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Kurt_and_Hunter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Feb-01-08 11:56 AM
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Perspective on the IWR
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Disclosure: I opposed the Iraq War like nobodys business. My attitude is best summed up in the statement, Hitler had more business being in Poland than we have being in Iraq. Because I wrote about it incessantly at the time, day-by-day, my memories of how things developed are sequential and contextual not jumbled together and re-colored in light of subsequent developments.

There seems to be some inadvertent historical revisionism in play regarding the IWR vote, so I want to explain a few points in terms of what I, an arch opponent of the war, thought about these issues at the time in the flow of real events in 2002-2003.

Every step of the run up to the Iraq War was tragic and criminal. Of all the gross errors and crimes of the era, the least odious was the IWR.

My analysis at the time was that the run-up to Iraq was either the work of madmen, or a brilliant diplomatic coup. I happened to recognize that Bush and Cheney were sociopaths, so I knew it was the former, but that fact did not negate the broader reality that Bushs sociopathy was precipitating a diplomatic coup a diplomatic coup that Bush didnt want!

At the time of the IWR vote there had been no inspectors in Iraq for four years, and Bush wanted to invade the country for the stated purpose of disarming Iraq. Under pressure from Tony Blair and the not-quite-crazy Republican fringe (Powell, Scowcroft, etc.), the White House agreed to do some process by going to the UN and demanding that Saddam let UN inspectors back in.

Bush and Cheney wanted to invade Iraq with no input from the UN or from Congress. They agreed to the semi-civilized course of seeking a congressional resolution and going back to the UN only because the were convinced that it would fail. In October, 2002, nobody in the world thought Saddam would allow the inspectors back in. Nobody. So the Bush administration agreed to make a play for restoration of the inspections regime as a PR stunt, anticipating that when Saddam refused his last chance to cooperate that everyone would have no choice but to fall in line for war.

But Saddam out-foxed everyone. Once he became convinced that Bush really was crazy and that nobody was in a position to stop him, Saddam did the unthinkable and allowed the inspectors back in. Nobody expected that, Bush and Cheney least of all. It was the one development that stood any chance of preventing the war. It was a slim chance but the only chance.

And the only reason that happened is that there was no exploitable fissure in congress. Had the IWR failed, or even been close, there would have been no inspectors. That is a flat, undeniable historical fact.

A sitting Senator on 2002 faced a complicated exercise in game theory. The Mad Bomber is a major character in game theory scenarios. The Mad Bomber is crazy, so he doesnt respond to conventional risk-reward calculations. That means he cannot be gamed.

Throughout the cold war, the United States often played the mad bomber. We threatened nuclear war on many occasions. The USSR never threatened nuclear war because they were genuinely afraid of us. While Eisenhower ran on ending the Korean War in 1952, his emissaries conveyed to Russia and China that he planned to end it by nuking China. Everyone took Eisenhower quite seriously as a military leader, and were not prepared to call the bluff. Russia essentially told China that she didnt plan to lose Moscow just so China could have Seoul. JFK played the mad bomber also. It made no sense whatsoever to destroy the world because Russia blockaded Berlin, or because Russia had missiles in Cuba, yet we threatened to do just that. Nixon, Eisenhowers VP, Learned the lessons of 1952 and put out his own pre-inauguration back-channel messages that be planned to nuke Vietnam and maybe China. That didnt work because Ho Chi Minh was a mad bomber himself his willingness to take infinite losses countered Nixons pose of being willing to inflict infinite casualties, so Nixons was bluff was called.

Saddam wasnt like Ho Chi Minh. He was a survivor, not an ideologue. The moment he became convinced that Bush was crazy, and that Congress and Russia and China were not willing or able to stop him, he folded up. Inspectors returned and demonstrated once and for all that Iraq posed no threat.

If Bush was a pretend mad-bomber it would have been a great diplomatic victory. Since he was genuinely mad, however, it was a great diplomatic victory that was subsequently undone by a lunatic.

Now, here is what I thought AT THE TIME. If the IWR passes by one vote, then it is better for the world if it passes unanimously. Best case: IWR fails unanimously and Bush is impeached. Second best case: The IWR passes unanimously, providing maximum pressure for return of inspectors, and for UN involvement in the course of events going forward.

The worst scenario was one where the IWR passes on a narrow party-line basis (With a couple of Lieberman types providing the margin in the Senate.) That outcome would have done nothing to make Bush any saner, and would have provided Saddam the impression that he could game the system a course of action that was certain to end badly.

I was in the most extreme 1% of anti-war opinion, and was doing everything I could short of immolating myself outside Rumsfelds window to oppose the war, but I was not devastated by Democrats voting for the IWR because if it was going to pass anyway (which it was) then it was best for the country that it pass unanimously. Essentially, it was Democrats saying, Hey, Saddam we cannot save you. This is the real deal, and if anybody can stop this its gonna have to be you.

And it worked. One of the happiest moments of my life was when Saddam announced the inspectors could return. It didnt mean there would be no war, but it offered a 10-15% chance to avoid war that hadnt existed the day before. It was the only course that offered the possibility of bleeding the air out of the war balloon. The return of inspectors was what Cheney feared most because it offered the possibility of a dynamic where tension could bleed off, eroding war support.

The inspectors returned and showed everyone Bush was lying about the WMD, and the Security Council said, See? You cant invade now. But Bush invaded anyway, with no threat, and with no legal authority from the UN. Because hes a fucking sociopath.

Voting for the IWR was nothing to brag about, but it was not wholly irrational in context. I take a back seat to no one in my opposition the Iraq war in April 2002, in October 2002 and in March 2003. And I did not accept the existence of the WMD. (Thats precisely why I was so desperate that inspectors get back in!)

And I saw it AT THE TIME in 2002 as a complicated vote with a lot of moving parts. (I could hardly have voted for Kerry in 2004 if I hadn't)
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