivations, based on their ideologies. What do we have available as offsets?

  • Laird

    I disagree with much (but not all) of what Perry M says here, but he is absolutely correct about Letters of Marque and Reprisal. The issuance of such Letters is one of the specifically enumerated powers of Congress, yet as a matter of policy the US has declined to use them since the 19th century, notwithstanding the fact that it is not a signatory to the Paris Declaration of 1856. It is a policy which teeters between idiotic and evil; such Letters are the most rational means of dealing with violent non-state actors, be they Somali pirates or Islamic extremists. Their use would have avoided, or at least minimized, much of what is being debated in this thread.

    And Libertarian is also correct. Attempting to “secure” oil fields is a sisyphian task and ultimately a foolish enterprise; any country (especially a middle eastern one with absolutely nothing else of value to export) which interrupts the oil supply is simply cutting its own throat. The world is awash in oil; the US alone is sitting on vast untapped reserves (much of that thanks to new technologies). Any regime (whether friendly to the West or otherwise) controlling oilfields has no real choice but to continue selling it and, as Libertarian correctly notes, oil is fungible.

  • Midwesterner

    Laird,

    Even if the US was a signatory to the Paris Declaration of 1856 – even if duly approved and even if a unanimous consensus of both houses granted their blessing to a treaty nullifying Article I, Section 8 – neither Congress nor the Executive may alter the Constitution of the United States. Allowing them to bind the Constitution with a treaty is in fact granting the legislative and executive branches the power to alter the Constitution outside of the procedures clearly specified for Constitutional amendments.

    Any legislative session must have tabla rasta with respect to using or not using any Constitutionally authorized powers irrespective of the declarations of any previous Congress.

  • Laird

    I agree, Midwesterner; neither treaties nor statutes can supersede the Constitution. But the government has made a policy decision not to use Letters. Any subsequent government (administration and Congress) could legally adopt a different policy, and I believe that it should. My only point about the Paris Declaration is that there is not even a treaty commitment to this policy; it is unilateral as well as foolish.

  • Midwesterner

    Agreed. I’ve thought a lot about letters of marque and reprisal and think we would need a new and carefully circumscribed letter now than we would have had back in the days of naval actions. Letters of marque are bound by the laws of war and are (to put in more familiar parlance) a form of deputizing civilian entities much as a sheriff can deputize private citizens.

    For example of some of the problems, traditionally letters of marque were granted to the vessel, not the vessel’s commander. This process would not fit the modern situation well. To use the example of the kidnapped schoolgirls, the traditional form would not work. Letters were granted to the vessel, captured vessels (and contents and crew) were brought to an admiralty court (District Courts have that role in the US) for trial (to determine whether the prize falls correctly under the letter of marque) and for disposition. IIUC, captured passengers and crew were either released or treated as prisoners of war under the laws of war (not that that always meant much).

    A letter to authorize the recovery of the kidnapped girls would be a poor fit for the traditional form. As would a letter of reprisal. What is basically needed is to authorize a company of private citizens to act under the laws of war to undertake the act of recovering them. Reprisal against the warlords may not be covered unless the US itself can be considered to have standing for reprisal against them. Clearly we did with the Taliban, but with the kidnap victims, it is at best unclear.

    I believe that the historical scope of letters of marque and reprisal together contain the needed powers to enable private military units acting under the authority, jurisdiction and guidance/direction of the issuing authority. But it is not as simple as picking up an old sword to sharpen and use again. It needs to be reforged from the old metal. The 21st Century form of letters of marque and reprisal needs to be carefully fitted to the modern theater while confining it to the historical authorities. I expect it will take several fits and starts before a viable form is resolved.

  • Cruising for prizes with a letter of marque was considered an honorable calling combining patriotism and profit

    Where would the profit come in the modern context?

  • Laird

    Agreed on Letters of Marque, although when combined with Letters of Reprisal they could work well against Somali pirates. No admiralty court needed; just sink the ship and leave. Letters of Reprisal would work well against Islamic terrorists (or, for that matter, Boko Haram); just kill them (that’s the “reprisal” part). The point is that these are perfect weapons to use against non-state actors. By definition, the laws of war do not apply to them.

  • Sorry, that should have read Where would the profit come from in the modern context.

  • Laird

    Alisa, traditionally the admiralty court would determine whether the Letter of Marque was valid, and the captured vessel a proper prize, and if so “the prize and its cargo were ‘condemned’, to be sold at auction with the proceeds divided among the privateer’s owner and crew.” (That quote is from the Wikipedia site you linked.) The condemnation was necessary in order to convey good title at the sale.

  • Yes Laird, but I asked specifically about the modern context. If, say, a private company was deputized, as Mid put it, to take out Boko Haram, or the Taliban – where would the profit for that company come from? My immediate guess would be that such a company would have to be commissioned by the government, i.e. the whole operation would have to be financed by the taxpayers. I am not saying that such an arrangement would necessarily be a bad one, but it seems to me that it would be materially different from the traditional one described in the W article.

  • The day, week, month, or year, to the prior to the start of “the military intervention in Iraq” under George W Bush, what exactly was the diplomatic relation between Iraq and both the US and the UK? Was it peace? It certainly was not. We were in a state of war, temporarily held in abeyance by a cease fire and had been so since Saddam invaded Kuwait, got his tail kicked, and signed the Safwan Accords.

    Any examination of George W Bush’s actions in Iraq that does not start from an accurate picture of what was going on prior is wrong, and generally boring even as fantasy. The choice in Iraq was not a choice between war and peace but between a frozen conflict that had been diverted into active subversion of the international system via Oil for Food leavened by the occasional attempt to shoot down US and UK aircraft patrolling the no fly zone and active war attempting to finish the regime. A peace option would have meant the end of sanctions and Saddam going right back to his long-existing playbook.

    I can see how ending sanctions might be pro-libertarian and I can see how a vigorously prosecuted war to the end would be libertarian. What I can’t see is how the status quo ante of the sanctions regime is in any way acceptable to libertarians.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Alisa asks:

    Where would the profit come from in the modern context.

    It depends. In the case of Somali pirates, probably in the form of prizes and rewards from insurers and shipping companies who wish for their ships to pass unmolested about the Horn of Africa, as I doubt the pirate vessels themselves are of much value. In the case of Al Qaeda, I suspect that if a collection had been raised after 9/11, a few billion (at least) would have been subscribed as reward money (and some may have even come from the insurers for the destroyed buildings).

    I’m not sure whose ox is most gored by Boko Haram — I would suspect that it is probably best dealt with by local Nigerians, who are both the most at risk and the most aware of the circumstances. Al Qaeda became a U.S. problem after 9/11, and the Somali pirates are a problem for all who try to navigate the open ocean in the vicinity. Boko Haram is not per se an international issue, though of course nothing forbids outsiders from contributing to a reward pool.

  • Tedd

    Disclosure: I began (in 2001 and 2002) being opposed to the Bush plan to remove Saddam from power. During 2002 and early 2003 I was struck by a huge asymmetry between the arguments on either side. While arguments on both sides pointed out the obvious risks of the plan, those opposed to it for the most part did not even attempt to propose a credible alternative. The status quo provided no “do nothing” option, since the U.S. was already involved in an armed conflict with Saddam’s regime, and had been since 1991. So this failure to present an alternative gradually swayed me to support the plan. I write this not to defend my position at the time, only to provide context for the next paragraph.

    At the time (2002 and 2003), the overwhelming majority of supporters of the liberation acknowledged that there was a significant chance the U.S. and coalition would not be able, or would not have the necessary fortitude, to carry out a successful occupation and reconstruction. That was certainly my greatest concern, and had I known more about the post-liberation plan I might have reversed my position on the liberation. But to treat that risk assessment as a matter of right and who’s wrong is like treating a coin toss prediction as right or wrong. Perry would like us to believe that the odds were virtually 1 that it would not succeed. But it is a historical fact that such projects have succeeded in the past, including some very high profile examples conducted by the U.S. itself. So, as well as that argument might play to a libertarian or anarchist audience, I don’t think it’s a good argument.

    Perhaps the fact that a detailed plan for the occupation and reconstruction wasn’t on the table before the liberation should have itself been enough to convince me not to support it. But, even today, I don’t accept Perry’s argument that the result was “entirely predictable.” History simply contradicts that view.

  • Julie near Chicago

    As for whether treaties supersede the Constitution, said document includes the second paragraph of Article VI. (Whoever actually wrote the final document forgot to write certain phrases with a broad-point quill, so I’ve corrected that here myself.)

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

    That paragraph is one reason why such fuss is made about “small-arms treaties” with the UN: Will not these give the UN the power to deprive U.S. citizens of the uninfringed (hah! what a joke) right to keep and bear arms? (Many of us are sure that the Gun-Grabbers intend to use such treaties as a back-door way of grabbing guns without bothering about that pesky Second Amendment thing.) And what effect does the LOST have on our Constitutional privileges and obligations, as individuals but also as a nation?

    The way I read the thing, it’s unfortunate that it appears to give both treaties and Federal statute law equality with the Constitution itself. That, of course, is inherently contradictory to what I and like-minded others have always thought was the idea — the Constitution reigns supreme and unalterable save by amendment, and all other law must conform to its strictures. The so-called “Living Constitutionalists,” however, should love that interpretation.

    Considerable back-and-forth over this issue. I think there’s been some discussion at Volokh, but won’t swear to it.

    Of course, it has been said that countries do break treaties all the time, and what’s anybody going to do about it? Well, sometimes there’s a war, but mostly not. In which case a treaty is more “an expression of pious hope” than a contract which if broken will call down the might of Zeus to smite all involved.

    It has a lot to do with the sense of honour of the folks who actually decide in any given case whether and when to act in accordance with a treaty’s terms.

  • Midwesterner

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

    The laws must be “in Pursuance” of the Constitution. In other words, they may not run against the plain text of the Constitution. If they do run against the plain text of the Constitution, they must be struck down.

    Treaties to be followed must be “made under the Authority of the United States”. The “United States” as a federal body does not have the authority to alter the powers it is granted in its own constitution. Only with the consent of a supermajority of individual states acting individually can the Constitution be changed. The Constitution is the product not of a unity creating its own constitution, it is the product of individual states agreeing to act in concert. Only by consent of the individual state is there authority to alter the Constitution. The only process for that is amendment of the Constitution.

    Any treaty that runs contrary to the Constitution must be authorized by amendment before it can take effect. The terms in that paragraph incorporate qualifying conditions because they are qualified statements. Er, . . . d’uh? But it does not surprise me that ‘progressives’, eager to progress beyond all restraints, should blithely slide past the qualifying limits.

  • Midwesterner

    Regarding reprisals. We are Constitutionally confined to the understanding of marque and reprisal at the time of ratification. It is quite possible that those terms would disqualify reprisal against Boko Haram unless they attacked us directly. However, if harm came to them during the recovery of the kidnapped hostages, I think that would have no problem under the laws of war.

    The thing that must be remembered is that letters of marque and reprisal are already established within legal parameters. We must remain within the parameters as they were understood at the time of ratification. We can adapt them to allow action in theaters that involve aircraft and other things not extant at the time of ratification but we must remain within the intended use of the letters and not just make up new stuff and call it by the old name.

  • Laird

    Mid, I agree with you about the proper construction of Article VI, for several reasons you didn’t mention (and Julie, you are incorrect that the language of the Constitution grants parity to statutes and treaties). The first is simply the order of the phrases: the Constitution comes first, followed by statutes (made “in pursuance thereof”, as Mid noted), followed by treaties. If there is a conflict among any of them that sequence defines the order of precedence. Second, the Supreme Court held long ago (1803, as I recall, in Marbury v. Madison) that statutes (even properly enacted ones) which violate the Constitution are void. A fortiori, the same is true for treaties (and I would further argue that, constitutionally, treaties which violate statutes are also void). And finally, consider the difficulty of adopting each of those authorities: constitutional amendments require approval by 2/3rds of Congress and 3/4ths of the states (only the latter if proposed by convention, but that has never happened); statutes require approval by majorities in both Houses of Congress plus the president (or supermajorities in both Houses to override a presidential veto); but treaties require merely a majority of the Senate plus presidential approval. The one more difficult to achieve should supersede any lesser one. QED. This is why I do not fear the proposed UN small arms treaty; it cannot override our 2nd Amendment rights.

    As to your point about the 18th century meaning of marque and reprisal, I agree. I’m going to try to find some sources for the contemporary understanding. If I find anything interesting I’ll report back.

  • Midwesterner

    I look forward to your discoveries. I don’t think it is a topic that has been given serious academic attention. Certainly the rules for reprisal as reported in Wikipedia are rather strict and rule out any element of surprise. How long those international understandings of reprisal have been in place is not reported in the article. If they date to the time of ratification, then they bind. If not, . . .

  • jsallison

    From Herr Metzger:
    “A small addendum: I believe it is a great shame that Letters of Marque have fallen into disuse — they should instead have been modernized. They would have been a fine answer to Al Qaeda that did not involve a global scale conflagration, and they also present, even now, a fine answer to the Somali pirates and a wide variety of other groups that violate the peace.”

    That and the classical designation of ‘outlaw’, once applied to pirates.

  • I can see how ending sanctions might be pro-libertarian and I can see how a vigorously prosecuted war to the end would be libertarian. What I can’t see is how the status quo ante of the sanctions regime is in any way acceptable to libertarians.

    Yes indeed.

  • Further to the post above, what people quickly and conveniently forgot was that the status quo – sanctions and half-arsed weapons inspections – were criticized routinely and roundly by all sides, including those who protested the war. Remember the millions of Iraqi babies the sanctions were killing? Then at the precise moment Bush decided to do something about it, their stance quickly shifted to one whereby the status quo was fine after all. There were some good arguments against the war, but the anti-war crowd were led by a bunch of unprincipled flip-flippers whose primary motivation was to oppose whatever the US was doing regardless. No wonder nobody paid them any attention.

  • Edward

    There are a few problems with the idea of issuing Letters of Marque. They would not be recognised by any nation other than the US. Per the Convention of Paris 1856, bearers of a Letter would be treated by British, French, Canadian, Russian, Chinese or any other powers’ forces as pirates, terrorists or francs-tireurs. As they would be fully entitled to under the laws of war.

    Also, bearers of Letters were not paid by the sponsoring power, but got their reward by bringing prizes before the Admiralty Court of that power. Persons acting under the expectation of regular payment by the US government wouldn’t qualify. Why, then, would you hire on these extras when given the lack of distance a Letter of Marque would offer the US, you can just send the soldiers, sailors and airmen you’re already paying for?

    Outlawry is also out of the question. No nation who bases its raison d’être on the Declaration of Independence can tolerate the concept that some men lie outside the protection of the law.

  • john in cheshire

    I’d say that Saddam Hussein, if he repented his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord, at the moment of his gruesome killing, is more likely to be welcomed into Heaven than Mssrs Bush, Blair, Obama, and all their acolytes. They, together with Mr Blankfein, and Dimon, really believe they are doing God’s work. These people aren’t following Jesus, rather they are doing Satan’s work and I suspect they know it.

  • Laird

    Edward, I don’t agree with you about outlawry. Anyone who has rejected the social contract* should not expect to receive its benefits. I’ve long called for a restoration of that ancient doctrine.

    As to Letters of Marque and the Paris Convention, you are probably correct, but anyone bearing such a Letter from the United States would expect to receive its protection. In the current state of things that should be sufficient for anyone. Compensation does remain an issue, though.

    Midwesterner, nothing useful to report on Letters yet. Blackstone gives them a very short discussion in his Commentaries, but nothing of use for our purposes. Neither Maitland & Pollock nor Maine discusses them at all (at least, not in their principal works). I’m still looking.

    * That’s shorthand; let’s not get into a debate here about whether there technically is such a thing.

  • RRS

    For those who are still interested in the issues of the origins and consequences raised in the original post, visit:

    libertylawsite.org

    where today Angelo Codavilla traces the forces of ideologies, so long misunderstood or ignored in the West, which have been the actual shaping factors of recent and current events.

  • Edward

    Laird, historically the only thing a Letter of Marque got you was free reign from the sponsoring power and its allies. The sponsoring power offered no protection beyond that; if a privateer got taken by someone who didn’t recognize your Letter, then tough. If the US is going to issue Letters to people to intervene in Nigeria or wherever, and extend its protection to them, then given the lack of separation why not send the USMC, who are likely better trained and armed than any group of privateers will ever be? Allied powers won’t recognize a Letter of Marque thanks to the Convention of Paris, but they’ll definitely recognize a company of jarheads ;-).

    Outlawry; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. People have rights by virtue of being born; those rights are unalienable so they cannot be removed or surrendered. No one accepting this premise can accept the idea of a wolfshead.

  • Mr Ed

    Edward, Although any day now the USMC might be co-belligerents with the Revolutionary Guards of Iran.

    Will no one ask where ISIS get their money from?

  • Laird

    Edward, an outlaw can continue pursuing life, liberty and happiness. He just can’t expect the support of society while he does so.

  • Bill B.

    I’d say that Saddam Hussein, if he repented his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord, at the moment of his gruesome killing, is more likely to be welcomed into Heaven than Mssrs Bush, Blair, Obama, and all their acolytes.

    Cheers for reminding me why I have given up religion for lent, mate! Damn, what what it did to your mind, I wouldn’t wish on a dog.

  • Quentin

    Invading Iraq wasn’t the mistake; staying was. Removing Saddam was a good thing.

  • lucklucky

    First things first: Saddam Iraq was in War with United States.

    “Trained weapons inspectors said that it possessed no weapons of mass destruction, and that claim proved to be correct.”

    No that claim is not correct. WMD were found. Much fewer than thought but were.
    And uin case author forgot there are still many weapons/equipemnt uncounted for.

    But that isn’t the main reason to support.

    The Iraq issue was a Unpredicatable nature of Regime with technology and willing to use WMD’s at drop of a hat.
    Saddam was not your typical dicator that understood at least the limits of its power. Saddam was unpredictable.

    Second the fact that the country is falling to AlQaeda has not much to do with intervention: The author should just look to a country bordering Iraq.

  • Kirk Parker

    RRS,

    I don’t see anything by Codavilla on June 15. Could you provide a direct link to the actual article/post you are referring to?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Lucklucky” writes:

    “Trained weapons inspectors said that it possessed no weapons of mass destruction, and that claim proved to be correct.”

    No that claim is not correct. WMD were found.

    No, that is not even remotely correct. I believe after years of searching the U.S. forces found an unexploded gas shell left over from the Iran-Iraq war that someone had forgotten and that was it. None of the famous “mobile weapons labs”, no production facilities, no stockpiles.

    Your claim is bovine excrement. I have no nicer way to put it. You should feel deep shame for making such a statement in public.

    The Iraq issue was a Unpredicatable[sic] nature of Regime with technology and willing to use WMD’s at drop of a hat

    That is also not what we were told. Colin Powell stood up in front of the U.N. security council and told the world, in no uncertain terms, that the U.S. had incontrovertible evidence of actual weapons — not “possible weapons”, not “an Unpredicatable[sic]” regime, actual existing weapons. Meanwhile, the inspections regime had already eliminated the capability.

    You’re making stuff up ex post facto. Unfortunately this is not 1860, and anyone who wishes to can read the contemporary news reports or view things like Powell’s U.N. speech in moments. Your claims are trivially disproven.

    Second the fact that the country is falling to AlQaeda has not much to do with intervention

    Who are you, Tony Blair under a pseudonym? Have you no shame?

  • Mr Ed

    Perry M,

    after years of searching the U.S. forces found an unexploded gas shell left over from the Iran-Iraq war

    That war due to WMD justification would also do, a fortiori for invading Belgium now on the basis of their huge hoard of WWI chemical weapons, stored secretly underground, concealed on farmland, and the one remaining British Mine from Messines, still undiscovered. We know that the Belgians have these weapons, but we can’t point to where they are (nor can the Belgians, but why should facts get in the way?). They could easily threaten Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany and France.

  • Laird

    There were no chemical weapons in Iraq, huh? Funny, the US state department just today refuted that canard. It seems that the “Sunni extremists” (apparently that’s how right-thinking people properly refer to the al Qaeda-aligned militants now overrunning much of Iraq) “have occupied what was once Saddam Hussein’s premier chemical-weapons production facility, a complex that still contains a stockpile of old weapons, State Department and other U.S. government officials said.” (My emphasis) Care to pull my other finger?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    have occupied what was once Saddam Hussein’s premier chemical-weapons production facility, a complex that still contains a stockpile of old weapons

    And the U.S. military left all those old weapons in place over a decade of running the country rather than destroying them? And in spite of all the attempts made to find and publicize chemical weapons in place, this was never noticed before?

    I’m fascinated. Not by the claim — but by the credulousness.

    Remember, just because it’s published in a Murdoch paper doesn’t mean it’s true.

  • Laird

    Precisely what is it you’re implying is untrue: the existence of such a chemical weapons facility; that it contains a stockpile of old weapons; or that the US State Department actually made the statement? It can’t be the latter, because the Washington Post (not, to the best of my knowledge, a Murdoch paper) has also reported the same thing, also attributing the disclosure to the US State Department. The principal difference between the two stories is that the Post includes the remark that the stockpiles “are not considered usable.” Which, to be fair, puts it in a somewhat different light than the WSJ’s spin on the story. And I think it answers your question about why we “left all those old weapons in place over a decade”. But it nonetheless demonstrates that Hussein did in fact have chemical weapons at one point, which is completely contrary to the assertions you’ve been making throughout this thread.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Precisely what is it you’re implying is untrue: the existence of such a chemical weapons facility; that it contains a stockpile of old weapons; or that the US State Department actually made the statement?

    I would believe the State Department may have put out such a statement for purposes of justifying US involvement in the face of increasing congressional opposition. Lies of this sort are routine. Credulous individuals are rarely made less credulous when the claims turn out to be lies (note the extraordinary forms of contortionism people in this very thread have engaged in to defend their beliefs.)

    Note also that the Department of State is not an intelligence agency. Why are they saying this and not the CIA? Because the function here is to persuade, not to inform.

    I do not believe anyone at any newspaper has fact checked this — which would be straightforward, by the way, since public reports describe all facilities the Baathist regime left behind. I also don’t believe that there is a stockpile of old chemical weapons dating from before the US withdrawal (let alone invasion) in existence anywhere in Iraq.

    There may be some germ of truth to the claim, of course. The ISIS fighters might now be in control of a town or base which was the site of a former facility, for example, and the remains of shells that were rendered unusable by the inspectors may be present. It wouldn’t do to have a spokesperson caught in a complete lie — it helps when there is some element of truth so that the credulous will continue to parrot claims, and even exaggerations of those claims.

    But it nonetheless demonstrates that Hussein did in fact have chemical weapons at one point

    Of course he did. What else do you think the U.N. inspectors were destroying? Children’s toys? It is well known that he had weapons as of 1990. He in fact used them against his own people and against the Iranians. However, they were all destroyed, as was the manufacturing capability, under the weapons inspection regime following the first Iraq war. The question is now whether he ever had any, it is whether he had any as of March 1, 2003 — which he did not.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    BTW, before parroting any government news release, ask yourself the question: “has the government ever lied about something like this before?”

    If the answer is a quite clear “yes, repeatedly”, then perhaps it is worth considering whether they might have lied again, and whether the claims possess consistency with already known facts.

  • Laird

    Of course the government lies, repeatedly (all administrations do, especially the current one), and of course it will do so to protect what its denizens believe to be their interests. But what is especially interesting in this case is that the Obama administration is making an admission (whether truthful or not neither of us knows) which implicitly supports the actions of the reviled Bush administration. That alone prompts me to give it some credence; it’s a declaration against interest, one of the fundamental exceptions to the hearsay rule.

    As to whether it has been “fact-checked”, I don’t know whether it has and neither do you. In any event, the “fact” that it is a statement by an authorized representative of the State Department is all the fact-checking that is really necessary for our purposes. Your rejection of the government’s admission that there were (and apparently still are) chemical weapons in Iraq is, I suggest, a species of confirmation bias. You simply don’t want to acknowledge the error of a long-held position. All too human.

    Also, since you’re so quick to tar the Wall Street Journal with innuendoes about Rupert Murdoch, I would suggest that you reserve a few of your aspersions for Arthur Sulzberger as well, since as far as I can tell the New York Times has yet to even run this story. Whatever his other failings, at least Mr. Murdoch has not tampered with the integrity of the Journal’s news division (the editorial division, sadly, has become rather more reflexively conservative than libertarian in recent years). The same can hardly be said of the Times, which is as dishonest in its news reporting as the day is long. Yet Mr. Sulzberger (or his minions) apparently recognized the implications of this admission and squelched the story. That tells you much, too.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    But what is especially interesting in this case is that the Obama administration is making an admission (whether truthful or not neither of us knows) which implicitly supports the actions of the reviled Bush administration. That alone prompts me to give it some credence; it’s a declaration against interest

    Are you kidding? The Obama Administration fully supported the War in Iraq until it was forced to withdraw by the al-Malaki government, and has a substantial interest in intervening again.

  • John Moore

    Late to the discussion, but I could let the following go unchallenged:
    “I believe you are operating under the mistaken impression that had the United States government spent another four trillion dollars (which it does not have, and which it has to borrow), lost another five or ten thousand soldiers, maimed another few tens of thousands of soldiers for life, and killed another half million or million Iraqis over another decade, that this would have made the slightest difference in the long term outcome.”

    I believe you are under the impression that the Iraq of 2007 was the Iraq of 2012 when we pulled out. In fact, Iraq in 2011 was quite stable, with the US combat fatality rate there far less than the military’s peacetime accident-caused fatality rate. It was stable because we had convinced the Sunnis that we would protect them against the Shia, and we had prevented Maliki from going too far against them. The evidence of this is that, just a couple of days after the last troops entered Kuwait, Maliki had the Sunni vice president up on serious criminal charges. That same Iraq was rapidly increasing its oil production – a good think for people who like civilization – an oil production that has now dropped radically. No, it wasn’t a model democracy – but who gives a damn?

    “I believe you are also operating under the mistaken impression that the United States was given the option to choose to stay if it wished but declined voluntarily. The Obama administration wanted, after all, to leave U.S. troops in Iraq for years to come, but the al Malaki government refused to sign a new Status of Forces agreement, which meant that the U.S. government had to either withdraw its troops or overthrow the government they had just spent a great deal of time, money and blood installing.”

    I believe you are also operating under the mistaken impression that Obama actually wanted to stay in Iraq. The evidence strongly suggests otherwise – that Obama did not exert much pressure on Maliki, even though he had powerful options, because he did not really intend to stay in Iraq. He had already hampered his own bargaining position by claiming to only want to keep a token number of troops (3000) when his advisors said he needed more 10000.

    In other words, had we planned to, and actually left enough troops to do the job (and that number was small – 10,000), we would likely have been able to keep the lid on Iraq. Events of today suggest that this would have been a very good idea. Going back to 2003 and arguing that we shouldn’t have gone in almost always ignores the counterfactual of likely negative outcomes had we stayed out.

    Now, you can rant all you want about what an incompetent job we did once we went in, and you would be right. But, from a strategic standpoint, it also doesn’t matter. That incompetence could not have been forecast ahead of time (other than then general incompetence of any government operation, no matter how important). The consequences of incompetence had also been overcome in Iraq by 2008.

    So here we sit today. Russia now has warplanes in Iraq that, if used, will be flown by Russians (but they won’t tell us that) because Iraqi’s don’t have the currency in the aircraft. Iran now has troops and UAV’s in Iraq. Al Qaeda has a billion dollars or so in loot, and a large, relatively safe base in which to operate. Oh, and yes, they have today announced the creation of their Caliphate. And all of this is because Obama took the advice implicit in your two quotes above.

  • John Moore

    Sigh… I’m afraid I need to respond to one more…

    “Are you kidding? The Obama Administration fully supported the War in Iraq until it was forced to withdraw by the al-Malaki government, and has a substantial interest in intervening again.”

    Seriously? Seriously??? Really????? Please adduce one shred of evidence that they had any sincere intention of not getting out the first chance they possibly could?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    John Moore writes:

    Seriously? Seriously??? Really?????

    Seriously. Seriously. Really.

    Please adduce one shred of evidence that they had any sincere intention of not getting out the first chance they possibly could?

    Well, there’s the fact that we were pressuring the al-Malaki government to sign a Status of Forces agreement up until nearly the last minute and that it specified a far longer term commitment of troops, and that we only withdrew after the al-Malaki government refused to sign that agreement in October, 2011. The United States had been willing to leave thousands of troops in the country indefinitely, and the Obama Administration only spun the situation as a triumph for ending the war after negotiations broke down and they were forced to remove US forces.

    Finding newspaper articles on this is trivial — try, for example, looking on nytimes.com for the keywords “iraq status of forces agreement”.

    Here, for example, is one article, entitled Despite Difficult Talks, U.S. and Iraq Had Expected Some American Troops to Stay

    Quoting the first paragraphs:

    BAGHDAD — President Obama’s announcement on Friday that all American troops would leave Iraq by the end of the year was an occasion for celebration for many, but some top American military officials were dismayed by the announcement, seeing it as the president’s putting the best face on a breakdown in tortured negotiations with the Iraqis.

    And for the negotiators who labored all year to avoid that outcome, it represented the triumph of politics over the reality of Iraq’s fragile security’s requiring some troops to stay, a fact everyone had assumed would prevail.

    The article goes on to explain, in detail, that the US intended to leave over 10,000 troops on a nearly permanent basis and that the negotiations to do so ended in failure.

    However, you clearly wish to forget about that little set of facts, and yell loudly that history is not history, even when it was well documented at the time.

  • I seem to recall that Saddam outsourced his nuke program to Libya.

    In any case the war in Iraq convinced Gadhafi to give it all up. From 2003:

    http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/africa/12/22/gadhafi.interview/

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    M. Simon pulls from thinnest air:

    I seem to recall that Saddam outsourced his nuke program to Libya.

    I’m afraid that the news archives recall no such thing whatsoever, though it is an interesting falsehood to spread if you wish to retroactively justify what happened, and I congratulate you for your creativity. I had not previously seen this invention.

    Let me instead remind folks of a few quotations that are entirely real:

    “I can’t tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” — Donald Rumsfeld, November, 2002

    “There’s been none of the record in Iraq of ethnic militias fighting one another [...] along with the requirement for large policing forces to separate those militias.” — Paul Wolfowitz, March, 2003

    “George Bush is not fighting this like Vietnam [...] it’s not gonna happen [...] this is going to be a two-month war, not a ten year war.” — Bill Kristol, March, 2003

    “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” — Dick Cheney, March, 2003

    “Iraqi Democracy will succeed, and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran, that freedom can be the future of every nation.” — George W. Bush, November, 2003

  • John Moore

    While Libya’s program was not tied to Iraq, the surrender of it was. 6 days after Saddam was pulled out of the cesspool where he was hidden, Libya gave up its WMD programs. Significantly, it gave them up to the US and the UK, the major combatants in Iraq, rather than to the UN. There are, of course, a few revisionist who claim that this is just a remarkable coincidence. They are wrong. The result of that surrender was the acquisition of vast knowledge of A. Q. Khan’s nuclear proliferation behavior, which was an even greater threat to the world than Saddam. It also revealed Chinese involvement, since Libya turned over complete plans for an implosion warhead, written in Chinese.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    There are, of course, a few revisionist who claim that this is just a remarkable coincidence

    It is largely irrelevant anyway. After the US attack on Libya later, whilst the Kim family remains firmly in control of North Korea, I think any rational dictator would conclude that the only way to remain safe is to possess actual nuclear weapons and to refuse to give them up. The long term effect of US/UK policy has been, in effect, to do the opposite of what you claim you would prefer.

  • John Moore

    You are right. The Obama administration was really, really stupid to enable the overthrow of The Duck. He may have been a nasty dictator, but he was sort of our dictation.

    If we had continued to follow the Bush policy, which is what I have been advocating, we would not be in this mess at all.

    Instead, the precedent set by Obama is that America is completely unreliable. Obama reinforcedg that impression with his various other idiot moves in the Middle East, including doing everything wrong with Egypt, dithering and then drawing a red line in Syria and then ignoring it and then dithering, and pulling troops out of Iraq rather than leaving a small force which would have been a powerful pressure on Maliki to not piss off the Sunnis, while also reinforcing a (nominal) ally. Then pushing Israel in the fantastic hope of another “Middle East peace,” again demonstrating that being our ally is dangerous. Then making “Afghanistan” the crucial war was also dumb – Afghanistan could never be held without a lot of blood and treasure, along with leaving us vulnerable to Russian and Pakistani blackmail because of its landlocked nature. It is hard to see how Obama could have done worse.

  • http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2006/03/iraq-libya-nuclear-connection.php

    Remember when Quaddafi gave up his nuclear program in the aftermath of OIF? Initially, I was surprised to learn that Libya had a program and wondered how they could do it. They have a population of 6 million, a GDP of $30 billion, and a 75% literacy rate. For comparison, the state of Massachusetts also has a population of 6 million, a GDP of $120 billion, and the needed brainpower to build a nuclear weapon. But Massachusetts probably couldn’t afford it since the cost is north of $20 billion and requires an industrial operation of at least 10,000 people. So where does Libya come by the needed people, knowledge, and money? Iraq! At the time Quadaffi said “Uncle”, there were a few reports, which quickly disappeared, of large numbers of Iraqi nuclear scientists and technicians in Libya to run the program.

    =================

    I remember seeing some of those reports.

  • “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” — Dick Cheney, March, 2003

    The Kurds certainly felt that way.