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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Mark Kleimans brilliantness is well exemplfied by

"A candidate who speaks in soundbites: a spinmeister's dream.

A President who thinks in soundbites: a citizen's nightmare."

sooo true.

However, his effort to argue that Kerry's positions on Iraq are consistent is much less brilliant.

"But really and truly, what John Kerry has said about Iraq isn’t all that obscure.

It rests on one simple distinction: between the necessity (or at least the value) of getting rid of Saddam Hussein on the one hand and the urgency of doing so in the spring of 2003 on the other."

I think a much stronger case can be made. See this article by Nick Anderson in the LA Times

"Kerry did say in August that he would vote again for the force resolution, even if he knew that weapons of mass destruction would not be found in Iraq.

Kerry, however, was trying to distinguish between a congressional action intended to give the president diplomatic leverage against a rogue state and a presidential decision to launch an invasion."

See how simple it is ? Threatening to use force is not the same as using it even though the other guy gave in. Kerry's position on Iraq has been all too consistent from 1998 until today.
I might be wrong, but as far as I know, Kerry has relentlessly argued that a credible threat of invasion was necessary to convince Saddam Hussein to let weapons inspectors inspect and that this is the only reason he gave for threatening to invade or invading if Saddam Hussein refused.
There were also humanitarian arguments for an invasion which were important to Prof Kleiman, but, as far as I know, Kerry never let one slip out of his lips.

Personally I disagree completely with Kerry and disagree with Kleiman only about his conclusion. I was not convinced by the humanitarian case for invasion, but I wasn't sure it was wrong. I am absolutely sure that, if Saddam Hussein had kept WMD that would be a very strong argument against invading.

Mark Kleiman's argument is much more subtle and less convincing. I think the reason is simple. Prof Kleiman explains why Prof Kleiman's position on Iraq is consistent. This is much more difficult because Prof Kleiman has been much franker than Kerry and maybe because his position is less consistent.

Kerry is a self disciplined politician. He has carefully repeated the same line (whith varying emphasis) for years, avoiding self contradiction while keeping his options open. Many of the cases in which Kerry's statements have been distorted by the Bush team are cases in which he was asked a yes or no question and dodged it by repeating his standard message. The implication that a response to a yes or no question must amount to either yes or no is dishonest, but it is a kind of dishonesty that has been repeatedly used against Kerry because he dodges questions (as all politicians do). Mark Kleiman says what he thinks.

So when arguing against Bush's war in Iraq, Kleiman concedes that the cost of sanctions is an argument for invasion. I don't think Kerry ever said that. I suppose Kerry voted for the regime change resolution, but he was obviously pretending that he thought regime change could be achieved without an invasion. Thus I don't think he ever conceded that "getting rid of Saddam Hussein"means invading, even though it clearly does.

By the way, I don't agree with Kleiman on two points. He wrote

"The only way we and the rest of the world managed to figure out to keep Saddam Hussein from building weapons of mass destruction was to subject Iraq to economic sanctions so damaging that, once the Ba’athists had finished implementing them, thousands of children starved to death, or died of less spectacular forms of malnutrition, each month. That protected us, but it was pretty tough on the children."

I don't think this is true at all. The harsh sanctions were imposed to press Saddam Hussein to disarm and accept inspections. In those fields they had no effect from 1998 to 2003 and yet Saddam Hussein built no weapons of mass destruction during that period. This is true even though he diverted oil for food money and so had cash on hand. Sanctions aimed at directly interfering with purchase or development of weapons, combined with threats might have been enough. In short, I don't think the ban on purchases of anything but food and medicine was necessary. The costs of sanctions were the result of a political choice. I think the case that such heavy sanctions were necessary is that even with sanctions Saddam Hussein had kept his WMD, that is, it is a case which has been proven wrong since the invasion.

Now one might argue that, even if the sanctions should have been made milder they were in fact going to be kept tough so long as Saddam Hussein was in power, so we needed to invade to save Iraq from the sanctions. I find this an important argument., although it is one that was made by Kleiman (and me) and not, IIRC Kerry.

Kleiman goes on
"The only way to end the sanctions without having the WMD acquisition program start up again was to change the regime. I have seen no serious argument that the human cost to Iraq of war, occupation, and rebellion approaches the cost of the sanctions program. "

Well if this means that the suffering in the past year and a half is less than the suffering in the previous 12 years, I guess I agree, but that is not much of an argument. depending on the fact that1.5<12 If the argument is that the suffering that would have been caused by sanctions in the past year and a half is worse than the war etc seems crazy to me. My impression is that, aside from deaths and injuries in battle, conditions in Iraq are still slightly worse than they were before the invasion. That is the indirect costs in terms of infant mortality of the disorder and rebellion is greater than the costs of the same period of sanctions. Partly prof Kleiman might be assuming that if Bush had fought the war at the right time, then the suffering of war occupation etc would have been brief. Partly I think the costs of sanctions were emphasised by people arguing that they should be eliminated and the similar suffering in Iraq is not so emphasised, because no one has a plan for how to end it.

Also if one is talking about malnutrition one has to consider not just if the progress is positive but also if it is the best that can be achieved with $ 200,000,000,000.

To finally conclude (how do other bloggers discipline themselves ???) I think Kleiman makes a good case that Kleiman's views are consistent, but I think he shouldn't have presented his post as a discussion of Kerry.

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