Thoughts on Operation Iraqi Freedom, ca. March, 2003

The following is the text of an email that I sent a friend of mine, in March 2003, after he asked me what I thought about the war in Iraq.

Big Chuck, Good to hear from you. Thanks for asking. What has kept me from speaking is the understanding that my opinion doesn't matter, but since you asked . . .

Before we started a war, Congress should have declared war. Congress is not fulfilling its constitutional responsibility to declare war. Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom should all have begun, if they began at all, with a declaration of war. Congress hasn't declared war for political reasons: fear of accepting responsibility for the consequences. By Public Law 107-243 of Oct 16, 2002, Congress authorized the President to use force after he determined that "reliance . . . on further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone . . .will not adequately protect the national security of the United States." This "Law" would have made a fine draft of a declaration of war, if Congress had had the guts to accept its responsibilities, and lined through this business of the President making the determination. Instead, the Congress allowed the wrong branch of the government to make the decision, leaving them the room they need to spin their stand on this issue during their next campaign, depending on whether the war is a triumph, a disaster, or something in between. The 107th Congress has no balls. We should not re-elect this crew.

On the other hand, President Bush has balls. In his own mind, after listening to the varying advice of his disparate national security advisers, he decided that the Ba'ath regime had to go. He determined to take it out, come hell or high water, and damn the French, the UN, the democrats, or anyone else. And that's what he's doing. This shows a level of conviction not seen during the Clinton years. We'll never know whether he made the right decision. We'll know only too well its negative consequences, but we'll never know what would have happened if we had left Saddam in power. The ultimate wisdom of his courageous decision, therefore, is to us indeterminable. Some of the negative consequences, however, are already manifest, while others require only limited powers of prognostication:

Americans are dying, and their deaths will impact their families for generations that come. Anyone who studies the history of an American family can trace the effects of wartime losses, descending from generation to generation.

Innocent civilians are dying. This sentence lies there, flat, but not so its rewording. We are killing children.

The strain of violence in American culture, already too strong, is being reinforced. We have been a people too ready to go to war. This is the third war of my generation, without counting "police actions" in places like Panama, Kosovo or Grenada. With each war, we seem more willing to go to war.

After 9/11, we had the sympathy of the entire world, less our true enemies. Like the treasures of blood, money and political capital that this war is going to cost, this treasure of sympathy has been spent.

This war will never be over in our lifetimes. We will crush the Republican Guard, depose the Ba'ath regime, install a new government, and redeploy from Iraq. To the Arab street, Islamists and the poor, ignorant masses of the Third World, this will always be a war of aggression and humiliation. Some (and only a tiny fraction is needed) will respond to it asymetrically, that is, with terrorism. As for moderate Arabs (and they do exist), I wonder if they'll forgive us our good deed with better grace than have, for example, the French. After 9/11, our best hope of checking Islamist terrorism was with the help of the Arab and Muslim worlds. We can't hunt down cells of extremists without help from their police and intelligence forces. We can't reform Islamic fundamentalism at all, making it tolerant and pacific, but maybe, in cooperation with the rest of the world, the Arabs and Muslims themselves could. Maybe the Arabs and Muslims needed a good brush-back pitch, and maybe Iraqi Freedom is that pitch.

What I worry most about, though, is that by responding with the right amount of force, but in the wrong direction, we have alienated the people whose help we needed to achieve a task as difficult as the containment of communism. There are a billion Muslims in the world. How many will help us? If "screw them" is the jingoistic response to that question, then my parting comment is, I hope you like Holy Wars.

Your friend, TC

PS: For the rest of our lives, with each passing year, we will look back with nostalgia at our naivete, and we will envy the luxury of our own ignorance. And the French will gloat. And pass us unfiltered cigarettes.

I still agree with most of the points in this email. There are a couple of points that in hindsight it's obvious I was luxuriating in my ignorance.

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