Monday, October 04, 2004

From the Mail: The Diversion Argument

Lee over at Verbum Ipsum writes:

I enjoyed reading your post on what you've dubbed "the diversion argument" against the war in Iraq. However, as someone who has endorsed a similar argument, I thought I might offer my thoughts. I think one can concede that Hussein's regime had ties to Islamo-terrorism (e.g. the payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers) but still maintain that the Iraq war constitutes a diversion from the war on (Islamo) terrorism. As far as I have been able to tell, Saddam's regime never directly sponsored terrorist attacks on the U.S. (the first WTC attacks were carried out by Iraqis, but I don't believe that it has been credibly claimed that they were acting under orders from the Iraqi government).

If you grant, as I think you do, that (i) the war on terrorism is a war against Islamo-terrorism whatever its source, and that (ii) Hussein's regime had ties to Islamo-terrorism, then I don't think you can say that the war in Iraq is a diversion from the war on terrorism. To prosecute a proper sub-task of a given task is not to divert oneself from the task. I think what you want to say is that there has been an undue emphasis on Iraq, that resources used there could have been put to better use elsewhere. But then we would be discussing a Misallocation rather than a Diversion Argument. Kerry, however, repeatedly used the word 'diversion' in his speech.

Just how much a threat Saddam posed is hard to ascertain because the relevant facts are hard to ascertain. But it is worth mentioning that Saddam tried to assasinate Bush the Elder. There is also the 'Abu' connection: if I am not mistaken, Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, and Abu al-Zarqawi all received support from Saddam. Abu Abbas was the mastermind behind the Achille Lauro incident during which the elderly, wheel-chair bound American Leon Klinghoffer was shot and then thrown overboard.

That being the case, it seems to me that the threat posed by Iraq to U.S. security wasn't sufficiently grave or certain to merit war. Since there are other groups and regimes that have supported, directly or indirectly, attacks on the U.S., it would seem prudent to have dealt with those before dealing with Iraq. I realize that reasonable people can disagree about the gravity of the threat Iraq posed, but I think at the very least one has to take into account the considerable opportunity costs of going to war in Iraq when we did. Was it really the best allocation of the resources that it has absorbed (and will continue to absorb for the forseeable future)?

I think one must also consider the other reasons for the war in Iraq, namely, the humanitarian reason; the enforcement of unanimous U.N. resolutions that that august body did not have the will to enforce; the need to put an end to an on-going war; the need to try the noble (if perhaps in the end misguided) experiment of bringing (more) democracy to the Middle East for the sake of the long-term stability of the region; the need to remove a dictator and his sons who was going to have to be removed at some time anyway, with removing him now while he is weak being better than later when he is strong; the sheer danger of allowing Saddam to develop nukes which he would be more than happy to give to terrorist groups for use in the U.S. and Israel.

I submit that these reasons, taken cumulatively, add up to a very strong case for the war. I stress the cumulative nature of the case. Thus the first reason, taken by itself, is insufficient. It may that they are all insufficient, taken by themselves. But taken together, they are reasonably held to be sufficient.

Thanks again for your consistently enjoyable and thought-provoking writing.

Thanks for writing, Lee; I hope some of my readers become regular readers of your weblog.