Apr 122003

Our victory in Iraq demonstrates several propositions:

  • The military knew what they were doing. I suppose it’s logically possible that a different plan would have achieved even better results, but with Coalition deaths around 150, Iraqi civilian deaths at well under 1,000, and the war essentially over in three weeks, it’s hard to imagine how. Never, as many others have pointed out, has an opposing force been more careful with the lives of enemy civilians, and even soldiers, than the enemy itself. Quagmire? What quagmire?
  • The Iraqis prefer us to Saddam. Well, duh. You would have had to be insentient to believe anything else in the first place. And anyone who can remain indifferent to the Iraqis’ overwhelming joy at the end of Hussein’s regime or scold them for lifting a few souvenirs from his blood-soaked palaces is morally depraved.
  • Iraq will be better off. Cf. Afghanistan. We still have no idea what the government will look like in Iraq, but really, it can’t be worse. The word “liberation” is fully justified.

    It does not, however, demonstrate that invading Iraq was a good idea in the first place. I think it was, and recent developments have done nothing to change my mind. But even as the bankruptcy of the anti-war left becomes apparent, the best arguments against the war retain their force. First, it will massively increase the size of the federal government, as all major past wars have, war being the health of the state (Arthur Silber has been making this point tirelessly). Second, we are letting ourselves in for years of foreign garrisons — although I can think of a few troops in, say, Germany that we can spare. Finally, Iraq is just our opening salvo in the Middle East, where Iran and Saudi Arabia are even more serious troublemakers, and how we deal with those countries remains to be seen.

    Just be a little careful with the “I told you so’s,” is all I’m sayin’.

  • Apr 062003

    I have taken anti-war people to task in the past for a number of lousy arguments, but, inspired by Arthur Silber’s, Megan McArdle’s, and Mark Kleiman’s excellent recent posts on objectivity and confirmation bias, I’ve decided to give the pro-war a chance. I have in mind the recent trope that, even if we find no biological or chemical, let alone nuclear, weapons in Iraq, the war would still be justified on the grounds that we are liberating the Iraqis from an inconceivably vicious regime.

    We have heard a good deal about Iraqi liberation from the Administration recently. This is right and proper. It is also propaganda, for foreign and especially Iraqi consumption. Its purpose is to induce the Iraqis to take the most favorable possible attitude toward us, which will help us when the war concludes and, not incidentally, save American lives while it’s still being fought. Its purpose is not to justify fighting the war in the first place. This the Administration has already done, no matter what you may think of its arguments, at tedious length.

    Thus I am surprised to see a normally cold-eyed advocate of the war like Steven Den Beste argue that, “The reality of life in Iraq, graphically revealed, beyond any rational denial, will eliminate any idea that the war should not have been fought.” Mass slaughter goes on all over the world all the time, but we war, I trust, for our own interests, not the interests of others. The only justification for this war is that Iraq is, or will become unless we intervene, a threat to our security. The proper answer to how many Americans lives should be sacrificed to free a subject people in a country that poses no threat to us is zero, and those who think otherwise are obliged to provide their own answers to the same question. (Whether, once at war, soldiers should have to take added risks to minimize civilian casualties is a different question. There are excellent reasons, national security reasons, to do so, even at the expense of American lives.) Den Beste is by no means the only war advocate to make this argument, but he, Jacksonian that he is, ought to know better.

    (Update: Arthur Silber comments. He wonders if the Article 1, Section 8 clause of the Constitution granting the national government authority to “define and punish…Offences against the Law of Nations” is a warrant for wars of liberation. The standard authorities differ. William Rawle thinks this refers to something like an outrage against an ambassador, which would have to be punished whether the offending country posed a threat to us or not. Joseph Story interprets it more broadly. I’m inclined to think the general welfare clause is broad enough to cover wars of liberation, so they are probably constitutional no matter how one interprets the “define and punish” clause. Of course whether they are a good idea is a separate question, as Arthur points out.)

    (On Second Thought: My argument above is lousy. Congress merely has the power to lay and collect taxes for the general welfare, which simply refers to the other things the national government has the power to do that require money, as enumerated in Article 1, Section 8. The general welfare clause grants no additional powers. So I suppose, after all this, I’m still agnostic on the question.)

    Apr 022003

    Patton famously remarked that the point isn’t to die for your country, it’s to make the other poor dumb bastards die for theirs. He might have added that the point isn’t to be captured by the enemy for your country either, it’s to capture the other poor dumb bastards. So could someone please explain how being captured in an ambush qualifies PFC Jessica Lynch as a heroine? Isn’t it more heroic not to be captured, or better still, to rescue someone who has?

    (Update: Floyd McWilliams points to a WaPo story that shows I was rather unfair to PFC Lynch. It still isn’t clear how she was ambushed in the first place, but she certainly fought heroically after she was.)

    Mar 242003

    You really want a culture clash, attend the next time some TV reporter interviews a soldier. Chances are you’ll hear an exchange like the following:

    TV Head: So, you’re flying out again tonight?
    Pilot: Yes.
    TV Head: How do you feel? Are you apprehensive at all?
    Pilot: No. I’m ready to go out there and do my job.
    TV Head: Are you ever worried that you’ll, uh, drop a bomb on the wrong target?
    Pilot: No.
    TV Head: No?
    Pilot: We’ve got a job to do and we’re well-trained to do it. We don’t release until we have 100% target acquisition. And when I aim at something, I’m gonna hit it.

    Now I’m speaking here as a member of the culture consumed by fear and doubt. You want 100% target acquisition, don’t send me. And there are martial vices as well as martial virtues. But when I watch an interview like this, I can’t help feeling that these soldiers are, in important ways, my moral superiors, and I hope the TV journalists feel the same way. Somehow I doubt it.

    (Update: Jim Ryan comments. Marc Miyake comments. Floyd McWilliams comments.)

    Mar 222003

    Yes, Peter Arnett, last seen in 1998 disseminating a virtually unsourced and utterly false tale about the U.S. Army using sarin against Vietnam War defectors in 1970, is back, armed with a National Geographic press credential and reporting on the war for NBC. You can say what you like about lawyers, but if they get caught embezzling the escrow funds, it’s disbarment and that’s all she wrote. Arnett gets caught effectively making up a sensational story and publishing it under his own byline in Time. He pleads in his own defense that the copy was handed to him, classily passing the buck to his colleagues. And not only does he not get fired — his producer, whom he hung out to dry, was canned, while his own contract was allowed to quietly expire — but he resurfaces a few years later on another major network! I wonder what Scott Fitzgerald was smoking when he said there are no second acts in American lives. Sometimes I think American lives consist of nothing but second acts. (Link from Colby Cosh.)

    (Update: Hey, great! Now he’s criticizing American military strategy for Iraqi TV. Imagine that. Thanks to Susanna for the link.)

    (Further: Canned. Stay tuned for the third act.)

    Mar 182003

    I wish people would stop talking about bringing democracy to Iraq, as if it were the utmost value in Western political civilization. In fact it runs well behind rule of law, freedom of expression, and property rights — which is probably not a winning platform here, let alone there. Don’t get me wrong, the franchise certainly has its uses. It helps forestall violent revolution, as von Mises long ago pointed out, and it’s a tiny measure of protection against governments running utterly amok. Civil societies are all democracies; it does not follow that all democracies become civil societies.

    Democracy, however, is the only good on which essentially everyone agrees, and so democracy it is. Its recent track record does not inspire confidence. Turkey is a democracy of sorts, and insofar as they have a rational polity it’s because the military enforces it. Hugo Chàvez, busily expropriating Venezuela, was elected. They vote in Egypt, which gets us resentment and an enormous foreign aid bill. Hitler* ascended to power through democratic means, even if he never won an actual election. What do you suppose a Saudi Arabian democracy would look like? Or a Palestinian one? Like lipstick on a pig, I’m guessing.

    Bush, whatever his other limitations, appears to grasp this much. In last night’s speech he talked about a free Iraq, a vital Iraq, an Iraq without torture chambers, and a self-governing Iraq. The last was almost an afterthought. And remember the howls of outrage when Bush said the U.S. would not negotiate with the Palestinians until they got rid of Arafat? But he was elected! He’s the people’s choice! Exactly. What’s your point?

    *I claim a Godwin’s Law exemption on the grounds that this isn’t a thread yet.

    Mar 142003

    It had to happen. Elizabeth Smart’s father, Ed, calls for “Amber Alert” — a program to notify the public of child abductions that is used in 38 states — to go national, at a cost of a mere $25 million. “There is no question that Amber Alert is a necessity,” says Smart, with the usual combination of good intentions and bottomless economic ignorance. “Having it saves children.” Since Amber Alert, by the reckoning of one of its proponents, has been responsible for the apprehension of 47 criminals, whereas America’s Most Wanted has nabbed 746, it might make more sense to call for a national law to broadcast it twice daily, or perhaps a special cable channel all local providers will be required to carry — all America’s Most Wanted, all the time.

    Bad luck, it seems, confers instant moral authority. A hitherto obscure person, granted his day before the TV cameras, permitted to say anything he likes, demands — a new law! What could be more American? We need a name for this phenomenon, previously observed in anti-gun crusader Sarah Brady; Richard and Maureen Kanka, parents of Megan and Megan’s Law; and Linda Campion, the motive force behind a pointless New York law allowing relatives of crime victims to testify at sentencing hearings. (There are other instances I’m too lazy to look up, but Kaus says three is a trend.) Any suggestions?

    (Update: Paul Dubuc proposes “tragislation.” Not bad at all.)

    Mar 132003

    Munitions manufacturers prosper because many countries want weapons. Philip Morris prospers because many people want cigarettes. Conservative talk radio hosts prosper because many people are conservative, and like to listen to them. Lobbyists prosper because many people want the government to act for their particular ends, and the government has the power to do so. (Campaign finance reform always fails for the same reasons.) McDonalds prospers because many people like Big Macs. Drug dealers prosper because many people like to take drugs. Demand precedes supply. A lot of bad legislation and litigation would be avoided if people could tell an effect from a cause. It’s really not that complicated.

    Mar 022003

    The other day D-Squared called Steven Den Beste a nasty name for daring to mourn the people killed on September 11th. Den Beste, you see, lives in San Diego, and he didn’t know any of the New Yorkers who died, so mourning, in his case, is “grave-robbing.” Now this raises a nice question. Just what sort of relation will do? Apparently family, friends, and professional colleagues all qualify. (In another post D2 magnanimously lets Ann Coulter, who had a friend who died in one of the planes, off the hook.) Interestingly, mourning fellow members of humanity is OK too, as long as they aren’t fellow Americans; at least I haven’t seen D2 complain about “grave-robbing” when lefties shed crocodile tears over the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that American sanctions are supposed to have killed.

    So it’s not a matter of proximity, and it’s not a matter of choice either, since we choose our colleagues only incidentally and our families not at all. It seems, in fact, that only countrymen are out of bounds, and only patriotism is objectionable. Moral high-mindedness, or reflexive anti-Americanism? You make the call.