Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Origins v. Beginnings

Ben Brumfield notes that the distinction between the pretext for war and the actual causes of war -- highlighted in the present by the Downing Street Memos -- has ancient roots. It sounds as though Polybius would not have bought the WMD argument....

5 comments:

Ben Brumfield said...

In my opinion, Polybius would have recognized the WMD argument as a pretext -- a casus belli unrelated to the causes for war.

It seems to me that the whole WMD/Downing Street Memo flap really illustrates a disconnect between people who have thought for years that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a very good idea, and that an invasion was not that bad a way to go about doing it, and people who have never thought this to be the case.

The former (with whom I sympathize) regarded WMD as a pretext -- the dotting the I sand crossing the Ts necessary to do something that had been planned for a while. This is why revelations that the Saddamm had no WMDs, or that Bush and Blair were hoping to remove Saddam before they made the WMD case just roll off their back -- it's largely an irrelevancy.

It's harder for me to understand the opposite position, which apparently believes that the WMD argument was the cause of the war as well as the pretext for it. This argument seems to be that the decision to invade should have resulted from some sort of duduction-from-first-principles based exclusively on the WMD evidence presented to the UN. Revelations that plans had been made before that apparently seem to be a betrayal.

Ahistoricality said...

Well, if the administration had presented its case more as the former than the latter, we'd not be having these discussions.

More to the point, even allowing for my intense glee at Saddam Hussein's downfall, it would have been nice if the pretext for war had not been a false pretext presented with malice aforethought. Or if the planning for post-war Iraq had been as effective as engineering the pretext. Something....

Ben Brumfield said...

Well, if the administration had presented its case more as the former than the latter, we'd not be having these discussions.

And likely they'd have faced even more opposition from the international community. After all, the argument "so-and-so is bad and should be knocked off for the good of his own people, the region, and humanity in general" could as easily be applied to justify regime change in Zimbabewe, or invasion of Darfur.

it would have been nice if the pretext for war had not been a false pretext

Of course. I'm not arguing for the invasion -- just trying to explain why the revelation that the administration (and previous administrations) had been planning for it beforehand, and only afterwards looking for justifications is so unpersuasive to a large proportion of the public. Other arguments — like the poor planning for occupation you note, or even that the costs of invasion so outweigh the benefits that it should never have been attempted — are likely to be persuasive, as they address causes and effectiveness rather than a flimsy pretext that most invasion supporters are perfectly comfortable acknowledging as such.

Myself, I was on the fence about the war, and the resulting mess did lead me to reluctantly vote Democratic in 2004. Nevertheless, it's impossible for me to see the memos as the sort of revelation that some on the left apparently do, and I suspect that the effort to hype them will be time wasted.

Ahistoricality said...

I'm not under the impression that "most invasion supporters" are as sanguine about the memos as you, but I guess we'll see. At this point the flaws in the operational side are so self-evident (notwithstanding last night's attempt at cautious cheerleading by the formerly incautious cheerleader) that the memos are useful as a wedge against the administration's self-presentation as honest, open and trustworthy. In other words, it may not produce impeachments (obviously, with a Republican-led congress, nothing short of gay sex with an intern in the halls of Congress would produce that) but it does make it easier to challenge Administration statements on other matters.

And I'm not sure how much more opposition from the international community they could have faced without becoming the target of a UN-led invasion force....

Ben Brumfield said...

I've added some more Polybius over at Horizon. You'll probably like it.