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Friday, February 08, 2008

The Iraq war & the GOP issue frame argument

This morning Atrios had an interesting post about the pre-Iraq war meme and the marginalization of the left in its opposition. He highlighted a piece by Kevin Drum that serves as a perfect illustration how the left blogosphere & the DFH's (dirty f***ing hippies) bought into the framing of the war on GOP terms which enabled the Neocon's and the hard right to carry on an opposing discourse at an incredible advantage. It has also had the effect of setting the bar for a pre-empitve war rationale so low, as Senator Barack Obama characterizes it, it is buried in the sand.

Atrios begins by setting up the premise:

"Every now and then, usually by chance, I come across something which brings back that truly traumatic time leading up to the Iraq war. It's hard to try to recapture those time. A nation had gone truly mad, our discourse was run by warmongering fools and Very Serious Liberal Hawks, and any attempt to oppose the Iraq war was marginalized 3000 different ways. All of us dirty fucking hippies were truly marginalized, despite the fact that we
were, you know, fucking right."

Then he quotes Kevin Drum from Washington Monthly about how us DFH's should tread carefully in our opposition:

"If your opposition to war is based on the idea that Saddam does indeed possess illegal weapons but it's best to leave him alone anyway, well and good. But if it's based on the idea that the administration is lying and none of this stuff exists, you should tread carefully. I think it's pretty likely you will be proven wrong shortly."

As Atrios get's indignant in his response to Mr. Drum's assertion, notice his frame for it:

"Those who opposed the war were constantly being told that they'd better be careful, both in why we opposed the Iraq war and how we expressed that opposition when those views had a complete media blackout... what if Saddam really is dangerous! Then you'll be sorry!!! And, you know what? It's true. If they'd found the nuclear warheads, and the long range missiles, and the massive bioweapons programs, and the deadly drones of mass
destruction, or whatever, people like me would've been drummed out of our discourse 4ever. Stupid dirty fucking hippie!"

The thing about his retort to Kevin is the fact Atrios buys into the argument that the point is Saddam's possession of illegal weapons and whether or not he is in possession of them. Or at least his post infers it. He can correct me if I'm wrong and I'll gladly post that correction. The point, however, is the opposition to the war being based on Saddam's possession of said WMD's. This line of reasoning or rationale for the GOP Neocons and the hawks was a no lose proposition for them. And let's not make any mistake here about what they were arguing about. Not just WMD's per se as defined by the United Nations. Forget the biological and chemical weapons aspect of this argument, they were a non issue as far as the core argument was. It was the nukes, his possession of them and the threats of them being used as per Condilezza Rice via CNN and Wolf Blitzer:

"BLITZER: Based on what you know right now, how close is Saddam Hussein's government -- how close is that government to developing a nuclear capability?

RICE: You will get different estimates about precisely how close he is. We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance -- into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to -- high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device.The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

It was also made more plain and clear by Bush's infamous 16 words in his 2003 SOTU speech:
"“The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
If we from the left want to argue this rationale for the war we've already lost. The fact isn't whether Saddam was in possession or wasn't. We already know he was at one time because we gave them to him courtesy of Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Reagan in the 80's when we sided with Iraq during the Iraq/Iranian war.

Our problem is falling into that issue frame trap for which there is no escape in a debate. Legally, Saddam's possession was a fait accompli vis a vis American foreign policy set by the Reagan administration regarding relations with Iran and Iraq. No, the argument should have been whether or not he was a threat. Pre-emptive war, legally, really shouldn't even be based on that. Our domestic legal system does not support or allow prosecution or incarcaration bases on what one "might" do. A crime has to be committed. The rule of law, which conservatives howled like wolves at the moon during the Clinton years, should have been the bar. Not only that, exactly how was Saddam a threat to the United States. To be more specific, how was he a threat to the region and even more specific than that, how was he a threat to his immediate neighbors. Let's look at the facts backing up this argument.

First, let's take the Iraqi No Fly Zone in the post Iraq/Gulf War era in the 90's under the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations. In the illustration on the right you can see the "No Fly Zones" clearly demarchated allowing the Coalition Forces to patrol and enforce this "No Fly" policy as spelled out though provisions agreed upon in the United Nations Security Council. Next, Iraq has a NATO power in Turkey on its northern border and two countries with an American military presence on it's southern border in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. There was also a significant naval presence in the Persian Gult as well. Add this together with UN trade sanctions, though broken regularly through the black market, it was still effective enough to counter any moves by Iraq to purchase or acquire resources on a scale that would enable it to become a threat. As we discovered all to well in the invasion of Iraq, Saddam's military forces posed about as much a threat as American Civil War reenactment divisions. One last point. The moment we started the clock on the invasion I knew Sadedam didn't have nukes. Otherwise even the blustery and chest thumping neocons would not have gone ahead with it and risked the obliteration of 180,000 American troops. Add all this together and it comes down to this: somewhere an American military expert is going to have to explain to me how Saddam could have posed enough of threat or danger on a level we and the region he occupied believed he was capable of and prompt an illegal and pre-emptive war.

This is the issue frame that should have been intoduced into any dialogue about pre-emptive war with Iraq and a rationale for it. Period. Even if he was able to come up with a crude weapon of some sort why would he give that away to some group at the expense of his own national security. Nuclear devices aren't something you can make on an assembly line. The resources, energy, and infrastructure needed to reach that point makes this all the more laughable. If Saddam in his wildest imagination would have been lucky enough to even come up with one crude device he sure as hell isn't going to sell it at the expense of having it on hand to thwart an American invasion which he had been threatened with for months.

As Kevin Drum demonstrated above with tacit agreement by Atrios, we always seem to gravitate toward the GOP issue frame when debating a point. Democrats and liberals always look the weaker for it. Somewhere along the line we need to change that. Somewhere along the line the Obama and Clinton campaigns need to learn that lesson.