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Keep your facts away from my opinion

About a week and a half ago, commenting on the two-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Iraqi blogger Husayn Uthman wrote a post called "2 Years", expressing optimism and hope for his country's future:

So you ask me, Husayn, was it worth it. What have you gotten? What has Iraq acheived? These are questions I get a lot.

...Now I answer you, I answer you on behalf of myself, and my countrymen. I dont care what your news tells you, what your television and newspapers say, this is how we feel. Despite all that has happened. Despite all the hurt, the pain, blood, sweat and tears. These two years have given us hope we never had.

Before March 20, 2003, we were in a dungeon. We did not see the light. Saddam Hussain was crushing Iraq's spirit slowly, we longed for his end, but knew we could not challenge him, or his diabolical seed who would no doubt follow him and continue his generation of hell on Earth.

Since then, we now have hope. Hope is not a tangible thing, but it is something, it is more than being blinded by darkness, by being stuck in a mental pit without any future.

...No, we will not give up, and we will not say that the last two years were a waste. They for all their trouble have been momentus. They for us, have been a turning point in history. Whether or not you agree, this is how it looks from Iraq.
It's a powerful statement. If you haven't read it, check it out.

Soon after Husayn posted his thoughts, the feedback started rolling in. Here are a few of the responses he's received:
What the hell is wrong with you, you don’t mind having your country blown up by others but you mind people not understanding you. This is a pure crock, and you sir are either mentally unstable or working for the United States.
                  — Oliver Jordan

Husayn, you are an idiot, I think you are really American. No, I know you are American, no Iraqi feels like you do you lying scumbag. How much is the CIA paying you to spread lies about the occupation of Iraq? I hope you get yours.
                  — Nameless

Sir I was linked to your blog by another website. What I found is quite interesting. Despite what everyone else in the world says, you are saying that things in Iraq are good. Ignorng the fact that everyday bombs are blown up, you are happy. Despite the fact that Americans are wasting money in Iraq, you thank them. May I ask you, are you blind or just stupid?
                  — Richard Jones, UK
I can't prove that Husayn is really an Iraqi, blogging from Iraq. But the only reason some people think he's lying is that his opinions don't match their own idea of how an Iraqi should feel about the war. I have a hunch none of the above commenters fired off angry, skeptical missives to anonymous Iraqi blogger Riverbend in response to her very pessimistic post on the same topic. Her views were acceptable, you see.

In Riverbend's case, an anonymous poster at Healing Iraq, who claims to know her personally, said her father was "a Saddam-appointed ambassador, and a high ranking Ba'athist", who presumably lost big when Saddam was overthrown. Cry Me a Riverbend II examines her blog and suspects the same thing. Provable? Again, no. But it's a possibility for bias that opponents of the war would never stop to consider. Riverbend's views are acceptable, you see.

All of this has me thinking that the recent spate of hand-wringing about how ill-informed Americans are about current events in general, and about Iraq in particular, is overblown. My hunch is that America's media are largely succeeding in their mission of delivering information. That delivery may be incredibly biased, but facts for the most part get through.

All the facts in the world, however, won't make a difference to someone who has closed his mind to new evidence. A Bush supporter (which I am) who feels threatened by the failure to discover stockpiles of WMD in Iraq (which I don't) may have responded by refusing to accept that fact.

And war opponents confronted with an Iraqi who supports the occupation may simply refuse to believe he exists.


Anonymous said...

Well said. 

Posted by Brian

Anonymous said...

You may not feel threatened by the fact that no WMD's were found, but does it make you feel something else? Like embarassment, or shame? 

Posted by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Not at all. Under the terms of the cease-fire that ended the first Gulf War, the burden was on Saddam to satisfy us that he no longer had WMD's. He failed to do so, to the point that we felt it necessary to invade. Hence, responsibility for the invasion falls squarely on his shoulders.

Only now can we say with complete confidence that Iraqi WMD's are not a threat. Before, we had to take Saddam at his word, and that, rightly, wasn't a state of affairs we were prepared to accept.

Do you feel embarassment or shame if you take out car insurance but don't crash?  

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

After smacking my girlfriend around (which, candidly, has become more frequent these days in light of her noncompliance with my demands), I will frequently tell her that she "bears the burden" of avoiding the next smackdown. Ball is in her court, only you can prevent forest fires, so to speak. Of course, this is all with a wink and nod, as we both know that regardless of what she does or doesn't do in the future, she will once again have to "bear the burden" of my furious pummeling.

Funny thing is that, after she wipes the tears, blood (and sometimes even bone!) away, she  is the one who feels shame and embarrassment. Ain't life a hoot like that? Yeaaaaaah boyeeeee! USA! USA! 

Posted by Bojack

Anonymous said...

Has your girlfriend ever used poison gas to kill her children? Comparing her to Saddam is either a really bad analogy, or you should consider ending the relationship.

And when I read comments like Husayn Uthman's above, I don't feel shame about my country, I feel pride. 

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

The failure to find WMD in Iraq is only troubling because it highlights the limits of our intelligence abilities.

The case for war in Iraq was complex and involved many factors. The 'legel' case for war did largely rely on Iraqi non-compliance with U.N. resolutions and, as anyone who has seriously followed this knows, Iraq did not comply with U.N. resolutions. Some of the specific charges turned out to be not true, but the bottom line is Saddam did not follow the rules.

It is amazing to me that even after the tremendous results of the Iraqi elections there are still so many people who think Iraqis as a whole did not benefit from our actions there. 

Posted by Dave Justus

Anonymous said...

What Dave Justus  said. Beautifully. 

Posted by Langtry

Anonymous said...

In all seriousness, your Sadaam bore the burden argument is well articulated and appears reasonable… at first blush. But as I think about it more and more, there are a couple of procedural problems that I can't reconcile.

For purposes of this discussion, let’s view the cease-fire that ended the first Gulf War as the equivalent of a settlement agreement (i.e., an agreement that resolves litigation between parties and which spells out various obligations and/or prohibitions for the future). Actually, its more like a consent decree (i.e., a settlement agreement that is approved and endorsed by the court so that a breach of the agreement becomes a violation of a court order) with the UN in the role of the Court because the coalition forces agreed to cease-firing after Iraq accepted the UN’s 12 resolutions.

So what we have in the spring of 1991 is an arrangement whereby the parties agree to settle their dispute via an agreement (approved by the UN) that imposes various conditions on Iraq’s behavior, such as no development of WMDs. Inarguably, any subsequent development of WMDs would be a violation of the cease-fire (and, furthering the consent-decree analogy, a violation of a UN resolution), entitling the coalition forces to some sort of remedy to ensure Iraq’s compliance with the cease-fire.

But how exactly should this work? What is the mechanism?

Well, in the world of civil litigation, when Party A believes that Party B has breached a settlement agreement, Party A (not Party B) bears the burden of proving so. Party A presents evidence to the court and the court makes a determination as to whether Party B’s conduct constitutes a breach of the agreement. Party B can show that it is in compliance with the terms of the agreement and/or argue that Party A’s evidence of breach is insufficient. At bottom, a finding of breach is predicated on a determination that Party A (not Party B) has presented sufficient evidence to satisfy its burden of proof.

In the Iraqi WMD context it would seem that, in light of the UN approved cease-fire, the coalition forces or any constituent member (Party A) would present evidence of the existence of WMDs to the UN as evidence of Iraq’s (Party B) breach of the cease-fire. If the evidence were sufficient, then the UN would find breach and order whatever was necessary (including military action) to ensure compliance and return matters to the status quo ante. In fact, this is the procedure that was followed as evidenced by Sec. of State Powell’s February 5, 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council. Of course the members of the Security Council may have been motivated by considerations other than the evidence presented, but the fact remains that Powell’s evidence of WMDs was flimsy and woefully deficient. The Security Council did not find breach. Had the evidence been stronger, one would think that (and I admit that this is debatable, but its all academic anyway) the Security Council would have been prompted to action.

Under your approach, however, Iraq would bear the burden of proving compliance with the cease-fire. Putting aside the impossibilities of proving a negative (i.e., the non-existence of WMDs), this approach fundamental ignores due process. But even if we were to impose a burden-shift on Iraq (after all, Iraq lost and we won, we can do whatever we want), exactly who would determine whether Iraq has satisfied its burden? You suggest the United States. It doesn’t seem that the party claiming breach of the cease-fire (while simultaneously chomping at the bit to topple Sadaam and establish a democracy in Iraq) has much of an incentive to weigh evidence that Iraq would present with any meaningful objectivity. This set-up would afford us the opportunity to do whatever we want on a mere pretext. Further, putting the burden on the allegedly non-complying party to prove compliance to the party alleging non-compliance just seems so Stalin.

Posted by Bojack

Anonymous said...

Your parellel is weak. The U.N. is not a sovreign power. It can, in Kofi Annan's words, confer a 'unique moral authority' and by it's very nature broad agreement results in de facto ability to enforce it's demands.

The Iraq war of course proved that the formed is not entirely needed and the latter can be accomplished through other means.

Leaving aside the whole 'international law' debate and what it means for a moment though your other premises are flawed as well.

Iraq was required to do more than not have stockpiles of WMD. It was not supposed to develop or research WMD. It was not supposed to build rockets with ranges beyond a certain minimum ammount. It was supposed to verify destruction of existing stockpiles. It was supposed to cooperate in the verification process.

Iraq failed to do all these things, as was obvious then and has since been unequivicably proven. We know what disarmament looks like. South Africa did it. Libya has done it. Iraq did not.

The evidence was not the reason the Security Council did not authorize force. Governments that refused to endorse the propossed resolution agreed with our intelligence estimates. Their can be debate as to why those Governments disagreed with our proposed course of action, but it is not because they thought we were wrong at the time.

Why our intelligence was mislead concerning stockpiles has been looked into. There were a variety of factors, some of which were dishonest sources but most signifigant in my opinion was that Saddam himself was decieved about the status of his programs. That fact though speaks volumes about his intentions however and certainly shows that Iraq had not lived up to its obligations. 

Posted by Dave Justus

Anonymous said...

After a killer opening such as “[y]our parallel is weak,” I was actually expecting you to demonstrate the weakness of my parallel. Instead you ignore it completely. Shame on me for being so literal.

GB has written that “[u]nder the terms of the cease-fire that ended the first Gulf War, the burden was on Saddam to satisfy us that he no longer had WMD's.” Interesting position, but how does one practically and justly implement that with the institutions and processes that are available? Who is the arbiter of the sufficiency of Saddam’s proof? What standard is applied? Beyond a reasonable doubt? Clear and convincing? Preponderance of the evidence? What constitutes adequate evidence to start a war?  

Posted by Bojack

Anonymous said...

You compared a legal process of administered by a sovreign nation with the workings of 'international law.' I think my brief explanation is sufficient. Books have been written on the concept of international law and how it is radically different from civil law. So different that the term itself is misleading.

However, I felt no further need to elaborate on that issue, since even under your premise of international law being like civil law Saddam was clearly in violation of his agreements. I spelled out some of the things Saddam had to do, which he clearly did not.

International relations exist in a Hobbesian Universe. The questions you ask make it obvious that you don't understand this basic fact.

When it comes down to it, the arbiter of whether a War is just for the United States is the congress (authorization for the use of force) and the President. They decide what standards are applied and what means should be taken. Additionally of course the electorate will judge them on their actions.

One could of course go into just war theory and play with the moral concepts of whether their actions are in fact just in a larger moral sense. However, just war theory has no legal power either.  

Posted by Dave Justus

Anonymous said...

Bojack ,

"For purposes of this discussion, let’s view the cease-fire that ended the first Gulf War as the equivalent of a settlement agreement "

No lets view it as Saddam lost the fight, and he as to do whatever we freaking say. Saddam was out bitch and we got really tired of messing with him and watching what he was going with his country.

The ones in power make international law, bud. Simple as that.

You seem to forget that the US was more greatful towards saddam than he was towards his own people.

America has the power to basically wipe out the entire Iraq population, but yet we did not.

"civil litigation,"

Saddam can civil litigate with our M-1 abmams tanks if he wishes.

The world is not a risk game, it is real life and sometimes actual action must be taken (read doing something besides complaining about how others are not following the law). Laws only work when people listen, when you are dealing with thugs you are playing by their laws not yours. 

Posted by cubicle

Anonymous said...

Of all the shifting ex post rationales I have heard for the Iraq war, Saddam was our bitch is perhaps the most honest... although I believe that the "I am you bitch" provision was ultimately stricken from the execution copy of the cease-fire agreement. 

Posted by Bojack



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