Monday, January 22, 2007

Catching Up On Old Correspondence III: 02/18/03

The current administration has gotten into the habit lately of saying that the Iraq War really wasn't about weapons of mass destruction or links to Al Qaeda, and that it never sold the war that way to the American public... I know that isn't true, because I've got some of my own correspondence from the time just before the war was launched that is reflective of how those were exactly the terms upon which the war was sold.

Cleaning up a few old files on my computer, I came across the draft of a letter I had written to my good friend Joseph in Spain right on the eve of the war, on 02/18/03. I'm going to do what a lot of people are unwilling to do, which is to show how I was wrong at the time... how I'd bitten on the administration's story hook, line, and sinker... Joseph was strongly against the notion of going to war, and I was trying to make a case, albeit a conflicted one.

Joe, I don’t know what the answer is on this Iraq thing. I’m in a real muddle about it. I can’t remember the last time I was so conflicted on an issue. One of the saddest things for me is how different our perceptions here seem to be from Europe’s, and indeed, the rest of the world. As the world’s sole remaining superpower, I’ve been wondering for some time if economic and political differences would start to manifest themselves as military differences. It is disconcerting to see us becoming so increasingly isolated, especially in the wake of September 11th. Are we the biggest threat to world peace in the eyes of other countries? That is a troubling notion. NATO seems to be falling apart. Will the new European Union Defense Force replace it? The way I see the situation is like this:

Saddam Hussein in no Islamic fundamentalist. He has modeled his whole life and modus operandi after Josef Stalin. I don’t truly believe he hates the United States. In fact, what I think he’d love to do is sell us oil after he becomes the undisputed (secular) leader of the Arab world. I’m sure he’s developing weapons of mass destruction, but is the target the US? I’m more inclined to think it is the Saudis, Kuwaitis, and ultimately the Israelis. I have a tough time imagining a control freak like him giving up some of those weapons to be used by a group like Al-Qaeda, who mean him no good will, and would likely act in unpredictable ways that he’d have no control over. The odious regime in Saudi Arabia, with its funding of Wahabi madrasas all over the Islamic world, are bigger sponsors of terrorism than he is. Is there a personal vendetta between Saddam and the Bush family? I think you’d have to say there is. I’ve no doubt that there is a real threat to stability in the region with him having these weapons. I can’t help but wonder sometimes, however, if there is some French company currently getting business that an American oil company would like to get their hands on. Are multinational corporations working across global boundaries, dismantling American industries one by one and undermining the governments of nation-states everywhere? You betcha yesiree Bob they are…. Then again, Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld and Cheney may be right about all of this(more on that later).

As for Europe, well… I have no problem with Germany’s stance. They should be pacifists – forever. God forbid they should be otherwise. No need for them to rev up their tank engines. Bad things follow when they do.

As for the French and Belgians, that is a somewhat different matter. In some strange way they may be doing America a favor by trying to force us to live up to our stated ideals. Launching a pre-emptive strike against another sovereign country would certainly be something new in our history. Crossing that Rubicon would be out of character for us, which gives me some pause. The problem with the French is that they haven’t had the sensitivity to put the question and the challenge to us in those terms. They arrogantly play a brand of realpolitik that only smacks of appeasement. They should drop the “Bush is a cowboy” rhetoric and challenge us to act like the “Beacon of Freedom” in the world that they’ve known us to be in the past. Instead the French and Belgians have people here wondering if we should dig up the war graves of our boys in Normandy and Bastogne and bring them home. They could be a tad more grateful about us bailing them out…twice.

I’m fair enough to say that most of the European reaction is principled. They know the horrors of war better than we do, although they should have learned something about the dangers of appeasement too. The only thing about it that bothers me is the undertone of anti-Semitism I see in some of it, disguised as solidarity with the plight of the Palestinians. Granted, Sharon is a war criminal. Yes, the Israelis have made a lot of trouble for themselves with their settling in the occupied territories. The fact remains, though, that they have the right to exist. In my opinion, it is also a fact that the only places in the world where Jews are truly allowed to live as Jews are the United States and Israel. Europe has forgotten too quickly their complicity in what happened to the Jews, and a generation has gone by without an appreciable number of Jews in their midst. They don’t understand them and hold antiquated ideas about who they are. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about this.

One thing I don’t think Europeans realize is the effect of September 11th on the American psyche. People here are unsettled and fearful over that and a number of other things. I know Europe has suffered through terrorism for decades. I don’t know how many lives the ETA campaign has taken. The conflict in Northern Ireland claimed 3,000 lives in thirty years. The September 11th attack took that many lives in a couple of hours. Someone could point out that per capita, the Northern Ireland conflict has had a much greater impact on that population. I would respond that “per capita”, September 11th had a similar impact isolated to northern New Jersey, Queens, Westchester county and Boston. In the wake of that we had a number of trusted institutions fail us – the Church, corporations. The economy has gone into the tank. This, following on the heels of the prosperous 90’s, has people pretty unsettled.

You are absolutely correct when you point out that Christianity, true Christianity, is pacifistic. There can be no other way for the real Christian. Love is the only way to conquer hate. I buy into that. I really do believe in it. We did not deserve what happened on September 11th , but between just you and me, we did contribute in bringing it upon ourselves by ignoring all the red flags. We’ve meddled in the affairs in other countries. We’ve supported autocratic regimes in the Middle East. We’ve made it clear that we couldn’t care less what happens to Arabs as long as cheap oil keeps flowing. We’ve wreaked havoc on the world by foisting this globalization of the world’s economy down everyone’s throats, whether they like it or not. We’ve launched saturation marketing campaigns pushing our crass, moronic popular culture upon traditional, conservative societies. I’d rather see us stop ALL of that rather than go to war. On the other hand – I’m a father of five little children who look to me to keep them safe. My government tells me Iraq is building weapons of mass destruction and is in league with Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is committed to our destruction. They’ve proven that. Do I have to take my government and Al-Qaeda at their word, respectively? For the sake of my kids, maybe I do. A nuke can be brought all to easily in our shores in a container ship. Boston is a coastal city.

I don’t know what the answer is. As you can see, I’m torn. God help us if we attack Iraq and they don’t have these weapons. God help the Europeans if they force us to back off, and some bright, sunny September morning, several American cities vanish all at once. ..
I can tell you how I desperately want to live - with Christ at the center, and love should be my Life Principle.


Steve Bogner said...

As I look back, I remember feeling the war was more or less justified too; WMDs, and the fact that they were always shooting at our planes in the no-fly zone. And still, I'm not so sure that the root of the 'war-problem' is the war itself or the way that it was executed. All I know is that I'm conflicted and that the president has lost all credibility with me.

Jeff said...

Hie Steve,

What did you think of the president's speech last night?

Did you see Webb's?

Mike McG... said...

First of all, Jeff, I commend you for acknowledging your errors in judgement. It takes a big man, etc. etc.

I find the rush to condemn those who reluctantly supported the war early on to be unseemly. There was broad consensus, in both parties and on both sides of the Atlantic, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. We was wrong but not idiotic to think that he represented a threat.

Last Sunday Pat Leahy and Lindsay Graham were interviewed side by side on one of the talk shows re: the surge. Leahy maintained that the approach was doomed to failure, while Graham maintained that failure to accomplish the mission in Iraq will have disasterous consequences. It occured to me that they are both right: the surge will ultimately fail even after the tragic deaths of Iraqis and Americans *and* our pullout will unleash unimaginable horrors. I tire of the repetition of tired binary schemas that assume that there is 'solutions' out there to intractable problems such as these.

My take away from last night: I'd infinitely prefer Jim Webb to be calling the shots than George Bush.

Jeff said...

Hi Mike,

It's always good to hear from you. Thanks for dropping in.

I think you are right about what you took out of the Lindsey/Graham discussion. The surge will fail and the consequences will be disastrous when we pull out, which we will inevitably have to do at some point.

Let's put aside pacifism for the sake of argument... For those out there who insist that we must take the fight militarily to the terrorists, they should be able to admit a couple of things. First, for a troop surge to work at this point, it would probably take close to a million men to do it with any chance of success. Certainly no less than 500,000. If Iraq is as important to the War on Terror as they say it is, and if the consequences of pulling out of Iraq are as dire as they say they are, we'd better put the draft in place and see about getting it done with what is really needed. Of course, politically, they are unwilling to do that. They haven't even asked the public to make any sacrifices on behalf of the war effort. The volunteers and their families are essentially in this alone.

Secondly, only a foolish commander uses up his entire army on a lost cause. He withdraws from a bad engagement, marshalls his forces and regroups for terrain and circumstances better suited to him in order to fight another day. If Iraq is just one battle in the War on Terror, it's time to withdraw from it before the Army gets entirely broken and we can't even hold up our defense commitments that we've made elsewhere.

I thought Jim Webb's speech was great. Not only on foreign policy, but on the economy! That guy was speaking my language. I think a new political star may have been born right there. I always liked Jim Webb. He's a good author too. His Fields of Fire is one of my all-time favorite novels.

Liam said...

I enjoyed Webb's speech as well, and I agree with you about what he said concerning the economy.

As far as the "surge" goes, I can't see 20,000 more troops as doing much more than putting 20,000 more soldiers in danger. I can't see any good solution to the war, but I don't believe our presence there is helping things. Americans have to realize there are limits to our power and limits to what we can "fix" -- even if we are talking about problems we are responsible for ourselves.

Jeff said...

Hi Liam,

Good points. We have long ago passed in their eyes from being liberators to being occupiers. Even General Petraeus, the counterinsurgency guru, is aware of that now.

Webb is an impressive guy. The fact that he was only able to eke out a razor thin victory over Macaca-man in Virginia leaves me shaking my head a little bit over that state. At least they got him over...

Steve Bogner said...

Jeff - I didn't watch the speech or the rebuttal. I've heard snippets on NPR though. From what I've heard and read, it just seems the president is deaf to advice that doesn't fit his agenda; that's really not a good thing for leaders to do.

Jeff said...

Hi Steve,

A lot of commentators who've been blaming one person's influence or another person's influence on him
as regards to the war over the past few years are starting to re-evaluate whether or not it is more a matter of GWB just being GWB himself.

It's one thing to be resolute. Its another thing to be pig-headed.