Political Weblogging

I beg to differ on Iraq

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

In an earlier posting, I criticized Glenn Reynolds for his debating tactics. I said that he was using his influence to control the flow of discourse, and I stand by this statement. In fact I stand by it quite strongly. However, though he may control the flow of discourse, the debates rage unimpeded.

Earlier today, Doc wrote:


Glenn is right to say the arguments against the war, from the New York Times to the feeble peaceblogging movement (which isn’t one, since it seems to consist at the moment of a few reluctant volunteers), are late to the game and go lame when they stoop to name-calling.


While I don’t agree with Doc that peaceblogging is that scarce, or that reluctant, or even that late to the game, I do agree with Doc that name calling isn’t accepted debating technique. However, I’m not sure what debating techniques are allowed in this particular forum, or who is making the rules for same. Still, I will attempt to enter the fray with what I hope will be an acceptable argument, if rebuttal is considered an acceptable debating tactic. Specifically, in this particular post, I’ll refute arguments postulated by Eric Olsen, saving refutation of other’s opinions for other postings.

Eric Olsen responded to my earlier posting questioning his assertions. Firstly, he credited Doc for bringing a new community to the discussion about Iraq, example member of which I assume he means me. Though our paths have not crossed, I hasten to assure Eric that I’m more than aware of the warblogger discussions, about Iraq and other issues, and have been for many months. My involvement today was based more on enough interest being generated to overcome my natural disinclination to get involved in these debates, not from the fact that I was only today introduced to these issues.

However as that may be, Eric counters my posting with a clarification of his viewpoint, primarily consisting of the fact the US and Israel aren’t fighting a war of retribution, but one of prevention. In Eric’s view, to be effective the war must be extended to other countries, principally Saudi Arabia (using the appropriate name for the country since this is addressed to a wider audience), to ‘root out’ the Islamist virus.

Eric at that point feels that no further argument is necessary to explain aggressive behavior on the part of the US and Israel against these other countries, including, one assumes Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He then continues into a discussion about taking a decisive action in irradicating this ‘virus’:


What is more humane, a protracted struggle or a quick, decisive one? That is the question, the answer to which more and more political bloggers are saying “get it done now and be over with it for the sake of all involved, including those led to believe that their struggle can somehow, someway be won.” This cruel hope is what needs to be crushed, to be rooted out for the sake of the West (including Israel), and for the sake of a billion Muslims worldwide.


To summarize your viewpoint, Eric, You are suggesting that the US enters a country that is not currently in an aggressive posture with either ourselves or our allies, overthrow the legal government of said country, and replace it with one of our own choosing. When you strip away the allegorical content, that is what you are suggesting. Not only for Saudi Arabia, but also Iraq, and possibly other countries.

Eric, I don’t believe you’ve sufficiently proved out your argument that an invasion of Saudi Arabia, and we assume Iraq, must be a given. You’ve mentioned this Islamist (please provide definition of Islamist for general audience) virus with an epicenter in Saudi Arabia, yet from my understanding of the politial situation in Suadi Arabia, the ruling family is trying, with great effort, to prevent this same Islamist element from gaining more influence within the country. In fact, in my opinion, this is most likely one of the main reasons why Saudi Arabia has not come out more strongly against ‘terrorism’ — the ruling family’s hold is tenuous at best. Any agreement with us is going to make their position even more tenuous.

If anything, we should be helping the Saudis, not trying to invade the country and disrupt the delicately balanced political environment.

I don’t agree with the Saudis on many of the ruling elite’s social measures, particularly those associated with women. However, these issues are incidental to this debate, and I enter them only to clarify that I support the political position of the Saudis without necessarily supporting the Saudis personally. Bluntly, a Middle East with Saudi Arabia in turmoil is a much less stable environment, and a larger danger to Israel and the US then the current political situation.

As for invading Iraq, I have no recourse but to fall back on law when discussing why we can’t invade Iraq. According to international law, we have no evidence to support our accusations about Iraq creating new weapons of mass destruction, nor do we have evidence of Iraq’s involvement with Al-Queda, or with the Palestinians. There is no immediate threat from Iraq, other than the possibility, however good this possibility may seem, that Iraq is funding terrorism and developing biological and chemical weapons in violation of UN security rulings. Without immediate threat, we have no legal basis for an invasion.

I could continue with other reasons why we can’t legally invade Iraq.
However, there’s an FPIF report that lists these, so I’ll submit this now as part of my argument, open to rebuttal of course.

As a personal summation, though, I did want to add that no matter how much we believe that Saddam Hussein is planning heinous actions, and no matter how sure we are that he’s financing terrorism, if we act in violation of international law (law that we have relied on in the past), then we have become, in efft, the world’s worst nightmare — a US no longer bound and constrained by law.

If we have no legal basis for an invasion, we have no strategic basis either. If we invade Iraq, we will do so without the support of any ally in that area (except Israel). This means that the invasion must be managed without the support of many of our current military installations in the region. In addition, the bonds between the differing Arab countries, loose bonds at the best of times, will strengthen and we will, most likely, see other countries in the region ‘side’ with Iraq, even though traditionally they may not agree with Hussein.

At this point we would, literally, be an invading army surrounded by enemies, in a land that we don’t know, separated by great distances from a base of support. All of this without the support of most of the world, including many strong allies.

As an example of our experience with invasion into a country in the Middle East, let’s examine our intervention in Afghanistan. Though our intervention there was in conjunction with an ongoing struggle, with nominal approval of the people in the region, it has been less than successful. In fact, we are still rooting out Al-Queda members, and the political situation in the country runs from fragile to fragile, week after week. And this despite the facts that the invasion of Afghanistan occurred with help and support from surrounding countries, and with at least tepid approval from most of our allies.

Now we’re more or less permanently committed to the region because if we leave in the forseeable future, chances are the country will destablize — as happened to give the Taliban power in Afghanistan in the first place.

Eric, there’s a reason why the military has been against the invasion of Iraq. From a purely dispassionate viewpoint, there is no advantage to the US or to Israel to invade Irag now. Strategically, we won’t win. We might bomb the hell out of the country, but we won’t win. We might kill Saddam Hussein, or capture him, but we won’t win. All we’ll do is kill a whole lot of people, massively damage the country, destablize the region, create a whole group of new enemies, force more people into the underground as terrorists, and build yet more reason to fight a new battle, this one taken to the streets and the buildings and the churches and the schools of the US.

Ultimately, when you seek to defeat and humiliate a foe using superior force, he will use any means — any means — to fight back. He does not become malleable.


Strategically, there is no short-term or long-term advantage to the US or to Israel to invading Iraq in violation of international law, and without support of allies. As much as many of you despise the UN, our best approach, at this time and with our current knowledge of the situation in the Middle East, is to work with the UN security council.


Good-bye Goto Man

I wanted to take a brief break in my foray into warblogging debate by joining with Dave Winer in a sad farewell to Edsger Dijkstra.

There isn’t a computer scientist in the world who hasn’t read, with appreciation, the classic ACM paper Go To Statement Considered Harmful. Dijkstra applied the cleanliness of mathematical principle to the clutter and ad hoc nature of programming languages, a marriage that has born fruit with improvements in programming language design, as well as increased use of good programming practices. He, more than any other person, helped make applications maintainable.

I specialized in programming language and language design with my own computer degree, and I’ve worked with over 20 programming languages in the last several years. And in each and every one, Dijkstra’s influence was felt.

Thanks, professor. You done good.

Political Weblogging

The debate falters, lying broken in the dust

Yesterday I accepted the challenge issued by the so-called warbloggers to engage in an ongoing debate about war in Iraq; to put forth arguments without recourse to personal attacks. I believe that I accomplished this, writing up both legal and strategic reasons against war in Iraq and not once engaging in character assassination.

My regular readers are probably wondering why I bother, as these debates rarely go anywhere. (Especially since I’m under such a tight book deadline. Yeah, yeah, and ThreadNeedle is overdue, too.)

Past experience has shown that when those in my virtual neighborhood engage in said debates, we’re usually ignored by the warbloggers, or personally impugned. Rarely are our arguments directly referenced, with the point by point rebuttal or dispassionate cross-examination that marks good debating technique. Why tilt at the warblogger windmills?

What can I say, my lance was dull and needed sharpening, and my horse is fat and needs exercise.

Joking aside, debate is a remarkably effective method of finding which of our arguments are sound, and which are so full of holes they’d sink if floated on water. And there are many decisions being made in the US (and most likely other countries) based on some very leaky arguments. Good debate is a quality assurance process.

Since the first rule of debate is to define the subject, from this point on for this particular debate I’m going to label the sides pro-invasion for those in favor of invasion of Iraq; and anti-invasion for those against. The whole warblogger, anti-warblogger, peaceblogger labeling is getting tiring–time to start addressing specific issues rather than dump each other into dismissive categories.

On to the debate:

Eric did respond to Alan’s posting on the analogy of post-war Japan and humiliation, though as you’ll read from my comments, I felt that he didn’t adress Allan’s writing specifically. He also didn’t address Jonathon’s excellent posting, though has said he is writing more on this issue later. As for my own posting, he responded here and here. However, he also wrote:

Burningbird senses a weariness on my part to engage in a point by point debate. This is so because I sense we have no common ground whatsoever. That is why I have presented detailed overviews on the various issues: they indicate where I am coming from.

Eric, if we agreed, there’d be nothing to debate.

Den Beste wrote:


I favored the war in Afghanistan. I favor war in Iraq. I hate the prospect, but I consider all the alternatives to be even worse, and I believe that the longer we wait, the worse the cost of the war (to us) will be, and since I consider such a war unavoidable then the sooner the better. But entering a war is a major political decision and it unquestionably should happen only with emergence of public consensus, based on reasoned understanding of the issues by the public, which I believe can best be fostered by public debate. After Pearl Harbor, no such public debate was needed to create a consensus for war against Japan, but since I’m advocating a preemptive attack against another nation instead of a direct response to a direct attack by that nation, then we have the luxury of time for a debate, and an obligation to engage in one.


And I have been trying, off and on, to engage those who strongly disagree with me in such debate for months now, largely fruitlessly. Perhaps I chose the wrong forum to issue my challenge, given that those on the other side of the political fence who participated there at the time also tended to subscribe to a whole mishmash of post-modern multicultural dogma, to the extent that we couldn’t even come to an agreement about the fundamentals of epistemology, let along tackle the actual political issues. At the time I dismissed those epistemological concepts as “Berkeley Rules”, and in reaction I was myself dismissed as a bully and an insensitive boor who didn’t understand what a social gaffe it was for me to actually tell someone that they were wrong about something and to try to prove it to them and everyone else.

While Den Beste is a pro-invasion and I’m anti-invasion, I do agree with him about the importance of debate of this issue.

I haven’t seen any polls in regards to invading Iraq, but if any has been conducted, I wouldn’t be surprised that at least 50% of the people in my country believe we should invade Iraq. Their reasons vary, but chances are they’re reflected in what we read within the weblogs. Time to start talking. Time to start the debate.

Update: Eric did respond to Jonathon’s post with an extensive post of his own. However, me thinks the debate on the Iraq invasion between us has run its course.

Probably for the best.