It happens again. For the purposes of whatever argument, the conservatives turn loose their most robust intellectuals and I’m surprised to see how feeble they are. I expect a series of vigorously-constructed arguments to make their way to me. But no. I’m struck by the strained logic of Fox News. It makes you curious to find out who’s running the intellectual fort. Or if it even exists.
Enter John Yoo. He helped run President Bush’s justice department, now he’s a six-figure salaried professor at Berkeley’s Boalt law school. He should be capable of making a legal argument to tie me in knots. Without any problem, really. But John can do no better than Condie, or Rummy:
I continue to think that invading Iraq was the best option in light of the information we had then — I am finishing a book on war in the 21st century, where I make the case for preemptive and preventive war, and I argue that the proper way to think about these questions is based on the information available before the decision, not after.
Oh, aren’t you cute? The people who made the right call are fantasy leaguers because they weren’t there, man. Oh yeah? Try this then, Mister Reality: Pretending that the ‘information’ you had wasn’t just administration-manufactured bullshit amounts to a criminal coverup. When preparing to commit large-scale killing you don’t get to favor flattery and fabrication over intelligence because of loyalty, or paranoia, or any other fatal flaw of yours. Or you’re just a war criminal. It doesn’t matter why you did it, you committed mass murder and you belong in jail. For the rest of your life, really, John.
In law, we often come upon a situation after an event — a crime, an accident, etc. — and we must decide what to do based on the knowledge we have now. Courts award damages based on the harm to the victim and the harm to society. Suppose you thought that the Iraq war was a mistake. If so, isn’t the proper remedy to restore Saddam Hussein’s family and the Baath Party to power in Iraq? If you are unwilling to consider that remedy, aren’t you conceding that on balance, the benefits of the war outweigh the costs?
Good lord. Permit me to argue. A legal question like this emanates from some desire to make things right — but only between members within our society. What applies to people cannot be applied to countries. Unlike citizens, all governments are not created equal. They frequently show little interest in defending civil rights or in living in harmony with their neighbors. And no justice system can effectively discipline them, imprison them, or execute them.
Most are frankly crude constructs. But until we can all agree on what passes for justice, they’re all we’ve got. So when we destroyed Iraq, though we were wrong to do it, their government became our responsibility. Given that, I don’t think it does the locals any good to re-instate their tormentor. You couldn’t figure this out, John?
We owe Iraqis a lot more than that. A couple trillion in damages to start, and senior Bush administration officials stowed deep in the belly of a prison ship destined for Umm Qasr. Let us know how you get along, John.