Iraq – Is It Actually Possible To Have A Discussion Rather Than An Excommunication Where The Iraq War Is Concerned? – Well, Maybe – 31 March 2013

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/02/hawkswere-wrong-iraq-worse-now

I thought this article was interesting for proving me wrong that those who are still fighting rhetorical battles about the Iraq War are incapable of treating their topic as if it were a debate rather than an excommunication. This article takes a position with which I do not necessarily agree and defends that position in a respectful and tolerant way. It also does so without relinquishing an iota of the anger of so many of the anti-Iraq-War activists…it just doesn’t use that anger as an excuse to ignore a responsibility to document facts and provide serious argument, or treat the topic as if it were one about which serious and informed people could disagree. That is such an amazing thing that I thought I should provide people a link to the article, as this is not at all typical of the genre.

Iraq is, in some respects, markedly worse of now than before – and this article makes that clear. About the best I could say in response is that I think the article focuses on the things that were fairly obviously worse after the war, while skipping past uncomfortable bits that wouldn’t support their argument – for example, that the Kurds are comparatively delighted with the new Iraq, because it’s the difference between being ritually slaughtered and having representative institutions that are even marginally open to them.

But in all fairness, let’s dwell on the bad stuff, too. One argument against the effects of the war which stands a bit of scrutiny deals with the weapons used by the coalition forces that leave lasting environmental damage. This is the charge that depleted uranium weapons did not need to be used by the coalition forces and left in their wake an increase in the number of birth defects for children born in the environments where these weapons were used. This appears to be a substantiated charge, and is something which could properly be used as an argument that today’s Iraq is measurably worse off due to something the coalition forces did. Of course, there were birth defect rises after the Halabja gas attack ordered by Saddam Hussein in 1988 as well, and I don’t see this author getting bent out of shape about that, despite the fact that the numbers are pretty gruesome there as well. The point of this rhetoric is to show how our side was bad, not how there was a lot more bad out there…the thing it seems to me the anti-Iraq-War activists never seem to process. Nevertheless, it’s not clear why our side needed to use depleted uranium weapons – these kinds of weapons, and the evidence suggests they cause exactly the kinds of threats to innocent civilians we presumably are trying to avoid.

But even so, you have to wonder why people would find this article to be anything close to a slam dunk, unless it’s only the coalition-related casualties that matter. The article quotes, for example, the British medical journal The Lancet to the effect that 31 percent of the “excess” casualties (that is, casualties of civilians) were caused by coalition forces. That’s disturbing, but it’s also a minority of the cases. I’m assuming we can properly read this as 69 percent of the excess casualties were caused by the other participants in the war – the Republican Guard and the “insurgent” forces. Again, where is the outrage about that? It’s a supermajority of the cases. By the _Lancet’s_ numbers, unless people want to try and speciously read this as 69 percent of the cases being accidents in the shower or something.

Similarly, the article says a Zogby poll found 42 percent of Iraqis thought the country was “worse off” in 2011, while 30 percent thought it was “better off”. Admittedly, that’s a problem for those who think the war had any silver linings, but is that 12 percent difference really an argument clincher? In 2005, the BBC is quoted here as finding a “slim majority (50.3 percent)” thought the country believed the Iraq War was “somewhat” or “absolutely” wrong. Again, troubling for those who think the war was morality-on-stilts, but does this prove those who believe it was the most appalling thing ever were right? You would think the galloping hooves of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would track a little worse than 49.7 percent in the polls. Maybe it’s not that simple? I don’t know…just saying we might want to investigate further.

Some of the tropes in the article still seem a tad unfair to me – like that the author describes his opponents as “hawks” (I don’t consider myself a hawk) and conflates hawks with defenders of “humanitarian intervention” (I do consider myself that, but that’s not the same as a hawk). Some others seem to undercut the argument, such as the claim that intervention in Iraq was unacceptable “given the complete absence of an ongoing or imminent mass slaughter of Iraqis”…I mean, where can you begin with this one? The word “ongoing” appears because the slaughters in Iraq were many but each had discrete ending points, and in any case, we just had an imminent mass slaughter going on in Libya about which this author says boo, despite the fact that it appears to be a real criterion for him.

Still, it’s nice to see those arguments being written out as if it really was our purpose to evaluate them as claims instead of taking them for granted as dogma. I suppose this article is an example of why we don’t see more often cogent arguments being made about what happened during the war – if excommunication is the point of any discussion with folks who disagree, then providing talking points that are debatable and contestable, instead of sound bites designed to make one’s opponent look evil, is not wise. It gives the other side something to respond to, instead of only an opportunity to bare their neck before their presumably masterful rhetorical opponents. But I’d prefer to think that’s not the case, that there are at least some people, who take differing points of view on Iraq than I do, who think backing a position up with evidence so a real discussion can happen is what you’re _supposed_ to do.

So I’d like to thank its author for having written the article – it’d be nice if others so desperate to claim “I told you so” rights would present their facts as if they were contestable as well. I’d rather have the kind of discussion Karl Popper advocated than the kind Edward Bernays (best case scenario) or Joseph Goebbels (worst case scenario) might have advocated.

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