Monday, September 27, 2004

Orin Kerr's three questions

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy Orin Kerr, a member of that illustrious constellation of supremely intelligent beings, asks three questions of the pro-war blogosphere. I have decided to do my best to answer his challenge, in wonderful sense of security that others already are and there's probably nothing that I can do to embarrass myself to much. Or something like that. Besides, the three questions at issue are decent questions, along the lines of those I occasionally pose to myself. I'll italicise the questions, and then in normal text write my answers.

First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?

The short answer is yes. I supported the war back in March 2003 for two reasons: the perceived threat of WMDs, and because of a sincere conviction that the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein in power. As for the first reason, I still think that was justified. Although large stocks of WMDs have not been found, the perception I have today is that Saddam had the intention to possess those weapons. He also had a record of using them against civilians. Moreover, personally I feel that the chance of collusion between Saddam and Al-Quaeda (on the basis the enemy of my enemy is my friend - say like Churchill and Stalin in 1941) remained far too high while he remained in power. As for the second reason, I still hold that too. Removing Saddam Hussein was a good thing. People are always complaining about dictators and mass-murders (like Darfur, Rwanda, Srebenica to name just three) but consistently fail to do anything about it. In March 2003 the United States and United Kingdom, along with others, managed to do something about one. I remain proud of that.

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

My first reaction is that bad news sells better. My second reaction is, like, duh! The run-up to Iraqi elections, American elections, and now Australian elections was always going to cause an upsurge in violence. The terrorists will do anything to stop the democratic processes of Iraq (and incidentally Afghanistan) and that perhaps that should be reported more often too. As regards the recent intelligence report, about the time the Hutton Inquiry reported I read an interesting article, that I spent my lunch-break trying (and failing). Basically though its argument was that intelligence organisations are natural pessimists - the reason being that people don't mind so much if things turn out to be better than predicted, but that they get downright shirty if things turn out worse. In the case of WMDs the initial estimations were based on their existence being bad: hence the evidence was probably inflated. Likewise now there is no job security in predicting a rosy outcome. A lowly fourth comes my belief that the media are biased against the war, at least partly because of my first point. Bad news sells better, makes better pictures, better headlines, and so on. Commercialism in one of its rawest forms.

This is a difficult patch in Iraq, but it is an expected difficulty. Think of a boat analogy. You're circumnavigating the world in a sailing ship. You are virtually guaranteed to run into several storms along the way. Just because your vessel is being thrown about like a bit of cork does not spell the doom of the voyage provided people keep their heads. Or, to raise another question, should Churchill have made peace with Hitler in late May 1940, as Lord Halifax was proposing? Let us get a little bit of context into this discussion of the bad news please. Yes, it's not good, but it is far from the crisis it is regularly made out to be.

Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?

Firstly that you forget about months and start thinking years and decades. Things don't happen that quickly, despite the average concentration span of a Western journalist, politician, voter, or blogger. You can't see trends that quickly. All you see are events. Now, events are important, but their relevance and importance is not something that can be appreciated in the middle of things. It is best to think about a long view.

As a first measure though I think the elections taking place in January is pretty important. If they are delayed I will see that as a definite setback. Saying that I is unrealistic to expect a perfect election first time around, especially since it seems we in the West have not managed the art ourself yet. I would be happy for most of the country to go to the polls with a not too horrendous amount of fraud. A low hurdle indeed, but it's best to start walking with small steps.

The second relatively short term measure is the trial of Saddam Hussein. I think this needs to be "successful". That is, given that it is a show trial (and let no one kid themselves that the the trials of Saddam, Milosevic, or any others in such situations are anything but show trials), it must be as fair as possible, and whatever sentence is handed down by applied. I think it is important that this man be tried by his own people for the crimes committed against them.

The third relatively short term measure is the slow assertion of Iraqi (not necessarily American) control of the remaining places that the insurgents have great strength.

In five years time I would expect that process of asserting control to be complete, and that the Iraqi government have as much control over its regions as any somewhat below average third-world country does. I hope for better, but I am being realistic. If in five years time there has not been a decrease in overall vioence I would be disappointed. I say overall because I think occasional bursts of violence are more than likely (think about the March violence in Kosovo). I would expect elections to be occuring at least as well as in Bosnia or Kosovo currently, any better I would count a considerable successs.

Finally, one proviso. All the above, imo, depend on Bush getting re-elected in November. If Kerry wins, all bets are off, and I expect the situation to worsen considerably. Just my opinion.

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