Arguments about the War

Now I’ll be the first to admit that partisans sometimes take somewhat contradictory positions at different times as a tactical choice. There are however a number of positions about the war on terrorism which are fundamentally incompatible. Since advocating contradictory positions tends to be a sign of either an underlying position that isn’t being addressed, or a sign of pure partisanship, or a failure to take your own thoughts seriously, it might be helpful to look at them.

Before I continue, I want to make clear that I don’t think supporting the invasion of Afghanistan but failing to support the invasion of Iraq is necessarily a set of contradictory positions. You could hold both ideas simultaneously without them being contradictory. But in reality many of the stated reasons for holding those two positions don’t make sense.

The contradictions cluster around the role of the military in fighting the war against terrorism. I will refer to this as the 'War' while invading Iraq and Afghanistan will be specifically mentioned any time I don't mean the War.

Position 1: The War would be best fought by treating terrorism as a police problem. The War may from time to time require military force in extreme cases (Afghanistan) but generally it doesn't.

Position 2: The invasion of Iraq has forced the military to neglect the real War. Since Iraq was not provably linked to terrorist organizations which regularly targeted the US it is a distraction from the real War.

These two positions mesh nicely in terms of identification of the enemy. Both suggest that the enemy is a fairly small group of malcontents that are tightly linked together. I think this identification is woefully inadequate, but it is not self-contradictory, and I've dealt with this subject in depth before. They are nevertheless incompatible. If indeed the main thrust of the War is found in police-style investigation and arresting the terrorists, the invasion of Iraq should not be a major problem for prosecuting the War. The policing organizations of the world were not heavily involved in the prosecution of the war in Iraq. The forces involved in Iraq were almost entirely US and British military forces. If military forces are not supposed to be particularly important to the War, their utilization ought not be a big problem.

Position 3: If military force is to be used, it ought to be used through the UN so that we can get military support from other nations. Position 3a: Nearly everyone was behind us in Afghanistan.

This one sounds good, but on inspection it does not sit well with Position 2. We did not in fact use the militaries of most other countries in the invasion of Iraq. So they should have been available for the operation that 'nearly everyone' was supportive of: Afghanistan. The US and British militaries were 'distracted' in Iraq but so what, we had nearly everyone's support for Afghanistan. Right? If getting the support of other major countries (say France, Germany and Belgium)in the War on terrorism was as crucial as is argued, they should have been willing and able to step in to Afghanistan. Unfortunately they weren't. This suggests that either their willingness to support us in Afghanistan is more suspect than commonly believed, or their ability to help us is nearly non-existant. This flows right into problems with Position 1. Most adherents of Position 1 suggest that Afghanistan is one of the only places where military might was really needed thus far in the War. If this is true Position 1 combined with 3 suggest that the military aspect of the War should have been very well covered. Which means that Iraq really wasn't a distraction that should have hurt the War.

These arguments are commolnly employed by 'anti-Iraq war' speakers. On examination they are contradictory. This suggests to me that something more is going on to their arguments. I won't speculate on that here, it is probably worth another entire post. But before my liberal friends suggest I am overreaching, please remember the furor you raised over Bush's many different positions on Iraq. Bush had 3 major justifications. Saddam wanted to acquire WMD. Containment was falling apart. Humanitarian concerns. None of these three are contradictory with each other, yet you used the multiple arguments as evidence that something more nefarious was being done. Your arguments are actually in conflict with each other. So forgive me for making a similar suggestion.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at January 24, 2004 5:23 PM