You may recall that Jess invited me to debate with a former military type (an anti-war liberal) on issues surrounding the Iraq War and the War on Militant Islam. My worthy opponent has been out-of-pocket, however. I was thinking maybe his anti-war opinions would be posted on about Election Day. But ... who knows?
At any rate, here is my answer to Jess's Question #2:
On March 20, 2003, did I believe we were entering into a necessary conflict? Absolutely. And I think it would have been irresponsible, in light of the evidence and the Saddam's history, to NOT take down Saddam's Iraq.
Less than a year-and-a-half after 9/11, we were still being run in circles by Saddam Hussein. Why wouldn't he allow weapons inspectors to do their jobs? The whole world had agreed for many years that he possessed weapons of mass destruction. At home, politicians of both American political parties agreed on this point. Again, this was a national consensus held for many years. In fact, I think this is why Pres. Clinton ostensibly sent in his air strikes in 1998, unless one believes he did it to deflect attention from his legal troubles.
But the analysis of war with Iraq involved and involves more fundamental changes in America's relationship to the world. In the wake of 9/11, America could not afford to wait for the next attack. The country would not permit it. Nor should the country permit it. The risks were and remain too great, and a saber-rattling dictator in the Middle East could not be tolerated. And we knew that Saddam not only would rattle the saber but that he would, from time to time, attack both his own people (with chemical weapons, no less) and his neighbors.
As should have been painfully obvious to all concerned, Militant Islamists had declared war on us as of the start of the Iraq War... actually, they had done so long prior to 9/11. Although the WH speaks in politically correct terms about the threat posed by Militant Islam, I think they realized what was going on. To say that there is no "operational connection" between Iraq and the jihadis who planned and carried out 9/11 is to miss the point. The point is: The conflict with Iraq arose in the context of a larger war with Militant Islam.
In my view, I think that most people who oppose the Iraq War either fail to understand the larger war with Militant Islamists or they are not on America's side in this war.
On Saddam's connections to terror, this we know: He harbored terrorists, i.e., Leon Klinghoffer's murderer, Ansar al-Islam, He paid for suicide bombers to attack Israel. He was a source of instability in the region for many years. (If you don't want to take my "word" for it, read a good liberal like Christopher Hitchens) And to say we should have dealt with him sooner is to say what? That the Clinton Administration was negligent? To say that we couldn't do more than had been done is to prove the ineffectiveness of the U.N., is it not?
Do I still support the war? Before getting to my answer, let me look at this question and describe a bit of my disappointment with the Bush Administration. What most people are asking when they ask this question is: Since we haven't found WMD and we have lost more than 2,000 troops, was it worth it? Well, like many, I was surprised that we didn't find more evidence of WMDs. We certainly found some, but not what virtually all (including the French and Russians) expected. I will note here, too, that the failure to find large stockpiles of WMD raises still other questions for me, such as: Since we know Saddam had them, where are they? And how could the world have been so wrong? How do we make sure our intelligence capabilities are what they need to be?
The Leftists who continue to argue that the Administration lied or manipulated intelligence are themselves lying. We know that, in fact, the PBDs that Pres. Bush was receiving painted an even darker picture in Iraq than the intelligence reports given to Congress. And the Brits incidentally still stand by their Niger report.
However, I do think the Bush Administration probably didn't fully anticipate all of the difficulties we would encounter in a post-Saddam Iraq. For sure, they failed to make the case early on -- except in trite platitudes -- regarding the difficulties ahead, and what was at stake in a stable Iraq that could defend itself from the jihadi threat. This is a great frustration for me, as I believe much can and should be said to rally public support in the larger struggle against Militant Islamists.
Here is my punch line, though: Taking down Saddam remains just as right today as it was on March 20, 2003. The world is better off, and we have seen the ripple effects in Lebanon, Libya, and throughout the region. To say America is making a positive difference in Iraq is hardly some fringe right-wing position, unless you consider people like Joe Lieberman, Christopher Hitchens, and Ed Koch to be fringe right-wingers. Whether democracy will ultimately work there remains to be seen, but it is important that the Iraqi government is not a source of instability and anti-American hatred.
Note, too, that Hillary is uncomfortable with what the Demo base is demanding -- immediate withdrawal. How come? What does she know about the American public and the war that the Demo base fails to grasp?
Another important aspect to the war ... In Iraq we are delivering an important message to the jihadis in the country and elsewhere: We won't wait for you to come after us any more. We will find you. We will do what we say we will do, including the dirty work of clearing jihadis house to house. It is hard to overstate the importance of confronting and proving wrong the jihadi template that Americans are soft, weak infidels. Let's face it, these are evil people we are fighting. And their ignorance of America and the modern world is breathtaking. The jihadis selectively recall the Somalia experience as an example of American vacillation and weakness. America has been shattering this template over the last three years.
On criticizing the war ... If I didn't support the war effort, I wouldn't be saying much about it. Why? It's hard to know the point. I mean, what is the idea? It looks to many people like the Left just wants to use the war as a vehicle for political gains, in particular to damage Pres. Bush. And to those who loudly argue that our troops' mission is based on a lie and is accomplishing no good purpose, what the hell is the purpose of such rhetoric? It sounds treasonous and it emboldens the enemy. And such arguments have a tangible, negative effect on our troops. This is why they overwhelmingly want the American people to be behind what they are doing, that is, to support their mission. Wars are won with young troops whose morale and esprit de corps are critical to their success. The time for debating whether we should be involved in military action in Iraq ended when the enemy started putting bullets down range. Sure, people have a right to speak. And I do, too. And I will remind them that their actions are increasing the likelihood that young Americans will get killed. Intentions are irrelevant here. Words and actions have consequences.
When you have to check to see if a statement was made by Kennedy or Zarqawi, you know we have a problem.
It seems funny to me, too, that people want to elevate the opinions of former military types like Murtha, Kerry, and McCain to "super opinion" status, but they won't listen to the troops who are actually engaged in battle. What gives? The troops in battle disagree with the Left, that's what.
I do think it's appropriate to debate and discuss how we achieve the biggest, swiftest, and most complete victory. How come the Left doesn't want to discuss this, though? How come, Jess, the questions are always something like yours: "Do you support the war?" ... "Should we get out?", etc. I think such a view is defeatist and irresponsible. Almost all of our troops agree, for what it's worth. Unlike me, a former military member whose thoughts are no more worthy of consideration than any one's on this subject, I do think the views of the men kicking in the doors in Iraq are very relevant as to how polticians are affecting their morale.
Final point and question about military status: What difference does it make that I am former member of the military? The foregoing opinions draw upon my experiences to a degree, and thus have some credibility to this extent. But I don't believe that my service entitles me to some "super opinion" status. This is a mistake that the Left routinely makes now, I think, because they can't substantively defend their position. People such as Kerry, Murtha, and even McCain are afforded 'untouchable" status simply because of their service. This is wrong. Opinions should stand on their own. McCain, Murtha, Kerry, et al., have no idea of what needs to be done on the ground in Iraq. Their confident pronouncements of various battle plans (all of which are different, interestingly enough) proves my point. I trust the field commanders. They have all the information, and the expertise.
You asked me what I would do as commander-in-chief. As for the actual fighting of the war, this is a matter to be left to the commanders on the ground. At home, though, I would make the case every day about what is at stake and how we are fighting Militant Islamists. I would highlight their atrocities (which are legion) and implore the Muslim world to take a firm stand against Zarqawi, al Qaeda, et al. The stakes, the reality of the situation in Iraq, and the tangible progress need to be discussed and explained to people much better. This is the one thing in particular I would like to see the Bush Adminstration do much better.
When the American people are unified, we always win ... and big.