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We captured an old man in a hole!

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Way back in the first quarter of this year, as I protested the war on the streets of Los Angeles, I encountered a few pro-warriors who got right in my face and demanded answers from me.

Here’s how the average conversation went:

PRO-WARRIOR: Okay, just answer me this: Do you think the U.S. is going to be able to catch an old man in a hole or not?

ME: Not.

PRO-WARRIOR: I can’t believe you don’t think we can capture an old man hiding in a hole!

ME: You’re crazy if you think the U.S. military can capture an old man in a hole. You’ve been brainwashed by Bill O’Reilly into thinking that.

PRO-WARRIOR: You know what? You and Hans Blix can just go give each other handjobs for all I care. He doesn’t think we can capture an old man in a hole, either!

ME: Oh yeah, well Hans Blix is right! It’s crazy to think that the U.S. military can somehow capture an old man hiding in a hole!

PRO-WARRIOR: Tell you what, when we DO capture an old man hiding in a hole–and believe you me, we will–then will you admit you were wrong when you said we couldn’t catch an old man in a hole?

ME: You know what? Yeah! I will. But it’s never gonna happen. The U.S. military has neither the resources nor the ability to catch an old man hiding in a hole. Upon this I base my entire opposition to the war.

PRO-WARRIOR: You fucking traitor.

ME: You fucking fascist.

* * *

But seriously…

Now is a good time to take a trip all the way back to the run-up to the war, and see where the goalposts really were back then. Because I truly do not remember any of my peers basing their opposition to the Iraq war on the notion that the U.S. military would be unable to capture or kill Saddam Hussein.

I just don’t recall this happening. Maybe you do remember something like that, and I’d be happy if you could point me to a link.

Here’s how I remember things happening way back then…

Early on, the Bush Administration was not satisifed with the intelligence community’s assessment of the risk Iraq posed, because that risk assessment hardly justified a war. So the White House set up a special office designed, critics said, to create more pleasing conclusions from the same evidence.

At the time, those in the intelligence community and lefties (and some righties) were totally throwing hissy fits about that special office, claiming that its conclusions were not based on solid evidence and reasoning.

But here was the standard, confident line from the hawks:

The CIA is wrong about the threat Saddam Hussein poses to the U.S. He is a serious threat requiring urgent action.

Hans Blix is wrong about the WMD. It won’t do any good to give him the time he says he needs. He’s wrong/deluded about the WMD and can’t be trusted. The WMD are there–we know this to a certainty, and we can’t let a debating society get in the way.

Predictions of a long, hard fight like Vietnam are crazy. We will be “greeted as liberators” and swiftly create a democracy that will be a model for the Middle East.

These were the major conclusions that were thrown in my face as I protested the war. I was a fool for believing Saddam wasn’t a significant threat to the security of the U.S. I was a fool for believing that there might not be any WMD in Iraq. I was a fool for believing that inspections could accomplish anything (because they hadn’t found WMD yet, so obviously they weren’t working). I was a fool for believing that Iraq could turn into another Vietnam.

The average Dittohead war supporters I encountered were obviously not basing their confidence on their own study of classified intelligence–they were basing it on the confidence in these three key conclusions displayed by the Bush Administration.

But the Bush Administration manufactured these conclusions by distorting evidence it didn’t like. If that’s not what the Office of Special Plans was for, what was it for?

The main conflict between many pro-war and anti-war folks can be distilled down to this: Was the Office of Special Plans right or wasn’t it?

Because a lot of us wouldn’t have opposed the war if we thought Iraq was truly a threat to the U.S. And a lot of us wouldn’t have opposed the war if we thought there were nuclear weapons in Iraq. And a lot of us wouldn’t have opposed the war in order to cure the massive human-rights-violations in Iraq–if we thought that was a sincere goal of the warriors, and if there were evidence of a solid plan built around this goal (like, um, international cooperation?).

A lot of us didn’t oppose all war on principle (I don’t). If George W. Bush had proposed to the U.N. that the world work more dilligently to cure human-rights violations, and he presented a plan that called for U.S. military force to be a resource dedicated to curing the worst of these violations around the globe, and the plan actually seemed like it would result in a net reduction of human suffering…I would have been for it.

That’s where the pro-war goalpost is now. Human rights! Human rights! Human rights!

But I don’t remember George W. Bush proposing a “reduce the most human-rights violations we can with the resources we have” initiative. I remember a laser focus on Iraq, and I remember it being an “Iraq has WMD and must be stopped” initiative.

I remember these three points, just to review:

The CIA is wrong about the threat Saddam Hussein poses to the U.S.

Hans Blix is wrong about the WMD.

Predictions of a long, hard fight like Vietnam are crazy.

It says much about the character of blogosphere hawks that most still have not admitted that the principal arguments they made at the time of the run-up to the war have been substantially discredited.

The CIA was right about the threat level–Saddam wasn’t a military threat of great significance.

Hans Blix was right about the WMD–inspections were obviously the right way to go, and the reason the inspections weren’t finding any WMD is because they probably weren’t there, contrary to the extremely confident assertions of pro-warriors at the time.

And the Polyannas were right about the whole winning-the-peace thing. Turns out it’s kinda hard.

The goalposts have since moved, but I’ll never forget the absolute confidence behind the war supporters who literally screamed in my face as I protested the war. Obviously, they didn’t scream “We’re gonna find an old man in a hole!” at me. Sometimes it was “Don’t you remember 9-11?”, but when the shouting matches became close to conversation, the support the pro-warriors offered for their side tended to be along the lines of those three points: Iraq is a direct threat to the U.S., WMD are in Iraq right now and Blix just can’t/won’t find them, and we’re not getting into another Vietnam.

To some, these points were so obvious that my failure to believe them constituted treason. The only explanation for my unwillingness to believe these obvious facts was that I must secretly love Saddam Hussein or something.

What does it mean that the pro-warriors were so terribly wrong about the key planks in their support for the war? To me, it means we need to evaluate just how these myths came to be believed–for example, why the brand-new, custom-made Office of Special Plans’ conclusions were accepted when the established intelligence community’s conclusions were not.

But the first step is to admit that these conclusions were wrong. Unfortunately, this is something the pro-warriors are having a very difficult time doing.

Watching them celebrate the capture of Saddam Hussein as if it is some kind of vindication only drives the point home.

Saddam Hussein has been captured.


1. Saddam Hussein had posed a direct threat to the security of the U.S.

2. There were indeed WMD in Iraq that the international inspections teams just couldn’t find.

3. We have won the peace in Iraq and democracy is flowering in the Middle East.

I don’t buy it.

Saddam’s capture is a vindication of exactly nothing with regard to the original arguments pro-warriors made to get us into the Iraq war.

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About Brian Flemming