Steve Sachs Duke


Monday, October 27, 2003


Cut and Run: An unlikely suggestion from Gregg Easterbrook:

IT'S THIS SIMPLE: COME CLEAN ON WMD, OR LEAVE IRAQ: I'd like to propose a simplification of the entire Iraq/WMD debate. It's this: If the reason we went into Iraq really, truly was that the Bush administration really, truly believed Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, then there is nothing of which the administration need feel shamed--but the United States must immediately leave Iraq.

We now know there is no significant banned-weapons program in Iraq. Any serious manufacturing facilities for banned weapons would have been detected by this point. If we went in to stop a banned-weapons program genuinely believing one existed, and now know one did not exist, then our military must depart immediately. This is the only honorable course.

Alternative: The administration admits that other reasons, possibly valid, were the real reasons all along.

I respect Easterbrook as a writer, but I have to say that's the silliest "simplification" I've ever heard. Even if weapons of mass destruction were the only potentially legitimate reason for the war (which is false) and if Iraq had no programs we should be concerned about (which is also false), why on earth would an immediate departure be "the only honorable course"?

Easterbrook's logic only makes sense if you assume that our presence in Iraq is in some way punitive--designed to punish those darn weapon-building I-raqis by taking away their country for a while. If this war really was merely punitive, reasons Easterbrook, and it turns out that the punishment was undeserved, then of course we ought to stop punishing them, and set things back to rights. But if Easterbrook thinks we have a responsibility to restore the status quo ante, then the answer isn't just to leave Iraq, but to install Saddam back in power first. Is that really what he is calling for? It's certainly what would happen if we left now, but is that what Easterbrook really wants?

Alternatively, maybe Easterbrook's argument is that a war designed solely to stop Saddam's pursuit of WMD has now achieved its purpose--"mission accomplished," so let's go home. But this argument fails on its own terms, since Saddam's pursuit of WMD can't be guaranteed to have stopped permanently until he's guaranteed to be out of power--which, at the very least, requires the creation of some effective government to take his place. It also assumes that Iraq is strategically irrelevant to us except with regard to its weapons (or lack thereof)--that once we're sure the WMD are gone, we can just go home. With the welfare of 22 million Iraqis, $87 billion in taxpayer money, and a huge amount of America's credibility on the line, that's patently not the case. Even if this war were purely about WMD, we still might have reasons why, once we've defeated Saddam's regime, we'd want to shape the new Iraq in ways that fit our narrow self-interest (let alone our moral sensibilities).

But the most fundamental flaw in this post is that it assumes that the administration has to "admit[]" that there were other reasons "all along." In my view, the administration hasn't exactly been hiding its non-WMD reasons for action. Check out the following, from an NYT editorial of Feb. 27, 2003 (quoted to brilliant effect by Andrew Sullivan):

President Bush sketched an expansive vision last night of what he expects to accomplish by a war in Iraq. Instead of focusing on eliminating weapons of mass destruction, or reducing the threat of terror to the United States, Mr. Bush talked about establishing a 'free and peaceful Iraq' that would serve as a 'dramatic and inspiring example' to the entire Arab and Muslim world, provide a stabilizing influence in the Middle East and even help end the Arab-Israeli conflict. The idea of turning Iraq into a model democracy in the Arab world is one some members of the administration have been discussing for a long time.

Why is Easterbrook ignorant of this? Why does he insist that one set of reasons or another must have been "the real reasons all along"? Isn't it possible for a major policy decision like the invasion of Iraq to have many independent reasons in its favor--to be morally overdetermined?

And let's suppose, just for a moment, that the invasion of Iraq was fundamentally unjustified and irrational--that Bush had ordered it by accident one morning and was always too embarrassed to say so. Wouldn't the moral course of action still be for us to remain in Iraq for as long it took to lay the foundations of a peaceful and democratic society?

Or would it be to cut and run?




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