A “Debate” on Iraq Yesterday

A “Debate” on Iraq

Yesterday I posted some thoughts on why I oppose initiating a war with Iraq. Mark Brady sent me a rather strange response, which I have reproduced below, along with my responses to his ‘arguments.’ The odd thing is that my posting was in opposition to war with Iraq, but evidently merely being opposed to war with Iraq is not enough for some people. I sent back to Mark an email indicating that I found his missive unimpressive (the term I used in my private email was ‘childish,’ which I regret repeating in public, since “unimpressive” is less inflammatory and more accurate). He responded as follows:

Enough of the debating rhetoric, get to grips with the argument(s) I make.

So, here is my attempt to ‘get to grips with the argument(s)’ Mark thinks he has made. (Mark has reproduced my words interspersed with his observations, after which I have inserted in italics my responses.)


Tom Palmer posted his remarks today, Tuesday, November 19, 2002 at
www.tomgpalmer.com. Here is the complete text in which I [Mark Brady] have inserted my observations.

War with the Iraqi state? Confessions of an Unenthusiastic Opponent

TGP: I’m not convinced that the U.S. should go to war against Iraq.

JMB: That sounds more like the words of an unenthusiastic proponent.

TGP RESPONSE: That does not sound like an argument, but it is a remarkable suggestion: If you are not enthusiastically opposed to war, perhaps under any circumstances, then you are a proponent of war.

TGP: But you can’t be undecided about war. Because war is so terrible, there’s a very high hurdle to be overcome before going to war. The default position is, then, no war. So if you’re not for a war, you’ve got to be against it.

JMB: Better.

TGP RESPONSE: I presume that this means that Mark agrees.

TGP: But my position is not the adamant opposition of most opponents of war with Iraq. Evidence of the proper sort could convince me to be in favor of war. And if in favor of war, then in favor of victory.

That evidence would have to be evidence of credible danger of an Iraqi attack on the United States.

JMB: But who’s to say what constitutes a “credible danger”? There is no evidence that Iraq could attack the United States.

TGP RESPONSE: The ‘who’s to say?’ question could be posed about any issue. ‘Who’s to say’ that Osama bin Laden directed the attack on the U.S? ‘Who’s to say’ that Iraq attacked Iran or Kuwait? That is about as serious a response as a child repeating ‘Why?’ to every remark made by an adult. If there were evidence that Saddam Hussein might provide smallpox or a suitcase nuke to Al-Qaeda terrorists, then that would be evidence of the potential for an attack, and we would have to rely on the same mechanisms that we would have to rely on in to be informed of another Al-Qaeda attack. As to the evidence that Iraq could attack the United States, no one has asserted that Saddam Hussein might or could launch a ground attack on the U.S. But after the spectacular terrorist attacks of 9-11 and the arrests in Europe of alleged terrorists who have allegedly planned to launch attacks on Strasbourg and London and to massacre infidels when they leave their churches, who could take seriously the claim that there is no evidence that a committed enemy could attack the U.S?

TGP: Yet more evidence that Saddam Hussein is evil, that he personally tortures his opponents to death, or that he runs a totalitarian terror-state won’t convince me to be for war. Those are all good reasons for someone to kill the man and for Iraqis to overthrow his wicked regime, but they are not good reasons for the United States government to engage in an offensive war.

JMB: Good.

TGP RESPONSE: ‘I agree’ would seem to be a more serious response than ‘Good.’

TGP: The evidence that would convince me would be evidence of a threat to the U.S. And the inspectors may yet find it.

JMB: And the moon may be made of cheese.

TGP RESPONSE: Is this one of the arguments to which Mark insisted that I respond?

TGP: One disturbing thing about the unfolding of events is the likelihood that Saddam Hussein is frantically seeking or developing nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons in response to the announced intention of the U.S. administration to seek a ‘regime change.’

JMB: Is there any likelihood that he can acquire such weapons in the next few weeks or even months?

TGP: He might have some of the necessary capabilities now and a few months just might give him enough time to make them operational. What would anyone bet that he’s not trying to do so now? We have pretty good evidence that he has used poison gas against the Kurds, that he has had in the past rather sizable amounts of biological weapons, and that he has made very serious attempts to obtain nuclear weapons. I think that we should all be grateful to the Israelis (as are, I suspect, Saddam’s neighbors in Syria, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey, even if most would never admit it) for Israel’s 1981 raid that took out the French-built Osirak-type nuclear reactor, which was turning out plutonium.

TGP: ‘Regime change’ in democratic regimes means that the previous holders of power go into opposition. In Iraq it means that they’re
shot ‘ if they’re lucky. If they’re not lucky, they’re slowly cut to bits by the new holders of power. And that means that the
administration has told Saddam Hussein, his psychopathic sons, and the other top power holders in regime that they’ve got nothing to lose. They’re going to die.

JMB: So why doesn’t the U.S. offer safe exit to Saddam Hussein, his family, and his cronies?

TGP RESPONSE: That’s a reasonable question. It’s hard to imagine, however, how such a commitment would be credible to Saddam Hussein and his gang. Who would want them? How could they trust a host regime not to kill them once they had no power and the checks had cleared? It would certainly be a better option than going to war, although it would be hard to make such commitments credible to such ruthless killers as Saddam Hussein, who might find it difficult to imagine making and keeping a commitment when you don’t have to do so anymore.

TGP: Under those circumstances, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that the regime is seeking weapons with which to threaten the United States, if not actually planning an attack.

JMB: No, Iraq can’t threaten the U.S., only neighboring countries and invading U.S. troops.

TGP RESPONSE: The claim that the Iraqi state can’t threaten the U.S. sounds like it was made before terrorist sleeper cells, suitcase nukes, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disperson of its nuclear bomb-making materials, the possibility of smallpox attack, the production of a variety of poison gases by the Iraqi state, and much, much more. Mark simply denies what many people assert, and he seems to assume that the only way a state or terrorist gang can threaten the U.S. is with traditional invasions using ground troops. This is 2002, not 1902.

TGP: And if they’re planning an attack, then we would be justified in attacking first.

JMB: Observe how TGP moves from talking about “the [U.S.] administration” to “we”.

TGP RESPONSE: Mark may not be a very subtle reader. The shift in subject was deliberate. The ‘U.S. administration’ has taken steps, some of which may in fact put ‘us’ at risk of a terrible and devastating attack. Under those circumstances, ‘we’ may be justified in supporting or demanding a preemptive response. “We” may also be justified in insisting that the “U.S. administration” change policies in the future, so as not to expose us to such risks. But I have no intention of dying because “my” government did something stupid, like stationing troops in Saudi Arabia. Get the troops out and stop exposing us to risks. But it’s always too late to change the past.

TGP: So we may be justified in going to war to prevent an attack that was made more attractive to Saddam Hussein by policies of the United States that were announced as a response to the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s vicious regime.

JMB: But where is the evidence that Iraq is capable of making an “imminent threat [to the U.S.]”?

TGP RESPONSE: Again, Mark should spend more time reading before he reacts. My little essay was against a war, not in favor of it. I spelled out the conditions under which I would support waging war. Those conditions do not now obtain. But they might in future. And if they were to obtain, then ‘we may be justified in going to war to prevent an attack.” Anyone who parses the grammar will see that I was not saying that there is, in fact, evidence that Iraq is a threat. I used what is called a ‘conditional statement’: ‘If A were true, then B would be justified.’ That is not the same as writing that ‘A is true.’

TGP: I’m still unclear about how to think about that.

JMB: Keep thinking, Tom.

TGP RESPONSE: That’s just what I intend to do. I find the issues difficult and the answers not always easy. I am troubled by the problem of the proper response to a situation of peril that may be created by the actions of ‘our own’ government. And I can be swayed by evidence and arguments one way or the other. I just didn’t hear much of either from Mark Brady.


I am reminded by this odd exchange with Mark of a letter that I got from another reader who requested an explanation of the blog note I posted after a ‘Palestianian State Now!’ rally in D.C., which included the sentence that ‘I’m not a big fan of Israel, but I’m also not blind to the fact that Israel is a much better place to live than any of its Arab neighbors.’ The writer stated, “Such a statement [‘I’m not a big fan of Israel’], I think, is provocative enough to warrant further explanation.” I explained what I took it to mean to be ‘a big fan of Israel’ and said that I do not hold those views, so I’m not “a big fan.” I have no special animosity toward Israel and wish the population there nothing but good. My essay was about how I am well disposed toward Israel, with all its faults, and not to those Palestinian nationalists whose dream state would massacre Jews, hunt down and murder homosexuals, and initiate a regime in the occupied territories more terrible than even Israeli military occupation has entailed. (And Israeli military occupation seems to have been quite awful.) In that exchange I was rebuked for merely being favorable to Israel, but not ‘a big fan.’ In Mark’s odd ‘arguments’ I am rebuked for being against war with Iraq, but not for being against war under ‘ it seems ‘ all circumstances. I don’t hold the view that your worst enemies are those who share most of your views, but it seems that plenty of other people do.