Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Was the War Worth It?

Those who understand history know this question has been asked about almost every war the U.S. has been involved in. There's also the "what if" question--what would have happened if we hadn't become involved in a specific war?

Robert Kagan addressed these questions in regard to the war in Iraq. Serious scholars will write thoughtful books on these questions in the future. Kagan's column provides a very short summary of what I suspect many of these books will say.

Madeleine Albright, who shared President Clinton's certainty that Iraq possessed WMD and was a threat to the U.S., compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler. I don't disagree with her assessment, although I think comparing him to Stalin would have been more apt. What would have happened if we had not removed him from power?

It's a useful question. For example, the horrors of World War II and the deaths of tens of millions might have been avoided if Hitler had been removed from the scene earlier. The most logical point was his 1936 re-militarization of the Rhineland, a flagrant and provocative violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler acted when Germany was still militarily very weak, with barely enough troops to make a show of marching into the Rhineland demilitarized zone. Except for the complacency and isolationism of America and the appeasement sympathies of England and France, history could have been changed immeasurably for the better.

Kagan's conclusion:

It is entirely possible, in short, that if the Bush administration had not gone to war in 2003, the United States might have faced a more dangerous and daring Saddam Hussein later on and felt compelled to act. So, in addition to whatever price might have been paid, certainly by the Iraqi people and possibly by Iraq's neighbors, for leaving Saddam in power, we might have wound up going to war anyway. There is the further question of what the entire Middle East would have looked like with a defiant, increasingly liberated Hussein still in power. To quote [former National Security Adviser Sandy] Berger again, so long as Hussein remained "in power and in confrontation with the world," Iraq would remain "a source of potential conflict in the region," and, perhaps more important, "a source of inspiration for those who equate violence with power and compromise with surrender." Whether historians judge the war favorably will depend heavily on whether post-Hussein Iraq does indeed provide a different sort of inspiration, but, again, the effort to change the direction of the region was surely worth paying some price.

This may be no solace to those who have lost loved ones in this war -- and it certainly does not absolve the Bush administration from the errors that it made before and after the war and continues to make today. But these are the kinds of considerations that ought to be part of any serious debate over whether the war in Iraq was "worth it."

I realize that some may consider Kagan a "neocon" and won't read anything he writes, lest their ideological purity be compromised. They should make an exception in this case.

5 Comments:

Blogger Junebugg said...

Most people who say a "war isn't worth it" would change their minds if they and their family were the poor souls living under such conditions as the Jews and the Iraqians. All things worth having are worth fighting for, and anyone who could ignore the suffering caused by the likes of Saddam Hussein or Hitler.

3:29 PM, June 22, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

Great post, Tom. Great comment, junebugg.

11:33 PM, June 22, 2005  
Blogger Anastasia said...

I won't say that Saddam is a 'nice guy' because he wasn't. But the reality is that Iraq was under so many sanctions and all gathering of intelligence showed that no weapons of mass destruction existed (this was an international embarrassment for all intelligence agencies of the Coalition), so even if Hussein remained where he was, what was he going to do when Iraq was under sanctions for close to a decade (or a bit more??). People who promote the 'war being justified' omit these little things. I think Iraq was just a 'selective' war. While Iraq was occuring, no one gave two hoots about what was going on in Laos (for example). It's always the same thing, one 'battleground' is selected over all others. Laos isn't rich in oil wealth, but Iraq is and that's why it's a justified 'war'.

I don't think money for oil justifies anything, Husseins massacres aren't justifiable either, but still, that doesn't give one nation the right to become a rogue nation and disrespect the UN Security Council.

My attitude did a 360 degree turn when the Security Council was given the proverbial 'finger' because that essentially 'means' that no amount of protests or 'freedom of speech' matters when certain sectors have their eye on the loot. Now that Iraq has transformed into a 'democracy' supposedly, and Hussein has been captured (mind you, he was put in power by the very nations of the Coalition more than two decades ago) it's all okay for every western entrepreneur/contractor to make a profit.

I really don't get the hype and how people fall for the justified argument. It's about 'who benefits', like anyone really 'cares' about massacres, no one really cared when Iraq was at war with Iran, the US was selling arms to both sides at the time and now all of a sudden Hussein is 'bad'. He was a dictator back then but no one really 'cared' because it didnt' suit them to care and now of course, when he is an undesirable the 'war is justified'.

Come on...

1:53 AM, June 23, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

L'etranger, I agree with some of what you say, but some of the facts are a bit off the mark.

The sanctions regime that held Saddam at least partly in check for 12 years was being seriously eroded, particularly by the French and the Russians, who wanted sanctions removed or significantly weakened for their commercial benefit.

All major national intelligence organizations, particularly those of the U.S. and Europe, assessed that Iraq had and would use chemical and biological weapons. They were split on the question of nuclear capability, generally judging that Iraq wanted to get there but still had a long way to go. Those assessments may have been wrong in some respects, but there was good reasoning behind them.

Beyond all this, it was becoming clear that the corrupt oil for food program was giving Saddam serious amounts of money, and, as authoritative people testified, Iraq fully intended to pursue WMD programs in the future.

I agree with your dismay that many legitimate problems in the world are being ignored while the U.S. deals with Iraq. However, the reality is that no nation, including the U.S., is going to permit the UN to dictate it's alternatives when matters of vital national interest are concerned, and nations will always address first the problems they consider most pressing.

The UN is corrupt and grossly ineffective. If it can ever be reformed, perhaps it will be able to exert more influence over international events.

6:55 AM, June 23, 2005  
Blogger Anastasia said...

I don't disagree, but to compare Hussein to Hitler is over the top for the reason that The Third Reich invaded most of Europe whereas Iraq didn't have the capability because of Hussein's greed.
It will be interesting to finally see, when Hussein goes through the trial process how much money has dissappeared (that will most likely remain lost).
North Korea is pursuing it's Nuclear program and yet it's different because there is no dictator in place in North Korea, but their program is substantial, as are nuclear weapons programs of other countries such as India and Pakistan right now.
With France, definitely, that's why they didn't want to partake in a war (and share the spoils?).

The world will always be divided by the Iraq issue, particularly the way it all played out but this is what distinguishes the United States from other nations, this is why the US is a great nation in terms of progress and opportunity, compared to other nations.

With nations and the UN, Australia, for example doesn't have a national interest where Iraq is concerned. We are in the thick of detaining refugees in maximum security like prisons in the middle of nowhere for lengthy durations, children are being born in these detention centres. We are so far away from Iraq, 23 hrs by standard plane, and yet Australia has found itself there because of Britain (everywhere Britain goes, Australia follows because of our penal colony link). We even deport people by accident (case of an Australian citizen being deported 'accidently') so it's paradoxical for Australian's to 'care' about what is happening to civilians in Iraq, we care more about hostages (Douglas Wood) but the hostage situation exists because of the precursor (the most recent war).

I can understand why the US has national interests, I can get that, but where Australia is concerned, I don't totally understand it. During that period here everyone (against the recent Iraq war) had this immense hatred for George W Bush but it's all like a Shakespearean quote 'All the world is a stage' and Bush has got balls of steel (the way I see it), and that's what's required to take a nation to the next level, it determines survival/progress over failure/stagnation.

In theory all wars are justified, however that all depends on the interests of the few.

I spent one year in anti Bush mode, seriously. Then when the election campaign was being shown here in excerpts/bits and pieces, some time before the vote I knew (for some uncanny reason that will sound dumb) that Bush would win. It's in the way he engages each person, regardless of their social class. I remember sitting there listening to him joke about Arnold Schwarzenegger correct his English and how bad that was and I laughed, whereas the other side was more 'serious'. I don't know how to describe it, Bush has got what it takes to 'go it alone' whereas the other candidates relied on 'hippy' concerts, ex presidents to talk 'for them' and so on.

While I don't see the war as being 'universally' justified, I can understand why it's justified in the sense of a nations interests. It's like the first nuclear weapons program in the States, if one group of scientists didn't do it, someone else would have done it anyway and it's better to be 'first' rather than last.

That I can understand.

3:43 AM, June 24, 2005  

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