While some of the specific intelligence regarding Iraq has proven false, and some of it controversial, it may be helpful to look at just the intelligence that nobody seems to disagree with. The controversies make the front page more often but the non-controversial material is heavy stuff.
One frightening fact is that with access to raw materials, knowledge, and a few simple tools, a resourceful and intelligent organization can produce weapons of mass destruction cheaply, quickly, and stealthily. With a little work, they can likely transport them globally and deploy them, undetected until the moment of deployment. This fact is uncontroversial since it is just a summary description of a pretty obvious property of the state of humankind’s technological and economic development. (Here is proof that this fact is uncontroversial: When Colin Powell told the U.N. of trucks converted to biological weapons labs, not a single scientist in the entire world said “Oh, that’ s not feasible.”)
We also all seem to agree, although individual reports are sometimes wrong, that there certainly exist s a large, international black market for the raw materials, technology, knowledge, experts, and finished products of WMD production. In economic terms: Demand is up for the means to end the world!
And we know, sadly, that asymmetric warfare has been declared on the U.S. by a collection of private organizations who control lots of money and do things like set up training camps to prepare fighters with precisely the kinds of skill needed for stealthy WMD materials gathering, improvisation, construction, and deployment.
Nobody contests, either, that certain governments clearly harbor, assist, and otherwise link up with these private organizations. That’s because it’s not surprising: governments are points of control for otherwise largely unregulated and sometimes difficult-to-observe international commerce, travel, and communication. If one wants to participate in or help run a black market, one could hardly do better than to operate with the cover of a government office. Governments and black markets and private armies have a natural symbiotic relationship.
Now, Iraq certainly had a fine resume as one of those nations that reached out to terrorists and dabbled in black markets. That is interesting but not distinguishing. Iraq had other qualifications:
Other properties of Iraq nobody really argues about: The tyrannical nature of Saddam’s regime; the mass killings; the attempted territory grab of Kuwait; the systematic, vast, and unchecked prisoner abuse that makes Abu Graib look like a night out at the Power Exchange; the control of citizens via terror; procurement of women for rape by members of the elite; forcing Keystone Cops games with U.N. inspectors; redirecting aid and letting citizens starve; and ... maintaining a hostile posture towards the U.S.
Nobody seriously argues (any more): sanctions weren’t even close to working—they just helped filter all commerce through Saddam’s government thus giving him more power.
It’ s not controversial, either, that Iraq was weak in conventional military terms and is located in a key region that is central to the war on terror.
Although programs such as Oil for Food failed and experienced some discredit, we can say at least this much about them: For 10 years, the U.N. tried its damnedest to help Iraq “come in from the cold” and distinguish itself from those governments who, by their actions, promote terror. That program and other efforts didn’t have to end in corruption. Saddam had years and years in which to just say “Screw it. You guys are right. Let’s clean up this place.” Instead, he flung the occasional rocket at a U.S. fighter jet and tried to engage the U.N. in a little crude embezzlement scheme. If, during those 10 years, the top ranks of the Saddam regime had been replaced by, say, the Berkeley City Council—who had to operate under all the same sanctions and threats and trade opportunities—where do you think Iraq would be today? Do you think the U.N. or even the U.S. was making it hard for Saddam to transform Iraq in a positive direction?
So: We were (and are) faced with an overall enemy which is a strange mix of private organizations and governments and parts of governments. We are certain that that enemy is making alarming progress at training and deployment and the creation of a black market for trade in war materials. In Iraq we have a strategically inviting target (geographically, governmentally, politically, morally, economically, etc.) against which, we on the left must remember, an attack spells the end of an obscenely oppressive regime. We made all of this explicitly clear to the regime in question who had, in effect, but to lift a finger to free his people and avoid the present conflict. Our failure to act would have enabled our enemies to close the military vulnerabilities of Iraq and secure the black market of war as an impregnable force. There is no other conclusion but that we would have had to be suicidal to not attack Iraq at this particular point in history—by his actions, Saddam was promoting the devastation of our society and the efforts to which he contributed were and remain a significant threat. The reasonable person principle applies here: he had more than a decade to avert the present outcome.
Having attacked Iraq we see imperfect progress but progress nonetheless. The roots of a more individualistic, egalitarian, democratic, and free society are clearly taking hold, by all accounts. A region of people once enslaved to warring elites unified by their hostility to the U.S. is being transformed into a democratic region, ultimately to be governed, policed and protected by it’s own.
Towards a Progressive Agenda, Given War
There is no use crying over spilled milk. Of all possible outcomes to the conflict in Iraq, progressive values are certainly best served by a just, efficient, and swift suppression of the insurgency and an intensive, multi-modal integration of the new Iraq into the civilization of coalition forces. All other plausible outcomes harm progressive causes in deep ways. The left, as much as the reddest of red-state citizens, has a strong interest in supporting and helping the coalition to complete the victory, and helping to integrate the new Iraqi people with the rest of peace-oriented civilization.
Domestically, we are missing an opportunity. Progressives should be demonstrating their intellectual prowess by presenting the nation with a clear economic vision—worked out math, rough plans of action—for a just and sustainable domestic economy (or at least for an economy which trends in that direction). At this point in history we have a conjunction of domestic investment capital with not much to invest in, large numbers of un- or under-employed workers, and ecologically dubious consumption patterns. The left needs an intellectual center within which economic planning can contemplate that conjunction and propose steps that address all three problems at once with, dare I say it, marketable solutions.
Finally, the popular-media dialectic—red vs. blue states, left vs. right, conservatives vs. liberals—has got to go. A large, coherent, and justifiably angry coalition has formed largely in response to the soap-box politics of blue state newspapers and other media producers. In all our public forums it is de rigeur to make fun of right wingers and red staters to the point where we are practically denying their essential humanity. Then we turn around and are surprised when the large number of (often) hard-working, (often) family-oriented, (frequently) joyful, (fundamentally) loving people referred to in our snide remarks get wind of them, take note, and express alarm and organized resistance. The public image of the left in the U.S. is largely constructed by would-be progressives and is just about the opposite of an image consistent with being a leadership movement. In that sense, it's time for “the left” (such as it is) to apologize to the red states, embrace the common causes, and starting bringing diplomatically marketable good ideas back into politics.
Tom Lord is a Berkeley resident.?