Argument, as Monty Python once put it, is an intellectual process, while contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes. A grave decision like waging war should surely be the result of reasoned argument in which a range of views is considered. But the debate over the current war has devolved into nothing more than contradiction, largely because those who support the war have refused to listen to real argument.
For an argument to produce anything other than an increase in the decibel level, all sides must admit that if the facts were to change, their opinion might change as well. In the debate over the invasion of Iraq, I detect intellectual honesty on only one side. To be sure, there are absolutist doves who oppose all wars, but the majority of the war’s critics have a reasoned opposition to the Iraq invasion. To wit: Few opposed the attack on Afghanistan after 9/11, and many might have gone along with the Iraq war as well if certain facts were different.
If, for example, the elusive weapons of mass destruction were discovered, many people might agree that a pre-emptive attack was necessary. Others might condone the war if we were to learn that Saddam Hussein had a well-articulated plan to use biological weapons. And all but the most militant pacifists would assuredly be swayed by evidence showing that Saddam Hussein was directly linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, was sending money to Al Qaeda or was harboring Osama bin Laden.
The voices I hear supporting the war, on the other hand, have shown no such openness to persuasion. Their argument is absolutist, deaf to both reason and facts. And, unfortunately, the facts keep eviscerating their argument.
The administration tried to persuade us that there would be more terrorist incidents like the 9/11 attacks without regime change in Iraq. But support for the war remains strong even after George W. Bush and Colin Powell both admitted, on national television, that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11.
President Bush evoked the image of a mushroom cloud over an American city in asserting that Saddam tried to buy uranium from Niger. That, too, turned out to be false, but it has not deterred the hawks. According to a March 16, 2004, poll by the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of Americans still think invading Iraq was the right decision, the same number as in October 2003. The insurrection of recent weeks has changed few minds.
The hawks said we had to go to war to liberate the Iraqi people. But, according to reports, the coalition of the willing has killed three times as many innocent Iraqi civilians as Al Qaeda terrorists murdered on 9/11.
The Defense Department originally estimated that the entire war could be purchased at the 99-cent store. Months later, the Pentagon admitted that the true cost of bombing Iraq back to the Stone Age, and then rebuilding it all the way to the Bronze Age, is closer to $87 billion.
The administration promised that removing Saddam Hussein from power would make us all safer. Yet within days of Saddam’s capture, the government raised the terror-alert level to Code Orange.
Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill revealed that the Bush administration planned to invade Iraq from the moment it took office, and former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke now says that even the World Trade Center attack couldn’t dissuade the administration from this agenda, despite the fact that Iraq played no role in 9/11. The hawks cannot say that this war was ever open to discussion.
Former chief weapons inspector David Kay says that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and President Bush acknowledges this fact by pretending to look around the Oval Office for them. But even after the linchpin of the administration’s justification for a pre-emptive war is destroyed, the hawks have not been disarmed.
So what was the real rationale for this war? Oil? Have you seen gas prices lately? That Saddam Hussein was a merciless dictator who killed thousands of his own people? Of that there is no doubt; not even pacifists claim he was some soccer dad. Ridding the world of him was a humanitarian act.
But there are plenty of merciless dictators-Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, to name just two. Being a bad man doesn’t necessitate an invasion. In Charles Taylor’s Liberia, people clamored for U.S.-led regime change, but the administration could barely be bothered to send troops to Africa.
Besides, the Iraq war was never sold to the American people on humanitarian grounds. This is merely the latest attempt to revise the argument whenever the previously stated justification for war bumps against the truth. Instead of reconsidering their position in light of new facts, the hawks simply dig in their heels and raise their voices.
It is a strategy sure to deliver more contradiction, but little argument.