‘Hyperbole’ and Iraq

The last couple of days I’ve broken my rule about not responding substantially to e-mails. In the interests of making the best use of my time for the readers’ benefit, I try to steer people to the blog so that everybody can join in on the conversation. Anyway, when I break my rule I try to do this, which is publish the exchange on the blog. This exchange started, of course, with my Sunday column:

From: Pat Mohr
Sent: Sunday, November 30, 2008 4:34 PM
To: Warthen, Brad – External Email
Subject: hyperbole

Well, Mr. Warthen, isn’t your respect for the language, as the SNL church lady would say, "special?"  I guess I’m just another bleeding-heart liberal because I did watch in horror as my country approved torture and suspended habeus corpus for prisoners. And I did watch in horror as people died after Katrina because we had incompetent ideologues in the White House who sat and watched that devastation because  they wanted to "reduce the size of government to the point that they could drown it in the bathtub."  And I’ve watched in horror as we waged a "war" (otherwise known as an occupation) in which thousands and Americans and even more thousands of Iraqis died because we made a mistake about Saddam’s intentions.

Now if those things don’t fill you with horror, you’re not the man I hoped you were.

Pat Mohr

On Dec 2, 2008, at 1:54 PM, Warthen, Brad – Internal Email wrote:

The NYT editorial in question wasn’t about the issues you mentioned. That was one of the bizarre things about it. It was about things like unauthorized wiretaps, and the operation of Gitmo. Hardly "horror" stuff.

I know lots of people look upon our involvement in Iraq with "horror." I don’t, but I know other people do. The NYT editorial wasn’t about anything like that.

You want to see what I look upon, with horror, read my blog. http://blogs.thestate.com/bradwarthensblog/2008/12/some-things-tha.html

From: Pat Mohr
Sent: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 2:24 PM
To: Warthen, Brad – Internal Email
Subject: Re: hyperbole
Importance: High

Thank you for responding. I understand what you’re saying about the other issues in the NYT editorial, but I do believe that Gitmo is a horror because of the torture that has been sanctioned there (and in other places because of rendition). If this torture was indeed not just the work of some bad apples, and we have some evidence to say that it wasn’t, then it does qualify as a horror.  Like many other Americans, i never thought I’d live to see the day that my country sanctioned torture—not for ANY reason!

And I will go look at your blog.  One reason is that I’d like to know why you don’t look upon Iraq as a horror. I don’t attribute intent, but I do believe that our government mistakenly believed the boasts of Saddam and ignored/demeaned reports that did not support their preconceptions. Then we refused to wait for the inspectors to go back & look further for WMDs or to go through the UN for assistance, coming up instead with our "coalition of the willing".  Meanwhile, Bush and Cheney deliberately conflated 9/11 with Iraq to justify our preemptive invasion. I still see polls that report that something like 40% of evangelicals believe that Iraqis attacked us on 9/11. So I’ll look to see why you don’t believe that the ensuing deaths of thousands was not indeed horrible….

I always read your column because even though I frequently disagree with you, you’re rational and provide reasons for your opinions. This is no small thing in an area of the country infested with ideologues!  I’ll always appreciate the work you do!

On Dec 2, 2008, at 3:14 PM, Warthen, Brad – Internal Email wrote:

Thanks for the kind words.

I doubt that I can explain my support for our invasion of Iraq in 2003 to your satisfaction. I can’t explain it to my wife’s satisfaction. I certainly can’t explain it to the satisfaction of people who disagree on my blog.

It has nothing to do with WMD. I realize it did for an awful lot of people, but not for me. So while I saw not finding the WMD (which we all know had been there, because Saddam had used it) as a big setback, it didn’t change anything about why I saw us needing to go in there.

It did have a great deal to do with 9/11, but not in some simplistic way such as you describe, the "hitting back at the people who attacked us" formula. I don’t think in those terms.

Either you look at the situation we had in the world at that time and agree with me, or you don’t. It’s very hard to bridge the gap. I looked at a lot of things, and that’s what it added up to for me. Other people look at the same things and don’t arrive there at all. Part of it is that I am by nature inclined to intervention. I think we were right to intervene in the Balkans, and wrong not to in Rwanda and Darfur. I think we were wrong to leave Somalia in 2003. I believe when you’re the most powerful nation in the world — economically, militarily, just about any other way — you have an obligation to act when people are suffering and being oppressed. Anti-war people think that’s arrogant. I think it’s cold NOT to want to do what we can. And the fact is, if we want to, we can do a great deal.

Here are two of those reasons, which make all the sense in the world to me, but not to antiwar people:
— Until 9/11, the U.S. policy toward the region had been maintaining the status quo. What that had meant was backing current regimes, however horrible — or at least leaving them alone — so as to keep the oil flowing. Don’t rock the boat. The 1991 Gulf War was a perfect example of this old strategy: Saddam had attacked Kuwait and was threatening the much bigger target of Saudi Arabia. We sent an overwhelming force to preserve the status quo ante — pushing Saddam back "where he belonged," and restoring the previous government in Kuwait, and protecting the Saudi regime. We didn’t want to take Baghdad then because that might have created a vacuum into which Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria and Turkey, might flow. That would upset the apple cart, and we didn’t want to do that. (We should have, because at that time we had something we didn’t have 12 years later — overwhelming force, enough to occupy and stabilize Iraq. I understand why we didn’t — but that calculation was based on the old, pre-9/11, policy of preserving the status quo.)
     9/11 changed this equation, because it showed us that preserving the status quo — one in which oppressive regimes produced political frustration and encouraged Islamic militantism — was extraordinarily dangerous to us. The 9/11 hijackers were the result of the old policy of supporting the status quo. We needed to begin the process of changing the region, and Iraq was a good place to start. Succeed there (and the problem in Iraq is that so many things were done wrong in the first years that it took far too long to succeed), and you encourage liberalizing, democratizing forces in all middle eastern countries. We saw the beginnings of that in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Libya — although much of it was set back by the increasing violence that was only quelled after the Surge began at the start of 2007. Much of that good effect has yet to be seen, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still happen.

— Iraq was the place to start because we had every reason to go in and take out the regime there. Saddam had violated terms of the 1991 cease fire for 12 years. He was shooting at our planes enforcing the no-fly zone. In 2002, the UN passed the resolution authorizing force unless Saddam met certain conditions — which he failed to meet. Some significant UN members balked at acting upon the resolution — France, Germany, Russia — but plenty of others, including most European powers, actually joined that "coalition of the willing." And why not? Saddam had spent the last decade and more cementing his reputation as an outlaw regime.

Anyway, that’s PART of my thinking on the subject. It doesn’t make sense to people who agree. It DOES make sense to some who do, such as the New York Times’ Tom Friedman.

Hope that helps, but I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t.

From: Pat Mohr
Sent: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 8:27 PM
To: Warthen, Brad – Internal Email
Subject: Re: hyperbole
Importance: High

Hmm, I’ve gone back and read and re-read your rationales for going into Iraq. I’m still thinking—because you’ve made some good points. I do have to tell you, though, that I’m not anti-war; I just think it should be restricted to defense. However, many of your reasons seem to indicate that you truly believe that you are your brothers’ keeper, and that’s morality I share. I too think we should have gone into Darfur and Rwanda. We do have an obligation to help the oppressed—but not only the oppressed with oil under their land. I just don’t think that Iraq should have been singled out, even in the mideast.  What about the outrageous treatment of women in Saudi Arabia for example? And how can we be the world’s policemen? How can we ever fix it all?

Moreover, I think our presumptuous invasion has brought us so much international ill will that it will be years before our reputation is restored. And then there’s the billions and billions of dollars that have been squandered in this war.  I wonder if Iraqis think it was worth it because I don’t think most Americans do. And now we’re in greater jeopardy in Afghanistan—and we still haven’t found Osama.

All that said, in the light of your comments, I intend to start reading your blog as I continue to think about my position.  I like to think that I’m open-minded enough to change my mind given additional evidence.  I wish I could come back in fifty years and see what verdict history renders on this war….

Thank you again for engaging in this dialogue with me.

On Dec 3, 2008, at 10:54 AM, Warthen, Brad – Internal Email wrote:

All I can ask for is to get people to think about the points I make, so I thank you for that.

In answer to one point you made, let me point out that we did not have an acceptable rationale for invading Saudi Arabia. Remember the 12 years of defiance of the ceasefire agreement, and all those UN resolutions that gave us authorization to go into Iraq. We had nothing like that in the case of Saudi Arabia, or Iran or anyone else. Just Iraq.

Also, the reference to oil is a non-sequitur. We kicked Saddam out of Kuwait for oil. The policy of supporting the status quo was about oil. Invading Iraq actually endangered the flow of oil by upsetting the status quo.

You might be interested in a column I wrote before the Iraq invasion, about why we needed to go in:

Published on: 02/02/2003
Edition: FINAL
Page: D2
Editorial Page Editor

AMERICA SEES ITSELF, quite admirably, as a nation that doesn’t go around starting fights, but is perfectly willing and able to end them once they start.

Because of that, President Bush has a tall hill to climb when it comes to persuading the American people that, after 10 years of keeping Saddam Hussein in his box, we should now go in after him, guns blazing.

In his State of the Union address, the president gave some pretty good reasons why we need to act in Iraq, but were they good enough? I don’t know. Probably not. It’s likely that no one outside of the choir loft was converted by his preaching on the subject. And that’s a problem. Overall, while there have been moments over the last 16 months when he has set out the situation with remarkable clarity, those times have been too few and far between.

He has my sympathy on this count, though: His efforts have been hampered by the fact that the main reason we may need to invade Iraq is one that the president can’t state too clearly without creating more problems internationally than it would solve. At the same time, it’s a reason that seems so obvious that he shouldn’t have to state it. We should all be able to figure it out.

And yet, it seems, we don’t.

I hear people asking why, after all this time, we want to go after Saddam now. He was always a tyrant, so what’s changed? North Korea is probably closer to a nuclear bomb than he is, they say, so why not go after Kim Jong Il first?

We left him in power a decade ago, they ask, so why the change?

The answer to all of the above is: Sept. 11.

Before that, U.S. policy-makers didn’t want to destabilize the status quo in the Mideast. What we learned on Sept. 11 is that the status quo in the region is unacceptable. It must change.

Change has to start somewhere, and Iraq is the best place to insert the lever, for several reasons – geography, culture, demographics, but most of all because Saddam Hussein has given us all the justification we need to go in and take him out: We stopped shooting in 1991 because he agreed to certain terms, and he has repeatedly thumbed his nose at those agreements.

Iraq may not be the best place in the world to try to nurture a liberal democracy, but it’s the best shot we have in the Mideast.

I’m far from the only one saying this. The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, who has more knowledge of the region in his mustache than I’ll ever have, has said it a number of times, most recently just last week:

"What threatens Western societies today are not the deterrables, like Saddam, but the undeterrables – the boys who did 9/11, who hate us more than they love life. It’s these human missiles of mass destruction that could really destroy our open society. . . . If we don’t help transform these Arab states – which are also experiencing population explosions – to create better governance, to build more open and productive economies, to empower their women and to develop responsible news media that won’t blame all their ills on others, we will never begin to see the political, educational and religious reformations they need to shrink their output of undeterrables."

Journalists can say these things, and some do. But if the president does, the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Syrians and just about everybody else in the region will go nuts. In European capitals, and even in certain circles here at home, he will be denounced as the worst sort of imperialist. Osama bin Laden’s followers will seize upon such words as proof that the West has embarked upon another Crusade – not for Christ this time, but for secular Western culture.

None of which changes the fact that the current state of affairs in Arab countries and Iran is a deadly threat to the United States. So we have to do something about it. We’ve seen what doing nothing gets us – Sept. 11. Action is very risky. But we’ve reached the point at which inaction is at least as dangerous.

Should we go in as conquerors, lord it over the people of Iraq and force them to be like us? Absolutely not. It wouldn’t work, anyway. We have to create conditions under which Iraqis – all Iraqis, including women – can choose their own course. We did that in Germany and Japan, and it worked wonderfully (not that Iraq is Germany or Japan, but those are the examples at hand). And no one can say the Germans are under the American thumb.

But that brings us to a problem. The recalcitrance of the Germans, the French and others undermines the international coalition that would be necessary to nation-building in Iraq. It causes another problem as well:

Maybe we could accomplish our goal without invading Iraq – which of course would be preferable. By merely threatening to do so, we could embolden elements within the country to overthrow him, which might provide us with certain opportunities.

But the irony is that people aren’t going to rise up against Saddam as long as Europeans and so many people in this country fail to support the president’s goal of going after him. As long as they see all this dissension, they’ll likely believe (rightly) that Saddam might just hang on yet again.

If the United Nations, or at least the West, presented a united front, the possibility of Saddam collapsing without our firing a shot would be much greater. But for some reason, too many folks in Europe and in this country don’t see that. Or just don’t want to.

Maybe somebody should point it out to them.

Write to Mr. Warthen at P.O. Box 1333, Columbia, S.C. 29202, or bwarthen@thestate.com.

By the way, do you mind if I post our exchange on my blog? Whenever I spend this much time writing about a subject, I try to share it with as wide an audience as possible…

From: Pat Mohr
Sent: Wednesday, December 03, 2008 11:06 AM
To: Warthen, Brad – Internal Email
Subject: Re: hyperbole
Importance: High

Certainly, you may share it.

That’s it. Join in, if you got this far…

10 thoughts on “‘Hyperbole’ and Iraq

  1. Ozzie

    Someone needs to spell out Brad’s underlying assumptions and evaluate them critically. Here are some that I see:
    1) It is possible, and desirable, to set up a democratic government in a country that is overwhelming Muslim, and split into major factions of Sunni and Shia.
    2) A Muslim state can institute the necessary separation between religion and state in order to preclude fanatical elements from running the country. (That is a very doubtful situation–Islam is, by it’s very nature, both political and religious.
    3) US intervention is the best way to help suffering people in any given situation. (It has not helped Iraqi Christians.)
    4) Getting rid of secular dictators will result in all the religious people getting along together. (Sorry for the bit of sarcasm in that, but I can’t help it.)
    Someone else can take over from here, preferably Phillip, who has the best insights of any of this on Iraq.

  2. jfx

    Context, context, context! Being the most powerful nation in the world does NOT mean we go in anywhere and everywhere that there is suffering and oppression, and try to fix it! That mentality can make things worse! One of the first responsibilities of a nation of such power is to comprehend the limits of that power, and apply it prudently and judiciously.
    Before we commit an army to an invasion and occupation, we need to be straight with our own citizenry about why we are doing it. AND our leadership needs to be straight about the civilization and culture we’re about to muck up.
    Honestly, honestly, can anyone say we got that straight with Iraq? Brad, all of your assertions for why we SHOULD have gone in are absolutely correct. But that wasn’t the war Bush sold to us, and it wasn’t the war Colin Powell sold to the U.N.
    For years….decades….we balanced Iraq and Iran against each other, understanding that neither existed in a vacuum. In a post 9/11 world, that regional sensitivity did not become less so, but dramatically MORE so. Yet, rather than focus our urgency on the direct centers of jihadist militantism responsible for the 9/11 atrocity, we made an oblique stab at a toothless dictator who just happened to be in the same geographical region. It is folly to think that we will transform the entirety of a complex, ancient, violent Middle East by forcibly occupying one of its weakest and most habitually dysfunctional members.
    The oppressive, US-favored authoritarian royal regime in Saudi Arabia, and the subsequent reactionary militant Wahabism caused by that oppression, gave us our 9/11 hijackers…and a neglected and failed Afghanistan gave their braintrust the sanctuary to plot the mass killing of Americans.
    Yet, we did not focus and finish our objective in Afghanistan, nor have we properly revised our untenable relationship with Saudi Arabia. The roots of 9/11 are there, in the royal kingdom South of Iraq. Yet, we are on this lark, North of the heart of the matter. We can spin a million noble sentiments for fighting the good fight now that we are in it, and even revise the history of why we went in, and rationalize its worth. Indeed, at this point, we have little choice but to try and make the best of it.
    But certainly we also have the opportunity…and OBLIGATION…to learn the lessons from this tangential war. We do have limits, and priorities, and maybe gettin’ Saddam was not so important in the short term as resolving the much deeper root of anti-Western Islamic militancy. We may have set ourselves back in THAT endeavor, the more critical endeavor, by precious years with this rash invasion.

  3. Lee Muller

    Pat Mohr acts outraged over things which did not occur.
    President Bush did not “suspend habeas corpus”. He used military tribunals in the same way other presidents have, to try non-uniformed irregular military combatants captured in foreign wars.
    President Bush did not engage in wholesale wiretaps on Americans without warrants. What the NSA did do is listen on calls of terrorists in foreign countries. Some of those calls were made overseas to agents in the USA, so it was proper and legal to listen in on their conversation.
    To give an corollary example, if police obtain a warrant to snoop on the domestic calls of a suspected criminal, and that suspect calls someone they knew nothing about, they do not have to hang up and run get a new warrant for each new contact person.
    Domestic wiretaps for terrorists have a streamlined process for warrants, which has now been slowed by Democrats who set up another layer of judges, which slows most of the processes down to the point of missing the window of opportunity to prevent an attack.

  4. bud

    I just have thank my creator that we have a president who doesn’t subscribe to the utterly atrocious, misguided, hawkish nonsense spouted off by Brad Warthen. His rational for supporting Iraq is so completely wrong headed it makes me sick to my stomach.

  5. bud

    One of the really great things about the 2008 election is how completely the results repudiated the nonsense spouted off by talk radio and Fox News. The American people finally came to their senses and rejected the fear-mongers from the right. And that includes Brad Warthen.

  6. Don't Get Stuck!

    I thought you were steering folks to the blog so they could get a cash advance from PayDayMax.com

  7. bud

    I view the kind of war-mongering philosophy of Brad Warthen in horror. This is the kind of thinking that has led to napalming civilians in Vietnam and cluster bombing innocent civilians in Iraq. We have the horror of the Mylai massacre in Vietnam, the atrocities of Abhu-Ghraib and Haditha in Iraq. The slaughter of innocent civilians in places like Lebanon where we fired battleship shells into populated civilian villages. Little good ever comes of these mass killings of innocent people. We only infuriate people who wish only to live their lives according to thier traditions not some militarily imposed western culture.
    The misguided war-monger approach to all things foreign stems from a wrong-headed belief that our military can do no wrong and is somehow a useful catalyst for all things good and righteous. Sadly this blind view of our military only wastes lives and treasure. The constant rationalization of the military mind ignores all costs of conflict and invents benefits that do not exist.
    The U.S. is not the only military power that has falsely entrusted foreign relations to the whims of military elitists. The British tried in vane to secure a colony in Iraq back in the 1920s. The Russians likewise tried to impose their will on Afghanistan. Vietnam had their own “Vietnam” when they invaded Cambodia. Isreal spent some time learning the hard way that military intervention served only to kill, be killed and squander money.
    Yet, hardheads like Brad Warthen, Rush Limbaugh and John McCain continue to push for this killing strategy. In spite of centuries of failure on the part of the war-mongers to subjugate through killing these misguided souls continue to push the myth that war and killing will lead to a better world. In the end the only industry that is served by this myopic philosophy is the undertaker business.
    This kind of mad thinking is something that needs to be oppossed. Peacefully oppossed throught ballot box and in protest on the streets if need be. There can be no compromise with the war monger, only sustained opposition. We must use our military assets wisely to defend the sea lanes against pirates or to hunt down the perpetrators of mass acts of terrorism. Our military must NOT be used for vague ideolistic endevours such “draining the swamp” or ensuring that “freedom is on the march”. Those phony slogans hide the real agenda of the war monger. Simply put, they want to enrich the coffers of the military industrial complex. And the rest of the world be damned.

  8. Lee Muller

    Leftists like “bud” don’t care how many people are killed and enslaved by Islamofascism. All they want is tax money flowing their way to subsidize a lifestyle they can’t earn at work.

  9. JD

    Lee Muller begins in this blog by making credible assertions about wiretaps and tribunals.
    Although he includes no supporting evidence with his argument, I appreciate the civil tone of his earlier comments and take them into consideration.
    I become prejudiced against Lee’s point of view, however, when he makes the later statement:
    “Leftists like “bud” don’t care how many people are killed and enslaved by Islamofascism. All they want is tax money flowing their way to subsidize a lifestyle they can’t earn at work.”
    I don’t know “Bud,” although I did read his comments with interest, and I gather that we have similar concerns…
    As a leftist who subsidizes his family’s lifestyle by performing demanding physical labor (sans benefits) in exchange for money, and who does not suckle at the public teat, I’m alarmed that we priveleged Americans can be so prone to discarding reasonable discourse and so quick to lump each other into groups of “us” and “them” out of mere frustration.
    I have read many of Lee Muller’s comments on Brad’s always lively blog, and I’ve been motivated often to research my own position in light of the points he makes. He can be persuasive.
    I have no choice but to assume, however, that Lee would lump me into the category of “them,” and thus presume to know “all that I want.”
    Although I couldn’t possibly describe in this forum all that I want, none of it includes tax money flowing my way… And none of it is in ignorance of human beings enslaved or killed by any machine, whether political, economical or religious.
    Please lay off the blanket statements.
    Are you American? Stick to it!
    Or get up yer AK and get down to it like the Shias and Sunnis do; or Catholics and protestants did…

  10. Lee Muller

    Why be a leftist if you don’t get your turn in the trough? And you are working for a living, just like a good libertarian capitalist, too.
    Laziness, monetary greed and envy is why most people become socialists. 68% of Obama voters said they didn’t know his position on any issues, but they thought they would get money handed out to themselves.
    If I sound unkind to “bud”, it’s because you read my observations of him outside the context of his continual posts about how the war in Iraq is using up good tax money that he wants spent on this program and that handout. I am not imagining his lack of concern for the millions of Iraqis murdered by Saddam. He, and many leftists, dismiss the slaughter. That’s why I don’t accept their phony tears for the few civilians killed accidentally by US troops.

Comments are closed.