Readers respond to "The Crisis of the Pro-War Liberals," by Michelle Goldberg, and "Iraq Is Not Vietnam," by Edward W. Lempinen.

By Salon Staff

Published September 25, 2003 9:29PM (EDT)

[Read "The Crisis of the Pro-War Liberals," by Michelle Goldberg.]

Please keep publishing articles critical of the left. That's the primary reason I read Salon: I feel as though I share the same liberal leanings as the editors, and also the same desire for critical (and self-critical) thought. Salon's criticism of the left puts it in sharp contrast with the current right, which, as far as I can tell, is never critical of itself.

I fail to understand the hawkish liberals who have become silent, or who have pretended they were never pro-war. Those same liberals could (and should) be speaking out for a better outcome for Iraqis, saying, essentially, "We did not support the war so that THIS would happen." I see no hypocrisy in wanting a better fate for Iraqis before or after the war, and I see no hypocrisy in criticizing the administration for the way it is doing things in Iraq now.

I am puzzled over whom to believe about the current level of morale of the average Iraqi. There's no way anyone on the right or left has interviewed a statistically significant number of Iraqis to have anything more than anecdotal evidence to support whatever preconceptions are out there. But is not having rape rooms and prisons for children considered by the left at least a marginal improvement in the standard of living for the average Iraqi citizen?

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it sucks not being able to turn on the lights or have a shower, or be gainfully employed, but I'd rather be unemployed in a blackout than have my child in prison because of some slight he may have said against the government.

-- Manni Wood

The problem with liberals' support for the invasion of Iraq is not a miscalculation of the benefits which would accrue to that country and people, nor that the costs of the fiasco will deter future American interventions on behalf of other benighted peoples. The fallacy in support for this invasion comes in the costs to this country and our own people.

Under the election year smokescreen of Iraq the Bush administration has managed to go AWOL from the real "war on terror," to ignore its responsibilities in Afghanistan, to put the nation at much greater risk of retributive terrorism -- even as the administration went on looting the treasury, gutting the Bill of Rights, raping the environment and poisoning the nation's discourse.

To Hitchens and the rest of this credulous pack I have this to say: Iraq was a diversion, stupid. Nobody in the administration, except possibly Bush himself, ever really believed Saddam was a threat, or gives a goddamn about the fate of the Iraqi people. But they knew that they desperately needed cover for the numerous lies, crimes and derelictions perpetrated by Bush and company, knew they needed to distract the press and the people from the many things which, in peacetime, would bring such an outfit down in a landslide of scandals, committees, impeachments and indictments.

In your article, this line invites comment: "Phillips, though, says there was no way to foresee the way Bush would mishandle the occupation." This seems to suggest that Bush has a record for something other than abject failure concealed under outright fraud. But any review of the record shows that all Bush has ever done well is line his patrons' pockets with other people's money. This trend continues, absolutely predictably, in Iraq. It is incredibly easy to foresee the way Bush will mishandle everything he touches.

-- David Essex

Three times Goldberg bases an argument on the idea that Iraqis believe they are worse off now than under Saddam. Why would any rational person believe that all problems in Iraq would be solved by now? The fact is that Bosnia, East Timor, and Kosova all went through periods when things looked bleak, enough so that the U.N. governed those nations for seven, two, and four-plus years, respectively. Compare that to six months of work in Iraq and Goldberg's premise falls apart.

-- Rocky Giovinazzo

There's a simple reason why preemption is a bad idea and why it might appear illogical for Saddam to shut out inspectors when he could have had sanctions repealed and avoided an invasion. People don't like to be told what to do and will often go to irrational lengths to avoid appearing submissive or "weak." I think that the geopolitical technicians who make policy and who comment on policy often discount the human element. Christopher Hitchens, for one, has the insouciant confidence in political matters that should be reserved for other areas of endeavor -- say, interior decorating.

-- Eric Jurgensen

[Read "Iraq Is Not Vietnam," by Edward W. Lempinen.]

Edward Lempinen's article about Iraq could barely be more apt -- though I think his reading of Daschle's comment is a rather big stretch. Bringing our troops home now is without question the most irresponsible action we could take. The statements of those on the left who call for this, such as Dennis Kucinich, are an embarrassment and a liability to anyone who holds liberal values and goals.

While this war was rationalized with false claims and there was no viable exit plan, it is our responsibility now to see that Iraq is restored and that its people remain free from tyranny.

There is a great danger for liberals in attacking Bush's foreign policy in a narrowly ideological fashion. The American people rightly believe that Bush has toppled a brutal dictator. The challenge to his policies must focus on the fact that his administration lied about the reasons for going into Iraq, failed to prepare for it adequately, wildly misrepresented the cost of winning the peace, greatly damaged our relationships with our allies, and compromised our national security in doing so.

A winning Democratic candidate in 2004 will be one who can, better than Bush, engage our allies and the Iraqi people in establishing a free, democratic society in Iraq.

-- Brian Craft

Unfortunately, the world is filled with vicious dictators and sociopaths. Yet I was disturbed by the tone of Lempinen's article: The fact that a country is ruled by a vicious dictator is not a valid reason under international law or, as far as I am concerned, a logical one, for one country to attack another. My understanding of international law is that in order to justifiably declare war against another requires that you have been attacked or, at the very least, that there is the imminent threat of an attack against you. Those situations have turned out to not have existed prior to our invasion of Iraq.

I reluctantly supported the decision to attack Iraq, on the grounds that the administration (or should I say the "misadministration") knew what it was talking about when it claimed that there were WMD in Iraq. It is not our responsibility to export democracy to the world by military force. I suspect that such an effort will fail miserably. As it has turned out there was no imminent threat to the U.S., and consequently, the reasons for invading Iraq appear to have been based on oil and/or supporting Israel. While these may or may not be valid foreign policy goals, they are not good reasons to declare war.

I see no reason to remain in Iraq if the Iraqi people do not want us there. We can't afford international adventurism nor can we afford a 10-year war in the Middle East. The consequence of our invasion of Iraq may yet be an Islamist state -- keeping U.S. troops there for 10 years will not change that result. Nor is establishing a "democratic" regime a legitimate reason for invasion.

-- Bruce Piotrowski

Lempinen assumes throughout his article that supporting the liberation of Iraq means supporting the unilateralist style of the Bush administration. On the contrary, there is a means of bringing our troops home that would improve the lives of the Iraqis and bestow greater legitimacy unto the new Iraqi government. Simply put, we need to open Iraq to the U.N. and invite multinational forces and assistance.

Of course, that would spell the end of U.S. autonomy over Iraq, and certainly the noncompetitive contracts that Halliburton and Bechtel are being awarded -- but surely that doesn't matter to the U.S. if our aim is bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. And that is our aim, after all, isn't it?

-- Douglas Frazey

I am angry at the Bush administration for putting our country in this untenable position in the Middle East. I seriously doubt that we can make things right in Iraq, but I agree we now have to try. But not with our present leaders and not with the degree of obfuscation and deception we have been subjected to in the past two years.

Leave the troops in Iraq. Send the people who put them there home. Insist on the resignations of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Hand Iraq over to the U.N. Then commence a nonpartisan, open, national investigation into how we got into this mess.

Hand-wringing articles about the rhetoric of the antiwar left serve only to divert our attention from the real problem. Focus instead on the cause of our anger: the tragically misguided policies of the Bush administration.

-- Bartholomew Hobson

The head-in-the-sand demand for postwar isolationism -- "bring them home now" -- is almost as irresponsible as the Bush administration's head-in-the-ass unilateralism.

Whether the voters will be persuaded to buy the more nuanced policy Edward Lempinen proposes remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it's the right thing to do.

-- David Hyde

After reading Lempinen's article closely, I'm still not certain what he is advocating. Don't abandon Iraq, he says, yet he offers no solutions, and even rules out the only path that might offer a solution -- turning it over to the U.N.

What Lempinen and the neo-cons in the White House are totally ignoring is what happens when the Shiites start their movement for an Islamic state. The U.S. won't have to worry about an exit strategy; they will be tossed out on their butts.

Lempinen comments that only two weeks after the invasion, the critics started pointing out all the flaws. Funny, I thought the critics pointed them all out months before the invasion began. The critics said that it would result in a guerrilla war, that it would destabilize Iraq and perhaps the whole Middle East, that it would increase terrorism and would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

If Bush does not turn this cesspool over to the U.N. (if they will take it, which is doubtful), we will be in a Vietnam-like quagmire and end up defeated anyway. I guess the only hope is that things don't implode before the elections, and this moron can be turfed.

-- Rex Meade

While I enjoyed Lempinen's article, I disagreed with this quote:

"Vietnam was a war that suppressed freedom and self-determination, though fought in the name of preventing Communist tyranny; the Iraq war, whatever its motive, has had the effect of freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny."

While this is technically true, the two wars are seen in the same light by the neoconservatives. Vietnam was part of the cold war, which aimed to stop the spread of communism. The Iraq war, on the other hand, is part of a larger plan to spread Western principles to the Middle East, to counter the spread of radical Islam. In both cases, the war was fought to stop the spread of a particular ideology, and in that sense, the motivation is the same.

-- Steve Simitzis

Salon Staff

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