Now, let us speak of war.
Before we go any farther, I should note that I think we're now at war, and it seems broadly self-evident to me that this is so. On September 11, 2001, as I stood in my living room and saw replay after replay of airliners striking the World Trade Center, I thought, So this is war. Strictly speaking, I now see that we've been at war for twenty-five years; we were just so caught up with the bigger war we were fighting, and then the joy at the end of that conflict, that we didn't notice until 3,000 of us died in a single day.
The default conservative position on war, contrary to the overly-feminized bleating of the sham of a Left we have these days, is powerful opposition to anything but obviously defensive war. That position, like most conservative positions, is open to a certain amount of give in the face of reality; but let us not forget that William F. Buckley, for example, was a determined isolationist up until Japan dropped tons of explosives on the U.S.S. Arizona.
I am not an isolationist. I am what Walter Russell Mead (incorrectly) calls a Jacksonian. If the rest of the world prefers to go to Hell in a handbasket, I invite them to make sure the door does not strike them in the posterior as they exit. I abhor nation-building, because although I hold certain truths to be self-evident, I'm not sure everyone else does, and if they don't, it can be one hell of a mess convincing them they're wrong. I don't believe in proxy wars, limited wars, or humanitarian wars. Each, in its way, is an oxymoron. And, worse, they don't work.
I have, historically, made exceptions. I favored at least arms supply to Bosnia and Croatia during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. I truly came to hate Clinton for how he treated Rwanda (for a man who could emote at the drop of a dime, and was allegedly our "first black president," he didn't show a lot of sympathy for the mass murder of thousands of black human beings). I was in favor of bombing Kosovo, though I was worried (not worried enough, as it turns out) about the KLA. (Hey, we bombed the Chinese Embassy -- at worst, it was a mixed-result war.)
I think, and thought, that intervention in Haiti was a mistake. Same goes for Liberia. I'd like to see Chavez executed in a specially arranged coup d'etat, if the CIA could get off its useless behind for ten minutes. (There, it would be All About the Oil and All About Killing an Obnoxious Marxist Dictator.) Same with that old loony in Cuba. We should have blown North Vietnam, then, as needed, China, into the Stone Age. We should probably up our military aid to Taiwan, build more nukes, and point them right at Beijing. We should be prepared to invade Paris on general principle, and especially be ready when either the French begin their genocidal purge of les beurrs, or, more likely, when France adopts sh'ria (yet another reason for the French to hate us -- you have to wonder why they haven't gone that extra mile yet).
Broadly speaking, though, I believe war is only acceptable to achieve some definite national goal, and, once begun, no amount of force should be held back (except in reserve, so you can pound any remaining resistance into the ground afterward). I might make an exception for genocides, but the caveat about unflinching use of overwhelming force remains.
That brings us to Iraq.
Like I said, I hate the idea of nation-building. And strictly speaking, Iraq did not pose an immediate, tanks-at-the-border threat to us. Actually, let's take that in reverse order:
The fundamental truth of the post-Westphalian world is not so much the Nation-State, but the border. Borders imply continuity; they define a State; they are lines from which you can separate the world into discrete pieces. Thus, the French did not place the Maginot Line ten miles from Paris; they placed them on the border with Germany. Up until very very recently, you knew your enemy was planning an invasion because he placed men and materiel on his border with you, and looked menacingly at you the whole time. Thus, one could say, Canada poses an imminent threat to us, because their cutting-edge 1960s military is looking right over the border at Vermont.
Transglobal terrorism changes the rules. An angry Iranian mullah could arm Arabs (or Persians, or Arab-Americans, or Persian-Americans -- while I have no doubt that the vast majority of the latter, American groups would not take part in such a thing, it is impossible to eliminate any possibility of a few malcontents) with nuclear suitcases, send them across the sea, blow up Boston Harbor, and we would never have seen it coming. The post-Westphalian model no longer applies, at least as well as it used to. The danger is not enemies staring at us across a common border, it is enemies walking among us, blowing us to pieces, with no advanced warning.
Maybe Hussein had no WMDs. Maybe he did. I tend to think he did, as any idiot can make sarin if he really wants to, Baby Assad has been awful nervous lately, and the "Bush lied about WMDs!!!" garbage demands a proof of a negative. Anyway, I think we can all agree that at the very least, it wouldn't have been too tricky for Hussein to make so-called WMDs. (A note: Chemical and biological weapons really aren't "weapons of mass destruction." They tend to burn out or dissipate too quickly for that. Nukes are WMDs. Asteroids could be WMDs. Ebola is a terror weapon.)
And that rather leads to my point: We thought Hussein had those weapons; it would have been far too easy to slip a vial of good ol' Black Death to some death-cult madman to take out a good part of a city to let that loony tune live. We live now in a world where the old certainties created by borders don't exist. Kim Jong-Il could decide to let loose on Seattle with a guided nuke, or with a suitcase nuke. We'd know how to handle the first; we wouldn't know whom to blame for the second.
Thus, it is better to preemptively blow our enemies into little bitty pieces. The stakes are too high to hold hands and sing, "Give peace a chance," on the odd hope that our enemies will do a lamb-and-lion bit with us. So when Bush said, "Hussein is going down," I was there with bells on. He might or might not have been a deadly foe; best not to take the chance, instead of mourn in three months when L.A. is up in glowing flames and NYC celebrities are worried that Americans will overreact. Why we haven't target-nuked every nuclear facility in North Korea is a continuing mystery to me.
These wars, you see, are for the explicit purpose of making sure no more Americans die from hostile, foreign action. No amount of force is "too much." Any amount that accomplishes the end is "just right."
Thus, I'd like to see "just right" amounts of force aimed at the following enemies, in descending order:
Let us not lie; these people are our enemies. They seek our humiliation, death, and/or subjugation. We no longer have the luxury to employ 19th Century Diplospeak for years on end. When the world is a safer place (for us absolutely, for democracy only as it makes the world safe for us -- see below), then we can retreat to arguments about the marginal tax rate and overtime for union employees, and global environmental initiatives. (That's assuming we reproduce enough to have those debates -- but that's a rant for another time.)
Curiously, that leads to Iraq and nation building.
Like I said, it would be an understatement to say that I detest nation building. Of all the trumped up left-wing idiocies ever, nation building seems one of the very stupidest, and that says a great deal. It combines all of the worst sins of the late British Empire with the worst naiveties and misconceptions of the perpetually stupid left side of the political spectrum into one magnificant waste of time, lives, and resources. And this is me toning it down.
But I'm prepared to start making exceptions.
Iraq might, just might, be the lynch pin that shows the Arab world, Yes, it is possible to live in something other than oppressed, wretched squalor. Maybe we can turn it into a functioning state -- I do not demand, and do not expect, American-style democratic federal republicanism -- but a normal, consent-of-the-governed modern State would do the trick. That's worth a gamble of men and materiel, especially (1) when we have so much of both, especially the latter, and (2) when you think that one of the more telling knocks on us, post-Somalia (another mistake, start to finish, by the way), was that we were an impotent giant.
And, assume for the sake of argument that Iraq falls to pieces. I'll grant that. Suppose it turns into a militant theocracy. I'd gauge that as extremely unlikely, but I'll grant it for the sake of argument. It's still better than what was there before. If we can get that much in place -- and make ourselves safer in the process -- I'll take it.
The old rules went out the window about three years ago. I just kind of wonder how long it'll take the Democratic party to catch on.