Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The War, Its Consequences and Good Judgment

Something US West said in a recent comment has got me thinking. She said that Obama has still not shown that he has good judgement - aside from the war. And she said that wasn't enough. OK, fair enough. But the war is a pretty big thing to point to.

When Bush started the call to war, he argued that Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaeda and that he was working on developing nuclear and chemical weapons. Neither turned out to be true. Bush's supporters will say that at the time, it was a consensus in the intelligence community (they most like to point to French reports) that the WMD claim was correct. US West (I believe) has posted about how citing the French reports in support of the invasion is playing fast and loose with what the French intelligence reports actually said.

But let's talk about the consequences of the war. First, the war has killed between 600,000 and a million Iraqis. Second, over 3,000 US military deaths due to hostile fire (along with several hundred military deaths among our allies). If we include deaths due to vehicle accidents and other non-hostile fire causes, the number approaches 4,000. Third, it has cost the US over $500 billion and counting (about $275 million per day). Some reports are that the expected costs could top $1 trillion.

The tragedy of the human costs are obvious. The economic costs are nevertheless important. First, our national deficit is due in large part to the war (and Bush's tax cuts). Second, the war itself is retarding the world oil supply by keeping Iraq, one of the world's leading producers, producing far below capacity. Third, the deficit is closely tied to the recent rise in interest rates which lead to the wave of foreclosures. Fourth, our deficit is also tied to the high cost of oil because the value of the dollar is lower than its been in years. Since oil is purchased in dollars, it now takes more of them to buy the same amount of oil (even without the supply problems). The rise in oil prices is driving prices up for everything - inflation.

So how does this relate to good judgement? Because it was all predictable - and predicted - back in 2003 when Bush called for the war. Numerous academics predicted these dire consequences. Indeed, I can't think of any reputable political scientists or international relations scholars who said the war would be worth it (except for Condy Rice). What's more reports that the Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and wasn't preparing nuclear or chemical weapons were circulating even before the war started.

And yet, Bush pressed for war and many in the Senate - including Democrats went along with it. The Republican who went along can say they were following their party leader - but then they have to explain why they chose such an idiot to lead them. Democrats who voted for the war either did not foresee the outcomes discussed above or they were more willing to risk them than risk going against a President who was (shocking though it may seem now) was popular at the time. Hillary Clinton was one of those Democrats.

In 2003 she voted in favor of Bush's war resolution. Since then she has taken a gradually more and more anti-war stance. At first she was echoing people like Lieberman when she said, "failure is not an option." But as it became more and more clear that Democrats would not tolerate a pro-war candidate, she modified her position to favor withdrawal.

The reason Obama can get mileage out of his saying that he showed good judgement on Iraq is because it is probably the one decision in the last 20 years that had the highest stakes for our country. And Clinton made a grotesquely wrong choice on it. Any other decision, about which particular type of health care reform to favor or which amendment to vote for in some Senate bill, pales in comparison.


Dr. Strangelove said...

RbR makes excellent points about the war: that it was disastrous, and predictably so. He makes a lot of good points here. And I agree that history has shown overwhelmingly that Obama's instinct was right about the war. Yet I believe Hillary's decision to vote for the resolution was also correct. I know that sounds contradictory at first, so please let me try to explain.

Back when all this started (September 2002) some of you may recall that I also supported a "Yes" vote on the resolution to authorize the use of force in Iraq. I supported the resolution for pretty much the same reasons Hillary cited when she explained her vote on the floor of the Senate back then. I won't dredge those reasons up again because we've all been over it a lot. But I would like to remind everyone that voting for the Iraq Resolution was not actually identical to voting in favor of going to war.

I believe Hillary and Obama were both right, even though they came to opposite conclusions, because they were working from different sets of information when they framed their views. In his deservedly famous 2002 speech, Obama acknowledged that Saddam Hussein had developed chemical and biological weapons, but he added, "I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors..." That statement was contradicted by the classified intelligence briefings given to Senators at that time.

Raised By Republicans said...

I genuinely we have the contents of those briefings available?

It would be one thing if the Senators were getting "slam dunk" analysis from the CIA but it would be quite another if they had access to the "unfiltered" raw intelligence data.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Clinton has stated that she voted to authorize the President to use force in order to give him negotiating leverage. She has said that she did not think she was authorizing war and nothing else. That runs contrary to Dr.S's suggestion that Clinton was authorizing war based on the clear and present danger presented by Saddam Hussein.

Does anyone really think that Hillary Clinton did anything other than decide that war was coming and that she couldn't politically afford to oppose it? Isn't the real question she asks of Obama when she challenges him for not being in the Senate at the time just asking: wouldn't he also have made the same political calculation?

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG: I think you misunderstood what I was saying, or I was unclear. Hillary felt the President required maximal negotiating leverage with Saddam because she believed that he posed a direct threat.

And yes, I believe Hillary voted for the Iraq resolution because she felt it was right, and because of some personal history. She saw how the Republicans opposed Clinton's war with Kosovo and was still smarting from that. She made references to that in her speech.

The contents of those briefings remain classified. However, we have heard news reports of what was in them, and everything I have heard in the open press indicates that Senators were given the "slam dunk" analysis. We have heard that caveats the CIA would have liked to add were often relegated to footnotes--but even so, there was little debate in the intelligence community about the core premises that Saddam was stockpiling WMD. As for access to unfiltered raw intelligence data, that is almost never passed up the food chain. It might even just be categorically never.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I just re-read my comment and realized I left out something important. I said I believed Hillary voted for the Iraq resolution for reasons of policy and personal conviction. But I want to be clear that is not the whole story. (And I did not say this before, though I should have.)

What LTG said is also true. Surely Hillary also looked at the political implications. (I'm sure every Senator did, but never mind.) For all I know, those political implications/calculations were the deciding factor for her. I expect she will always weigh the political consequences before deciding. But I do not believe she will always do the easy or safe thing, politically speaking. I think that last part is the heart of where LTG and I differ about Hillary.

USwest said...

FYI: reread my comment, please. I never said that Obama has failed to show good judgment. I said that he couldn't come up with anything other than his anti war vote. Perhaps he should talk to RBR about preparing a better answer to that question.

no argument about the colossal mistake that Iraq was and is. But I am not 100% sure of what all of Obama's thinking was behind his vote. I really hope it was all the things RBR stated.

As for Hilliary, another political calculation that she might have been looking at was the Jewish voters in her state. I don't recall where Israel was on the war issue. My guess is that they were quite concerned about Saddam and would have been supportive of quick, decisive action.

USWest said...

Just another thought:

I have read many of Dr. S' comments and I see how they are being interpreted incorrectly and he is having to restate things, etc. He has been very diplomatic here. And I see how my own comment was taken to an extreme that was surprising to me.

People, I hope that the rather strong devotion to Obama that LTG and RBR have isn't clouding the clarity of their usually cogent analysis.

One thing that concerns me is the cult of personality both Obama and Hillary are becoming. She gets deamonized, he gets "Oprahized" and we end up in a split party.

We had this personality cult thing before and the result was GW. I've warned about this in previous comments. Now neither HRC nor Obama are evil or stupid as is GW. However, I fear that one unintended consequence of the long primary season is that the candidates have become personalities and celebrities rather than potential leaders of the free world. I fear that voters will fall into the same trap that they did with GW: we like him, he makes us feel good. So let's vote for GW. Some crap, different day, different people.

I go back and forth over who is better, HRC or Obama. What I find is that Obama irritates me more for some reason. But I am not thrilled with HRC. But I at the end of the day, I think she is a little more honest. I think Obama will talk about no torture, no this, no that, close Gitmo, etc but I think once in office, he is going to have a hard time following through on this. And neither of these people is going to pull troops out of Iraq. It took 2 years to get out of Iraq 100% in 1991 after a 100 day war. Don't think you can just move people out in 1 year after 5 years of war and with over 100K contractors in the place. So when I hear Obama saying all the "right" things, I feel like I am being conned.

Now, with that, my friends, I am off to France for 3 weeks. Maybe I will feel more idealistic after 3 weeks of eating pastries and drinking wine!

Dr. Strangelove said...

Enjoy your pastries and wine, USWest. And thank you for your comments.

I have become more comfortable with Obama as the nominee over the past few weeks. While I have in the past argued as you do that Hillary feels "a little more honest" in some respects... And I still mostly feel that way... I have more respect for the ability of Obama and his team to accomplish what they say they will. I am at least more comfortable with the idea that I am willing to give it a try.

I think the personality cult thing is worrisome. To me, that is what starts to make the gulf between Hillary supporters and Obama supporters unbridgeable. That is what truly threatens to split the party. Because once the golden idols start to take on a life of their own--once the images of the candidates eclipse the candidates themselves--Hillary and Obama will lose their power to heal the split in the party.

USWest said...

You are too nice. Obama bugs me the way some men started to bug me after 3 dates. All of the sudden, the very thought of them started to make my skin crawl. Once that happens, the whole affair is over. So I'm in with HRC. If Obama gets nominated, he will have a very hard task with me to convince me to vote for him rather than sit out the election altogether.

That's bad, I know. But I'm sick and tired of the whole thing. And I am not alone. I think many people are in the same spot. It's gone on and drug out and we are sick of it. Time for vacation . . . I love Paris in the spring time . . .

Dr. Strangelove said...

"Obama bugs me the way some men started to bug me after 3 dates."

I wouldn't know. Gay men don't usually bother to go past the first date... :-)