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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Not What You Know, But What You Do With It.

Fresh soundbites over the last two days suggest new lines have been drawn in the battle for credulity between Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately, those lines encircle territory that history will assess as nearly irrelevant. The mud flung in coming days will miss, completely, posterity's most likely reason to ask, "What on earth were they thinking?"

The next episode of tussle over the Iraq debacle is shaping up to turn on whether BushCo lied to get us into the war (Democratic positioning) or whether Democrats had the same intel as the White House when they joined in authorizing the invasion (Republican positioning).

These views each have their implications. If the President misleads the nation into a war, that's something approaching treason. Alternately, if Democrats supported the war on a transparent and identical "fact" base to that used by the White House, they're going to have to do better messaging than "Bush is bad" to raise their credibility in opposition.


What's riling is that, as important as each of those points is, they blithely steamroller an issue of far more profound gravity. It's an issue unlikely to get mentioned because there's no quick political capital in it. Yet, it is far more likely than either set of new talking points to haunt us through the halls of history.

It is simply this: We waged pre-emptive war. Regardless of who knew what when, regardless of whether George ignored inconveniently contradictory intelligence, and regardless of why the Democrats were complicit in the march to battle, we chose to attack Iraq on the justification that they might attack us or our allies in the future.

In using this justifiation to legitimize and pursue pre-emptive attack, we opened the ultimate Pandora's Box of the rhetoric of war: we endorsed attacking anyone we want to, whenever we decide they're a *potential* threat. We made it policy.

We were attacked on September 11, of course. But as a justification for war against Iraq, this simply does not stand up, because (astounding that we need to remind ourselves of this) Iraq didn't attack us. It was a nation ruled by an evil despot (one of many), a nation that mightily pissed us off (again, a long list), and a nation that liked thumbing its nose at us. It was not, however, a nation that had attacked us, and its previous aggression against our allies had been settled for a decade.

Regardless of what the White House and the Senate knew or didn't know, our declaration of hostilities -- calling for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis -- was unprecedented in recent history. It represented a dramatic doctrinal shift that would have been thought indefensible by previous administrations.

I find thought expreriments and analogies from America's recent history useful because we have, in the past, defined right and wrong differently than has become vogue in the last six years. So, imagine:

...If Japan perceived, in 1941, that America might, at some point in the future, attack Japan or its allies, was Pearl Harbor justified?

...If the Soviet Union, in the 60s or 70s, took the quite realistic view that the United States (a) had weapons of mass destruction, (b) had shown its willingness to use them (ie, against Japan), and (c) might consider using them against the Soviet Union in the future (as reflected in known US military strategy), would the Soviet Union have been justified in launching an offensive war on the United States?

To be clear, I am no pacifist. I cheered when W's dad kicked Saddam's sorry ass out of Kuwait. While I was suspicious of Bush 1's motives -- a la a popular bumper sticker of the day: "What if Kuwait's main export were broccoli?" -- I had no doubt about his course of action. Asshole attacked our ally, and we showed him what having the United States as an ally means. For the same reason, I was perfectly happy to pursue Osama into Afghanistan, even if most of the September 11 hijackers were Saudis.

How different is either of those scenarios from waging a pre-emptive war? Philosophically, it's night and day, chalk and cheese, frogs and horses. Realistically, the difference appears to be one genetic generation and an elapsed time of twelve years.

So, as this messaging skirmish between the Dems and the GOP unfolds over the next weeks, let's all remember that everyone thought Saddam had WMDs: the Hawks, the Doves, even the French. Let's also remember that:

1. Everyone was wrong. So, those who say "If we hadn't, he would've" get shelved under fiction.

2. What we did with our belief was become exactly the kind of military aggressor we thought evil Saddam was threatening to become. We just did it to him first.

As alluded, we won't hear about this in either side's talking points. Both parties signed up for pre-emptive war, so neither can score points from high ground they can't claim. But when history assesses whether or not this was a just war, this will be the issue at the center of what I reckon will be a very short debate.

Comments on "Not What You Know, But What You Do With It."


Blogger BJ Aberle said ... (8:25 PM) : 

Dear Mr. Houston,
Very well said.


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