Thursday, November 02, 2006

Andrew Coyne and perpetual suspicion

Oh lordy, Andrew Coyne is hip-deep in denial. Olaf links to this column, where Andrew says not only does he not regret his support for the Iraq war, but he manages to construct perhaps the least credible rationale for why the war is still supportable. Let's take it slowly:
If we say the world is a more dangerous place with Saddam gone, it seems to me we are obliged to give some thought to what the world would be like had Saddam remained. Fortunately, we have some inkling.... [The Duelfer Report] was the report that conclusively established that Saddam had no WMD after 1991, to the administration’s lasting embarrassment.

But what the report also established is that the sanctions regime to which Saddam was subject between the two Gulf wars... had all but collapsed. Much of this was owing to the infamous Oil for Food program, through which Saddam bribed international officials to look the other way as oil revenues intended to alleviate the suffering of his people were diverted into his own pocket, and thence to purchase arms and weapons technology abroad.
Yes, and Saddam was so successful in his arms purchases that not only did he defeat the Americans, but Iraqi tanks now sit in downtown Tel Aviv, right? What, you mean nothing like that ever happened? Less snarkily, what is this supposed to prove except what everyone already knew - that sanctions were failing at their avowed purpose? If you'll recall, Bush was saying in 2000 and 2001 that the sanctions regime needed to be reformed and rebuilt, and there was plenty of opportunity to do so short of war. If Coyne believes this was impossible, he never says why.
Moreover, as Duelfer makes clear, while Saddam had no supplies of WMD on hand, he had not disavowed the pursuit of WMD in future. Far from it: he intended to rebuild the programs just as soon as the last of the sanctions had withered away. And while Saddam was content to let the world believe he had WMD, at a time when he had none, there would have been no way of knowing when or if he had later acquired them: the UN inspectors, recall, that were supposed to be the alternative to war were only allowed back in because of the threat of war.
Yes, but it's equally clear - from post-war interrogations - that Saddam did not actually believe the Americans would attack Iraq. Up until the beginning of the war, Hussein believed the Americans were bluffing. This mean that Hussein complied simply because of the show of resolve by the UN Security Council, not because of the threat of war in which he did not believe.

You'll also note that Coyne ignores entirely the importance of a simple fact - the weapons inspectors found nothing, repeatedly disproved American allegations, because there were no WMDs to be found. In Coyne's narrative, the fact that the casus belli vanished before the first American boot crossed the Iraqi border is only briefly acknowledged before we move on to more irrelevancy.
All this, while oil was at $20 a barrel. Now imagine what Saddam might have done with $60 oil. Imagine his cachet with the Arab world, having stared down the UN, having seen off the sanctions, having rebuilt his military. Imagine his reaction to Iran’s nuclear program -- or for that matter, Iran’s reaction to his. We know that Saddam was well on his way to developing nuclear arms before the first Gulf War, or more specifically before the Israelis bombed the Osirik reactor. But why go through all that time and trouble, when today he could just buy them off the shelf from North Korea?
And then imagine what he'd do from his invincible Battlestar, with his massive Cylon army! Seriously, this paragraph is fantasy. Who is suggesting that sanctions or inspections would have ever been abandoned? Why would the Americans allow that? Why would the Americans have given up the no-fly zones? On what planet? To believe this was going to happen, you'd have to believe that the (admittedly failing) sanctions regime was replaced with nothing. Furthermore, you'd have to believe that somehow, the world bullied the US/UK in to abandoning the no-fly zones. It's delusional.

And let me take a minute to say that Coyne is as wrong about Osirak as he has been about everything else in this column - the Iraqi nuclear weapons program continued well after Osirak, up to the Gulf War. Bush I's war didn't even seriously harm the nuclear program, either. It was only thoroughly dismantled - wait for it - by the UN inspections regime postwar.

And as for the specter of Korean nuclear retail, given the multiple failures of the North Korean missile and nuclear program, only someone as militarily ignorant as Andrew Coyne would consider buying from Pyongyang. Hussein was crazy and stupid, but at least had a history of effective weapons purchases.
And now consider: we are still in the shadow of September 11. The Taliban have been toppled and, as critics of the Iraq war would have it, the Americans have kept their “focus” on Afghanistan. That doesn’t mean they’ve caught Osama bin Laden... but it may well mean he and his followers are in need of a new hideout. We know that they were in continual contact with Saddam, even if Duelfer found that this did not amount to a “relationship.” Where in this world would they find a regime more willing to defy the Americans, then at the height of their power? What might they have achieved, within the shelter of a nuclear-armed Iraq?
Oh, I dunno... Pakistan? You know, the country next-door to Aghanistan? The one filled with anti-American provincial regimes willing to shelter terrorists? You know, the place where Osama bin Laden actually went??? Incidentally, the one with an active nuclear program that we all seem to be cool with? Why bin Laden and the rest of AQ would go to Iraq where they weren't welcome, probably couldn't operate, and would have to be hosted by their bitter enemy Hussein, when they could skip the air fare and ride a donkey in to Pakistan is beyond me. Indeed, it's beyond anyone except Andrew Coyne. That should tell you something.
To say that the invasion was a mistake requires us to believe that, because Saddam had not rebuilt his WMD capacity at the time, he never would. After all that has happened in the last three and a half years, is that a position that can sensibly be maintained? Fortunately, that’s a mistake Jon will never have to admit.
This is stupid. The only thing required to believe the war was a mistake is the knowledge that Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, period. This was suspected, proven by Blix and elBaradei, and ignored, all before the war. This doesn't mean we write off the possibility of going to war with a regime that actually has WMDs. Not going to war in March, 2003 does not mean never going to war with Iraq for the rest of time, and it's asinine to argue otherwise.

It's telling that, at least in this column, Coyne doesn't try and defend the longest-lasting argument in favour of the war - the democracy promotion that Bush has espoused since April, 2003. Is it possible that even Coyne isn't entirely shameless? Can even he not try and justify this war using the current talking points?

Coyne is regularly credited by otherwise sensible people - I'm looking at you, Paul Wells - as an intelligent, interesting conservative. What this seems to mean is that he has the virtue of intellectual consistency - and compared to his ideological counterparts, this is absolutely true. The problem is that consistency is not a good thing to have when you're flat wrong. Andrew Coyne has, in this column, detained reason, abused facts, tortured history, and all to avoid admitting the simple fact that he supported a war that has failed - absolutely, unconditionally failed - to make the world safer in any meaningful way while killing hundreds of thousands of innocents.

If I learn how to do that someday, can I please write for the National Post?

1 comment:

Olaf said...

Good rebuttal,

I must say, this was one of his poorest works, and I'm not sure he actually believes it but rather was just trying to make an argument. But he's still my favourite columnist by a long shot. I don't know how much you've read of him, but when it comes to domestic policy he's basically bang on every time (in my humble opinion).