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Bill Whittle fires up his jets

I have only just noticed a really quite interesting and lengthy essay by Bill Whittle on Eject! Eject! Eject! called Victory:

This nation has been for many decades under direct and coordinated attack by fanatics whose failure to gain respect and attention through the force of their arguments have turned their level of rhetoric to such a shrill and hysterical pitch that years of it have seemingly driven some of them quite insane — insane to the degree that they cannot see that acid baths, state rapists, children’s prisons and daily torture and execution are not mere rhetorical flourishes — roughly equivalent to hanging chads and bulldozed Dixie Chicks CD’s — but a desperate and ever-present reality.

They did everything in their power to deny this reality, these Champions of Compassion, and Not In Their Name did these daily horrors come to an end. That is what six decades of freedom, security, tolerance and prosperity will do to some people: isolate them from the brutal reality of horror and torture to the degree that “evil” must be accompanied by sneer quotes and the motives of 300 million free and decent people are suspect while those of a small cabal of psychopathic mass murderers are not.

Whilst I think it is not a ‘coordinated’ attack and should be more realistically described as widespread but unsynchronized petulance, the toxic nature of these attitudes are no the less real for their lack of coherent direction. Bill’s essay is a lengthy but thought provoking read. Check it out.

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24 comments to Bill Whittle fires up his jets

  • Jonathan Andrew

    … and don’t miss reading Mr. Whittle’s other essays, including the one that concluded my rejection of the left: Confidence (right sidebar links).

  • “That is what six decades of freedom, security, tolerance and prosperity will do to some people: isolate them from the brutal reality of horror and torture to the degree that “evil” must be accompanied by sneer quotes and the motives of 300 million free and decent people are suspect while those of a small cabal of psychopathic mass murderers are not.” -Bill Whittle per Perry deHavilland

    What is Whittle trying to say here? That we got into the 2nd World War because we were united in opposition to brutal dictatorships? Clearly, there were some people who wanted the US in WWII for such reasons; others wanted the US in the war because they felt that an Axis victory would eventually lead to Axis world superiority and an eventual invasion or at least a “hemming in” of the US. Still others didn’t want the US in the war unless and until we were attacked directly by one of the combatant nations. And guess what happened? Japan attacked! Because Japan, Germany, and Italy had a mutual-defense pact (hence, “Axis”), our declaration of war with one necessarily caused the other two to declare war right back at us, so we were almost immediately at war with all three.

    The war we just prosecuted in Iraq was, in some sense, the war that we DIDN’T fight with Japan or Germany. We DIDN’T jump in, in the 1930s, to make the world safe for democracy, as so many wanted us to do — and now claim we did — in 2003. We were pushed into war in 1941 because we were attacked; all the high-sounding justifications came later.

    Once the US was attacked in WWII, the antiwar movement collapsed: even vigorous, principled antiwar protesters rushed to enlist on December 8th, 1941. Had the US been attacked by Iraq, or even by terrorists who could be traced directly back to Iraq, much the same would have happened in 2003. The difference is, we weren’t attacked first. We went on the offensive, on a flimsy pretext of claims that Iraq was ready to strike us with WMDs. Unfortunately, we found Saddam’s vaunted armies to be little more than paper tigers, and we haven’t found his WMDs at all, so far. So now, all rhetoric has shifted to emphasizing how horrible Saddam’s regime was, and how much it needed to fall. I don’t dispute that Saddam was a bad guy, or that now there is a chance to make things better in Iraq (even in the eyes of the Iraqis too, I hope), but I suggest that bamboozling the US into doing this job is a case of stealing and wrecking someone else’s car in order to take down a gangsta on the next block.

    The US government is constituted to secure the liberties of the American people, and nothing else. Our government has no legitimate authority to be either the global cop, or the global pacifier, much less the world hegemon. The people don’t enlist for military service, or pay their taxes, or endure the hardships of “homeland security” measures to protect any country EXCEPT the US. This is the spirit, and often the letter, of the agreement between the people and the government: our constitution. Read through the document and see if you don’t get the clear impression that 1) war should be avoided; and 2) war should be defensive, with the clear objective of preventing or repelling such things as invasion or undesirable physical or economic containment of the US. (In other words, and traditionally, we might legitimately go to war in response to an attack, a blockade, or economic sanctions.)

    Prosecuting undeclared, aggressive (first-strike) wars against far-away nations with defense as formal pretext but humanitarian purpose or arbitrary regime change as the real motivations, is something that you really have to stretch the constitution to allow. And the constitution has been stretched so thin by the maneuverings to get us into this latest war, you’d think it was made of Spandex. But here’s the deal, America: even if congress and the president find a way to do something that doesn’t exactly violate the constitution, yet clearly offends its spirit, YOU have the authority and the responsibility to A) replace your Senators and your representatives in Congress and/or B) make sure that the President is defeated in the next election.

    It all comes down to this: in order for individual citizens to have maximum freedom, government must be constrained within the smallest operational limits that can provide for the common defense and make sure that we win the defensive wars we fight. If the government is so big that it can fight offensive wars, maybe even two or three such wars in quick succession, then it is too big to promote much freedom at home. It may be that the only way to ensure that Congress, the Senate, and the White House become aware of the proper limits is if we the people enforce those limits by giving as many officials their walking papers as it takes to transmit the message.

    The constitution isn’t self-enforcing. Sometimes, the people have to make it work. We need to let the officials know that there must be no war without all the congressional debate we can accommodate before passing a formal declaration of war. We need to let the officials know that war must be the last resort, and that those who wish to prosecute it should treat the debate as if it were a murder trial: they must prove beyond reasonable doubt that all lesser measures have been tried without success, and that war is the only way to proceed. After all, innocent people on both sides will be killed by any war we wage. Our respect for their lives demands all the due process we can spare. We need to let the officials know that empire building, regime change, or even humanitarian concerns are not enough to justify going to war: only the defense of our country provides sufficient justification for war. Think about it, America. How many innocents died on both sides when America was not under attack from Iraq nor, apparently, in any imminent danger of attack? If we replaced one official for every dead innocent, we would certainly be able to vote out every member of congress, all Senators up for re-election, and the President in 2004. They would then begin to understand how serious both war and collateral damage are.

    You may agree with the Iraq war and its result now, but you won’t always agree with the wars that future presidents will want to fight. If you let this president and this congress get away with this war, it will be all the easier for future President X to start a war that you find unnecessary, counterproductive, and even immoral. Under our system, the most straightforward and effective way that the people can draw the line, to ensure that it remains very difficult and politically risky to declare and wage an aggressive war, is to lobby their officials and, if necessary, replace them at the next electoral opportunity.

    If the people don’t understand the constitution, and act to make it work, nobody else is going to stand up for it; the experience of recent years makes that abundantly clear.

  • Lee

    Sorry James, I think you went the long way ’round to say nothing.

  • James… your description of the role of the US government and constitution, complete with golden light from heaven, bears no relation to the reality of the USA. If it did I would move back there tomorrow. I was not aware that civil forfeiture, global taxation, RICO, BATF etc. was just the state securing “the liberties of the American people, and nothing else”. If that was all the US state did, I guess I would be living there today and supporting a private overseas intervention-against-tyranny society with a chunk the 90% of my income the state was not taxing rather than arguing for the volunteers who freely join the military, and who are funded with tax money, to do that sort of thing.

    No one thought Saddam Hussain’s army was ‘much vaunted’. Remember of the ‘mother-of-all-surrenders’ in 1991? No one thought Iraq was about to attack the USA with a WMD: it was the threat of them acquiring a nuke or usable bioweapon and then delivering it via a third party that was being trumpeted. Although I was dubious myself of the Al-Qaeda link, the evidence I was wrong about that grows stronger by the day. I would rather not wait for a mushroom cloud over New York or London.

    In a comment to a previous post by Alice, I said that attacking Nazi Germany when they reoccupied the Rhineland would have been the best course of action, rather than waiting for Nazi Germany to fully rearm. People making exactly the sort of argument you have made in your comment to this article thought otherwise and they prevailed. I think the lesson is clear.

  • I think, bizarre as this may sound, many western socialists started off with a desire to be interestingly different.

    Pride in sounding cleverly sceptical and unfooled by the mainstream view makes it progressively harder for them to accept that things may be simpler than they thought, and that they may be wrong in a rather facile way.

  • With regard to the “coordinated attack” business: Bill’s a fine writer, but when faced with a choice between the most inspirational phrasing and perfect evenhanded accuracy, he will usually choose the former.

    That’s okay. Sometimes we need inspiration more than we need all the fine-grained nuances of historical perspective.

  • Chris Josepshon

    James (& others):

    I was not a great supporter of the Iraq war at first.
    I didn’t (and still don’t) support striking a country, or group, that had not struck at us first. I felt this was too much of a ‘slippery slope’ and was concerned for where it may end.

    However, as I considered the arguments on both sides I started to be convinced that we weren’t striking a country that had done no harm to us.
    I believe we struck a country whose government was allied with those groups who declared war on us and attacked us.

    The US, and other Western countries, have had a war declared against all of us. There were many little skirmishes (the Cole, the embassies, etc.) in this war that we ignored until the strike on Sept.11.

    Sept. 11 couldn’t be ignored. We could no longer pretend the ‘crazy’ groups that declared war on us would just go away and leave us alone.

    It’s a strange war in that there is no *one* country involved in this war. It’s a group of fanatics spread throughout many countries. Some of the countries these fanatics are in, like the UK, don’t support what these groups do. Other countries, like Iraq, did help support them and I consider them allies of our attackers.

    Not only did Iraq help them in the past, but there was evidence Iraq was on the verge of being able to supply very destructive weapons to these groups that could make Sept. 11 seem mild in terms of deaths.

    The main reason I believed Iraq was on the verge of supplying these weapons was due to Prime Ministers Blair and Howard. These men put their political lives on the line, something a politician wouldn’t do unless credible evidence had been presented about the existence of these weapons.

    We were never really told what that evidence was. It may be decades before it’s revealed. (The evidence presented at the UN was not anywhere near what our leaders were privvy to.) But, whatever it was, it was enough to cause Blair and Howard to risk it all. I don’t think they’d do that without very solid intelligence reports/evidence.

    Why haven’t we found anything yet? Well, seems there may have been a few leaks among some of our so-called allies. Reports indicate Saddam was getting information and advise from France and/or Germany right up until the ground war started.

    My guess is we shared much of the private intelligence we had with France and Germany and one or both passed this info. along. Saddam had plenty of time to dismantle, hide, send out of the country, etc. whatever he had.

    So, in short I did come to view this as a defensive war. We were struck first and have had war declared on us. We had to strike back.

    There’s also another reason, other than self-defense, this war was justified/legal. At the end of Gulf War I there was a cease fire. Saddam broke his end of the agreement. We were just concluding Gulf War I after a 12 year break.

    I don’t want to yield any power to my government than is absolutely necessary. Don’t like intrusive laws, and don’t want to yield any further liberties.

    One of the main jobs I task my government with is to defend the country. I believe our government, as imperfect and maddening as it is, is doing its best to defend us. Not doing a perfect job, but so far it’s ok by me.

  • So right, Chris. You phrased that perfectly. Sorry that my post adds no new information, but I think we need another vote on record for the absolute rightness of this war AND the continued pursuit of terrorism. And may each of us manage to shoot a toe off of socialism while we’re at it.

  • I think the fact that Lee thinks I said nothing, speaks volumes about how it was that we were railroaded into the Iraqi war. I think it is symptomatic of the fact that, somehow, Americans and those allied with America have (literally, through taxes and willing surrendering of liberty) bought into a notion that we damned-well need a superpower to kick ass on this globe, and who better than the good ol’ USA!

    Let me also point out, in addressing Lee’s comment, that those who took rhetorical and legal short cuts to get us into this war have not only the blood of bad guys on their hands, but hundreds or thousands of innocents as well. Sometimes, it is worthwhile to take the long way around, to really understand the territory. We’re slinging bits here, apparently safe and warm in our rooms, well away from the fighting, but out on the battlefield, they were slinging bullets and bombs, and real people suffered and died.

    I have to say that people who come to discussion threads like this, expecting or demanding only soundbite length interchange about literal life-and-death issues, baffle me. It’s one thing to toss off a clever one liner about the latest TV show, movie, or video game, or even to jab at the foibiles of politicians (always fertile ground for the cocktail party zinger). But we’re already talking hundreds or thousands of lives lost (depending on whether you lump “good guys” and “bad guys” together or consider them separately), and tens, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars spent and yet to be spent. What is the point of talking about the whole subject if you don’t really want to dig into it, and if you don’t really want to understand what you, as an individual, might be able to do about it (whether in support of, or opposition to war policies)? It’s not as if anyone here has his finger on “the button” or participates in W’s and Rummy’s briefings every day. Do they? If we’re not the influential or the powerful, and we do not have access to such people, then the best we can expect when we come to online places like this is to gain more understanding, learn what we can do, and make contact with the like minded (or joust with the unlike-minded in the spirit of knowing one’s enemy :-). Soundbite debate seems antithetical to that, but I completely understand, in this era of infotainment, that it might be some people’s cup of tea.

    I have lately come to the conclusion that, as with the fall of the Soviet Union, the people are going to have to lead if we’re ever again to aim for, much less hit, the ideal established for us in a previous age, and which the people who founded the US tried hard to express in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. One way to lead is to participate in elections and be principled and consistent in rewarding or punishing officials who stray from the ideals, or much worse, actually seem to violate at least the spirit and plain meaning, if not the letter, of the constitution. As I said before, unless the people stand up for the constitution, recent evidence leads me to doubt that anyone else will. Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, it seemed as if the US people WERE leading, holding the line against war, up until the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was this event, and not any desire to defeat dictatorships around the world, which appears to have silenced the antiwar movement of the time, and sucked the US into WWII, suggestions by Bill Whittle and like-minded people to the contrary.

    Perry’s response that my un-“realistic” description of America, “complete with golden light from heaven,” seems a transparent and unworthy attempt to marginalize my opinion. I never claimed that the founders used “received wisdom,” whether from heaven or anywhere else. Producing the Declaration of Independence and Consitution was damnably hard work, as political tasks go. I would feel better, if I thought that warmongering neocons, or those who declare the constitution a “quaint relic” in the modern age (sounding a lot like the people who said that the laws of economics didn’t apply to the information economy during the dot-com bubble) had shown evidence of working half as hard on their proposals, and having half the regard for the people in formulating their proposals, as those who wrote our founding documents obviously did. I’d like to think that we have a Jefferson or a Madison among our political class today, or even a Franklin (Clinton qualifies only on the basis of his skirt-chasing :-), but I’ve been looking, and I don’t see one.

    Of course I am talking about ideals, and of course the real world resists and never seems to measure up to ideals! Still, we have to have a target in order to take aim, and mine is the ideal of constitutional government, as described and/or suggested in the supreme law of the land. If societies were spontaneously self-organizing, we wouldn’t need political -isms, constitutions, or even law books. And even though we have such things, they apparently aren’t sufficient to eliminate the governmental sins to which Perry alludes. Indeed, too many laws are a part of our problem! So, that being the case, what makes us think that yet another war help us get closer to any ideal that is consistent with the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution? Will either Iraq or the US end up being freer in any real sense as a result of this war? Will fighting an aggressive war in Iraq, or going on to “clean up” other “rouge nations” help to end PATRIOT, asset forfeiture, RICO, global taxation, or any of the other things that Perry rightly criticizes? I don’t think so. In fact, I already see much evidence to the contrary.

    The ideal — the target — that I promote is most definitely NOT the ideal of the US as the biggest, baddest cop on the global block. That latter is also an ideal — a target — but I believe it is inconsistent with our founding documents and for a good reason: the people who wrote them knew that imperialism and mercantile interventionism might gain a nation some short term advantage and wealth (and let’s be honest, it will always be the politically and financially well-connected who benefit most from that advantage), but the situations they create are ultimately unsustainable. The people who founded our country were experimenting, but with the stated intention and serious purpose to secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity into the future. So they warned us against dangerous, unsustainable paths, including the path we are now taking, and they tried to structure the government to make our current path, in particular, one of the most difficult to select. Maybe they simply underestimated the self-destructive nature of self-government, because here we are, despite their best intentions and efforts. I hope, however, it is not a waste of my time or yours, for me to remind anyone in earshot of the path we might have taken, might still take, if people will simply pay attention to what this country is SUPPOSED to be about, starting with the founding documents. If you want to talk reality, we all know what this country appears to be about, in the modern age at least, and it doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere good. To go a different way, we need to change our vision. I think the original vision isn’t broken or irrelevant, just ignored. Let’s try not ignoring it.

  • James: Will either Iraq or the US end up being freer in any real sense as a result of this war? Will fighting an aggressive war in Iraq, or going on to “clean up” other “rouge nations” help to end PATRIOT, asset forfeiture, RICO, global taxation, or any of the other things that Perry rightly criticizes? I don’t think so. In fact, I already see much evidence to the contrary.

    Ok, so are you seriously arguing that IRAQ will not be better off than it was under Saddam Hussain? Does an end to widespread murder and torture not quality under the ‘in any real sense’ category? For sure I do not expect a fountain of liberty to spring forth from Iraq’s arid lands but the notion things are likely to end up worse…?????

  • Thanks to Chris Josephson for a thoughtful post. I think he takes an awful lot on faith, but his sentiments and opinions certainly seem honest and respectable.

    If we were able to conquer the whole world, we could possibly pacify it all, at least for a while. I think that would be a very bad approach, on many levels, but I can grant that, in theory, it might work. What doesn’t look like it will work is our current path: to adopt a first-strike, aggressive stance and go after “strategic dictatorships,” like Saddam’s, one after another, in hopes of making it impossible for the amorphous enemy to find comfort and shelter.

    The Osamas of the world, who operate outside of national authority, are gangsters, pirates. We have ways of dealing with such people in co-operation with other nations, and have had for decades — centuries. Why, now, do we need a “new kind of war” to deal with them? The attackers are not just striking at us for the hell of it, or because their religion marks us as devils. Over and over again, they have publicized clear grievances, and for the longest time, nothing has been done about those grievances. Now, with US troops leaving Saudi Arabia, perhaps we can put to the test the notion that “they hate us for our freedoms.” One of the key grievances of the Osama crowd has been US presence in Saudia Arabia and especially in and near holy places. If further attacks occur, it can’t be on account of that reason anymore. So, either we get more attacks, based on different or no justification, tending to support the charges that the attackers simply “hate us for who we are” — or perhaps linking terrorism to specific nations, with whom we can legitimately go to war in good conscience; or we get fewer attacks, tending to support the idea that a more intelligent and less interventionist US foreign policy might help to reduce the amount of terrorism in the world.

    Chris talks about his change of mind with the unfolding of events and information over the past months. I wonder how he, and we, might change our mind as further events occur and info becomes available. I wonder what we will think and do if it eventually appears that one of the major irritants was the US foreign policy, after all.

    The best I can hope for with the Afghanistan and Iraq operations is that they will have the same effect that the A-Bombs on Japan did: convince people that we can and will cause terrible destruction if sufficiently provoked, as an incentive for them to calm down, bargain in good-faith negotiations, and stick to their agreements. We have certainly made the point that we can get serious, but at a cost to respect for our constitution and founding principles that I can’t help but believe will be very problematic for us in coming years.

  • “Does an end to widespread murder and torture not quality under the ‘in any real sense’ category?” -Perry

    And you think widespread murder will end forever, at least due to our efforts? A lot of people have to be safe from that kind of thing for quite a while, to make up for all the death and destruction that this war visited on Iraq and its people (or do you argue otherwise? There was a lot of widespread death and suffering equivalent to torture during this war, you know.). Do you think that the US-enforced security will endure long enough? Why? While you are thinking about that, tell me: is Kuwait a democracy yet? Is everybody free there yet?

    I think you have bought into a package that is no less illusory than my idea of respecting constitutional government. I will be overjoyed to be proven wrong. I’ll cook up the crow myself and chow down with gusto. I’ll send you an unretouched digital photo of the event to post here on Samizdata. But the evidence of history, and the nature of our “post-liberation” behavior, do not make me think I will need to change my diet any time soon.

  • Lee

    James, your writing style seems to equate volume with quality and persuasiveness. Wrong. You are a Taliban Constitutionalist and a horrible bore.

  • Lee: Feel free to disagree with him (God knows I often do), but James has said nothing to warrant you being rude to him.

    James: Kuwait is not a democracy that is for sure, but that in and of itself bothers me not one iota. Democracy is never an objective for me, it is at best a means to an end. Only in so far, and if, democracy is conducive to liberty in any given place and time, is democracy actually desirable… and even then only if it is bound hand and foot. A constitutional fetishist such as you should understand that the founding father of the USA felt much the same way I do about democracy: Britain is far, far, far more democratic that the USA… would you argue that is actually far, far freer? I certainly would not.

  • Jacob

    James,
    You miss entirely the point.

    Some people think Saddam endangered the US and his neighbours.
    You think this isn’t the case. You think the danger wasn’t real but trumped up.

    It is a debate about the _facts_ of this particular case: was Iraq dangerous or not.

    It is not a philosophical debate about the nature of Government and the virtues of the US Constitution.
    There was nothing unconstitutional about this war, there was nothing undemocratic or manipulative or aggresive or inherently bad.

    It was __at most__ a missjudgement of the facts, about the magnitude of the threat.

    You seem very convinced that your judgement of the Saddam threat (or lack of it) is correct. Seems you are in possesion many facts and much knowledge that we lack. But just imagine, hypothetically, that you are wrong, and the threat assesment of the US Gov. is correct. This renders the war not only justified but strictly necessary.

    So – your lengthy posting about the Constitution and democracy and freedom is irrelevant.

  • Chris Josephson

    James:

    You are very passionate in your beliefs that the US keep on the right path. We diverge only in what that path is and if we’ve strayed off it.

    You also seem to believe that everything can be negotiated and there is never a need for war. I used to believe that, at one time, and I understand where you’re coming from.

    Just some points I thought of as I read through a couple of your posts.

    You Said:

    “..that those who took rhetorical and legal short cuts to get us into this war have not only the blood of bad guys on their hands, but hundreds or thousands of innocents as well….”

    >—-

    Guess we disagree about how we got into this war. I see it as 12 years in the making, trying everything short of war in those 12 years. I don’t see any shortcuts, legal or otherwise, that were taken.

    I always think the point I’m about to make is ghoulish, but I’ll make it anyway: The blood on our hands is a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of the Iraqi blood shed by Saddam.

    You said:

    “I have lately come to the conclusion that, as with the fall of the Soviet Union, the people are going to have to lead if we’re ever again to aim for, much less hit, the ideal established for us in a previous age, and which the people who founded the US tried hard to express in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. One way to lead is to participate in elections and be principled and consistent in rewarding or punishing officials who stray from the ideals, or much worse, actually seem to violate at least the spirit and plain meaning, if not the letter, of the constitution. As I said before, unless the people stand up ….”

    >—-

    I agree all should take part to ensure we punish and reward our elected officials.

    I *see* the leadership of the US people. Our government is *following* the lead and will of the vast majority of its citizens. Poll after poll shows that. The last elections showed that as well.

    The only way I can see where our leaders *did not follow the will of the people* was in delaying our response to Sept. 11. Most citizens were calling for blood around that time. Most did not want Pres. Bush to be as restrained as he was. Most wanted to use all the weapons we have and just turn the Middle East into a parking lot.

    Did our leaders fail in *not* listening to the people around Sept.11?

    You Said:

    “Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, it seemed as if the US people WERE leading, holding the line against war, up until the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was this event, and not any desire to defeat dictatorships around the world, which appears to have silenced the antiwar movement of the time, and sucked the US into WWII, suggestions by Bill Whittle and like-minded people to the contrary.”

    >—-

    Interesting turn of phrase, “sucked us into WWII”. We aren’t speaking either German or Japanese because we *were* “sucked into WWII”. Had we not entered the war, there was a very real possibility that all of Europe, Africa, Russia, & the UK would have eventually fallen to Hitler and his ‘pals’. They didn’t have the materials to wage war with to hold out for too long.

    Japan would have taken the rest of the world: all the Asian countries plus Australia.

    Once Japan and Germany had finished with everyone else, they would have come after the Americas.

    Who would we have left as allies so we wouldn’t have been conquered?
    How long would it have been before we fell either to Japan or Germany?

    You Said:

    “..what makes us think that yet another war help us get closer to any ideal that is consistent with the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution? Will either Iraq or the US end up being freer in any real sense as a result of this war? ”

    >—-

    My view of war differs from yours. I don’t regard war as a way to get closer to any of our ideals. I regard war as a way to survive as a country so we can try and live up to those ideals. If we can also use the war to advance our ideals, so much the better. But, the primary goal of war is survival.

    If our nation is overtaken, what good is the Declaration or the Constitution? Neither will be viewed by our enemies as documents to be cherished. The Declaration and the Constitution depend on our survival as a nation so we can live out the ideas and ideals set down in them.

    The Iraqis have the potential for setting up a government that will allow them to enjoy all the freedoms they couldn’t under Saddam. If I were an Iraqi who lived under Saddam for decades, I’d be pretty happy.

    You Said:

    “If you want to talk reality, we all know what this country appears to be about, in the modern age at least, and it doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere good. To go a different way, we need to change our vision. I think the original vision isn’t broken or irrelevant, just ignored. Let’s try not ignoring it.

    What doesn’t look like it will work is our current path: to adopt a first-strike, aggressive stance and go after “strategic dictatorships,” like Saddam’s, one after another, in hopes of making it impossible for the amorphous enemy to find comfort and shelter.”

    >—-

    There is no country either past or present that is perfect. The US has a lot of faults, just like all other countries. We have ideals to aim for and sometimes we achieve them and sometimes we don’t. But we do keep trying. I don’t agree 100% with everything the US is doing or has done, but I don’t see us in as dire a situation as you paint.

    As I said in my post above, I don’t view our current actions with Iraq as a ‘first-strike’ policy. Self defense or enforcing terms of a cease fire.

    I’m not looking forward to taking on any other country. I have loved ones who were in danger in this war and want to do all we can to prevent another one.

    The nations that are allied with, and aiding, the current crop of fanatics, should realize there will be consequences for their alliances. War will be the final, last resort, consequence. But, I can’t rule out war, as much as I dislike war.

    You Said:

    “The Osamas of the world, who operate outside of national authority, are gangsters, pirates. We have ways of dealing with such people in co-operation with other nations, and have had for decades — centuries. Why, now, do we need a “new kind of war” to deal with them? The attackers are not just striking at us ….”

    >—-

    “Barbary Pirates” ring a bell? This little encounter started around 1783. Many of the founders of the US were still alive when this flared up. Ever hear the quote: “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”? That’s the slogan our ships set sail to war under in those days.

    I’ve found a URL you may want to look at (there’s tons more on the net) this is from a site that deals with Thomas Jefferson, his writings and papers:

    http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/mtjhtml/mtjprece.html

    Essentially, we tried dealing and negotiating with the pirates along with other countries. The only way they’d leave your ships alone is if you paid them money. We grew tired of paying them (we didn’t have much money). We grew tired of having them capture our ships and crews.

    We tried to bring a coalition together to negotiate with them. Didn’t work. The other nations were satisfied with the existing deal.

    So, we launched one of our first “naval fleets” to deal with the pirates. We weren’t too successful in our fledgling attempt at war, but I think it illustrates how the US, since its founding, deals with nations and/or groups that threaten us.

    In short, try negotiating but be realistic. There are some people you can’t negotiate with at all. When negotiation fails, war is the resort if it’s a matter of self-preservation.

    There may be a world someplace where disputing parties can always sit down, negotiate, and avert war. However, as much as I’d like that be our world, it isn’t. We negotiated with Saddam for 12 years over his negation of the cease fire treaty. He just kept thumbing his nose at the UN.

    You Said:

    “We have certainly made the point that we can get serious, but at a cost to respect for our constitution and founding principles that I can’t help but believe will be very problematic for us in coming years.”

    >—-

    I don’t see at all we have violated any founding principles. In the example I gave above (Barbary Pirates), this was as close to our founding as you could get. The writers of our Declaration and Constitution were still alive and very active in our government.

    I see the Barbary Pirates as close to what we’re dealing with today.

    You Said:

    “A lot of people have to be safe from that kind of thing for quite a while, to make up for all the death and destruction that this war visited on Iraq and its people (or do you argue otherwise? There was a lot of widespread death and suffering equivalent to torture during this war, you know.). Do you think that the US-enforced security will endure long enough? Why? While you are thinking about that, tell me: is Kuwait a democracy yet? Is everybody free there yet?”

    >—-

    This war, like many others throughout history has taken lives. This war has the potential to save many more lives that would have died if it hadn’t been waged.

    Think of how many Iraqi lives could have been saved had we taken out Saddam 12 years ago. Too bad we were restricted by the UN and couldn’t.

    I agree there was a lot of wide-spread torture in Iraq. The torture happened at Saddam’s hands, not at the coalition forces’ hands. The coalition forces, via war, put an end to Saddam’s torture of his own people.

    Who knows if the security will endure? We’ll give it a good try though.
    Almost everything in life that’s worth doing is risky. There are *no* 100% iron-clad guarantees on anything except that you’ll die one day.

    Kuwait: We did not go to Kuwait to liberate Kuwait from itself (impose democracy) we went to liberate Kuwait from Iraq. This is the only thing we were supposed to do, under UN ‘orders’.

  • Jacob says that the Iraq war was not unconstitutional, or constitutionally questionable, only a matter of good judgment or misjudgment as to whether Iraq posed a threat. Thus, my postings here are “irrelevant.”

    But what Jacob doesn’t acknowledge is the conflict between what he says, and the fact that many in the congress now decry the lack of a proper debate on the question of the extent of the Iraqi threat. The power to declare war — to put the US in a state of war and authorize the President to prosecute that war — was invested solely in congress, as a way to draw such debates out as long as possible, and to ensure that war was declared only on the most compelling proof of threat, attack, or provocation. If it is the case that the debate concerning the Iraqi threat was as truncated or one-sided as some members claim, then certainly the spirit of the constitution has been thwarted, if not the letter. More importantly, since the authorization of force given to President Bush really doesn’t look like any other declaration of war this country has ever issued, there is plenty of room to argue that the LETTER of the constitution wasn’t followed, either.

    Jacob misses MY point entirely, by failing to understand that, while I acknowledge wiggle room for the politicians in putting us on a war footing (though I think they are ultimately in the wrong), I am calling upon the people to uphold the constitution, in spirit and letter, using the ballot box to judge their officials on the rush to war and the (non-military) prosecution of it. That is the power given to the people, as a check and balance on the congress, at very least.

    Ask yourself: did your congress rep or senator spend enough time thinking about and debating the Iraqi war? Can he or she say honestly that the Bush White House made the compelling case for war? Did your congress rep or senator hold out for a declaration of war vote? And if the answer to any of the aforementioned questions is ‘No,” did he or she vote in favor of the “authorization of force” resolution or the funding of the war? If the final answer is “yes,” then it doesn’t seem to me that the politician in question is preserving, protecting, or defending the constitution of the United States of America, and someone else deserves a chance to do so.

    I see that Chris has posted a response to my material; I haven’t had time to digest it yet, but I will, and will reply if/as appropriate.

  • Jacob

    James
    The Congress has passed a resolution authorizing this war as required by the Constitution. You may not like the resolution, but that does not make it uncostitutional. Senators may have second thoughts. Fine. Let them pass another resolution. You can’t claim the Constitution has been violated in letter or spirit.

    You say:
    “Ask yourself: did your congress rep or senator spend enough time thinking about and debating the Iraqi war? Can he or she say honestly that the Bush White House made the compelling case for war? ”
    That senators have no good knowledge of the laws they pass is no news, neither unconstitutional. The Constitution does not say the senators must be wise and knowledgeable and well informed. It only says they must be elected, and they must pass a resolution. The were and did.

    If you think your senator is dumb, and votes for war without knowing what he does – feel free to vote him out of office next time, and vote in another idiot. That’s your Constitutional priviledge. But you cannot claim the Constitution has been violated.

  • Fred Boness

    The U.S. entered WWII when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It didn’t need to happen that way. If the Japanese fleet had been detected near Hawaii before attacking that would have been a sufficient justification for war with Japan and a preemptive attack on the Japanese fleet.

    We are in a smaller world today where terrorists and their enablers are close to the U.S. Their hostile intent and capabilities are sufficient justification for war.

    The strategy and grand plan are here at the U.S. Naval War College:

    New Rules Set Project.

  • Johan

    I think, bizarre as this may sound, many western socialists started off with a desire to be interestingly different.

    Pride in sounding cleverly sceptical and unfooled by the mainstream view makes it progressively harder for them to accept that things may be simpler than they thought, and that they may be wrong in a rather facile way.

    – mark

    I’m not the only one thinking that way! Hooray! Let’s celebrate 🙂

  • Jacob says: “The congress passed a resolution…”

    James says: Look at the resolution of this past October and compare it to previous Declarations of War. They are not the same thing. The resolution passed in October is closer in letter and spirit to the resolutions previously passed to authorize the president to apprehend pirates in small battles and surgical strikes. This might have been appropriate in a stretching-the-law-until-it-breaks way to authorize the Afghanistan misson, for instance, but not for a full-blown war. People pooh-pooh the formality, but the point is to arrive at that “mere formality” after as much serious deliberation about putting the country in a state of war (i.e., subject to possibilities of martial law, Geneva accords, etc.) Authorizing the President to “use force” is not the same as putting the country at war, no matter how much the politicians (who never call something what it is) want us to believe it. It’s as simple as that.

    Jacob says: “But you cannot claim the Constitution has been violated.”

    If you want to make the lawyer’s (Technical) argument, feel free. I said, for anyone who cares to actually read what I wrote, that the letter of the constitution (requirement of a declaration of war) was violated; I still believe that. That would necessarily lead to IMPEACHMENT. But I am simply asking my fellow voters to recognize and acknowledge that the SPIRIT of the constituition has been violated, and to use their votes in the electoral court to turn out the people who don’t seem to respect either the point or the mechanisms of our limitations on state power.

  • Lee, your insults have no power. Anyone can borrow a withering one-liner. Make an argument, if you can.

  • It has taken me a while to find enough time to digest and respond to Chris J.’s lengthy (and thoughtful) response to my equally lengthy post. But there’s just barely enough time, alas, so pardon me if I can’t respond to it all. Let’s have at it:

    Chris: You also seem to believe that everything can be negotiated and there is never a need for war.

    James: No. I’d certainly like that to be the case, but I realize it isn’t so in the real world. People and nations need, from time to time, to defend themselves against aggressors, or to shake off tyranny (whether it is the tyranny of an evil despot or a choking economic blockade!) But when is aggressive war justified? The Iraq war was billed as a “defensive” war, but many of Hitler’s and Stalin’s aggressions were similarly described by the aggressors, as pre-emptive defensive strikes or retalliations for past trespasses. Why was it wrong when they aggressed, but right when we do?

    Chris: I see it as 12 years in the making, trying everything short of war in those 12 years.

    James: Again, are we justified in making war because some other party refuses to behave as we dictate, even if they do not attack us? Where was Saddam’s real threat to the US? If it was only potential, then do you endorse the idea that we need to attack and subdue every pre-nuclear, pre-WMD society, in order to prevent them from getting weapons that they could use later against us? For that matter, should we strike first against any nation that has nukes or other WMDs, so long as we think we can take them out with one blow? That’s where the logic underlying this war seems to lead.

    Chris: I don’t see any shortcuts, legal or otherwise, that were taken.

    James: When legislators complain that there wasn’t enough debate over the war, that is evidence of a major shortcut. When legislators toss out time-honored forms for declaration of war and elect instead to endorse newstyle “authorizations of force,” that seems like a shortcut, or at least a pointless alternative path, when the traditional path is well-marked and well-understood.

    Chris: Our government is *following* the lead and will of the vast majority of its citizens.

    James: But our government is not a democracy, it is structured to impede the tyranny of the majority — to keep an inflamed mob from mischief in the heat of the moment. What I am saying is that the people need now to calm down, soberly assess the damage that has been done to our constitution’s restraining structure, and seek to repair and reinforce that structure, by punishing the officials in Washington who were supposed to provide more level-headed deliberation, and to force the executive to prove his case before going to war. In this desire, I fear I am indeed being hopelessly idealistic: why should a mob agree to be restrained? Yet, there was support for the constitution at one time. Perhaps there can be again. That support will need to be expressed at the ballot box if it is to have any worthwhile effect.

    Chris: Did our leaders fail in *not* listening to the people around Sept.11?

    James: Not so long as they resisted the demands to turn the Middle East “into a parking lot.” Retalliation was an appropriate response — even I saw that — but against WHOM? Afghanistan and its government? Iraq and its government? Saudi Arabia and its government? Osama and his gang were just that — a gang of international criminals, of the type that Interpol, for one example, was formed to pursue and apprehend. I didn’t like bombing Afghanistan back into the pre-stone age, but as long as its government openly supported Osama, and Osama kept making pronouncements that implicated him and his gang in the 9-11 attacks, I could at least see a reason to pound the Taliban as well as hunt for Osama. The situation relative to Iraq wasn’t anywhere near that neat and clean. I think we should have gone after Osama as we might have gone after Mafia kingpins, hiding out in Europe, on the lam from justice in Chicago or NYC. But once the Taliban and Afghanistan offered aid and support to our enemies, they became a legitimate target of war. Saddam was not so linked to Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or Osama. If Saddam were breaking UN accords, it were not the US’s responsibility to spank him.

    Chris: there was a very real possibility that all of Europe, Africa, Russia, & the UK would have eventually fallen to Hitler and his ‘pals’.
    James: Some people think so. Others do not. Some think that Hitler was doomed to lose as soon as he committed himself to war against the USSR, because the Russian winter would do him in, as it had any number of would-be conquerors of Russia in decades and centuries past. Japan’s aggression was worrisome, but they actually did what they could to stay out of the US’s way. We had to really push hard to get them to think seriously about an actual military attack against us on our own turf.

    And yes, we were “sucked into” the war, since by responding to the Japanese attack, we were then automatically at war with the other Axis powers.

    Chris: the primary goal of war is survival
    James: OK, I can go with that. But that makes it a desperation move. Were we really so desperate that taking care of Saddam was necessary to our SURVIVAL? Let me say that, were that the case, I would expect my leaders to be more forthcoming about our situation, to elicit the unequivocal support of all good Americans. Politicians — especially the crowd in Washington now — have lied to us about so many things in the past couple of decades, that I expect them to prove their point beyond a reasonable doubt, when advocating the deaths of foreigners at our hands.

    Chris: I’m not looking forward to taking on any other country. I have loved ones who were in danger in this war and want to do all we can to prevent another one.

    James: My own opinion is that the two battles, in Afghanistan and Iraq, were intended to serve the same purpose as the two a-bombs dropped on Japan in 1945: to convince the enemy that we will unleash terrible death and destruction upon him if he continues to fight, and to convince him that “there’s more where that came from.” If they were successful in that aim, maybe we will prevent another conflict, at least for a while. If any good comes out of our recent military adventures, I hope that is it.

    Chris: “Barbary Pirates” ring a bell?
    James: Absolutely. The the constitutional power to go after pirates has been the basis — directly or indirectly — of many of our undeclared wars. Understand that there is a difference between the pursuit and punishment of pirates/terrorists, and two or more nations going to war. In recognition of that difference, the constitution deals with the two situations separately. One of my biggest problems with the Iraq war is that the congress and the president seem content to use the legal forms and mechanisms appropriate for “pirate spanking” to justify and prosecute a real, honest to god, balls-out WAR. If you go back to the original debates on the Constitution, handling pirates was seen as a fairly practical, limited, “police power” type of authority for the federal government, while the warmaking power was treated — and constrained — very seriously, in part because the scope and necessary national commitment to prosecute a war were so vast. Well, here we were, ready to commit the resources appropriate to a huge war, and saved only by the relative flimsiness of the Iraqi resistance (though it is not over yet, and the reconstruction will be horrendously expensive anyway). But it hardly seems like the case for war was made, and certainly no declaration of war was ever issued, only an “authorization of force,” which was not even straightforward enough to assert that a state of war existed between Iraq and the US.

    Chris: Think of how many Iraqi lives could have been saved had we taken out Saddam 12 years ago. Too bad we were restricted by the UN and couldn’t.

    James: The only reason UN restrictions made a difference was because we were being policeman under color of UN authority — it wasn’t our war to wage, though our leaders wanted it to be. I can’t find anywhere in the Constitution where the US government is authorized or obliged to enforce agreements between the UN and foreign nations, or to respect UN declarations when they conflict with either the constitution or our own assessment of our national security.

    Chris: The coalition forces, via war, put an end to Saddam’s torture of his own people.
    James: Were China to invade the US to put an end to a future Waco massacre, how would that situation be different from the one you describe? How would you feel if the Chinese officials said that they regretted the deaths of a few innocent bystanders, during their liberation of Waco (or wherever), but that the US was responsible for torturing and killing even many more people than that? The point is, torture, as seen by one pair of eyes, often looks like “necessarily domestic discipline,” when viewed by another pair. Much of Saddam’s “domestic discipline” was facilitated by more than a few supplies provided by Uncle Sam. As long as we saw Saddam as one of “our guys,” the “discipline” was apparently OK. Once he was on our crap-list, he was immediately guilty of “gassing and torturing his own people.” Well, that’s mustard under the bridge, I guess. But, nevertheless, it cost innocent lives to get Saddam out of power. Many of those people didn’t want to die, and didn’t die quickly or easily.

  • In going and back and forth with me on this topic, in this and other threads, some people have said things like, “well, if the White House didn’t make an airtight case for War, they had a good reason — they know more than they’re telling and we just have to trust our leaders…”

    I find that position remarkable for self-avowed libertarians, who are naturally distrustful of governments and the people (flawed, as we all are) who run them. I have to go to some of the other, non-war threads here to convince myself that samizdata contributors actually understand the foundations of libertarianism at all. From years in the libertarian trenches, I expect anyone who claims to be a libertarian to be very loathe to go to war, except for the most compelling reasons of national DEFENSE, and to demand that their officials produce the evidence that establishes those compelling reasons.

    Why is it that some libertarians think they have a special right to laugh at jokes such as the old, “How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips move”? But then, turn around and assert that we have to “trust” our leaders in a way they would never trust them in discussions of the budget, free speech, privacy, social security, healthcare, etc.? What is it about war that causes such suspension of disbelief? Are people just itching for a fight?

    To stir the pot, here is a New Yorker magazine article by Seymour Hersh that may help overly trusting libertarians regain their skepticism (“scepticism,” for those of you on the other side of the big pond :-).

    In my most recent response to Chris, by the way, I want to be clear that I did not and do not for a moment defend Saddam Hussein or his regime. I do, however, often imagine what we might do if the military/invasion situation were reversed, as a mental exercise to shake out the issues of principle. If the only apparent difference between our situation and Saddam’s or Osama’s is that we’re “the good guys” and they are “the bad guys,” I remind myself that “good” and “bad” are often in the eyes of the beholder, filtered through the smoky lenses of incomplete information and self-interest.

    The golden rule, treat others as you would have them treat you, applies as much to your treatment of people you don’t like (even fear), as it does to your treatment of friends, family, and neutral strangers. It is doubly important that our treatment of Osama, Saddam, and other “bad guys” lives up to our highest standards of justice and fairness. This will help others to trust us more (and the bad guys less), not to mention entitle us to call for similar fazir treatment from our detractors and enemies around the world. We won’t always get the treatment we expect and deserve, of course, but if we aren’t scrupulous in taking the high road, we definitely won’t DESERVE the best treatment, anyway.

    A country that can rain billions of dollars of death and destruction on a country halfway around the world, and that can spend years and millions of dollars to prosecute its own officials on ethics charges, certainly has the time and resources to make an airtight case for war, before letting the dogs slip. More importantly, libertarians should be at the forefront of those demanding that the government has the OBLIGATION to make the public case beyond a reasonable doubt, before proceeding. Any self-avowed “libertarian” who is willing to prosecute an aggressive war without this due process, should have to explain his or her position to the families and friends of innocents killed in the war, face to face, in a small, locked room.