July 3, 2003 | Op-ed
Symposium: Bush’s Decision to Go to War. Was it Justified?
By Jamie Glazov
As the controversy over the missing Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq escalates, so does the criticism of President Bush and his decision to go to war. Was the liberation of Iraq by American forces a legitimate course of action? FrontPage Symposium is pleased to host a debate on this issue. To criticize the war, we are joined by Peter N. Kirstein, a professor of history at Saint Xavier University in Chicago and a specialist on the atomic bomb and current nonproliferation issues. He wrote “American Swagger in a Dangerous Nuclear World,” History News Network, (George Mason University, 2003); and Stanley Aronowitz, a veteran political activist, cultural critic and a distinguished professor of sociology at the City University of New York. To defend the war, we are joined by Victor Davis Hanson, currently a visiting professor of military history at the US Naval Academy and author of the new book An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on Terrorism; and Cliff May, President of the anti-terrorism think tank Foundation For the Defense of Democracies.
 Gentlemen, welcome to Frontpage Symposium. President Bush is coming under increasing criticism for his decision to have gone to war with Iraq. Is there any legitimacy to the critics' charges? Cliff, why don’t we begin with you?
May: Not a shred of legitimacy to the charges.
Saddam Hussein was a rogue dictator who had been butchering Iraqis for years, had attacked at least four of his neighbors, conspired with terrorists, was developing (and in some instances had already deployed) weapons of mass destruction, and remained in gross violation of the agreements he made in exchange for a ceasefire in the Gulf War of 1991. He had declared himself America’s enemy and had sworn revenge. The only question is when and in what manner he would again act against the United States.
As Sen. John McCain recently said, the US action in Iraq, “made America more secure, liberated millions from a reign of terror and helped create the prospect for the establishment of the first Arab democracy.”
Would anyone seriously make the case that America, Iraq, the Middle East or the world would be better off today if President Bush had left Saddam and his sons were in their palaces?
Interlocutor: Victor, what do you say?
Hanson: Cliff is correct, there is no legitimacy to the charges of the critics. The military campaign was brilliant. Saddam's past genocide is ever more clear. The skeletons of WMD and al Qaeda links are slowly being reconstructed and over the next year will be fleshed out. There are glimmers of anxiety in Iran, Syria, and among the Palestinian Authority. For all the bad news of sniping and terrorism, the Iraqis will calm down as aid and oil money pour in, an American-trained army is reconstituted, and consensual government appears. We worry about ideological hijackers that in the general unrest will steal our victory-in the manner of a Lenin, Khomeini, or the Taliban-but there seems no grass-roots opposition. Baathism and Islamicism gave Iraq and its neighbors Saddam Hussein and the mullahs so these attacks are more gang-related and criminal than signs of revolutionary fervor.
Interlocutor: Fair enough, let’s go to the other side of the panel now. Stanley what do you make of Mr. May’s and Mr. Hanson’s comments?
Aronowitz: Look at the sequence: Bush swore Saddam had WMD's poised to be used as soon as fighting began. Whether he had them or not, they were never used during the war. Nothing of significance has been found. So either Bush lied or the intelligence upon which the US intervened was deeply flawed. In either case we are faced with a tissue of deception.
Then when no weapons of mass destruction were found, Saddam became a human rights issue. He was a brutal dictator with whom American diplomats and politicians, Republican and Democrat dealt for decades. The US supported Saddam against Iran during their war. While the 1991 Gulf war was based on an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and could be justified, possibly, on these grounds, there were no such invasions of neighbours in 2001.
Then the crap about the al-Qaeda connection. Not a shred of evidence has been introduced on this front.
No, gentlemen, it’s about lying in politics. As Hannah Arendt has argued in her brilliant essay on the subject: lying is the warp and woof of politics in democratic as well as authoritarian and totalitarian countries. What is intolerable is that such lying occurs in war situations. The American people have a right to the truth when they are put in harm's way and our government has the duty, yes duty on penalty of impeachment, to tell the truth — that the Bush administration did not do.
Interlocutor: OK, Peter go ahead.
Kirstein: The decision for war against Iraq was immoral and illegal. Pre-emptive war, in the absence of an imminent threat, cannot be justified. I think conservatives who are strict constructionists of the constitution should be concerned that Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution which grants Congress the power “to declare war,” was not adhered to in this instance and has been virtually abandoned by pusillanimous “authorizations to use force” on the part of the unitary Republican-Democratic party.
The “justification” to send Americans in harm's way was that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and had “reconstituted” its nuclear program. Such evidence is lacking and was probably deliberately falsified such as the accusation that Iraq was acquiring Uranium “yellowcake” from Niger. Another casus belli was the putative links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. This is also false and suggests that American motives were not self-defense but dreams of hegemony: namely the control of oil, a permanent military force that could virtually eliminate any geostrategic competition in the Gulf and an encirclement and ultimate invasion of Iran. In fact, the seeds of this conflict go back at least to 1998 when the proto-Bushites, Project for the New American Century crowd, advocated invasion.
May: One hardly knows where to begin.
 I would ask Mr. Aronowitz to provide the quotes in which “Bush swore Saddam had WMD's poised to be used as soon as fighting began.” In fact, few analysts took that view. Most believed Saddam was at least a few years away from developing nuclear weapons; that biological weapons would be useless to him on the battlefield because they don’t kill the enemy until after the battle is over (but they are useful for exacting revenge later); and chemical weapons would have had limited effectiveness against well -prepared troops –which our troops were.
 Beer can taste great and be less filling. Our justification for intervening in Iraq was based both on national security and on concerns over Saddam’s gross violations of human rights. There was a time when those on the Left cared about torture, rape as an instrument of government policy and mass murders. How sad that that time has passed.
 By what logic is “faulty intelligence” a “tissue of deception”? Rather, faulty intelligence is …well, faulty intelligence. And even the best intelligence is often open to interpretation – it’s not a baseball box score. And isn’t its remarkable that the same people who long favored diminishing our intelligence capabilities now lament our diminished intelligence capabilities and twist that into something it’s clearly not – for obviously partisan purposes.
 If we have faulty intelligence now, it was also faulty under the Clinton administration. Would Mr. Aronowitz assert that when Clinton bombed what he believed to be Iraqi WMD sites in 1998, that was part of a “tissue of deception” too?
 There is indeed evidence of connections between Saddam and al Qaeda, as well as between Saddam and many other terrorists groups. (Most obviously, of course, Saddam had strong connections with Hamas. Or does Mr. Aronowitz believe that a terrorist group that specializes in murdering Israeli children is committing not a felony but at most a misdemeanor? This was a popular view in Europe at one time. I’m surprised Mr. Aronowitz would be among those eager to revive it). Also Osama bin Laden was been quite vocal in his support of Saddam against their common enemies: the Great Satan and the Little Satan. On what basis does Mr. Aronowitz assume the support was not reciprocated? And what exactly would inhibit Saddam from cooperating with al Qaeda? I don’t know whether Saddam read Hannah Arendt but I bet he’d heard this one: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
 The causus belli was clearly stated in UN Security Council Resolution 1441 which did not ask whether Saddam had WMDs but rather gave his regime one “final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations.” He would have been well-advised to take that opportunity – but he no doubt believed his objective allies in America and Europe would succeed in preventing any negative consequences from occurring. Remember, too, that the Gulf War did not end – there was no peace treaty. There was only a ceasefire contingent on Saddam fulfilling certain obligations. He did not fulfill those obligations so the ceasefire could at any time be declared null and void. The debate over the legitimacy of pre-emption is therefore not relevant here – but it would be interesting to debate it at some later time.
Hanson: That after 100 days we have not found full evidence-as opposed to increasing anecdotal information about both WMD or al Qaeda-is not unusual. Japanese chemical weapons from WWII have only recently been unearthed in China, while Hitler's full arsenal was not completely known until months after the surrender. The secrets of totalitarian societies are uncovered incrementally and only when citizens gain confidence in coming forward-and each day (cf. yesterday's released information about both buried applied nuclear machinery and more allegations about al Qaedists in Iraq) more will emerge. I suppose by the logic of critics, that because we have not yet found Saddam alive or dead after 100 days, it is prima facie evidence that he never existed and thus we fabricated the entire casus belli of his own tyrannical personnage.
But all this angst is premature and academic; within a year the full picture will emerge, well beyond the ability of our government to spin or contain it, and we all shall see to what degree there were WMD programs in existence and the full extent of al Qaeda associations. The present hysteria is also not new-but eerily reminiscent of the “pause” and “quagmire” allegations in the first week of the war, followed by exaggerated reports of the looting of the museum and American complicity in it, and so on.
The fact is one of the world's great monsters is gone, millions of Iraqis will not die as was the case the last 30 years, no subsidies will be sent to terrorists, oil money will not be diverted to acquiring nightmarish weapons, and pilots and troops can slowly be withdrawn from the Gulf-as is already happening in Saudi Arabia. All this talk of “hegemony”, “geogstrategic competition,” and “encirclement” is odd when for the first time in 50 years American troops are slated to start leaving or being redeployed from Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia-for starters.
As far as preemptive war, we already were at war-whether we gauge that by Saddam's unilateral dismissal of the 1991 armistice agreements, President Clinton's 4-day bombing of Iraq, or a 12-year, 350,000 sortie, 20 billion-dollar effort to take control of 2/3s of the airspace of a sovereign nation. War is not about easy choices, but tragically about Lincoln's terrible arithmetic; the minute we stopped flying hostile missions, for example, Kurds and Shiites were going to die. In that regard, 250,000 Muslims in Europe disappeared over the niceties of professors and diplomats debating preemptive war-until the Clinton administration preempted ( without either congressional or UN approval) and to its credit stopped the genocide in 72 days.
In fact, if one goes back and reviews the record there were a variety of reasons adduced by various administration officials to invade Iraq: the potential use of WMD, al Qaeda links, the dilemma of perpetual no-fly zones to ensure the survival of tens of thousands of Kurds who would otherwise be attacked, the violation of terms that ended the 1991 war, the systematic violation of UN decrees, and the worry in a post 9-11 world of allowing a dictator to persist with a record of mass murder, invasion of two of his neighbors and missile strikes against two others.
Kirstein: President Bush told Polish TV in May: “We've found the weapons of mass destruction. You know, we found biological laboratories.” Those labs may have been used for hydrogen weather balloons. They certainly contained no trace of anthrax, smallpox or other pathogens. For those who claim the “Buck Stops Here,” what is the justification for President Bush's continued claim that we found WMD? He is either dissembling or is egregiously misinformed about seminal events concerning national security policy.
Even if President Hussein possessed WMD, it would not justify war, however. The US has about 7,700 strategic and tactical warheads-not counting thousands more in reserve or in an inactive stockpile–and Israel has 100s of fission and possibly fusion weapons. I see a double standard here and apparently most of the world's population that opposed this dreaded and monstrous war. Why should nations that the US has disputes with be coerced to disarm while we accelerate both nuclear and conventional modernization programs with an immoral war budget of about $400 billion? John Dean had it right when he opined: “this is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison.”
Also those who support the war conveniently confine themselves to heroic battlefield victories over a defenseless nation with no air force, no marine corps, no navy, and no high-tech weaponry. As we move toward a Vietnam-guerrilla war against the occupation of an imperial power, I wonder if the supporters of war will find their position somewhat tenuous. The damage to America's international prestige has been significant; Americans are dying for nothing; the Iraqi people are being subjected to deterioration in their comfort: no electricity, no running water in many areas. The acceptance of the American invaders as liberators was a fantasy that the antiwar movement predicted correctly would not happen. I think if it did, the arguments for war would be stronger but Iraqis and not Americans should make the judgment of what is best for the Iraqi people.
Aronowitz: There was no discernible US national security threat from Saddam, comparable to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which are close allies of the United States. These are rogue states who gave material support to the Taliban and harbored their fighters. Moreover Pakistan, a military dictatorship has nuclear weapons and threatens to use them against India. Yet both countries remain on the administration's good side and Pakistan, which holds nuclear weapons has not be threatened with military intervention if it does not disarm.
If we make “bad guy” a criterion for military intervention, then we had better be prepared to invade half the countries of the world. Needless to say this would be absurd. The reason the Bush (and Clinton) administrations picked out Iraq was purely strategic. It had to do with establishing the American Empire by military means, since we are fast losing our dominance in the world economy. The Bush administration is distinguished from other Empire builders in that it has no goals that transcend the quest for power. . Given its support of dictators of various stripes, democracy cannot be the aim. It tolerates human rights violations in Colombia, Saudi Arabia and, in Venezuela gave covert support to a coup aimed at overthrowing the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez.
Today, reports the New York Times, an opponent of the Mugabe government warned Bush to be careful in pressuring Zimbabwe president to step down. Everywhere democrats and human rights advocates are concerned that this administration, impelled by the myth of the West and the gunfighter culture, will shoot from the hip as it did in Iraq.
Having said this “make no mistake” Saddam was, and remains, a bad guy. This and only this seems to be the moral justification for what the US did in Iraq. But the jury is out as to whether the US can win the peace. Given the experience of the past few months there is reason to believe the worst is yet to come because the US government has no genuine program for rebuilding its economy and its political institutions.
Hanson: Where to begin with such deductive hysteria? I will try to address a few of the allegations systematically and briefly.
1. We still do not know the exact role of the trailers and their connection with WMD. The fact that both the UN and the Clinton administration acknowledged a substantial WMD program in 1998-and the absence of any subsequent evidence that it was destroyed according to UN mandates-makes it critical that we allow more than a mere 100 days to sift through thousands of documents, interview former participants, and scour the countryside to ascertain what became of it. Quoting a convicted felon and prison convict once knee deep in presidential illegality is hardly convincing.
2. The present administration has done more than any other to initiate change in our pathological relationship with Saudi Arabia-whether withdrawing troops, pressuring reforms, or shutting down Saudi-sponsored charities. The Pakistan or Korean example is a good warning why we don't wish autocratic nations to go nuclear, because there emerges a certain hypocrisy on our part to compromise principles in order to avoid a nuclear exchange.
3. It is odd to see sophisticated observers lapse into moral equivalence-as if an elected government, with an independent judiciary and a free press, that is armed with nuclear weapons is on the same moral plane as an autocracy, with no opposition or transparency. It is not the weapons per se that cause fear, but the nature of the government that possesses them.
4. Be careful about references to the predictions of the “antiwar” movement-which was entirely discredited in its fantastic scenarios of millions of refugees and tens of thousands dead. Americans did not die “for nothing;” their sacrifice eliminated one of history's most odious dictators and freed an entire country. We owe all the brave deceased a great deal of lasting gratitude. It is easy postbellum to dismiss Saddam's military as impotent -but read the Left's gloom in week #one of the war when we were assured (as in the case of antebellum Afghanistan) that we were on the way to either defeat or horrific fighting. Anyone looks weak in retrospect after facing the US military, which dissolved a huge army in three weeks-a feat that Iran couldn't accomplish in eight years.
5. Dictators? Cf. the last US interventions: Noriega, Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein. It seems that we are now in the business of removing dictators and instituting consensual govenment in their places-the old dream of the Left of the Vietnam era. What an odd paradox-to be worried that Mr. Bush is too hard on Mr. Mugabe, a Marxist criminal who has done more to destroy democracy in Africa than almost anyone. Damned if you do, damned if . . .
6. The US economy even in recession remains the world's largest and most productive. We spend less on defense in terms of percentage of GNP than at almost anytime since WWII precisely because of our amazing productivty. Thousands of immigrants are flocking the world over to our shores, not vice versa. Most of Europe is moving toward the American position on Iran, the Middle East, and Korea-and even during the war half the EU was more comfortable with the US than with Chirac or Schroeder.
7. After initial confusion, the US is building democratic foundations and restoring order. Most sniping is a consequence of desperate Baathist thugs or the 100,000 criminals freed on the eve of the war; indeed, most Iraqis are not guerrillas but more worried about stopping vandalism that prevents their air conditioners from running 12 hrs a day. If we had embraced such knee-jerk criticism of our efforts back in 1946 when initially almost everything seemed to be going wrong in Germany and Japan, we would never have accomplished anything. But then that was a different, less affluent generation that was not in our privileged position to demand utopian perfection-and it realized sumus homines, non dei.
May: So Mr. Kirstein perceives a “double standard.” Well, then case closed. Obviously, if the United States can possess WMD, then there’s no reason to object to the possession of WMD by a vicious dictator like Saddam. And why not Iran and North Korea, too? That’s only fair, isn’t it? And since we have capital punishment and Saddam had capital punishment, there’s really no basis for anyone’s getting all huffy over all those mass graves we’ve been finding. In fact, who are we to criticize Osama bin Laden for the acts of capital punishment he carried out on 9/11? Sure, Osama and Saddam have a notion of justice that is somewhat different from ours, but who are we to judge? We wouldn’t want to be guilty of having a “double standard,” now would be. Such reasoning is so obviously ludicrous that there’s no point rebutting it further.
And does Mr. Kirstein really think that most Iraqis believe they would be better off today had Saddam been left in his palaces? There’s not a shred of evidence for that assertion.
He is right, however, that Iraqis should determine what is best for Iraqi. But that is a main point of this exercise – to give the Iraqi people a way to make that determination. Without democratic institutions how does Mr. Kirstein propose they would express themselves? Shall we just trust Saddam – and perhaps Mr. Kirstein – to tell us what the Iraqis believe is best for Iraqis? Again, this is not a serious argument.
Mr. Aronowitz sincerely seems not to understand the danger represented to the US by the matrix of anti-American rogue dictators, WMD programs and terrorists. Or perhaps he thinks Americans deserve some punishment and so should sit back and let their enemies do as they will. Either way, I won’t take the time and space to try to explain to him here why most Americans don’t see it his way.
He is correct, however, that the jury is still out as to whether the US can help the Iraqis construct the first free, democratic and prosperous nation in the Arab world. If this were an easy task, it would have been accomplished by now. Our past efforts at nation-building have been mixed. With great difficulty we succeeded after World War II in Germany and Japan We certainly have not succeeded in Haiti and the jury is still out with regards to Bosnia and Kosovo (interventions which, one must assume, Messrs. Aronowitz and Kirstein opposed; if not, they are guilty of – horrors — “double standards”).
Interlocutor: Sorry gentlemen, let me jump in here for a moment to ask a question. Peter and Stanley, why don’t we just get to the heart of the matter and be truthful about the Left’s position? Today all the leftists are going on about how there are no WMDs and how there is no al-Qaeda connection, etc., etc. Let’s bring the whole circus to an end.
The bottom line is that, even if WMDs were found, and the al-Qaeda connection were proven, the Left wouldn’t give a damn because it doesn’t give a damn.
The bottom line is that, in the eyes of the Left, the Bush administration, and the capitalist America that it prevails over, is evil and must be destroyed. This isn’t about missing WMDs; it is about anti-Americanism. There is nothing that Bush and America can do to get the Left’s support except to engage in an act of self-destruction.
So Peter and Stanley, please acknowledge this fact: that, in essence, you are not really interested in missing WMDs (as if their discovery would lead you to praise Bush’s decision to go to war); you are interested – and long for – the destruction of America and capitalism. That is what this is all really about isn’t it?
Aronowitz: Jamie, what a ridiculous accusation. If Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, not shells of past capability but current capacity, I would be concerned. But that is only the necessary condition. The sufficient condition would be that they intended to use them on the United States. Neither has been proven. I do not speak for the “left” any more than you speak for the “right”.
Let me re-emphasize what I said earlier: there is not a shred of evidence that the Iraqi regime had active chemical and biological weapons nor nuclear weapons. If you look at Bush and Rumsfeld's statements on the latter, they acknowledged as much. Why invade Iraq when their approach to North Korean has been essentially diplomatic. And North Korea has admitted it is developing nuclear weapons.
Kirstein: Jamie, if I may, I would like to first respond to Mr May asking Professor Aronowitz to prove that the Bush administration claimed that WMD might be deployed on the battlefield against American-imperialist forces. On February 8, Mr. Bush stated in his regular-Saturday radio broadcast: “We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons — the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.” So that should confirm Professor Aronowitz's accuracy in this matter.
In terms of your question Jamie, I have already stated that if President Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction, it would not satisfy the rush to war on March 20. Possessing nuclear-biological-chemical weapons does not necessarily represent the capacity to deliver them. Since Iraq was neither a threat to the US, at least before the war, nor to its neighbors, the mere possession of NBC would not have constituted grounds for invasion. The presence of the UNMOVIC inspectors would have made it even more difficult for Iraq to develop and deploy such systems.
With regard to your charge of anti-Americanism as a component of the left, I find it counterintuitive. Conservatives generally dislike government, and seek a diminution of its role and influence in our lives. Implicit in that wish is the desire to emphasize liberty over equality. I am not suggesting the right is opposed to equality but it emphasizes it much less than the left. Yet when the left opposes the accretion of excessive governmental power in the hands of the military-industrial-complex (to resurrect the warning of that conservative president Dwight Eisenhower), it is accused of being traitorous, disloyal and a Fifth Column.
Certainly a patriot may be opposed to war. Certainly a patriot may believe that the United States preoccupation with imperialism, expansionism and military conquest is harmful to the nation and the international community. Does the right really wish to equate the adoration of government and blindly accepting its foreign policy adventures, under the banner of flags and yellow ribbons, as the sole definition of patriotism? Please recall Congressperson Tom Delay's denunciation of the United States participation in the Bosnian-Serbian war. He sounded like a left-wing radical in his antiwar invective against the Clinton administration, and yet now he bathes himself in the glory of a militant-defense-hawk..
Hanson: The problem with all this criticism is that it is deductive: certain a priori assumptions about America are made, and then applied to events rather than vice versa. Sometimes it is hysteria about no WMD, then denial of proven al Qaeda links, then Korea, then the military-industrial complex, then imperialism, and so on-in the same manner it was the Pause, the Quagmire, the Looting, and now Vietnam redux. Events must always fit to reinforce preexisting biases.
The fact is that the 21-day war was a staggering success and unprecedented in military history; the occasional violence of the subsequent 100 days is not unusual either, even though less than 50 Americans have been killed postbellum, a fifth that were lost in one day in Lebanon.
The charge of imperialism is bandied about ad nauseam, but imperial powers do not seek broad coalitions, do not at risk to their soldiers avoid damaging enemy infrastructure, do not allow the world press to roam freely on the battlefield, do not draft plans to put occupied natural resources under a transparent governing body, and then do not attempt under constant global scrutiny to implement consensual government-there is simply no “imperialism” like that in history.
Again, there was plenty of evidence that Saddam Hussein has (very recently) stockpiled and used in the past WMD, and that he has attacked 4 sovereign countries-Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait-and was contained only by an unsustainable 12 year long program of constant air patrols needed to prevent further genocide.
Critics of the war should have at least had the integrity to have demanded that we cease usurping a nation's airspace-and then lived with the resulting massacres that would have ensued once Saddam sent his helicopters and tank columns into Kurdistan. As far as UN inspections, Mr. Blix was a creature of US military pressure. Had Mr. Bush not threatened force, he would have meekly stayed in retirement after the UN was kicked out in 1998.
One of the many reasons for the war was precisely to prevent this horrific regime from obtaining nuclear weapons to prevent the sort of blackmail we now see with Korea, where options diminish in the face of losing Seoul or Tokyo.
“Military industrial complex” is a misleading term, when the share of GNP spent on defense is declining, and the targets of American arms have been right-wing dictatorships in Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. And of course the term demands historical amnesia-forgetting the US military “complex” alone for 50 years alone contained Soviet and Chinese communism, which between them butchered 100 million poor souls. Europe would not exist as we know it, had the US military not kept 400 divisions from crossing the border.
Unlike Mr. Clinton in Serbia, Mr. Bush both obtained Congressional approval for military action and sought to plead his case at the UN. Again, Clinton did neither, but the Left was strangely quiet-ditto similar reactions to past unilateral operations in Haiti, Iraq, and the Sudan.
Tom Delay was wrong on Serbia, but predicated his criticism on the failure of Clinton to obtain a Congressional vote of approval.
When you throw into the equation of this war that both elected executive and legislative branches supported the conflict, an independent judiciary, a free, often hostile press, and polling that consistently revealed a 70% approval rating among the American people, it is absurd to see the three-week war as either illegal or a product of a rogue administration.
The problem for the elite and often academic Left is that in a post-Cold War none of their old shrill boilerplate is relevant and turns average folks completely off: American people support their military; soldiers willingly enlist; morale is high; the ranks are diverse and meritocratic; military action is closely audited by a free press and a Democratic opposition, the losers are odious mass-murdering thugs like Milosevic, Noriega, Mullah Omar, and Saddam Hussein-and the liberated want precisely the prosperity and freedom that our own privileged here at home so often sneer at.
Vietnam is over with-it is time to get a life.
May: Mr. Aronowitz’s claim was that “Bush swore Saddam had WMD's poised to be used as soon as fighting began.” The distinction between that claim and the quote Mr. Kirstein has come up with (“We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons”) is too obvious to belabor.
A final thought regarding Jamie’s question: It seems to me undeniable that there are those on the Left who have long believed that the United States is the source of all evil. For that reason, they also believe that – in the interest of justice — America deserves to be punished. This was the message sent very clearly by Susan Sontag and others on the Left immediately following 9/11. (You’ll recall Sontag termed 9/11 a “monstrous dose of reality” that was “undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions.”)
Based on this view, many on the Left are essentially arguing that Americans have no right to vigorously defend themselves from the various Jihadist groups that are inflecting this punishment, the groups that have declared war on America. They don’t see how America’s enemies can punish America except through terrorism – and so they don’t really object to terrorism as a means. (And they virtually celebrate terrorism directed against Israelis/Jews.) The same folks who saw moral equivalency between the US and the Soviet Union, the same people who cried wet tears when the Berlin Wall fell, now see moral equivalency between democratic capitalism and Jihadism, between Saddam/Osama/Kim and Bush/Blair/Sharon
There are those on the Left – Christopher Hitchens comes to mind – who do not hold such views. But most on the Left do. Such individuals seem to have lost the capacity to reason logically, to learning from history and experience. The tragedy is that they become not just anti-American but also anti-Iraqi and even anti-humanitarian. They can – barely – manage to say things like “Saddam was a bad guy” but they can’t acknowledge the extent of his oppression and they are outraged that President Bush would actually use force of arms to liberate the people of Iraq from his terrorist regime.
Interlocutor: Gentlemen, our time is up. Each of you please make a concluding statement.
Kirstein: I think Mr. May is making a distinction without a difference with regard to the president's statement and Professor Aronowitz's accurate characterization of it as yet another inconsistency in prewar affirmations and postwar realities. I also note with considerable satisfaction that both Ms. Sontag and myself-in two widely circulated documents-reached similar conclusions on the moral efficacy of deploying airpower against defenseless adversaries.
In opposing the forthcoming war with Iraq, I made reference to the Gulf War and the Serbian campaign: “No war, no air force cowards who bomb countries without AAA, without possibility of retaliation.” Ms. Sontag compared the alleged pusillanimity of the monstrous September 11 aeroplane hijackers, with the purveyors of American airpower: “And if the word “cowardly” is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others.” All war is wrong; all war is evil, and we must learn to see it as deleterious to the progress of civilization whether we are the victims or the victimizers.
I maintain again, that this preemptive, unnecessary war should not be judged solely on the basis of regime change, even if a dictator is displaced by an occupying power. It unfortunately establishes an example of lawlessness and anarchy, in the realist worldview, with the attendant right to use violence to rationalize a perilous, disorderly international-state system. Yet war makes the global order more and not less predictable as postwar Iraq appear to confirm. It is unworthy that a hyperpower-to use the courageous-French depiction of American preeminence-should squander an opportunity to redirect the world away from power-maximizing, emphasizing military dominance and ignoring international law and comity.
Great powers can afford to use restraint and guide the international community away from brinkspersonship and the barbarity of state terrorism through war. America's illegal invasion of Iraq, its unilateral abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, its refusal to accept a protocol on transparency to the Biological Weapons Convention, its withdrawal from the International Court of Justice's mandatory jurisdiction and its refusal to accept Kyoto environmental changes, displays a unilateralism that reflects an arrogance of power and a destructive nationalism. How this squares with the notion that the United States is a nation worthy of global adulation and respect is beyond me. Maybe patriotism requires that we accept this egregious conduct of our external affairs. I demur despite the conformist passions of the new McCarthyism that wish to suspend the left into silence.
Aronowitz: Despite its moral protestations (human rights, regime change of a ruthless dictator, self-defense) in contrast to the Afghanistan war which, at least, had the proverbial smoking gun as its rationale–yes the United States has the right to defend itself– the Iraqi intervention was essentially strategic. Bush 1 and 2, and the Clinton administration as well have long sought to establish the dominance of the United States in the region, but Bush was prepared to exercise Empire claims by invasion.
That 3.3 million people have died in the Congo, 200,000 perished in Bosnia by the hand of Milosovic and tens of thousands lost their lives under the brutal massacres in Rwanda did not seem to detain American national administrations. These incidents were apparently deemed to be outside the purview of US national interests. That Bush has decided to render humanitarian aid to AIDS sufferers in Africa may indicate a partial change in the indefensible history of US neglect of Africa.
But the voices for the Iraq war have failed to make their case. And the evidence of the occupation since the end of the main battle, indicates that if war is evaluated by its consequences, the Bush administration has much to answer for. The preliminary evidence is disturbing; neither the Pentagon nor the State Department have given clear indications they are prepared to help install a democratic regime to replace the dictatorship. Nor have they evinced a humanitarian attitude towards Iraqis. Rather the administration has awarded huge contracts to American corporations to rebuild the physical infrastructure of the country, including one to Dick Cheney's former firm, Halliburton. And US troops are vulnerable to intensifying sniper, ambush and other attacks, not only because some Iraqis are shooting at them, but because American forces are woefully unprepared to function as peace-keepers and state builders. About labor rights in Iraq one could say much, but suffice it to summarize: there are none.
It leads us to suspect that, like in Afghanistan, having achieved conquest, the US military and civilian administration is over its head or doesn't care what happens. The main point seems to be to justify the domestic war here at home against working people, the Left, and those who need decent schools and health care. The power grab abroad, directed in main against the European Union and middle east states that do not acquiesce to US demands, is inextricably linked to the most massive realignment of political and economic power in recent history within the United States.
May: My disagreement with Mr. Kirstein could not be more fundamental. He says, “All war is wrong; all war is evil.” I believe that is utter nonsense. If more Americans thought as Mr. Kirstein do, we’d be conducting this symposium in German. On second thought, if more Americans thought as Mr. Kirstein do no such symposia would be allowed under the regimes that would long ago have defeated the United States.
Mr. Kirstein says he wants America to “guide the international community away from brinkspersonship.” In response to which I would say …no, that’s just too silly to bother responding to.
The same for his lame defense of Susan Sontag’s rantings and his enormous satisfaction that they blend with his own, and his insistence that there is no distinction between alleging that Mr. Bush “swore Saddam had WMD's poised to be used as soon as fighting began” and Mr. Bush’s actual statement that “we have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons.” There was a time when university professors were expected to be capable of distinguishing between words as different as “swore” and “poised to be used” on the one hand, and “sources tell us,” on the other. Indeed, such discrimination used to be necessary simply to achieve a decent SAT score.
Finally, Mr. Kirstein trots out the usual leftist litany of complaints – e.g. American refusal to sign the Kyoto treaty just because most Americans aren’t in favor it (the arrogance!); so-called unilateralism when Americans obviously should be content to take orders from France, Belgium and Cameroon; America’s “destructive nationalism” – note that he never finds any other country’s nationalism “destructive.” And then, of course, there’s “the conformist passions of the new McCarthyism that wish to suspend the left into silence.” Yes, the Left really is being muzzled. Aside from CBS, NBC, ABC, NPR, PBS, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Hollywood and the universities, there’s almost no where for a proud Person of the Left to express him/herself.
Mr. Aronowitz even blames the lack of “labor rights” in Iraq on America. Indeed, how did America manage – in just a few, short weeks – to destroy the proud Saddamist legacy of labor rights in Iraq?
As for “the indefensible history of US neglect of Africa,” surely Mr. Aronowitz would not want the US to intervene unilaterally just because Charles Taylor is a “bad guy”? Surely, he would not want President Bush to intervene without benefit of a UN Security Council Resolution? Surely, he would not want America to intervene unless there are WMD that the President “swears” will be imminently used?
If the US does send troops to Africa, will we see Mr. Aronowitz marching in the streets with a sign reading: “No War on Liberia.” If not, why not? And why hasn’t he been writing broadsides against British and French military intervention in Africa? Have the passions of McCarthyism silenced him there, too?
You know what’s really fascinating? How eager Persons of the Left are to spring to the defense of any dictator who is anti-American – but only if those dictators are anti-American. Charles Taylor, if you happen to be reading this, here’s my advice: Quick as you can, issue some press releases and make some speeches about “American imperialism” and “arrogance” and America’s refusal to sign Kyoto and join the International Criminal Court. Maybe add that if anyone tries to establish a McDonald’s in downtown Monrovia, they should expect no mercy. And Cheney better not even think of trying to bring Halliburton in to re-build Liberia’s highway. To top it off, add that you also won’t tolerate any Zionist attempts to send genetically modified food aid to Africa.
If you take such steps, you’re sure to have the support of Kirstein, Aronowitz, Sontag and others on the Left — and in Europe too. If you want to be a butcher and a despot in today’s world, Chuckie, you’ve got to wrap yourself in the flag of anti-Americanism. And that’s pretty much all you have to do.
Hanson: The two professors' proclamations sound like something out of a David Lodge novel. Note the use of the language of the self-important first person (e.g., “I also note with considerable satisfaction;” “I made reference to;” “I maintain again,” etc). or the language of prevarication: “were apparently deemed,” “it leads us to suspect,” or “the main point seems to be.” That an academic from the campus has deduced that Americans 7,000 miles away, sleeping in tents under scorching heat without facilities, and targeted by terrorists, have not “evinced a humanitarian attitude towards Iraqis” says it all.
So again, we get more emotion and deductive rhetoric instead of reasoned analysis. 100 days after defeating a mass murderer in a country that has never held a single election but witnessed decades of genocide, and is presently full of Baathist holdouts, Shiite agents from Iran, and feyedeen from surrounding Syria and Jordan, we are supposed instead to be talking about “labor rights” in Iraq? If the professor is really concerned about such issues, I suggest he first turn his attention to the university, whose full professors sit on a pyramid supported by the exploitation of part-time lecturers and graduate students, who make a fraction of the pay of the former for teaching as many or more courses-a situation that really marks a “massive realignment” away from earlier protocols.
More to the point: I have heard Ms. Sontag's prewar prediction that there would be tens of thousands of casualties in Iraq and yet no subsequent clarification or retraction when there was not.
American pilots were not cowardly; there was no air defense in Iraq precisely because for 12 years at great risks to themselves an entire generation of Navy and Air Force pilots systematically and in obscurity took out much of Saddam's air defenses, components of which were sold to him after the 1991 war by Russia, China, France, and Germany. It is easy to say a pilot is a coward who bombs with impunity, less so when one is targeted by an array of missiles and AAA–which was often the case between 1991 -and 2003. Strapping yourself atop a jet engine, flying at 1000 miles an hour over enemy territory, and landing on 5 acres at night on a rolling sea is an inherently dangerous, not a “cowardly” enterprise and not to be confused with organizing lecture notes or speechmaking in the faculty lounge.
War is wrong, and it may well be evil–but it is also sometimes necessary until the nature of man himself evolves. The American army freed France–not its intellectuals, who were happy from Vichy to send Jews to Germany as tribute; had we not fought Hitler, or offered military resistance to Stalin and his epigones, another 100 million would have died.
I don't think the old Vietnam boilerplate-left-wing citation of McCarthism or praise of the duplicitous French (not “courageous,” but especially shameless arms peddlers and abettors of rogue nations), or the image of brave intellectuals on the barricades-works on very many any more. Again, the recent targets of American military power have been fascists who have either engaged in mass murder or sponsored mass murderers. That we haven't rid the globe of them all is regretable–but it will require the type of blood, treasure, and overseas presence the Left usually associates with American hyperpower. What will they say should we shortly land in Liberia to eject another genocidal maniac-oil? Haliburton contracts? a mysterious pipeline? racist colonialism? proof of reckless and impetuous imperialism? or proof we cynically waited too long?
The idea that the US is backing away from either Afghanistan or Iraq is absurd. The current levels of violence in Iraq are no higher than in Germany, Japanese- held territory, or Austria right after the surrender, when Americans were killed daily for weeks on end. That characteristic unrest is called the transition from war to peace (cf. our own Civil War and the months following Appomattox when private scores were settled, habeas corpus denied, and thousand of peacekeeping troops needed). The President's speech today was about liberation from tyranny, the pledge of American money and troops, and commitment to democracy–hardly the stuff of realpolitk or cut and run cynicism.
The game is given away with the finale–” is inextricably linked to the most massive realignment of political and economic power in recent history within the United States.” We are just coming off 8 years of a Democratic presidency. The ratio of federal dollars spent on defense versus domestic programs is the opposite from the Cold War (currently about 30/70 rather than 65/35); the tax rate on those making less than $30,000 has almost disappeared; entitlements are expanding not shrinking, and so on. As for this purported “realignment,” whatever it is, apparently millions of the world's poorest want in on it-if current immigration trends are any indication. Exploited and impoverished Mexicans, for example, seem to vote by moving northward, not southward toward Cuba, Venezuela, or other socialist paradises.
Interlocutor: Cliff, Victor, Peter and Stanley, our time is up. Thank you for joining us for this debate on Frontpage Symposium. It was a pleasure.
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Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at [email protected].