118 thoughts on “Open thread on Iraq

  1. The only thing missing was Obama on an aircraft carrier in flyer’s jacket with a banner in the background “Admission Accomplished”.

  2. A reasonable democracy has replaced a totalitarian aggressive regime. This is part of a pattern of democratic reforms that have occurred across the Middle East and which may have been driven by events in Iraq. The key questions are the sustainability of these changes and the related issue of whether the US troops are leaving too early. This is a different question than the case for the initial US engagement.

    Was it worth it overall given a blood-and-guts vs. regime change cost-benefit analysis? Probably not if history could be re-run but of course it cannot.

  3. A lot of nasty stuff (genocide) happened from that regime in the 80s and in 2003 I was all for the war. I still remember arguing the case for the war in a campfire discussion back in mid 03. I was young enough to be naive enough about the nasty realities of war, I appreciated the anticipated death toll, but not the mass trauma, mass casualties and mass sickness that stems from it. I had no understanding of the deep racial tensions within the middle east and the inherent difficulty in governing there. I expected, like many others, that the entire populace to feel joyful and liberated at the removal of the regime.
    My eyes are well and truly open now, at least I feel that way. Hopefully history will say that lots of good has come from it, but it’s been at an awful cost.

  4. @rog

    Yuck. Jingoistic and misinformed.

    For the record I and many other lefties opposed the ‘good’ war in Afghanistan as well.

  5. @Dan

    It shows how immoral the Murdoch media is to endorse such a tragic war that cost so much lifes and covering up the main reason of the war which is nothing more than invasion. The sad thing is so many of the Australian population is brainwashed to think that the war in middle east is actually good.

    I too opposed the ‘good’ war in Afghanistan as well; and for the record America never did any ‘good’ war.

  6. hc :
    Was it worth it overall given a blood-and-guts vs. regime change cost-benefit analysis? Probably not if history could be re-run but of course it cannot.

    But we can learn from history, and the lesson that such a war was almost certain to end in disaster was already clear. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

  7. @John Quiggin
    The problem is, is that your avg Y gen joe probably has much more satisfying activities to participate in with their spare time than to study such historical events and especially the consequences of such? The traditional media still has a significant influence on popular opinion, education, culture, ideology and sentiment and decisions to go to war often do have a significant political influence.

  8. Like Troy, I enthusiastically supported the war when it started and I thought it would be over quickly with minimal casualties and Iraqis would very soon be better off. Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way. Nonetheless most of the violence subsequent to the CoW invasion were the result of communal tensions that *predated* the invasion and that would arguably have been unleashed in any case upon the fall of Saddam’s regime (dictatorships nearly always fall eventually). Another factor that must be borne in mind when doing a cost-benefit analysis is that Saddam appeared intent on annihilating the 15%-20% of the Iraqi population that is Kurdish.

    I’m not as pessimistic about the benefits of war as PrQ. IMO World War Two, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and Gulf War One are three examples of the justified and successful use of military force. History therefore does not give us a blanket rule.

    It is also important to look at how many people have died because of a *failure to wage war*. North Korea has lost something in the vicinity of two million people through starvation alone since the 1990s in recurring famines. A new famine is about to add to that toll. These deaths are directly attributable to the bad governance of the extraordinarily vile North Korean dictatorship. If I understand him correctly, PrQ would argue that China should not use force to bring down the North Korean regime. I think such a course of action would be entirely justified and that America and the major European democracies should be encouraging, and if necessary offering significant carrots, to encourage China to use force.

  9. I remember being appalled in 2003 by the number of supposedly intelligent people who actually believed in the official case for war (which nobody ever talks about anymore). How stupid can people get?

    In 2003, Iraq was subject to the robust weapons inspections regime led by Hans Blix. On the other hand, in 2002 North Korea expelled weapons inspectors and resumed its nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile Pakistan was at the center of the world’s largest nuclear proliferation network run by A.Q. Khan.

    And yet it was Iraq that was supposed to represent an imminent threat from a WMD program which they were so cleverly able to keep secret from the weapons inspectors. But of course even if they did, hypothetically, have such a super-secret, undetectable program, any attempt by Iraq to use such WMD would result in “national obliteration” – meaning that their only use to the regime was as a deterrent, making an invasion of their country the one action most likely to result in their use. Duh!

    But the argument was that deterrence wouldn’t work here, since Saddam would supply these weapons to Islamist terrorists in a way that could not be traced… despite the fact that Saddam and the Islamists loathed each other (whereas nuclear Pakistan had its intelligence services crawling with Al Qaeda sympathizers).

    So an invasion of Iraq was planned despite the fact that

    1) it would cost trillions of dollars and kill thousands of innocent people
    2) it would be counter-productive to the efforts against Al Qaeda by removing resources from Afghanistan, motivating international sentiment against the US, removing the anti-Islamist government of Saddam and opening Iraq up as a major Jihadi theatre
    3) there was no exit strategy and no plan at all to deal with sectarian differences between Sunni, Shia and Kurds – which quite predictably resulted in years of carnage
    4) in the hypothetical event that stockpiles of WMD did exist, attacking the regime would be the one thing most likely to motivate the regime to use them… and even if they didn’t use them, the removal of the regime would leave these stockpiles unsecured making it more likely, not less likely that they would be acquired by terrorists

    These were all totally OBVIOUS to anybody who thought about the stuff for more than a couple of seconds. and this is even before taking into account how pathetic and ridiculous was the “evidence” given at Colin Powell’s UN presentation and the fact that the administration was quite obviously cooking up fake intelligence (they were well aware that WMD program had been almost completely dismantled during the 90s).

    To this day I cannot believe that anybody could have been idiotic and gullible enough to actually fall for such garbage. I cannot believe that any supporters of this war were able to continue in public life instead of crawling under a rock and dying of shame and embarrassment.

  10. WW2 was never really finished, unilateral decisions made at the Potsdam conference by the “allies” spawned a whole new rash of conflicts, like Korea and Vietnam.

    As a general principle countries should just butt out of other countries affairs.

  11. Another factor that must be borne in mind when doing a cost-benefit analysis is that Saddam appeared intent on annihilating the 15%-20% of the Iraqi population that is Kurdish.

    In 2003 Saddam’s regime had no control over Iraqi Kurdistan, and was not planning to “annihilate” the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds living outside of Kurdistan. So this part of the cost-benefit analysis is wrong.

    It is also important to look at how many people have died because of a *failure to wage war*. North Korea has lost something in the vicinity of two million people through starvation alone since the 1990s in recurring famines. A new famine is about to add to that toll. These deaths are directly attributable to the bad governance of the extraordinarily vile North Korean dictatorship. If I understand him correctly, PrQ would argue that China should not use force to bring down the North Korean regime. I think such a course of action would be entirely justified and that America and the major European democracies should be encouraging, and if necessary offering significant carrots, to encourage China to use force.

    Chinese leaders aren’t stupid neocons, and they don’t buy into “humanitarian intervention”. has it not occurred to you that perhaps China does not want to expend large amounts of money and the lives of its soldiers removing its own vassal state – a state which is capable of nuclear retaliation – while having to deal with millions of North Korean refugees flooding its border regions and being responsible for whatever chaos came after the regime’s collapse? And how nice to suggest that Europe and America offer China some “carrots” when both are, unlike China, practically bankrupt. millions of people are starving all over the world, not just in North Korea.

  12. It seems odd that politicians can both enthusiastically embrace war yet decry infrastructure spending, such as the NBN, because it fails to meet a commercially acceptable return on investment.

    Frederick Soddy was appalled at how resources could be martialled for war but not for peace.

  13. I opposed the war at the time. I wonder if there was possibly any better way of spending $3 trillion dollars?

  14. Spend $3 Trillion dollars? Climate Change? But that wouldn’t have poured money into Haliburton, hence was out of the question.

  15. Gerard- it would be tedious to list all your failures of reason, logic and fact but I will say that your appeasing line “millions of people are starving all over the world, not just in North Korea” could be used to justify pretty well anything. Such cold indifference sounds like something I’d expect from the Catallaxian libertarian crew.

  16. any one counted the all up monetary cost of the invasion broken down country by country?

    the loss of income to local Iraqis?
    (this is a tiny speck in the big picture but before the “coalition” “mission”,i could buy really good Iraqi dates.piddling i know,but the big picture is a composite of little ones.and i still can’t buy Iraqi dates.)

  17. @Mel

    Your logic seems more of a failure to me, to think that Chinese should act like Americans that claims to be liberals but loves to invade other country when no other country sees the need to do so. The so called “humanitarian intervention” is a nice way of saying war is good, to me I agree with what rog said “As a general principle countries should just butt out of other countries affairs”. I know a lot of Chinese old moral values has lost through “westernisation” and a lot of them are no better than wall street banksters; but I know nearly all Chinese believes in “What’s your business is not my business”. I believe quite a lot of the people in this blog don’t support any war whether if it’s so called “humanitarian intervention” or invasion not just “Catallaxian libertarian crews”.

  18. @Sam
    Sam where did you get your NPV for costs for permanently combating climate change? Somewhere I read estimates ranging from 4-8 trillion. Obviously a better use of funds than the war though.

  19. Can’t believe that people like Mel and Troy were in favour (although props for having the courage to admit it). Hardly anyone I knew was in favour – from my family, my uni friends, even a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal-voting work colleague.

    Even the most cursory inspection of the work of people with directly relevant expertise such as Scott Ritter (who led the UN weapons inspection program – and a Republican), Andrew Wilkie, and Noam Chomsky led one to broadly obvious and in retrospect correct conclusions.

    Who the heck were you guys listening to?

  20. @Tom

    Meanwhile the Mrdoch press grimly tries to rewrite history. The US has lost so much power and influence over the last ten years, and those wilfully blind hacks are still eating sh*t sandwiches and saying yum.

  21. Mel, I’m just saying that there are millions of people that could be saved from starvation without starting any wars, if the rich countries really wanted to.

    If alleviating hunger is the real concern then how do you expect rich countries to throw money to get China (with its own excellent human rights record) to start a “humanitarian war” – against a country with nuclear weapons – when they can’t even commit the relatively modest resources necessary to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, let alone do anything to stop the climate change that is likely to make large parts of the Third World uninhabitable.

    Interesting how some people only care about Third World suffering when they want to make an argument for war. Well think how many lives could have been saved across the developing world if that three trillion dollars spent on the Iraq War had been put to genuine humanitarian use. The Millennium Development Goals would have been met many times over.

    There were plenty of idiots at Catallaxy who, like you, supported the invasion of Iraq, which has resulted in anything up to a million excess deaths in that country and is probably the worst crime of the twenty-first century so far. If you were one of the people oblivious enough to support the Iraq War then you probably wouldn’t even know the meaning of “reason, logic and fact”.

  22. I thought there was a strong libertarian/conservative case for not getting involved in Iraq – see Ron Paul, Andrew Bacevich, Scott Ritter again, my Liberal-voting work colleague, my current libertarian argument-buddies, etc. Y’know – right-wingers with two neurons to rub together.

    Disappointed but not surprised that a bunch of two-bit clowns (what proportion? any notables?) at Australia’s most hopeless and consistently wrongheaded political blog drank the Kool-Aid.

  23. @NickR
    Hi Nick,

    Sorry, I should have been more clear. I wasn’t thinking about the NPV cost of fixing climate change forever. This is for two reasons.

    a) I wouldn’t know what social discount rate to use
    b) I don’t want to speculate about the cost of future technologies.

    I was just thinking about the cost of “doing our bit” over the past decade. In other words, how much money would we have to spend such that if future world citizens were equally responsible, climate change would be solved. I understood that figure to be about $1.5 trillion.

  24. Gerard:

    “Mel, I’m just saying that there are millions of people that could be saved from starvation without starting any wars, if the rich countries really wanted to.”

    Given that the principal cause of the starvation is bad governance I disagree.

    “Well think how many lives could have been saved across the developing world if that three trillion dollars spent on the Iraq War had been put to genuine humanitarian use.”

    Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been pissed up against the wall in failed foreign aid programs. As an example, Australia has poured several billion dollars worth of aid into PNG yet it remains a bright, shining turd. As numerous third world economists now argue, foreign aid’s major achievement is the buttressing of corrupt and incompetent governments.

    The poor countries that made it out of poverty in the last half of the previous century, for example South Korea, succeeded primarily because of good governance. According to your anti-war rhetoric, the West should have allowed badly governed North Korea to occupy South Korea, thus ensuring another lazy one or two million deaths through starvation during each decadel famine.

    Dan:

    “Can’t believe that people like Mel and Troy were in favour (although props for having the courage to admit it).”

    How many lefties are willing to admit they were wrong about the first Gulf War?

  25. Wrong about the first Gulf War. Not a leftie myself, but the first Gulf War was hardly a success. First, attacking Saddam after the US had given him the green light to invade Kuwait, and the War simply a result of the Iron Lady (who always like a ‘good’ war) telling GHW that he was a wimp if he didn’t (as he intended to do nothing). The US encouraging the marsh arabs and others to revolt and then left them to be massacred. The unnecessary offense the US then gave to Osama bin Laden (that creation of the CIA) by setting up permanent bases in Saudi Arabia, and laughing at his threat that if they didn’t remove them he would declare war on them. Well. Maybe the jury ought to be at least still out on the first gulf war. But for the second, surely they don’t need to go to the jury room.

  26. So you disagree that millions of people can be saved from starvation without starting wars, and you think that 3 Trillion dollars would make no difference in alleviating hunger and improving health, education and infrastructure in the Third World. Presumably you think that all foreign aid should be cancelled, with the entire developing world invaded and occupied instead. Maybe China can do it for us. With this sort of ignorance it is no surprise you were fooled into supporting the Iraq War.

  27. I think the lesson is that it will take much more drastic action to prevent war in future.

    A made general strike and disruption of bussiness is what it will take to prevent war in future.

    They way the republican candidates were talking about Iran today it might happen rather soon.

  28. Things are never so simple – it was the Falklands War that busted the Generals hold over Argentina and it was Thatcher that stood up to the Generals. Thatcher destroyed the myth of the military being the Sovereign.

  29. @rog

    You know that for a fact? Or is that simply an opinion? I thought the Generals invaded the Falklands precisely because their hold was shaky, and that it was a last ditch effort to stay in power. Who knows what would have happened to their reign without the Falklands War? What is knowable is the incredible cost of the UK continuing dreams of empire. The UK and the other former ‘powers’ should simply give these far flung pieces of rock and sources of continuing conflict back.

    What is notable is that the US didn’t support the adventure which could have been characterized legitimately as an attack on Britain and an automatic trigger for the NATO Treaty. Of course, NATO didn’t get involved and it would have been ridiculous if it had. Likewise, NATO countries and others ought to have left the US on its own when it when on its unjustified attack on Afghanistan. Afghanistan never attacked the US. Allegedly, al Qaeda did. There was a lot more that ought to have happened before that adventure started.

  30. The supporters of Iraq-attack believed, correctly, that democracy was the wave of the future in the Middle East and that democracy would be the best counter-force to fundamentalist theocracy. So they got the ideological end right.

    Unfortunately the top-down militarist means chosen to promote the democratic end wound up doing more harm than good, hundreds of thousands of casualties suffered and trillions of dollars wasted.

    Now the Middle Easterners are promoting democracy themselves, from the bottom-up. Which, when you think about it, is appropriate given the democratic end. Whats more they are doing it with a minimum of violence and for free.

    To top it all off, on the day that the US occupation of Iraq ends its most prominent supporter, Christopher Hitchens, died.

    History, one ironic tragedy after another.

  31. @Freelander Opinion only, there existed widespread disquiet and the Falklands War accelerated the demise of the Argentinian military. In the case of Argentina it could be argued that war marked the end of the military.

  32. @Jack Strocchi
    The only problem is that this was not the original justification for the war, and I doubt that if it had been the war would never have got the political support that it did. Remember Saddam and his WMDs were an imminent danger and he had to be removed from power immediately.

    I might have a suspicious mind (it comes from years of observing the behaviour of conservatives) but in hindsight it appears to me that both justifications were trumped-up.

    Having been against the war from the start, I must admit that Christopher Hitchens did give some rather compelling reasons as to why Saddam was a particularly despicable tyrant. What seems more ironic to me is that Hitchens (the arch atheist) sided with one of the most religious US presidents in recent history in his support for the war.

  33. For anyone even vaguely curious to find out there was plenty of credible evidence that Iraq did not have any WMD’s, there was also plenty of knowledge in the pentagon about what kind of unrest would follow an invasion. Then there was the breath-taking incompetence on the part of the US following the invasion where they needless destroyed a functioning economy for purely ideological reasons wasting billions. The US mismanaged their only opportunity to make some good out of the invasion. What an unmitigated disaster, but it was also a disaster that had the careless consent of the populations of Australia, the UK and US.

  34. The most obvious and conclusive evidence that Iraq did not have WMDs and that the US and UK knew it before the invasion was that they invaded. If Iraq had WMDs they would never have risked it. A good example of that is North Korea. GW was talking threats in relation to them but as soon as they exploded a bomb his North Korea talk dried up. In relation to Iran, as soon as they have a bomb the US will cease plans to attack. Whether Iran having a bomb would make Israel more careful, difficult to say.

  35. I supported Vietnam and came to realise how wrong I was, I suspected Iraq would be this generations Vietnam, the young were about to learn a painful lesson. War costs money, lives and severely damages the societies involved. The only thing missing was the Helicopters flying from the US embassy as the US executed the final retreat.

  36. @Michael

    It did not have the consent of the Australian people. Remember the protests. Remember the poll, early on, that said 85% of people, including 70% of Liberal voters, opposed Australia’s involvement in the war.

    Never forget that John W. Howard took Australia into an American misadventure against the will of the electorate.

    (And am I remembering correctly when I say the other major party was broadly supportive?)

  37. @Freelander

    Where’s the ‘Like’ button?

    That’s Andrew Bacevich’s analysis on Iran too. They want the bomb because it will make them a regional superpower to be feared and respected. In short, to much consternation in the West, the Iranians are acting in their own interests.

  38. Vietnam only succeeded in creating a highly destabilized indochina which provided some success to communists in Cambodia and Laos. It created falling dominoes all on its own. Not exactly mission accomplished. Left to their own devices, like the Chinese and the Soviets, the Vietnamese have abandoned communism. As Robert McNamara admitted years later, much to his credit, they got it completely wrong. The American policy of ‘spreading democracy’ by installing despotic but American friendly dictators has not been an unambiguous success. It would be interesting to know how much trauma and damage returning veterans have brought back with them from all these adventures. Damaged humans returning from war must inevitably damage the societies they return to.

  39. Interestingly under Clinton, North Korea made some moves to dismantle its bomb building program. What GW achieved was to scare the North Koreans enough so they quickly put it back together again and exploded a bomb, simply so they could feel safe. Probably much the same with Iran. Iranians would know that as long as they don’t have the bomb what happened over the border is simply one tropo American president away from happening to them.

  40. @Charles

    I agree with Dan, all it takes is for the general media to be fair and responsible. It’s no wonder why some people feels like this when the Murdoch media which accounts for the majority of the media broadcast and newspapers of Australia spreads lie and supports of the war.

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