Sunday, November 29, 2009

Iraq debate round 2


Arguably the hardest part of debating someone about the war in Iraq is that its beginning was so shrouded in innuendo, half-assertions, scare-tactics, and secret information. Even in Tyler’s first speech, he alternately talks about American and Israeli interests, problems with the U.N., genocide in Iraq’s countryside, and even Democratic Peace Theory. Before I address the individual arguments Tyler has given, I will uncover the glaring and dangerous logical failings that led us into this disastrous war in the first place.

As I see it, Tyler essentially makes two broad arguments in his first speech: that Iraq has been a beneficial battlefield against international terrorism, and that the war in Iraq has brought a number of benefits, making America and her allies safer. Although I do plan on addressing all of his specific arguments individually, I would like to start by addressing the flawed notion that “we’re fighting the terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them over here” that Tyler’s first speech is founded upon.

The argument that we can make America safer by killing people in Iraq rests upon 2 key assumptions: that those being killed would have otherwise posed a threat to America or Americans, and that fighting in Iraq imposes some opportunity cost on their operations, that killing Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq decreases Al Qaeda’s ability to perform other, more damaging operations in America.

These assumptions are verifiably and logically false for the following 7 reasons:

1. The overwhelming majority of potential terrorists (people who are committed to hurting Americans) are simply not in any position whatsoever to actually follow through on their desires. Even without any barriers of any kind, a potential terrorist would need to be able to afford a plane ticket and a weapon in order to do harm to an American in America. The more barriers that are in place (counter-intelligence operatives, visa requirements, background checks, law enforcement, etc.), the less likely it becomes for a terrorist to actually succeed in hurting an American.
2. Most, if not all of the people killed in Iraq were probably fighting for reasons other than an unquenchable hatred of American values. Other, more plausible reasons for wanting to kill American soldiers include, but are not limited to: wanting to evict imperialists, getting revenge for family members killed in either Gulf war (or by Blackwater Inc.), fighting against Christian hegemony in a Muslim nation, financial gain, or simply not believing that America was trying to be benevolent by invading. Those reasons were created by the war in Iraq. These people are not people we would have had anything to fear from in America, had we not invaded Iraq.
3. Those being killed in Iraq are largely monolingual, poor, and uneducated, all things which would make them practically incapable of striking America.
4. The Al Qaeda troops fighting in Iraq are doing so of their own-free will. Since Iraq is not their homeland, they, essentially, are “fighting the [infidel] over there, so that they don’t have to do it [in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the UAE, etc].
5. Any valuable Al Qaeda troops or leadership (Bin Laden, for example), or any troops capable of harming America are free to stay away from Iraq, leaving the fighting to the local Iraqis, the expendable troops, and the hired hands.
6. Chaos is easier to create than order. Relatively few Al Qaeda operatives could keep Iraq on the brink of chaos and civil war for decades. Guerrilla warriors always hold the trump cards.
7. We still saw numerous terrorist attacks in Europe, as well as major attempted attacks on America. These attacks happened or were attempted in spite of the war in Iraq. Excellent intelligence, coordination, and alertness on the part of Britain prevented further attacks against us, not a depletion on the part of Al Qaeda due to losses in Iraq.

On Tyler’s arguments briefly:

1) Saddam’s most egregious sins were a matter of history. Was he a war criminal? Yes. Were his sons psychotic? Probably, but there’s no reason to believe that they would have been any more of a problem than we let them be. Keep in mind, we’re not debating whether we should have allowed Saddam total free reign, just if it was necessary to invade and oust him.

2) I’m not displeased that Iraq is a nominal democracy now, but it’s important not to oversell its advantages. We’ve traded a despotic Iraq that was a useful enemy for a democratic friend that can’t check Iran, is probably little help in furthering our regional goals, and that will probably need hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds more American lives in continuing support to even have a chance of survival.

3) Al Qaeda turned the Arab world against them without our help. Although I’ll acknowledge that regional victory in Anbar came only with local help against Al Qaeda, it’s still not enough. This effect in Iraq, by the way, has not done anything to help against terrorists in Pakistan or Afghanistan, nor has it won us “The War on Terror.”

4) Israel can take care of itself (Tyler cited 1981). Furthermore, the power vacuum has only increased Iran’s influence, which poses a much greater risk to Israel than Saddam ever did.

5) Is Tyler really saying that we did trade blood for oil? Even still, it wasn’t worth it. Maybe if they give us the first $700 billion worth of oil we’ll talk parity.

6) Libya had essentially zero chance of attaining a nuke. Even if it did, they would not have posed a threat to America or our allies.

7) The war may have exposed corruption in the U.N., but it did nothing to actually solve it. Fine, I’ll agree that the French, Germans, and Russians are pricks. Happy?

I realize that the point of this debate is to show that the war in Iraq has, in hindsight, not been worth it. I never would have debated this topic, however, simply to point out that we’ve largely failed, or that Al Qaeda has irreparably damaged America’s reputation and power. I love America, and I want it to be a powerful force for good. Before this war started, I was fairly consistently harangued as being “anti-American” for questioning the rationale and wisdom of invading Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein. Rather than addressing the facts, gauging the danger of inaction, or looking for more realistic alternatives, we collectively allowed a small faction of Neo-Conservatives to question our patriotism, scare us with unrealistic threats of mushroom clouds, and rush the decision and execution of a war that has been immeasurably costly to American troops and families. In addition to showing you all that Iraq has cost us more than it’s been worth, I hope to convince all of you that this mistake could and should have been avoided. In setting the terms for this debate, I offer the following criteria: if I have failed to show you that Iraq has cost more than it was worth AND that our government could have and should have known better before hand, I urge you to vote for Tyler.

Finally, in accordance with debate tradition, I would like to extend my arguments from my first speech and bring them to your attention once more.

1. America started the Iraq war under the shockingly na├»ve assumptions that we would be greeted as liberators, that building a democracy in Iraq would be simple, that no significant planning had to be done, that no precautions for security needed to be taken for after the Iraqi regime was toppled, and that Saddam Hussein’s supposed WMDs would be easily found and secured. We as a public were also fooled into believing that Iraq posed a threat to America and her interests, without any credible evidence backing such assertions up. The evidence (both a close reading of the then-available evidence, as well as the more accurate evidence that exists now) shows that Iraq had essentially nothing to do with international terrorism against the United States. The fact that Tyler framed his arguments around the fear and angst we all felt on 9/12 only emphasizes the degree to which the legitimate war on terror has been (and please excuse this pun) hijacked by those who argued for an Iraqi invasion.
2. The costs of this war have been tremendous. We probably all know someone who has fought or died in Iraq. For this heroism and sacrifice, however, we have collectively paid them back by ignoring the psychological costs they’ve paid and continue to pay. The immense burden and responsibility of the war in Iraq was a blank check written to the future, on the gamble and hope that it would pay for itself eventually. For now, our expenditure represents a cost of $30,000 for each Iraqi man, woman, and child. Maybe next time we’ll just consider writing them a check?
3. The unintended consequences of the Iraq war far outweigh the possible effects of having another democratic partner in the Middle East. Iraq, if it does survive as a democracy, is much more likely to follow the democratic model of Palestine or Iran than it is Israel (as if even that were a good model!). Many in the Arab world have, for the time being, turned against Al Qaeda and its allies. To presume that our foray into the Middle East has built any bridges or made any friends, however, is simply foolish.


Daine makes a lot of interesting arguments, but he also concedes a number of powerful benefits to the Iraq war that I mentioned in my first “speech.” I think these benefits will definitively prove the value of the Iraq war.

Let’s address the underlying assumptions of the conflict:

There is no question that the beginnings of the Iraq conflict are a difficult discussion to have. The intelligence information presented to us was incomplete and incorrect. Many have alleged malfeasance by the Bush administration. The classified nature of the documents and dishonesty (by both sides) make it difficult for us to determine what actually happened or determine fault.

For this reason, I suggested to Daine that our debate be purely based upon a cost-benefit analysis of the Iraq war from what we know now. I appreciate that he has given himself an added burden, and I will grant that he meets it. There were flawed assumptions in the run-up to the war.

Please extend my analysis that this argument is irrelevant to the debate at hand. We are evaluating the costs and benefits of the war. There is no specific cost that Daine has identified in our false assumptions so there is no reason to evaluate this is making a decision about the debate.

Now to the benefit of changing the battlefield. Daine makes some good arguments here, but he misunderstands my point. In addition, he asserts that my rhetoric was inappropriate; however, if I demonstrate that the War in Iraq has benefited us in the war on terror, then my rhetoric is totally justified and appropriate. If not, please disregard it. Let’s get to the subject.

Al Qaeda sent a number of its top lieutenants to fight us in Iraq. Had they not come to Iraq, they would have probably fought us in Afghanistan or may have come to the United States. Which of those two options they picked is irrelevant. In either case, they would be attacking Americans (soldiers or civilians) in a setting that was more difficult for the Americans to defend themselves. Please extend my analysis that explains how Afghanistan is a more difficult terrain to fight in than Iraq. Any move to Iraq (from Afghanistan or America) is better for us because it means our troops or civilians are in a safer environment.

Daine also concedes the Arab world turned against Al Qaeda because of terrorist bombings in Iraq. Had we not invaded, this clearly would not have happened. It is hard to overstate the importance of this event. The Arab world has been the prime financier of Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist organizations. Without that money, Al Qaeda will eventually die. Seriously, they have been reduced to hiding out in the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan. With Arab support, they would always have been able to rebuild and fight us. Without it, it is just a matter of time until they are destroyed.

Let me briefly address Daine’s 7 points:

1. This argument actually works for me. Back when Al Qaeda was able to recruit and get financing in the Arab world, Al Qaeda would provide the ability (visa, flights, etc.) for would-be terrorists to attack us. Since we’ve already demonstrated that their money supply and ability to recruit in the Arab world has been severely limited, this actually becomes an additional advantage for me.

2. Fine. Some of the people fighting us in Iraq would not have fought us in Afghanistan or in America. However, many would have. The leaders who inspired them mostly would have. The Sunni insurgency really ended long before catastrophic violence happened during 2005 and 2006.

The advantage gained against existing terrorists, the limiting of their fundraising, and the other benefits I will discuss severely outweigh any cost Daine can get from this.

3. See 1 & 2

4. This is exactly my point. It was easier for us to fight them in Iraq than it would have been in Afghanistan or in other places.

5. We have captured a number of Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They were moved in to fight that battle. Bin Laden himself called it critical to their success. While the leaders don’t strap explosives to themselves, they do need to be on the ground to direct activities. This has helped us capture them.

6. It is well acknowledged that Iraq is looking more and more stable every day. Iraq’s police have begun taking control of cities and handling things relatively well. Very few, if any, experts are saying Iraq will be chaotic decades into the future. As such, we have no reason to assume it will.

7. We don’t know what would have happened to other attacks had the Iraqi invasion not occurred. We do know that many Al Qaeda leaders were killed in Iraq. We can deduce they would have been fighting elsewhere had the invasion not occurred. Where that was is a matter of speculation, though it is doubtful that an Arab populace would have been helping us to fight them.

Next, let’s review some of the additional benefits of the invasion that I previously mentioned.

1. Saddam’s war crimes: Daine concedes that they occurred and that Saddam’s sons were crazy. There was a tangible cost for us controlling him. We frequently flew planes over Iraq, based many troops in Kuwait and were bombing Iraq every few years.

If Daine wants to assume we could control him, that is fine. But there is a cost for that in troops and finances. President Clinton nearly invaded at the end of his presidency. This cost would be an indefinite commitment of the United States, and would probably get worse when his sons took power. Also, there is a very real chance one of his descendants would be crazy enough to launch an attack on the United States. Please extend my analysis on this point.

2. Middle East Democracy: Establishing Iraq as a democracy has costs, but let’s look at the value. The last two nations we have done this with (Germany and Japan) are now two of our closest allies. Even if we don’t become this close to Iraq, it still isn’t likely to turn into the enemy that Saddam was. In addition, Iraq provides another democracy in the midst of a very totalitarian Middle East. This can be an example for other Arab nations.

This is not like Iran. The people there are voting and participating. Iran is a fake democracy with a dictator. Iraq’s government has the support of the tribal leaders and will inevitably be successful. Iraq is far more likely to look like Turkey in 10 years than it is to look like Iran. Please extend my previous analysis on this point.

3. Al Qaeda Funding: As mentioned above, Al Qaeda is now an enemy of the Arab world, which will cause its inevitable destruction. Al Qaeda is responsible for more American deaths than we have seen in Iraq. This is in addition to the huge cost of fighting a war on terror indefinitely. This, in and of itself, makes the Iraq war worth fighting.

4. Israel: There is a contradiction here. First Daine tells us that Saddam was more powerful than Iran and kept them in check; however, he then states that Iran is a bigger threat than Saddam was to Israel and the United States. But fine, I’ll drop any potential benefit to Israel discussed here because, as Daine said, they can take care of themselves.

5. Greenspan: Daine completely concedes Greenspan’s assertion that fighting the Iraq war was worth it if the only benefit we received was preventing Saddam from disrupting the oil supply. (He notes, as well, that this was not Bush’s intention.)

Our economy is incredibly dependent upon foreign oil. Saddam’s ability to cut us off from his oil could seriously shock the economy. Greenspan, probably the most respected economist in the United States by both political parties, says this alone would have made Iraq worth it. Daine concedes this benefit, which a leading expert says was worth the cost.

6. Libya: The presence of a nuclear Libya cannot have been good. They were trying, and they were certainly funding terrorism--something they stopped after our invasion.

7. UN: The corruption at the UN is a big deal because it removed the only weapon (short of war) that the world has in dealing with rogue nations. We’re currently dealing with Iran, North Korea, and Cuba. In each of these cases, we would be more likely to go to war had Chirac and Kofi Annan been trading around the sanctions.

There are many benefits of the invasion of Iraq. Whether or not you agree with President Bush or think he was correct to invade at the time is NOT the subject of this debate. Our agreed-upon criteria is a cost-benefit analysis to America based upon what we know now. Please evaluate these serious benefits and recognize that what you may believe started as a blunder has turned out to be a beneficial move for the United States.

Daine: How many American troops died between the Gulf Wars, when we were keeping Saddam in check?

Tyler: None of which I am aware. I meant this purely in terms of the financial cost, and the eventual cost if his successors became more violent.

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