Justification of the War in Iraq

Raph Levien points to a comment by Tim Bray that says, among other things:

Those fables were taken to the UN Security Council and ended doing severe damage to America relationships with pretty well everybody, because pretty well everybody refused to sign up for war on the basis that they were scared of Saddams WMDs, because they weren’t.

Except, they were. No one was arguing that Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, merely that continuing sanctions and inspections would produce an acceptable result at less expense (in terms of ammunition, or human lives).

But no one with any sense doubted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the question was always how to go about disarmament. If there had been a question, the issue would not have been war or sanctions and inspections, it would have been whether any action was necessary at all. It’s easy to lose sight of the distinction in the emotional response to being lied to and led to a war not of your choosing, but self-deception isn’t healthy.

In a prior entry Tim Bray said:

No, the peace movement’s worst nightmare is that the United States extrapolates from Iraq and decides that unilateral aggression is an easy, rewarding and fun way to solve the world’s problems.

And that was everyone’s worst nightmare: that without a reasonable burden of proof, we’d start getting involved in many wars, and plunge into some sort of a cross between Vietnam and World War II, with the added fun of the other guys having nukes. A quagmire, you might say. As it turns out, we don’t look like risking that at all: we’ve moved beyond Vietnam tactically and strategically, and the Iraq war has had a salutary effect on a number of other potential targets and had the mildly perverse effect of making it less likely for there to be more confrontations.

The administration tried meeting the higher stand of proof (that is, a clear and immediate threat to the US itself, by way of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of hypothetical terrorists), and failed. The real question, and the real cause for introspection, is whether we were expecting the right standard of proof in the first place.

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