Truth from a Certain Point of View

I am not allowed to be biased in my opinions about Middle-earth.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions.  Of course I do.  It means that every time I say something about J.R.R. Tolkien or Middle-earth, someone comes out of the woodwork and challenges me.  During the Ages of the Great Debates everyone challenged me.  You have to defend everything you say in an environment like that.  You have to be ready to change your mind, and I have changed my mind on things Tolkien and Middle-earth many, many times.  Most people who argue about Tolkien and Middle-earth do not change their minds.  Opinions are very precious things and most people will defend them extensively.  So it’s understandable (if somewhat irritating) that many people assume I am no more likely to change my opinions than the next stubborn guy.

We don’t need to philosophize about the pros and cons of being flexible in your opinions.  Opinions are not facts but we treat them as such because we can’t do much without facts.  When people don’t have the facts they need they make them up.  Sometimes that’s good in a Star Trek kind of way, where Kirk tells Spock to guess when he doesn’t have all the facts.  Guessing is the first step toward defending an opinion.  You may not like your guess so you don’t want to defend it.  But if you share your guess with others are you sharing an opinion?  Well, I don’t want to philosophize about that, either.

I’m not in a philosophizing vein today, as Movie Skeletor might say.  You may disagree with me if you have read this far, a little more than two paragraphs into this post.  I guess it’s a good thing I’m not Skeletor and you’re not standing before me.

Former US Presidents George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush.

Former US Presidents George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush.

Weapons of Mass Destruction are on my mind.  Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has written a book in which he claims the United States government (led by then-President George W. Bush) lied to the UK to get the support of the British government for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Normally when I see a news article about someone claiming we didn’t find any WMD in Iraq I just shake my head.  Don’t these anti-WMD people get it?  Yes, we did find WMD in Iraq.  I wrote that article years ago, and yet new revelations since I last updated it made it clear we found far more than I thought at the time of the last revision.

When trying to answer the question, “Were weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq?”, many writers have danced around the truth.  The thing is, none of us (including the people who planned and organized that invasion) may ever really know the truth.  The truth is that we can’t handle the truth; not in the sense of accepting the truth, whatever that is.  We literally cannot handle the truth.  We are terrible custodians of the truths about the Iraq war.  Pick a major political figure from Bush to Obama who has shared truths about the war and you’ll find (s)he either lied or didn’t know what was going on.  Obama thought if he killed Osama bin Laden and brought our troops home that our war (that is, our involvement in this world-wide conflict) would be over.  Sadly, he learned that isn’t the way wars work.

Unfortunately for hundreds of thousands of people who have since died, Obama was just a terrible war leader.  He wasn’t willing to sacrifice American lives to defeat terrorists but he was willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Middle East.  Oh, I agree that wasn’t his intention, but that was the result of his thoughtless actions.  It’s far easier to start a war than it is to end one.  Once the killing and maiming begins someone is going to want to get back at someone else.  If you don’t negotiate an end to hostilities then simply walking away from the battlefield is an invitation to the other guy to come after you.  In his mind, from his point of view, he’s won.  And winners can do whatever they please.

The true quagmire of war, in my opinion, is that unless everyone agrees it’s over, it’s not over.

So I was reading this article about Gordon Brown’s book, expecting to feel disappointed and outraged at yet another politician who “doesn’t get it” (and this guy should), and I realized something terrible: he’s probably right.  Well, he’s probably right about the US government misleading the British government.  It may or may not have been intentional on George W. Bush’s part.  His own leadership was apparently misled by at least one rogue CIA operative who fabricated a story about Saddam Hussein’s government trying to procure uranium.  Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell was embarrassed and humiliated to learn that some of the information he presented to the U.N. Security Council was falsified.  I believe he didn’t know the truth.  I have no reason to believe he did know the truth.

Brown’s point of view is based upon a very narrow interpretation of WMD.  Weapons of Mass Destruction, under international law, include chemical weapons.  If you are storing weaponized nerve agents somewhere in your country, even if they are old and degrading in quality, you have WMD according to international law.  But Gordon Brown wasn’t in a letter-of-the-law mood when he wrote his book.  He was more concerned about the military threat that Iraq under Saddam Hussein posed in 2003.  Here is the part of the article that changed my mind about Gordon Brown’s point of view:

Brown states that had the evidence been shared, history could have been different. “I am convinced that if resolutions of the United Nations are approved unanimously and repeatedly they have to be upheld if we are to have a safe and stable world order,” he writes. “On this basis, Saddam Hussein’s continuing failure to comply with them justified international action against him.

“The question is whether it required war in March 2003. If I am right that somewhere within the American system the truth about Iraq’s lack of weapons was known, then we were not just misinformed but misled on the critical issue of WMDs.

“Given that Iraq had no usable chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that it could deploy and was not about to attack the coalition, then two tests of a just war were not met: war could not be justified as a last resort and invasion cannot now be seen as a proportionate response.”

He is not being legalistic here.  I suppose I am being legalistic when I argue that Iraq did have WMD.  There were no nuclear weapons, thankfully, and Iraq was not building any.  But Hussein had a huge arsenal of chemical weapons he had hidden from UN weapons inspectors.  The critical point in Brown’s thinking, and this is strategically relevant to the whole debate about the war, is that Hussein couldn’t use his WMD against anyone.  It probably would have sickened and killed his soldiers if they had tried to use any of those ancient chemical warheads.

We don’t know where ISIS got its chemical weapons from.  We know that ISIS seized the Al Muthanna storage facility in 2014.  They took control of about 2500 chemical warheads.  But the weapons were so degraded the US military would not allow its own personnel to stand guard over the facility.  I suppose ISIS’ leaders didn’t care about what happened to their grunts but they had some of Hussein’s old chemical weapons program specialists.  They started deploying chemical weapons not long after seizing Al Muthanna.

Brown’s explanation of his point of view makes sense to me.  I accept it.  I change my mind about what he is claiming.  He’s not helping the general discussion by singling out delivery systems as the critical determining factor.  He doesn’t say so (in the above quote) but Brown was clearly distinguishing in his mind between viable WMD and just any old stuff that had been scraped aside when the weapons inspectors were occupied elsewhere.  There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Saddam Hussein’s government hid illegal assets from the United Nations.  And we should all agree that the Bush administration lied when it confessed that no WMD had been found.  They actually found what they went looking for, according to at least one pre-war DOD assessment of Iraq’s capabilities in 2002/3.  But the US government didn’t share these expectations with allies.

So now George W. Bush has been caught in two lies about the Iraq war, which is not good for his already shredded reputation.  Much of former President Bush’s bad karma comes from radical Democrats and psychotic idiots who cherry-pick their facts.  They spent years, over a decade, railing against the non-existent WMD.  Bush himself contributed to that fantasy when he published his memoirs and repeated the lie that there were no WMD in Iraq.  That was 2010.  Even then we could have said that he had to make a judgment call and he made it.  But by then some of the lies told had already come to light.  We just hadn’t yet heard the truth about the biggest lie of all.

Of course, in 2010 George W. Bush was protecting a secret.  Iraq was secretly destroying Saddam’s chemical weapons.  The coalition (and the U.N. Security Council) knew there were WMD in Iraq and that the Iraqi government had been charged with destroying them.  They did destroy about 2500 chemical warheads.  When ISIS seized Al Muthanna in 2014, however, the Iraqi government sent a letter to the Security Council informing them (us) that they were no longer able to fulfill their obligation to destroy the remaining WMD.  And that’s when the world started to learn the truth about the extent of Saddam’s success in hiding shit away from the UN weapons inspectors.

Gordon Brown doesn’t say he never would have supported an invasion of Iraq.  He just feels it happened too soon.  And because it happened too soon, was poorly planned, the governments that participated in the coalition took a lot of criticism from their own people and other nations around the world.  There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that if we had not toppled Saddam’s government there would be no ISIS.  There would have been no caliphate.  Syria and Iraq would still be strong, stable nations.  They’d also still be brutal dictatorships.  But Iran would still be marginalized.

You have to ask how much the invasion of Iraq spurred Iran to speed up its nuclear development program.  You have to ask how much the invasion of Iraq impelled Iran to strengthen Hezbollah (who now reportedly have tens of thousands of missiles ready to fire at Israel).  While Saddam was Iran’s big enemy their anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric didn’t accomplish much.  But once Saddam Hussein was removed as a strategic balance against Iran, everything in the Middle East changed.

There is another aspect to this.  Some people like to argue that the United States government was always determined to invade Iraq.  The Snopes Website, which debunks a lot of nonsense, published an interesting set of quotes going back to the 1990s.  Clearly, American anti-Saddam rhetoric predates the George W. Bush administration.

Cover for 'The Last Republicans' book by Mark K. Updegrove

Cover for ‘The Last Republicans’ book by Mark K. Updegrove

And there is another aspect to all of this.  In helping to promote a new book by Mark K. Updegrove (The Last Republicans: Inside the Extraordinary Relationship Between George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), George W. Bush denied that his Vice President, Dick Cheney, or his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, made any “f—— decisions” during his administration.  Conspiracy theorists and apologists alike have accused both men of setting the policies of the second Bush administration.  Now people who know him intimately are coming out of the woodwork and saying that “W” (as he is often referred to on the Internet) is very willful and confident.  That never really seemed to be the case when he was on television, but people have their opinions, right?

The Bush family has always had a reputation for integrity.  We may not agree with their opinions on climate science (they are far removed from supporting efforts to fight global warming) but they have always presented themselves as being sincere in their beliefs.  In fact, both men have made character an important part of how they assess other people.  I remember a televised debate between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot where then-President Bush objected to Clinton’s “waffling”.  When an audience member asked why he kept talking about Clinton and not the economy, Bush said he just didn’t trust the man.  It was “about character”, he said.

Bush was right about Clinton.  He’s quite a character and he perjured himself before Congress.  He also lied to the American people about his personal life.  Well, we could go on about the good and the bad of the Clinton administration.  The first President Bush was better at foreign policy than he was at domestic stuff.  Bill Clinton, like Barack Obama, put American lives in danger with his terrible military policies.  Clinton did prove the military experts wrong on one point, though: he virtually “won a war” (in the Balkans) with air power.  But that probably won’t happen again.

I don’t think many people ever believed that George H.W. Bush is or was a liar.  Of course, now he has been accused of groping at least several women.  Poor Barbara Bush.  What did she ever do to deserve this?  Wait — I don’t want to know!  I don’t want to change my opinion of her!

But “W”, George W. Bush, what has he done?  He’s lied to everyone not once, not twice, but multiple times.  His credibility is now credibly in question (beyond the usual political partisanship and conspiracy theory nonsense).  Maybe he felt like he was making the best possible choices at the times, but even the good intentions behind some of his lies are outweighed by the bad consequences.  And in today’s unforgiving world where public opinion is shaped by the merest of facts and the meanest of accusations, Mr. Bush may be running out of rope and sympathy.

I’ll have to reconsider my opinion of him.