What Is The War Worth?
The Michael Moore movie, juxtaposed with the e-mail posted immediately below from Captain Dave of the Marines, has me thinking. So I've got some questions here, along with a few answers from my point of view.
Young men and women are sacrificing greatly for the war effort. This is the hard question we all have to answer for ourselves: What is the meaning of the soldiers’ sacrifices? Or, expressed differently:
*What is the meaning of a soldier’s death or injury in Iraq? Did he or she die or become maimed in vain?
*Why are families of National Guard and reservists having to be without their father or mother for months at a time—while birthdays and soccer games are missed, children grow up, and marriages are strained?
*Why are these people giving up some of the best years of their lives in national service?
My own answers to these questions are complex. Frankly, as the father of an 18 year-old son who has expressed more than passing interest in military service, these are the thoughts that keep me up at night. I struggle with them and think they should be at the forefront of the national debate on the reasons for the war. I also admit to a fair amount of soul-searching on my own part about my support for the war. Here’s what it comes down to for me.
During the run-up to the Iraq war, I thought the reasons for invading were these:
1. Saddam was a supporter of terrorism and no one doubted he had WMDs somewhere and was not cooperating in getting rid of them. People like Abu Nidal lived there in Iraq. Saddam did things like give money to the families of suicide bombers in Israel. We all knew Al-Quaeda would use WMDs against the USA in a heartbeat if they could get their hands on them. We knew Al Quaeda and Saddam’s government were in contact, although we still don’t know the extent to which they cooperated, if at all. (And I do not want to give those people the benefit of the doubt.) All in all, the situation was very scary and seemed to implicate our vital national interests (i.e., our lives and our way of life).
Well, we all know how the WMD story has played out. But now we are there in Iraq, with Saddam toppled and in custody. We can’t leave without creating chaos and leaving a worse problem for the world and for the Iraqis. So we fall back on other reasons for being there:
2. We are fighting Islamofascism in Iraq, rather than here. As Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review Online:
"We need to be more precise in our language. We are not at war with terror. We are at war with militant Islam. Militant Islam is our enemy. It seeks to destroy us; we cannot co-exist with it. We need to defeat it utterly."
I happen to believe that.
I would not have supported the war for this reason alone, but having gotten into the war for a justificable reason (the WMD/terror support question), which now seems ambiguous, reason no. 2 at least makes the sacrifice of life (and other sacrifices) justifiable and also noble to me.
3. We have removed a ruthless tyrant from his seat and saves thousands of Iraqis from death and horror in the future.
This is a wonderful byproduct of what we have done, but by itself does not justify the war because it does not, again, by itself, implicate our vital national interests.
4. We might just establish a democratic government in the heart of the Middle East.
This adds something to no. 3, but is still the weakest justification for the war. I have a lot of doubts about the success of this pro-democracy enterprise and do NOT think that all by itself no. 4 was a good “casus belli.” But if to coalition pulls this off, I would put the success in the category of an important and possibly history-changing accomplishment that could be as significant for the world’s future as the fall of worldwide communism. Again, I’m skeptical about our chances to succeed with no. 4.
As far as 3 and 4 are concerned, it may well be that we won't know whether the war is worth it until we see how it plays out. (That last statement seems a little obvious.)
So that’s what I think. But enough about me; I am curious about the views of those who don’t think Michael Moore’s movie is so bad, the ones who love to bash Bush and his administration unceasingly, and who think he is stupid and evil. A standard liberal Democrat believes the following about the Iraq war:
A. Bush exaggerated or lied (or both) about WMDs to get us into the war. There are no WMDs in Iraq, or at least there are not enough to worry about. Bush and his cohorts either knew this or should have known it.
B. Bush is unduly influenced by “neocons” (code for conservative and scholarly Jews with a certain foreign policy orientation) whose real goal for the war was to remake Iraq as a democracy.
C. There was and is no meaningful connection whatsoever between Al-Quaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. (See Al Gore’s latest speech/rant at Georgetown Law Center,linked here.)
D. The war in Iraq is a distraction from the “real” war on terror, and we ought to be focusing more attention on Afghanistan and other problem areas. (I am a little vague on what those other priorities ought to be, but I assume John Kerry agrees with this view; he says the war on terror is primarily a law enforcement matter.)
So—if you believe items A-D above, or something close to those views, what is the meaning of the soldiers’ sacrifices? It seems to me that for adherents to those view, the sacrifices are reduced to tragic, avoidable losses resulting from the soldiers’ devotion to duty and willingness to follow orders in the wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. In other words, they are a waste, at least to some extent. If you are right, then those sacrifices necessarily mean less than they would if the war were legitimate and necessary to protect us all. I don’t know how you can get around this.
To me, reasons 1-3 I listed above, taking into account the WMD puzzle, still justify the war and make heroes of those men and women who are putting their lives on the line. But if I held the above standard liberal Democrat views on the war, I would find the troops’ sacrifices simply tragic and would be demanding that we get out of Iraq ASAP. Is that what liberals really think?