Quote of the Day

Quoted here:

“This isn’t about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception,” Mr. Blair said. “It’s a decision. And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam’s history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking U.N. resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons program or is that a risk it is responsible to take?”

(See also.)

20 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

  1. Jonathon, I’m shocked – completely aghast. Do you mean to tell me that the Iraq War was about getting an evil, unstable dictator out of power after he killed millions of people, and not a big lie about weapons of mass destruction so the evil George Bush could make an oil grab for his friends? Why this puts a comletely different spin on things …

  2. Those that hold strawman arguments and beliefs will never let go of that straw, you know. Blair can say what he will, the ideas are hardened now. Well, I don’t know.

    Still, reading Bing West’s The Strongest Tribe now, and, if those early missteps – to put it mildly by the CPA are as described in the book: awful. The occupation could have followed a different path….

  3. Blair has harmed Britain with many of his domestic policies but I respect him for this decision. The great mistake, however, was to make the WMD question such a huge part of the justification before the invasion. I believe that was Blair’s role and it has done a lot of harm. I see very little discussion of the options that Bush and Blair had in 2003 if they had chosen not to invade.

    On heuristics, I took a decision theory course at Dartmouth and one of the instructors was a visitor from Stanford. He was just excellent and did some clever tricks to illustrate his points. Every medical student should have at least a semester of this but they don’t. One of the illustrations was having the instructor flip five coins and set them on the table in order. He then has each student write down the result with the coins in order of being flipped. He collected the slips of paper, then predicted that over 80% would have chosen HTHHT. The reason is the common concept of randomness. He was right.

  4. “I see very little discussion of the options that Bush and Blair had in 2003 if they had chosen not to invade.”

    Would you mind expanding on that Michael Kennedy? I’m appalled, the more I read, about the egregious errors made by Bremer and the Bush administration during the occupation. I know expressing such sentiments may anger some of the regular posters and commenters here, but, well, there it is. I know mistakes are made in war, always and always, but I’m still appalled. Especially as advice was given by some in the military and then ignored. Well, that’s how I read it and I recognize that many here are better informed than I am, so have at it if I’ve got it wrong.

    Our military deserves a lot better than it gets from either party, the governmental agencies and stake-holders and from the beltway Foreign Policy establishment, in terms of strategy and follow-through. A lot, lot better.

  5. Assuming Blair’s motives were pure, and that he did not intentionally lie to strengthen his case — which virtually no one in his own country believes, and which contradicts the facts — that is all beside the point.

    The war is going to end up costing about $3 trillion, on the rough order of $10,000 for every man, woman and child in the USA.

    For that kind of money, we should have gotten something of value. We did not. We are worse off than we were before we invaded.

    Deterrence and containment worked against the much stronger Soviet Union. There is zero reason to believe that Saddam was not deterrable. He had things that he did not want to lose, that could be threatened.

    Even if it was imperative that Iraq be invaded, which it was not, the way it was botched from the outset, at almost every level, and the egregious incompetence of Bush and his appointees, made the whole thing into an unnecessary and horribly expensive disaster. These facts seeped out after the war was well under way. We also learned that the WMD argument was “legal cover” in the words of Paul Wolfowitz, and that the point of the war was to transform the Middle East politically.

    Thousands of American lives were lost for no good reason.

    I supported the war at the outset because I believed and trusted Mr. Bush, and I was convinced by a book by Kenneth Pollack that Saddam was a threat we needed to remove. I was foolish to accept those arguments. Prof. Mearsheimer was absolutely correct about the first Gulf War — that it would be over quickly and cost few lives — and he was absolutely right about the second one, that it was pointless and was going to end up being very costly. I have gone back and looked at my posts on this blog from that period, and I am ashamed.

    The one thing about Mr. Obama that I respect and admire is his vote against the war. That bit of clear thinking gives me some hope for the man.

  6. I think George Bush made the most eloquent argument for why Saddam had to go:

    “With respect to Saddam Hussein and the threat he presents, we must ask ourselves a simple question: Why? Why is Saddam Hussein pursuing weapons that most nations have agreed to limit or give up? Why is Saddam Hussein guilty of breaking his own cease-fire agreement with the international community? Why is Saddam Hussein attempting to develop nuclear weapons when most nations don’t even try, and responsible nations that have them attempt to limit their potential for disaster? Why did Saddam Hussein threaten and provoke? Why does he develop missiles that exceed allowable limits? Why did Saddam Hussein lie and deceive the inspection teams previously? Why did Saddam Hussein not account for all of the weapons of mass destruction which UNSCOM identified? Why is he seeking to develop unmanned airborne vehicles for delivery of biological agents?

    “Does he do all of these things because he wants to live by international standards of behavior? Because he respects international law? Because he is a nice guy underneath it all and the world should trust him?

    “It would be naive to the point of grave danger not to believe that, left to his own devices, Saddam Hussein will provoke, misjudge, or stumble into a future, more dangerous confrontation with the civilized world. He has as much as promised it. He has already created a stunning track record of miscalculation. He miscalculated an 8-year war with Iran. He miscalculated the invasion of Kuwait. He miscalculated America’s responses to it. He miscalculated the result of setting oil rigs on fire. He miscalculated the impact of sending Scuds into Israel. He miscalculated his own military might. He miscalculated the Arab world’s response to his plight. He miscalculated in attempting an assassination of a former President of the United States. And he is miscalculating now America’s judgments about his miscalculations.

    “All those miscalculations are compounded by the rest of history. A brutal, oppressive dictator, guilty of personally murdering and condoning murder and torture, grotesque violence against women, execution of political opponents, a war criminal who used chemical weapons against another nation and, of course, as we know, against his own people, the Kurds. He has diverted funds from the Oil-for-Food program, intended by the international community to go to his own people. He has supported and harbored terrorist groups, particularly radical Palestinian groups such as Abu Nidal, and he has given money to families of suicide murderers in Israel.”

    “In the wake of September 11, who among us can say, with any certainty, to anybody, that those weapons might not be used against our troops or against allies in the region? Who can say that this master of miscalculation will not develop a weapon of mass destruction even greater–a nuclear weapon–then reinvade Kuwait, push the Kurds out, attack Israel, any number of scenarios to try to further his ambitions to be the pan-Arab leader or simply to confront in the region, and once again miscalculate the response, to believe he is stronger because he has those weapons?”

    Whoops, my bad, the above was from John Kerry. (Sen. John Kerry, Congressional Record, 10/9/02, p. S10170-S10175)

    It is one of the great ironies in history that those who successfully head off a problem seldom get the credit for doing. It’s like that old joke, “Why do we spend so much money fire proofing our buildings when we have so few fires?” It’s hard to prove you prevented some negative event, especially a very rare negative event like a war or terrorist attack.

    People can blithely declare the liberation of Iraq as a “failure” (proto-democracy doesn’t count as a success apparently) because they know full well that the assertion can never be tested unless we develop the ability to visit alternative time lines.

  7. The overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people see the war as a great success, and well worth the price paid in blood and treasure. The overwhelming majority of the soldiers who have seved in Iraq view it as a great success, and well worth the price paid. Whether they can recite the words in the Declaration verbatim or not, the Iraqis and the soldiers seem to believe that all men are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that “all men” includes Iraqis. It is only those who know the war as some abstract, philosophical event – fodder for intellectual debate who take their freedom for granted and think the freedom of others can be measured in terms of dollars and body counts – who sit far away from and above the reality of tyranny who denounce it.

    This from the father of a US Army staff sergeant who has been deployed three times to the middle east. The opinions of intellectuals and philosophers count for little, while the opinions of my son, his comrades, and the Iraqi people he has come to know count for a great deal … in my humble opinion anyway.

  8. The one thing about Mr. Obama that I respect and admire is his vote against the war.

    When did he do that? While he was representing Hyde Park in the Illinois state senate, in 2005 when he began representing Illinois in the US Senate, or at some point from 2006 onward, when he was courting the Democratic party base as part of his Presidential run?

    It is one of the great ironies in history that those who successfully head off a problem seldom get the credit for doing.

    I think the Bush administration people should start claiming credit for 25 million lives “saved or created” as a result of the Iraq war.

  9. “I see very little discussion of the options that Bush and Blair had in 2003 if they had chosen not to invade.”
    Would you mind expanding on that Michael Kennedy?

    The circumstances in 2003 were that the sanctions and the “containment” were collapsing. The oil-for-food scandal was far greater than has ever been covered in conventional media. Russia and France, and to some extent Germany, were profiting by the billion in helping Saddam evade the sanctions. Osama bin Laden attacked us because we were stationing troops on the Arabian peninsula to support the “no-fly” zone. The Russians and Chinese were selling Saddam better air defense systems and helping him put his communications underground with fiberoptic cable so we were losing our ability to listen to their CCC.

    What were our options ? Obviously, one was to invade as he defied the UN and cease-fire provisions. He was encouraged, by the Russians especially, to believe that we would never invade.

    Another option was to stay the course with sanctions but very soon he would have had the capability to shoot down one of the US or British planes that were enforcing the no-fly zone. The countries involved with oil-for-food were increasing the evasion of sanctions.

    Finally, we could have withdrawn. Doing so would have been a huge loss of face before a militant Islam that was just getting into high gear. Our embassies and the Air Force barracks had been bombed. The millennium bomber had attempted to strike LAX in 2000. Saddam had had a nuclear program in 1991 that was far more advanced than was expected. That was the reason why WMD became such an issue in 2002 and 2003. Saddam never accounted for much of his program. The inspection process was half hearted and there were intercepts of Iraqis warning sites that inspectors would visit the next day. There is still suspicion about convoys of trucks to Syria just before the attack began.

    Maybe we should have left him alone. If so, my choice would be to leave him alone in 1991. The Saudis have been the source of much of the militant Islamic theory the past 20 years. Maybe we would have been better off with the kingdom part of Iraq. Saddam seems to me to have become deranged after 1991 and maybe, if he had succeeded in 1991, there would have been the opportunity for real deterrence. By 2002, he was crazy.

    Anyway, it’s all speculation. There is no question in my mind that Bremer was a disaster.

  10. Thank you Michael Kennedy. History will make its judgements. I’m too small a person to understand it all.

    My intent was not to question the original decision, but to express dismay at mistakes made by civilian – and military – authorities during the occupation, and to hope that we use what we have learned to improve things in the future.

    Perhaps I am excessively led by Bing West’s book. It makes for a tough read and he spent a lot of time in Iraq with the military. I am trying to educate myself because that is the minimum duty of a citizen and I didn’t do due diligence in this regard, previously, and that’s it.

    Bill Waddell – Thank your son for his service!

  11. I certainly don’t know the right answer but it does sometimes annoy me when I see others express certainty that the invasion was wrong although I see no discussion of the alternative. “Keeping Saddam in a box” is the usual response but that was failing at the time.

    I have a review of Bing West’s book up on Amazon. I had the pleasure of attending several discussions with him on the NRO cruise in 2008.

  12. “I have a review of Bing West’s book up on Amazon. I had the pleasure of attending several discussions with him on the NRO cruise in 2008.”

    Cool. I’ll check it out.

  13. Many evaluations of our decision to invade Iraq rely on hindsight. Typically, we interpret our mistakes during the occupation as evidence that we should not have invaded. What gets forgotten is that Blair and, especially, Bush (though Blair is the more articulate in explaining) were forced to make a high-stakes decision with limited information. I thought that Blair made well the point that after Sept. 11 the UK and US could no longer afford to run the risk that Saddam Hussein’s regime was not a major threat. The fact that the invasion revealed that the actual threat was not as bad as the pre-invasion worst-case estimate does not necessarily mean that we should have decided differently, or that a decision not to invade would have had better consequences in the long run. (We may eventually learn how such an alternative policy of “containment” plays out in our dealings with Iran.) It’s like an individual’s decision to undergo major surgery, with unpleasant side effects and a long recovery, to remove an apparent cancerous growth that turns out to be benign. Of course in hindsight you wouldn’t do the surgery, but there was no way to know that before, and the outcome would have been worse if you had done nothing and the growth really was cancerous.

    Bush and Blair, unlike their critics, had to make a decision. Many of the current critics supported the invasion at the time, which IMO suggests that it was a reasonable decision, however much such people may now have second thoughts. Perhaps Bush and Blair have had second thoughts too, but unlike the critics they get judged by their actions then rather than their opinions now. The critics aren’t necessarily wrong, it’s just that there are unavoidable limits to the quality of even the wisest person’s decisions, and sometimes good decisions look bad after the fact.

    I’m not a fan of Blair on most issues, but I think that he was right about the war and that he handled himself well in this inquiry, which was stacked against him. I was lucky enough to catch him on C-SPAN. I notice that the media quotes of his more incisive statements, including the one I quoted in this blog post, are incomplete in a way that minimizes their strength and clarity. I assume that the incomplete quoting is intentional. (Is a full transcript of his remarks available on the Web somewhere?)

    Tatyana, the book link was meant as a shorthand reminder of what I think is the main issue here. It’s a classic collection in what is now often categorized as behavioral economics. I haven’t read the whole thing. The title essay, which I have read, is available on the Web and is worth reading. There is a great deal of newer literature available on the Web on this topic (see, for example, the blog Overcoming Bias).

  14. “Typically, we interpret our mistakes during the occupation as evidence that we should not have invaded.”

    The mistakes made during the occupation are an opportunity to learn. To not take that opportunity seems silly to me.

  15. “Of course in hindsight you wouldn’t do the surgery, but there was no way to know that before, and the outcome would have been worse if you had done nothing and the growth really was cancerous.” Okay, fine. I’m not arguing the decision. I am saying that the supportive care we provided to the patient wasn’t optimal and the next time we do such a surgery, we should think about the mistakes we made. Doesn’t mean we won’t make different ones, but that we learn, we think, we adjust. And, so we move forward.

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