Dec 28 2003
Dear Andrew Coyne,
Your Dec. 27 piece in the NP on The risk of a catastrophe justified war was a masterpiece of "Straw Dogs and Dissembling", if I might coin a title for this short response to it. I have been wanting to comment on the general points you raise for some time now, and will take this opportunity to do so - you do write well (your arguments are usually somewhat more solid than you present here, I might add - I don't usually agree with what you say, but have some respect for the way you say it, as Voltaire might have said), but your usually well-considered reasoning seems to have been subjugated to your "we'll follow the party line" inclination more than usual in this instance. Not unlike the leading conservative Buckley down south there, where your heart seems to lie. But enough ad hominen chat - to the field.
You feign puzzlement in your piece as to why those of us who opposed the American invasion of Iraq (let us speak truthfully here - the "coalition" was never more than a sham) continue to speak against the American occupation - surely, you and those whose opinion you share opine, we (the world and the Iraqi people) are better off now that he is gone, and that is what counts? So was it the risk involved that arouses the continuing opposition? The loss of American lives? The financial cost? But these are the "straw dog" arguments, Andrew, and, even though you at least acknowledge, unlike many of your peers, that those of us who opposed these things are and were not "Saddam supporters", you nonetheless manage to overlook what is by far the most compelling reason that I at least (I would not pretend to speak for others here, although I think what I will say would find wide agreement) feel the invasion was very, very wrong and equally feel that it is very, very dangerous, at this time, to simply now accept what is happening as some kind of "fait accompli" and, as the American government and their many apologists are now saying, as those straw-dog worst-case scenarios did not materialize, to "get over it".
This is the great danger that those who write as you do do not seem to recognize - for when a serious wrong has been done, if we just accept it and "get over it", what you are doing is accepting that wrong as a precedent for future behaviour. Imagine if the police forces in Canada accepted this kind of "defence" from criminals (heyyyy!!! - the guy's dead!! you can't bring him back to life so accept it!! get over it!!! - or what about the woman who has been raped - done and finished, dear, get over it!!) - there'd be no point in having laws at all, if that were so - and, in the case of Iraq, if we just accept what the Americans have done, there would be no point in trying to establish and enforce international laws and bodies of any sort, such as the United Nations. (Aha!!! I hear you interrupt - but America had solid reasons for invasion, unlike the murderer or rapist - well - we'll deal with that in more detail in a moment, but murderers and rapists often have justifications that they see (or at least want you to believe they see) as compelling, and others can accept or reject them as they will - "But he was pointing a gun at me first so I HAD to shoot him, officer - really, it was self-defence!!" - or - "Gosh, you know, I really thought she wanted it...." - you've heard them all, I'm sure... - the American after-the-fact justifications must be seen in the same kind of light...)
What we are condoning, Andrew, if the world community allows this to pass unchallenged and carry on into the future with this as a New World Order precedent-established policy of some sort, is the "right" of the United States government to unilaterally declare some other country a threat to its security and undertake "preemptive war" (thus summarily tearing up pretty much every international treaty concerning war signed since Hitler tried the same thing in 1939, and was eventually stopped, although the world reaction to his 1939 action was little more effective than our current reaction to the Americans), on the basis of what many felt to be at the time, and were later confirmed as, rather obviously fabricated "excuses" for undertaking that invasion. As precedent - whatever shall we say, for instance, next year or whenever when the Chinese, shall we say, declare to the world that they have "solid intelligence (but secret stuff!! - you can't see it!! hahahaa)" that, shall we say, the Taiwan government (or Burmese or Korean or whoever) were amassing secret WMD to attack them (or at least thinking of it...), and unilaterally move troops into their country and engineer a "regime change" to a Chinese-friendly "Provisional Authority Government" of some sort???? Really, Andrew, it's going to be a bit difficult to credibly say that it's just fine for the US to do this, but by golly YOU shouldn't!!
But again, you protest, Saddam was a REALLY BAD GUY!!!! - and it's ok he's gone!!! - maybe so, Andrew, but I am sure you understand that law requires due process - we gave up on vigilante-ism many years ago, for good reason. There are many brutal dictators in the world, Andrew, and many unjust governments, and I do agree that, as a world community, we should be doing something about them. But not through a "process" where one country unilaterally becomes judge, jury and executioner, a la the nearest schoolyard gang brawl. A just process would be fairly simple, if the major powers could agree to it (and it is hard here to avoid the fact that the biggest obstacle to the establishment of such an effective international process or criminal court, for instance, is the very US government whose vigilante-ism you are excusing!), to act together through something like the UN - there would have to be a due legal-type process of charge, prosecution, defence, and so on, with due safeguards for the rights of an accused, and once a leader is found guilty, another process to effect or encourage an orderly, world-sanctioned legal regime change, with the support of MOST of the countries and peoples of the world - I won't get into details here, but that kind of process, parallel to what happens in democratic countries through their legal systems - if I feel some person did harm to someone else, I am suppsoed to inform the police and let them handle it through legal channels, not go after him with a baseball bat (again, that is the theory of democratic justice which I support - we both know that it is far from that ideal - but it is, nonetheless, the ideal towards which we should be working, both nationally and internationally). There are many peaceful ways such a process could be undertaken without resorting to the kind of mass destruction and bombing the US prefers (which just rather coincidentally I suppose is of great benefit to their military-industrial complex!).
Again, Andrew, I need to stress - this is a very dangerous precedent, as I do hope, in your honest moments, you can appreciate - really, if allowed to stand, it means the complete end of any sort of international attempt at a democratic rule-of-law system in the world, and a return to some sort of "rule of the strongest" on the planet, and this is the reason the international community should have done a great deal more to stop the American invasion of Iraq, and should now be doing all they can to make it clear to them that this sort of behaviour will NOT be tolerated in the future, and they WILL be held to account for an unjust, unprovoked, very destructive war, and the full weight of international approbation brought to bear against them - obviously it would be folly to declare war on the US, but there are economic and trade sanctions that could be used - it would, of course, be equal folly for the US to declare open war on the rest of the world, were they united in a common cause. A dim hope, I do understand, with the strength and aggressiveness of the current US government, and the obvious cowardice of so many governments (such as, sadly, our own) to call them on it - but it is what needs to be done. Sadly also, the media have been highly complicit in the propagation of the lies used to justify this invasion - and without a free media responsible to the people of the country rather than the politicians, we have little hope of a better future.
Which leads to the second point raised in the title of this piece - your dissembling - a bit disappointing in a writer of your intelligence - if you are not satisfied with the strength of the arguments to support your cause, one would think that honesty and integrity would require you to perhaps acknowledge the error of your ways, and change or at least modify your views to consider the facts of the matter, rather than start giving out half-truths as if evidence contradicting them did not exist. You enter into "evidence" for your POV a number of points which are simply not reflective of the truth. Let me list a couple of them briefly, with reference to some rather solid contrary evidence.
1) You say "...In fact, the U.S. inspection team, led by David Kay, has found incontrovertible evidence of WMD programs, which alone would have put Saddam in material breach of successive UN resolutions...." - well, in point of fact, Kay found no such "incontrovertible" evidence at all - at best, as you well know, he found indications that there may have been programs to develop weapons - but nothing of imminent danger to the US or anyone else - I would refer you to a story appearing the day after yours, for instance (one of many, many, many stories refuting the WMD claims), in which "...The US civil administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer denied the existence of laboratories in Iraq making weapons of mass destruction for which British Prime Minister Tony Blair says US-led teams have massive evidence.... ...." (Bremer contradicts Blair on mass destruction weapons in Iraq - yes, of course, Bremmer goes on to deny his admission, but it hardly changes what he said. (and I won't even get into here the additional fact that many, many countries are in breach of UN resolutions, and nobody is even threatening them with invasion, let alone doing it - so why Iraq??? - take away the "imminent threat" as has been done - and the motives become much darker....)
2) You say "...the notion that Saddam had WMDs -- or at least, probably had them -- was not some invention of the Bush White House. It was the settled conviction of the Clinton administration before them, of the whole of the American security establishment, and of every western intelligence service besides...." - well, to call this "dissembling" is the polite word - in point of fact, as I expect you are well aware, this is simply not the case - stories abound of how both the British and American governments selectively spun intelligence to support their claims, and even fabricated stories from whole cloth, knowingly (the "Niger yellow cake" for instance, or the "45-minute threat"). Another fact you fail to mention is that insofar as western governments "knew" about Hussein's WMD, it was in the context that they had actually supplied him with them - in the 1980s!!! - but after the 1st Gulf War, and 12 years of sanctions thereafter, it is highly unlikely that any of them were left at all - and again insofar as WMD refers to chemical of biological weapons, all of these intelligence services were also very well aware that such weapons have a rather short shelf life, and it is equally highly unlikely that anything that was dangerous in the 1980s would be dangerous in 2003. Fact, Andrew.
3) You try to exonerate Bush and Blair for the failure of the US government to locate these WMDs, saying that they acted on good faith, and that "....The only way they could be accused of lying is if they knew -- knew for a fact, or knew to a high degree of probability -- that there were no WMDs. There is not a shred of evidence that they did..." - but this is twisting history and approaching facts in a through-the-looking-glass Red Queen fashion. It is ludicrous at best to say that only if they knew for certain that Iraq had NO WMD could they be accused of lying - it is, as I expect you know, pretty much impossible to prove a negative, which is why, in legitimate courts of law, accusers are required to prove guilt beyond reasonably doubt, not defendants to prove innocence. In the case of Iraq, Bush and Blair claimed they KNEW Iraq had WMD, beyond any reasonable doubt, and was thus an "imminent threat", and on this basis attempted to justify an invasion. But now it turns out, after the fact, that no such WMD exist, and most of the stories they spread around to justify this assertion have proven false - so any reasonable person would have to conclude that Bush and Blair were either terribly misled by their intelligence services (and such a person might then return to working on his or her list for Santa next year), or pushed and spun what few "facts" they had to an extent that hardly differs from outright lying (one instance - claiming Saddam "has" chemical weapons because he "gassed his own people" - knowing full well that such gassing (controversial - if indeed it occured) took place during the Iran-Iraq war, with gas supplied by the Americans, and the chances of any of that gas being around 15 years later are approximately zero!). Imagine again our hypothetical court of law in Canada, with a defendant saying "Really, Judge, the man had a gun and was pointing it at me so I HAD to shoot - honest!! Just let my friends keep looking - I'm sure they'll find it!!" - right, eh? Do you think a judge or jury or the public would buy something like this? Do you think even your National Post would try to sell such a pile of obvious self-justifying nonsense? Not likely, I think - but your bosses do surprise me at times with what they think they can sell the Canadian public.)
In summary, Andrew, what you are suggesting for legitimate and good future world policy is that any country be allowed to declare someone they don't like (especially a small, defenceless country that poses little danger to them in reality and will be pretty easy to "beat up" and steal something from, in schoolyard vernacular, which is the philosophical level at which all of this has occurred) a "terrible threat" (even if most of the rest of the world disagrees), and on this basis unilaterally commit a great and terrible aggression against them.
And secondly, you are saying they have a right to lie egregiously in the pursuit of such aims, and suggesting that the world community take no action against such an aggressor once their lies have been exposed, that the "ends" do indeed justify the "means".
Hitler would have been proud of you, Andrew - his tame journalists were justifying his invasion of Poland in 1939 in exactly the same way as you are justifying America's invasion of Iraq. And we know now what Hitler had in mind - he had actually spelled out most of his program in Mein Kampf, which few people at the time were familiar with. You might, if you are not yet aware of it, check out PNAC - the Americans have also told the world what they have in mind. Again unfortunately, most of the world is not aware of this document.
You ought to get out more, Andrew, read a bit more widely than the Republican - haha excuse me - "National" - Post you work for - you are quite a good writer, with quite an intelligent mind, it would appear, and it is really unfortunate you have chosen to turn your talents to such a reprehensible end as propagandist for the new nazis.