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Moderating on Moderation

March 15, 2006

Recent volleys of verbiage between our own Count and Dime Store Guru (the “Guru”) Rob Asghar have brought out the peacemaker in yours truly. Perhaps a week or two late, I find myself close to crystallizing my take on the big hullabaloo over the topic of Moderation.

If I may, I think it comes down to the following:

One the one hand, the Count believes that we are and should be at War against Jihadist terrorists (and as a corollary, that Iraq is a front in that war). War necessarily includes many words and acts that are immoderate, that are extreme. There’s no moderate way to bomb a bunker (unless you count using technology to discriminate targets, which we in fact did in the initial Iraq invasion for moral and tactical reasons).

The Guru, on the other hand, while he clearly has called for realistic and heightened security (even at his own expense as a man of Pakastani descent) and wants to stop Jihadist terror wherever possible, seems
to be fundamentally against a literal War on terror — against the actual use of violence. Which is a kind of middle ground. Therefore, in matters of the struggle against Bin Laden, et al., under the above rubric, the Count will be for “immoderation” and the Guru for “moderation”.

Clarifying questions then follow for each party: Count, are you not for moderation in areas beyond the War itself, beyond the actual campaign against the terrorists? I think I know the answer, but it’s good to clarify these things communally sometimes.

And, Guru, do you see the necessity for any use of violence against the Jihadists (or
whatever term you prefer) — and if so, under what circumstance (since Al Quaeda will never invade us per se, but nonetheless would like to nuke you, the Count and I)? Respectfully, I’m honestly not sure I know the answer, but I would like to be clearer.

I think this debate and even confusion between friends is mirrored by millions of relationships all over this country and in the Church. If we cannot agree, let us at least honestly understand where each of us is essentially coming from. A little bit of simple, plain truth can go a long way.

I’m listening, thanks.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob A permalink
    March 15, 2006 5:40 pm

    I guess I’ll start by saying I supported the war in Afghanistan. But even there, I agreed with Pakistan’s President Musharraf that the best course would have been to do maximum bombing in the first few days, and then go to a covert approach to catching Osama. Pres. Bush ridiculed Musharraf for publicly suggesting that that would be the best way for the U.S. to proceed. Bombings lasted many weeks, at which point the deaths of innocents helped turn many Pakistanis near Afghanistan against the U.S.

    As for Iraq, I was for a containment approach, just as Foreign Policy magazine and others urged. A piece I wrote about that is here:

    Overall, I was convinced the U.S. needed to avoid spreading itself thin in Iraq. Yes, it was a bold and a grand gesture, but it necessarily resulted in less attention to the less grand and glorious grunt (but even more crucial) grunt work like securing loose nukes, etc.

    This go-for-glory approach further alienated us from traditional allies, and further irritated Muslims, who wondered, “Why do these so-called turn-the-other-cheek folks seem to like war more than anyone else?” It made a world more cynical about the values of evangelicals such as the President, and it did not make Americans’ safe.

  2. Duke Ray permalink
    March 16, 2006 1:13 pm

    Thanks for summing up your positions in such a concise, clear fashion, Rob!

  3. March 16, 2006 7:35 pm

    Here I think Rob articulates many of the reasonable choices that could have been made at various points in our response to 9/11. They were difficult choices, each entailing all sorts of commitments, unforseen repurcussions as well as calculated risks.

    To complain of civillian deaths inflicted by Americans when the regimes displaced where by far worse in their treatment of their own people seems like pretty selective outrage to me. It is an unassailable fact that our troops have gone to great lengths to minimize civillian casualties, often at the expense of their own lives. For this gesture we are still branded as “war loving” while here at home opponents of the war can use the casualty rate as proof of failure and an excuse to leave.

    Containment, while a worthwhile strategy, has proven a miserable failure in the post-cold war period. In Saddaam’s case, it only punished his own people while making a mockery of the moral authority of the UN. Eventually Sadaam would have resumed his quest for WMD, or else his psychotic sons would have, and who knows what bloody mess would have erupted anyway at the inevitable demise of his hated regime. At any rate, that very policy is also responsible for some of the ill-will towards the US in the Muslim world and elsewhere. Some of that is warranted; some of it the inevitable fruits of defeating communism. People are going to hate the US for many many reasons; I don’t want to be hated but if I am it better be for the right reasons.

    Whatever tactical mistakes have been made, the realization that the post-9/11 world was indeed a new one, requireing new tactics and strategies (in some cases) was a courageous one, and I think essential to any further peace that is not completely illusory or substitutes stability in its place.

    There is quite a bit of grunt work taking place around the globe in hundreds of ways – read Robert Kaplan’s “Imperial Grunts”. I’d love a discussion on it.

    The most simplistic part of Rob’s argument though, the one I truly object to, is treat the coolness of traditional allies (i.e. France and Germany) as a result of our action in Iraq only. Same for “Muslim irritation”. For the most part, all that is happening is that certain conflicts are being brought to the surface. In that sense, the war has been rather clarifying.

    Radical Islamic terror is a huge problem that must be dealt with, not just by war, but a whole host of approaches, including humanitarian, diplomatic and law-enforcement ones.

    Many Americans are irritated by supposedly peace-loving Muslims who only find time to criticize America and western liberal values. We ask “why do these so-called adherents to the religion of peace seem to care about injustice only for Muslims killed by non-Muslims?” It makes us cynical about the values of such people.

  4. March 17, 2006 11:07 am

    Duke- to answer you question more directly, yes, I am for moderation “in areas beyond the War itself, beyond the actual campaign against the terrorists” insofar as I understand the question. Do I try to cut down own salt, sugar and caffeine? You betcha. Do I have one Martini instead of threee? Yep.

    Interpersonally, moderation looks like humility, service, considering others better than yourself, etc. But the idea starts getting complicated as certain boundaries cannot be crossed for any reason, i.e. you cannot molest me for a little bit.

    Politically the idea is further complicated as the idea can turn into substituting words for meaningful action. War if nothing else is meaningful action and therefore has a certain immoderation to it, especially if you believe that all killing is wrong. But even in War there is ample room for moderation, which I believe this country has done a reasonably good job at. The shock-and-awe phase was very short and even then great pains were taken to avoid civilian targets. Special Forces insertions into Afghanistan were instrumental in providing very focused intel for targeting as well as creating respect amoung moderate Afghans who were impressed with our bravery, integrity and technology. Soldiers are rebuilding schools, hospitals and handing out toys to children etc. None of that gets in the news much; only sensational photos of our failures.

    As moral people of any label I think we have the duty to point out injustice, but I think we also have a responsibility to dwell on the good as well. We also need to put things in perspective. The role of the United States in the world is complicated and at times morally murky; yet we have done a tremendous amount of good. We shouldn’t overlook that. We also need not support the idea that things in Iraq and Afghanistan were somehow better before the war. The moral failings of those regimes were staggering. That does not in and of itself absolve us of any shortcomings- of which there must be many- but in the larger picture things have improved, and are likely to get better unless we as a nation lose our resolve to finish the job. That would be an even bigger moral failing.

    I don’t wish to simply discount or disprove every criticism of Rob’s, just put them in perspective. I wish that was seen as a moderate undertaking.

  5. Rufus T. Flinger (Timmy C) permalink
    March 19, 2006 5:22 pm


    You wrote:

    “Containment, while a worthwhile strategy, has proven a miserable failure in the post-cold war period. In Saddaam’s case, it only punished his own people while making a mockery of the moral authority of the UN.”

    Wasn’t the lesson from the CIA Duelfer report that containment worked better than anyone thought?

    That containment and inspections combo stopped Sadaam from being any sort of “gathering threat” — stripped his possesion of any stockpiles of WMD or even the means for producing any as far back as 1991.

    And in fact this combo made Sadaam what Duelfer called a “dwindling threat” over the 90’s, and relating to his ability to rebuild his nuclear development, Duelfer said containment made Sadaam “further away in 2003 than he was in 1991. So the nuclear programme was decaying steadily”.

    Sure the report also talked up Sadaam’s desire to rebuild these once inspections and sanctions ended…and yes absent strong statesmanship from the US, it is likely that those sanctions would have crumbled.

    But while they were in place, and they lasted between 1991 and our invasion in 2003, they kept Sadaam nuetered, in a box, and weakening — and no threat to the US.

    If that is a “miserablle failure” than I wish we were failing like like with North Korea or Iran.


  6. March 19, 2006 11:03 pm

    Word to your Mother, Rufus! (I don’t know what that means…)

    Point well taken… but as always…

    Perhaps I shoud have used another formulation than “miserable failure”, that was a piece of hurried writing. My point was however not so far off yours in that it was “post cold war” rather than Iraq specifc. I’m looking at the whole picture, not just WMD’s, but the price innocent populations must pay for rouge regimes such as Sadaam’s. There is also the question of verification, which is obviously a problem in Iran and North Korea, not to mention in Iraq. You can point to the Duelfer report, but that came only after the invasion. The conventional wisdom, shared by all inteligence agencies, was that Sadaam had WMD, but that they weren’t a problem. As more of these new documents are released and translated, I think we are going to see a more alarming picture than you think! We’ll see. At any rate, it was a strategy without a clear ending, and mostly served to harm his own people and enrich corrupt particiapants in oil-for-food. Even if he was “contained” I think that only led to a scenario where the sanctions would have been lifted by the UN, only to have Sadaam re-arm. It was time to cut the crap.

    I don’t think any amount of “strong statemanship” could overcome the utter corruption of the UN- it’s integrity underminded by the very sanctions it imposed in the Oil-for-food scandal- or the oil interests of other nations (yes they have them too!) – or the general anti-americanism that permeates the world for a whole host of reasons, not many of which are legit.

    I’d like to hear a little outrage at the corruption of the UN, which is STAGGERING compared to anything in the US. The UN is supposed to be enforcing containment policies, not the US. The multi-lateral approach is not working with Iran or NK. Still, it always ends up the US’s fault, Bush’s in particular. It’s not. If anything, it is a multi-administration policy failure.

    Need I remind you that regime change was the policy of the Clinton administration, that WMD was never the only reason for invading etc. Bush didn’t really invent new policy as much as finally implement it- yes by force, but post 9/11 I think there was a new sense of urgency, which for some reason many Democrats seem to have forgotten.

  7. Rufus T. Flinger (Timmy C) permalink
    March 20, 2006 1:43 pm


    You wrote: “I’m looking at the whole picture, not just WMD’s, but the price innocent populations must pay for rouge regimes such as Sadaam’s.”

    Sure, and I was talking about primarliy US interests — especially relating to any threat Sadaam would pose via WMD to neighbors or to our country.

    Do we at least agree that from that perspective, the embargo/inspection combo of containment — for the 12 years that it lasted — worked far better at protecting US interests than we even thought it did the time?

  8. March 20, 2006 6:36 pm

    It may have worked… I think the jury is still somewhat out on that matter. The verification piece of it did not work however. Containment without verification is not very useful. No, he didn’t appear to have WMD, but the inspection process fell apart to the extent I think it was impossible to trust their results. The oil-for-food program also completely undermined the credibility and motives of the UN and various member states and their representatives. As more and more of that scandal has come out, the more glad I am we didn’t trust them with our national security. It just as easily could have turned out that there were giant weapons caches- everyone was surprised the weren’t found. I think it’s possible we may find some of them in Syria. There’s a ton of untranslated documents that are hopefully going to shed some light on Sadaam’s activities.

    So the containment/inspection thing may have “worked” in that Sadaam did get rid of his weapons (or were destroyed by Clinton’s bombings) but verification was not going to happen. On the contrary, Sadaam wanted the world to believe that he had weapons. There was no end in sight to sanctions, and it was impossible to really know if they were working (I know, if they only had a little more time… after 12 years).

    Consider this latest revelation:

    SADDAM HUSSEIN’S REGIME PROVIDED FINANCIAL support to Abu Sayyaf, the al Qaeda-linked jihadist group founded by Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law in the Philippines in the late 1990s, according to documents captured in postwar Iraq. An eight-page fax dated June 6, 2001, and sent from the Iraqi ambassador in Manila to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad, provides an update on Abu Sayyaf kidnappings and indicates that the Iraqi regime was providing the group with money to purchase weapons. The Iraqi regime suspended its support–temporarily, it seems–after high-profile kidnappings, including of Americans, focused international attention on the terrorist group.

    Sorry for the jumbled nature of all this…

  9. Rufus T. Flinger permalink
    March 20, 2006 9:29 pm

    I suppose that is some progress in our chat over “containment” —

    It may have worked… I think the jury is still somewhat out on that matter….So the containment/inspection thing may have “worked” in that Sadaam did get rid of his weapons…

    And I hear your issues around “but we couldn’t verify it at the time so our invasion was reasonable…”

    But that wasn’t the issue I was trying to explore with my question…I was trying to explore this: “in retrospect, knowing what we know now, was containment of sadaam more of a success than we thought in protecting US interests.”

    And I hear you saying: “It looks like it may have been a success based on all evidence so far…barring some new evidence that hasn’t currently surfaced about WMDs.”

    Fine. (if I did hear you correctly) I’ll accept commonality on such spikey issues like this where we can find it.

  10. March 20, 2006 11:14 pm

    Rufie- I appreciate you straining to hear the commonality between us.

    Interesting how a wider discussion of “moderation” gets down to the same old WMD question… I opened that door with a bunch of specifics… but that’s what it comes down to eventually.

    I don’t like the WMD focus, because it leads to false conclusions, i.e. no WMD = no threat. It’s always been more complicated than that. It’s true, Sadaam appears to have destroyed his WMD stockpiles before the invasion. But he did it without verifying it to the UN inspectors (in an of itself, a violation of UN resolutions) thus neutrallizing it’s value. So Sadaam was afraid of international reaction to his programs – but not enough that he would publicly disarm as required.

    In your above comment, you bounce between “protecting US interests” and the absence/containment of WMD. Those are related, but not the same thing.

    The implications of the Iraq-abu Sayyaf connections are pretty major. That’s a clear Iraq al Queda connection – although not in Iraq. Which is why it seems to me a reasonable thing to remove Sadaam from power.

  11. Rufus T. Flinger (Timmy C) permalink
    March 21, 2006 4:47 pm


    Hope you don’t mind one more comment…
    You wrote:

    “I don’t like the WMD focus, because it leads to false conclusions, i.e. no WMD = no threat. It’s always been more complicated than that.”

    Didn’t the Bush team themselves set that emphasis in the entire justification for the war?

    In his March 2003 press conference he was pretty specific to what the Iraq Mission was about:

    “Bush: Our mission is clear in Iraq. Should we have to go in, our mission is very clear: disarmament.

    In order to disarm, it will mean regime change. I’m confident that we’ll be able to achieve that objective in a way that minimizes the loss of life.No doubt there’s risks with any military operation. I know that. But it’s very clear what we intend to do. And our mission won’t change. The mission is precisely what I just stated.”

    Also check this March 2003 quote from Cheney that is also pretty direct:

    Russert: What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?

    VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think I’ve just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons.

    MR. RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?

    VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree, yes.

    Another bit of evidence that WMD’s were the core of the rationale for going in:

    In October 2002 Bush was perfectly willing to leave Saddam in power, as long as he “disarmed.” It seems that then regime change was seen an optional part of US interests, diarming of WMD’s were the crucial part.

    “Disarmed Saddam can stay in power, U.S. says

    Two top Bush administration officials said yesterday that America would accept the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s regime if Iraq disarms, apparently backing away from the official U.S. policy of seeking the ouster of the dictator.

    Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said in television interviews yesterday that a disarmed Saddam could remain in power, and Mr. Powell said that is now President Bush’s position.

    So there may have been a lot of secondary competing reasons to go in, but as Cheney said WMD was “the most important rationale.” And for a window of time, we were very willing to leave him in power if WMD’s were taken care of.

    Also you wrote:

    “In your above comment, you bounce between ‘protecting US interests’ and the absence/containment of WMD. Those are related, but not the same thing.”

    I agree, we also wanted a stable mid-east, and an un-interrupted supply of oil to the marketplace. (And I think those are very valid national interests BTW) Ironically, the ivasion has vastly de-stabalized the mideast, and so far, oil exports from Iraq are lower then they ever were under Saddam, even during sanctions.

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