Preposterous Universe

Friday, September 17, 2004
Upon reflection

A great post by Belle Waring on Why I Was So Totally Wrong About Iraq. Her first few reasons for supporting the war:
1. This is the most personally embarrassing reason, but it has to be said: in the aftermath of 9/11 I lost my head a bit and wanted to take some decisive action. I realize that attacking party B after being attacked by party A shouldn't be satisfying to the vengeful-minded, because it doesn't make any sense. But, having just been in the odd position of agreeing with the Bush administration on a war (vs. Afghanistan), I somehow found the next war more appealing than I should have. Somewhere in here there must also be a kernel of "let's smash something to show how powerful we are." This is really poor reasoning and reflects badly on me personally. Nothing much I can say about it in my defense.

2. I had long thought our current Iraq strategy was very bad. The sanctions were harming innocent Iraqis rather than Saddam, but there was no substantive reason to lift the sanctions from the point of view of Saddam's compliance. I supported the first Gulf War, unlike all my college friends, and I was dismayed by its denoument. I thought we had failed to finish what we started and had condemned many people to death after encouraging them to rise up against Saddam.

3. Saddam Hussein really was a particularly brutal dictator. Iraqis weren't suffering as badly as North Koreans, or southern Sudanese people, but it was pretty bad. I thought that any new government would have to be a better government. But we don't just go around deposing every dictator in the world, do we? Well...
Keep reading. I am fervently anti-war, but it wasn't an open-and-shut case; Saddam was a bad guy, and people were feeling frustrated and needing to strike back somehow. I have the greatest respect for people like Belle who can fully admit that they were mistaken on this, more so than I have for people who are anti-war because they are anti-any-war-ever.

One aspect I think is not emphasized enough: the extent to which the desire to go to war was created, rather than just acted on, by the Administration. Invading a country is a big decision, not undertaken lightly, and there really wasn't anything like a close connection between the Islamist fanatics behind September 11 and the secular fascists in Iraq. If a different set of people had been in the White House, the idea of attacking Iraq wouldn't have ever gotten off the ground, even among the most pugnacious fringes of the punditocracy. Everyone would have been in favor of finishing the job in Afghanistan, followed by the tough decisions about how to handle North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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