Saturday, May 22, 2004

Opposing the war in Iraq

Old Post: I give a spirited defense of the war in Iraq here, during my first week blogging. But that's only part of the story.

Believe it or not, I was not always for the Iraq war. Back in January of 2003, I was very skeptical about the whole enterprise. The main reason was because Bush had made WMDs the centerpoint of his argument, and I wasn't certain of his evidence. Yes, this sounds very snide coming now after we haven't found the WMDs we expected (although we've certainly found some). At the time, my doubts came from being an experimentalist. As an experimentalist, when not taking data, I was analyzing it. This involves a lot of looking at meaningless data points and trying to figure out what they mean, looking for patterns that indicate some phenomenon. I always figured it was similar to what analysts at intelligence agencies do. Separating the signal from the noise is hard enough, even harder for intelligence agencies than experimentalists, but even when you're sure of the facts, it's not always obvious what they mean. When analyzing data, it's very easy to see what you expect to see, even when it's not really there. And thus, before the Iraq war, I was skeptical, since the evidence the Bush administration presented, while weighty, wasn't conclusive, and I had no way of knowing how well they had separated the signal from the noise in the first place (by noise I mean things that simply weren't true, while by signal I mean facts that you may or may not know how to interpret). It bothered me that there was no smoking gun, even with all the intelligence efforts and the weapon inspections.

I guess I wasn't really anti-war, however. Every time I got into a debate with my friends about it, I found myself on the pro-war side. Usually this was because they used the weakest anti-war arguments available, "It's all about the oil!" and "What about international law?" and "Saddam was never a threat!" and "Bush is just trying to avenge the family honor!" All of these were patently false, and war-skeptic that I was, I had to at least disabuse them of these arguments. If they were going to oppose the war, they should use good reasons. Here are the reasons why I thought the war might be a bad idea:

1. The US did not have the will to pursue a successful war against Iraq. Of course, at the time, I did not expect Saddam's government to collapse in three weeks, but this has been somewhat borne out in the opposition to the continuing efforts in the media and the Democratic party, and how the loss of less than a 1000 soldiers is considered unacceptable casualties.

2. The Arab street. Don't laugh! I thought it possible the war in Iraq would spread to other nations. Fortunately, it didn't. My views on the Arab nations and their reactions were wrong, but given what I was reading in the news media, can you blame me?

3. Saddam's threat was overblown. I'm still not sure where I stand on this one, but given our more recent knowledge about his terrorist connections and his weapons program, I'm thinking he was more dangerous than I thought at the time.

4. International law. This was by far the weakest. As I said in my previous post on why I support the war, the international law case is open and shut. Saddam agreed to the terms of a ceasefire, he didn't keep it, therefore the war continued. The question is, with whom did Saddam agree to a ceasefire? The US? Then sure, we can declare the thing voided now that he's broken it and attack. However, if it was with the whole coalition of nations that forced him out of Kuwait, then who could declare it void? The US? The UN Security Council? Would all the nations that took part have to agree? I thought one could make a case for it being the Security Council, but I thought it a pretty weak case.

Now, as I said, I was a skeptic. I balanced the reasons for opposing it against the reasons for supporting it and I didn't know for certain where I stood. Once the war started, I went to full-support. Now that it was underway, we had to see it through, not only for our national prestige and honor (which may just seem to be nice sounding words, but these things are important when it comes to dealing with other nations, friendly and unfriendly), but for the sake of the Iraqis--I remembered what happened after the first Gulf War. It was around this time when I realized that the news media was giving me only parts of the story, talking about how badly we were doing when any fool could look at a map and see that we'd made astounding progress. So I started looking for alternative news sources. I found Glennreynolds.com on MSNBC invaluable for his ability to locate these other sources, which led me to Instapundit (Glenn's other blog), which introduced me to blogs in general. Once I started reading them, I also came to a better understanding of the war and the arguments for and against, which made it easier for me to decide where I stood.

So confession is good for the soul, eh? I'm not sure I meet Dean Esmay's definition of the biggest patriots, but I'll admit his post was part of the inspiration to write this. The other part was that for a long time I've been wanting to make the analogy between experimentalists and intelligence analysts when considering the case for Saddam's WMDs.

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