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German Intellectuals "flawed reasoning" behind the Support of the Iraq War

Gustav Seibt wrote about German intellectuals who supported the Iraq war. Sign and Sight provides a translation of his Sueddeutsche Zeitung article from February 2007:
The motivations behind the powerful intellectual support of the war should be analysed in retrospect, and not only because the hopes that were invested in the Iraq War were so disastrously disappointed. We should be concerned, for one, with monitoring the success rate of our prognoses but more importantly, with exploring the argumentative basis of our war confidence in the West. Only then will the "war of ideas" between the Western public and the Islamic world that the essayist Paul Berman been demanding since 2001, seriously begin.
It's already started, here and there – even though it's a particularly internal conversation in the West, for example on the Internet site www.perlentaucher.de, where a noteworthy debate (English version here) on universalism and multiculturalism has been waged in the last few weeks, to which Ian Buruma, Timothy Garton Ash, Pascal Bruckner and Necla Kelek have contributed. But the discussion is concerned principally with the inner constitution of a liberal society, and not the civilisational conflict between the West and the entire Islamic world that the Iraq War has plunged us into, whether we like it or not.

But in this field in particular, the rubble of the Iraq War has to be cleared away before we can carry on with a modicum of credibility. Nobody should take pleasure in the fact that authors like Wolf Biermann and György Konrad, essayists like Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht and Karl-Otto Hondrich, "liberal hawks" like Paul Berman and Michael Ignatieff, and even considered observers like Ralph Dahrendorf and Herfried Münkler were wrong on so many counts. In fact, many of those named, and Konrad and Gumbrecht in particular, should be credited for admitting their mistakes. (...)

Defeats are known to give rise to reflection, and lessons are best learned from stories that don't end the way we expected them to. A lesson from this recent history is, the more expansive the historical analogy, the more likely it is to be misleading. Another lesson is: little bits of conventional wisdom can be helpful. Two examples: If you're planning to occupy a large country, take a lot of troops. And if you're going to dissolve an army, be sure to keep the weapons and give the men work.
Andrew Hammel makes an observation concerning Seibt's article in German Joys, which I believe is true for many debates:
I noticed the same pattern as Seibt did. I think part of the explanation is that the hawkish intellectuals who supported the war engaged not with the serious critiques from war opponents, but with the goofy arguments of the weird left. They then built their case for war on a refutation of those silly arguments, rather than a carefully-reasoned argument why the war itself was necessary or desirable. "Because the anti-American, anti-Semitic wacko left is strongly against this war, and because I despise those people, the war must be a good idea. How can those people, whom I've spent my life criticizing, be right about anything?"

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Don S on :

I see a certain note of smugness in all this Iraq post-morteming 'We told you so'. Well, not exactly, and I think many of the lessons of the past five years have yet to be discerned. The full fruits of this 'mean and dishonest decade' (Orwell) will show themselves in their full glory. It has been a decade of disillusionment, faction, and fracture and the depths of the disaster haven't nearly been plumbed. Smugness isn't nearly the proper reaction - but smugness is all we are getting. So be it.

Detlef on :

You forgot "Alea iacta est". :) Seriously though, I donīt quite understand your "smugness" complaint. Iīve read the whole article. Did he even mention the USA? The main criticism of Seibt seems to be that most German intellectuals supporting the war didnīt spend one single thought on the actual real Iraq. Instead they discussed everything in terms of the last 70 years of European history (Hitler, WW2, appeasement etc.). Well and good if you want to re-fight WW2. But it led them to completely overlook the domestic situation of Iraq. And possible problems that might turn up after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Things like a Kurdish desire for more "independence" and a return to Kirkuk for example could have been foreseen as a probable scenario. And the resulting tensions with Turkey. The possibility of closer ties between Iraqi Shiites and Iran especially with SCIRI and Dawa sheltered in Iran. The possibiliy that Iraqi Sunnis wouldnīt like losing their privileged position. What would be the influence of Muslim clerics and the Muslim faith? Mind you, Iīm not saying that anyone could have foreseen what actually happened in Iraq in the last few years. But if these German war supporters had spent at least part of their time discussing Iraq itself (instead of European history), they might have talked about possible post-war Iraq scenarios. And how to deal with them. You know, "plan for the worst, hope for the best". Think back to WW2. The USA and UK started planning for the occupation of Germany in 1942. Training civic affairs officers, looking for people speaking German, making plans on how to build new local authorities. Sure, I know that Germany didnīt support the war and so these intellectuals were just talking and not influencing anything. But it would be much harder for Seibt to criticize them if they had said: "I support the war for reason A, B, C. However we must be careful afterwards. If we want to avoid problem X, we might do Y. If we want to encourage Z, letīs try...." They didnīt do that. They discussed Middle-East Muslim Iraq in the terms of European history. Letīs get rid of Saddam Hussein and somehow magically Iraq will become a democracy. Without any discussion on how that should happen. And that is not the best way to discuss and support a possible war. And it shouldnīt be repeated.

Don S on :

Detlef, I see a certain air of 'we wuz right - you were wrong' from the critics, who are unconcerned by any errors of analysis which they may have themselves committed at the time. What I saw at the time was the critics asserting that the US had to make and unassailable legal case for WMD etc before anything was possible. Which (under the circumstances) seemed to require that Saddam Hussein be subpeonad and testify against himself at the Hague. Otherwise utter paralysis was all that was possible. Do you see a problem with this? As in Hell would freeze over before it happened (assuming you believe in hell). Had we appled the same reasoning in Kosovo as was attempted to refute Bush Milosevic would still be in power and the Kosovar Albanians would either be refugees - or missing. Moreover I see a lot of European and US critics banging away at 'The US has failed to' or 'Bush has failed to' but seemingly completely missing the equal number of criticisms of the form 'Germany failed to' or 'Schroeder failed to'. Those questions aren't beginning to be addressed in the poet-mortem conducted by the smug - but they exist and will be addressed sooner or later. Better done in discussion - but as they are not being discussed I think the address will mean action. Actions the critics may not like at all. So be it.

Detlef on :

Don S, Ah, so youīre not really talking about this post and the linked newspaper comment but about German politics before the Iraq war generally. Forgive me, I thought you were commenting on the post. So be it! :) Well, let me give you my opinion on that then. In 2002 I was undecided since I did remember Saddam Husseinīs poison gas attacks against the Kurds (and the Iranians). I didnīt really believe the Saddam Hussein - Al Qaeda connection but I was willing to be persuaded. Likewise I didnīt like how Schroeder used the topic in the German federal elections. Saying that Germany wonīt become involved even if Saddam Hussein didnīt obey the UN resolutions struck me as totally stupid. Probably a minority view in Germany back then. However I was worried that the USA didnīt seem to care about Osama Bin Laden any longer. Things like pulling out [url=http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/context.jsp?item=complete_timeline_of_the_2003_invasion_of_iraq_2892&scale=2#complete_timeline_of_the_2003_invasion_of_iraq_2892]US Special Forces from Afghanistan[/url] for example. The Bush administration in the 2002 federal budget forgetting to ask [url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/2759789.stm]for any aid money for Afghanistan[/url]. That kind of things. In the second half of 2002 the USA seemed concerned only with Iraq. Then of course came the UN resolutions. UNSCOM Inspectors were back in. And they didnīt find anything. I assumed that the intelligence services had given them information where to search. And nothing. Coupled with the UN inspectors reports from the 1990s, the case for WMDs didnīt sound so convincing any longer. The [url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,891577,00.html]UK WMD dossier[/url] about Iraq with its "cut and paste" from some American college studentīs work from the 1990s didnīt help either. Or the IAEO alleged [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowcake_forgery#IAEA_analysis] "only two-hour Google search"[/url] to determine that the yellowcake Niger documents were fraud. Or the aluminum tubes where the [url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A36348-2002Sep18?language=printer]US nuclear weapons experts (DOE)[/url] and the [url=http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=3266]IAEO[/url] criticized the CIA interpretation. After all that in early 2003 the UN inspectors asked for [url=http://www.un.org/Depts/unmovic/SC7asdelivered.htm]some more months[/url] to be sure about their findings. Not years but months. They didnīt get that time. And Iīm sorry to say, thatīs not: "What I saw at the time was the critics asserting that the US had to make and unassailable legal case for WMD etc before anything was possible." I read these and other sources back then and concluded that the WMD claim - at least concerning nuclear weapons - seemed to be a bit exaggerated. So I was willing to give the UN inspectors six more months. Sure, the soldiers in Kuwait wouldnīt have liked summer there. But after that period, the case would have been pretty clear if Blix is to believed. Either no WMDs found or invasion. In hindsight, it would probably have been easier on the soldiers too.

Don S on :

Detlef, One slight correction in that my post is directed toward most of the critics generally - not specifically German ones. In fact probably more American and British post-mortems as I'm sure the bulk of German analysis doesn't get translated into English. Some of it is very thoughtful to be sure - but the critics seem to be wearing blinders about what I believe some of the most profound effects of this will be in the longer term. It has given a huge boost to isolationism both in the US and (I would argue) in Europe. Europeans seem to be perfectionist about wars except (possibly) when Europe is itself attacked. Pacifism is all very well but when pacifism leads one to not keep faith with one's allies it becomes an extreme form of isolation.

Pat Patterson on :

I can only respond to a few of the this list; 5th Group Special Forces was indeed withdrawn from Afghanistan but were tasked to find saddam Hussein, which they did. and in the normal course of events they have been redployed for a tour in Afghanistan to replace the units that replaced them. HR 3994, a supplemental appropriation allocated $200 million for humanitarian aid and reconstruction to Afghanistan as well as eventurally $350 milllion for 2005. This is perfectly normal for funding needs that are not part of the budget which in this case was essentially the budget left over from the Clinton presidency. USCOM was never allowed back into Iraq but for 3 months another inspection team, UNMOVIC, tried to search but eventually reported two things. That they couldn't find any WMDs in the sites that Iraq allowed to be inspected and that the weapons that UNSCOM was looking for couldn't be found as long as inspectiors were not given access to all the sites. So yes, UNMOVIC could report no weapons much as the blind man described an elephant. The link concerning DOE is not about DOE except as anonymous and unsourced. The Institute for Science and International Security is a NGO with some good sources but nothing official or on the record. There are some very good arguments to be made concerning the intelligence of the US invading Iraq but repeating anecdotal stories is simply not the way to advance a serious argument. The anti-war position is serious and deserves consideration but not if its basis is tired and discredited talking points.

Axel on :

1. "So yes, UNMOVIC could report no weapons much as the blind man described an elephant." Interesting assessment of the work of UNMOVIC and the IAEA in Iraq. Read Hans Blix's briefing to the security council on February 14, 2003 or his book where he describes the events and inspections before the war. 2. "The link concerning DOE is not about DOE except as anonymous and unsourced. The Institute for Science and International Security is a NGO with some good sources but nothing official or on the record." See the [url=http://www.gpoaccess.gov/serialset/creports/iraq.html]"Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq"[/url] from 2004, section III. 3. "There are some very good arguments to be made concerning the intelligence of the US invading Iraq but repeating anecdotal stories is simply not the way to advance a serious argument." The only anecdotal stories I'm aware of were the product of the Office of Special Plans (OSP), a propaganda unit created in order to "find" evidence that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda and that Iraq had an dangerous arsenal of chemical, biological and perhaps also nuclear weapons.

Pat Patterson on :

I think I can safely stand by my earlier comment. The link to the DOE experts does not quote any DOE officials, in fact it says that, "Several Evergy Department officials familiar with the aluminum shipments declined to comment." It simply doesn't make sense to argue against US action on the basis of phantom inspections by UNSCOM, which was nominally independent of UN control, by suddenly claiming that UNMOVIC cleared Saddam when the record is much more debatable. In fact UNMOVIC noted that the Iraq's response was mainly reprints of which had already been rejected as inadequate. The only thing Amb. Blix claimed with assurance was that Iraq did not an operational nuclear program. UNMOVIC and the IAEA asked for more time because they were not allowed access to previously inspected sites where these weapons had been found. The Iraqis offered no proof of the weapons destruction, which they could have and were required to do so by Res. 1441 and numerous other Security Council directives. That UNMOVIC and the IAEA completely missed the Libyan and North Korean programs didn't leadthe West to have much confidence in Iraqi claims of innocence. Much like the passerby that notices the irregular glow and the odor of smoke coming from a house and yet is told by another passerby that he had already inspected the house and was somewhat confident that the house was not on fire because the garage wasn't. I used the reference to anecdotal stories for the simple reason that most of what Detlef relayed were stories without either context or facts. Their appearance seems to make sense but only indicate how much hindsigt acquires the patina of perfection.

David on :

Your labored efforts to justify this disasterous war are pretty comical. It amazes me that there are still folks out there drinking the koolaid.

Pat Patterson on :

What "labored efforts" did I make? I pointed out that some of the reasons Detlef gave for opposing the war where in fact not as he represented them. Axel made a serious but I think debatable effort to somewhat justify the original posts. But if name calling is the preferred method then count me out.

Detlef on :

Pat, [i]"HR 3994, a supplemental appropriation allocated $200 million for humanitarian aid and reconstruction to Afghanistan as well as eventurally $350 milllion for 2005. This is perfectly normal for funding needs that are not part of the budget which in this case was essentially the budget left over from the Clinton presidency."[/i] Iīm willing to be convinced. I can only say that the impression in 2002 was that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq and neglecting Afghanistan. The BBC article simply mentions that Congress did add aid money for Afghanistan to the federal budget after it discovered that the Bush administration hadnīt ask for anything. And HR 3994 was introduced after that BBC article, just to mention it. By the way, how can the 2003 budget proposal mentioned in that BBC article be a left over from the Clinton administration? As far as I know Clinton stepped down in January 2001? He might have introduced a proposal for a 2002 budget, but a 2003 budget? [i]USCOM was never allowed back into Iraq but for 3 months another inspection team, UNMOVIC, tried to search but eventually reported two things. That they couldn't find any WMDs in the sites that Iraq allowed to be inspected and that the weapons that UNSCOM was looking for couldn't be found as long as inspectors were not given access to all the sites. So yes, UNMOVIC could report no weapons much as the blind man described an elephant.[/i] You are right about UNSCOM. That apparently was the UN inspection team in the 1990s. UNMOVIC was the 2002/03 one. My mistake. For your other claim read my UN link "some more months". Report of Hans Blix to the UN Security Council March 7, 2003. Quote: "Initial difficulties raised by the Iraqi side about helicopters and aerial surveillance planes operating in the no-fly zones were overcome. This is not to say that the operation of inspections is free from frictions, but at this juncture we are able to [b]perform professional no-notice inspections all over Iraq[/b] and to increase aerial surveillance." You could also look at his February 14, 2003 [url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,895882,00.html]statement[/url]. Quote: "Since we arrived in Iraq, we have conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites. All inspections were performed without notice, and access was almost always provided promptly. In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming. ... In my 27 January update to the Council, I said that it seemed from our experience that Iraq had decided in principle to provide cooperation on process, most importantly prompt access to all sites and assistance to UNMOVIC in the establishment of the necessary infrastructure. This impression remains, and we note that access to sites has so far been without problems, including those that had never been declared or inspected, as well as to Presidential sites and private residences." That seems to contradict your statement that the "inspectors were not given access to all the sites"? Could you provide a link prove your statement? [i]The link concerning DOE is not about DOE except as anonymous and unsourced. The Institute for Science and International Security is a NGO with some good sources but nothing official or on the record.[/i] I tried to restrict myself to media reports that were available before the war started. Given that American media also used lots of anonymous sources to make the case for war, I felt I was justified including it. If you have anonymous sources on both sides, treat them equally. Especially when media articles were cited approvingly by members of the Bush administration. Notice that the UN inspectors also questioned the aluminum tubes - WMD case before the war. For what itīs worth, the NGO was proven right by the [url=http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/03/international/middleeast/03tube.html?ei=5090&en=2e1cdcc5b66e0332&ex=1254456000]NYT[/url] in 2004. Quote: "But almost a year [which means 2001] before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, according to four officials at the Central Intelligence Agency and two senior administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity. The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets. ... Senior administration officials repeatedly failed to fully disclose the contrary views of America's leading nuclear scientists, an examination by The New York Times has found. They sometimes overstated even the most dire intelligence assessments of the tubes, yet minimized or rejected the strong doubts of nuclear experts. They worried privately that the nuclear case was weak, but expressed sober certitude in public. ... In fact, the team [DOE team in 2001] could find no centrifuge machines "deployed in a production environment" that used such narrow tubes. Their walls were three times too thick for "favorable use" in a centrifuge, the team wrote. They were also anodized, meaning they had a special coating to protect them from weather. Anodized tubes, the team pointed out, are "not consistent" with a uranium centrifuge because the coating can produce bad reactions with uranium gas." [i]There are some very good arguments to be made concerning the intelligence of the US invading Iraq but repeating anecdotal stories is simply not the way to advance a serious argument. The anti-war position is serious and deserves consideration but not if its basis is tired and discredited talking points.[/i] Ohh? Anecdotal stories? I feel that you are focusing on minor things in my comment. UNSCOM - UNMOVIC, HR 3994 and "Bill Clinton" and anonymous DOE sources. In fact though I linked to websites - not anecdotes - that said: a) in early March 2003 that UNMOVIC had pretty much unrestricted access. b) the UN inspectors themselves disputed the Aluminum tube case. (And some American media said that DOE experts agreed with them.) c) HR 3994 was introduced in March 2002 after the BBC report from February 2002. You donīt even mention the other links. Like the UK WMD dossier cited approvingly by Colin Powell at the UN Security Council meeting. Or the Niger yellow cake fraud. Not to mention that Hans Blix in his reports disputes your statement that the "inspectors were not given access to all the sites". Are these "tired and discredited talking points" too? Simply put, all Iīm saying that if you did follow the international media (in my case US, UK and German media) in late 2002/early 2003, you would get a little bit suspicious of the whole WMD - mainly nuclear - case against Iraq. However, Iīm willing to consider your point. So, could you write a comment detailing what you would consider good anti-war positions before the war?

Pat Patterson on :

Detlef-Thanks for taking the time to reply. The 2002 budget was essentially drawn up the year before, before 9/11, and is thus essentially the previous administrations spending plans. This does not mean I am suggesting any kind of misfeasance on Pres. Clinton's part but simply the way the US budget is created. Which more or less is also true of the 2003 budget though the new administration has much more time to change some spending, at least on those areas of the budget not considered entitlements. The 9-11 Commission Report went into the issue of Iraq and Niger and concluded that there was no sale but that Saddam's agents had attempted to arrange for the sale of this material. Actually your follow-up was much more helpful than the original post. My disagreement has always been that arguments formed on poor information or lack of chronology are simply not worth arguing. And a difference of opinion is not proof of lying. One addendum might be that Blix claimed the necessity of more time not Butler and that this period of access only lasted two weeks until all UN personnel was pulled out of Iraq on March 17. Blix and Baradei did not make the claim that they could have found the truth of the matter was made after the war had started. I think that if I had been arguing the anti-war position I would have concentrated on the idea that a sovereign nation, rogue or not, should not be invaded and deposed even if that regimes actions create a perfectly understandable reaction in the world to the torture and killing of its own citizens. I would have argued that for more than two decades US policy has successfully kept Iraq and Iran focused on each other and not on expanding their influence throughout the region. That without the proximity of one enemy the other would soon be up to no good. And I would have argued that in spite of Madeline Albright's complaint the use of an army should not be simply because you can use it.

Don S on :

If Germans really wish to examine their own mistakes vis Iraq they could do worse than examine the defeat of the treaty for US entry to the League of Nations in the US Senate. I think Germans believe that the US is trapped into NATO and cannot disengage. Therefore any dirty tricks Germany and France care to deal out to the US can be done with impunity and without cost to 'tricksters'. Not so, as the League of Nations debate showed.

David on :

"anti-American, anti-Semitic wacko left" I've heard this charge leveled before. Could someone please direct me to anti-Semitic statements made by prominent anti-war "leftists" in Germany?

Don S on :

"anti-American, anti-Semitic wacko left" ????, David?!!!

Pat Patterson on :

Would belonging to an anti-Semitic organization qualify? I nominate Gunter Grass for inclusion in the "anti-American, anti-Semitic wacko left."

David on :

Which anti-Semitic organization does Grass belong to, and what has he said or written that is anti-Semitic?

Pat Patterson on :

Waffen SS! Couldn't get much more anti-Semitic than them.

David on :

When he was a kid, and he has a self-reckoning in his autobiographical "Peeling the Onion". I have read everything Grass has written except for "Ein weites Feld" (on my list for this year)and have not detected any anti-Semitism. Quite the contrary. Would you consider Ratzinger/Benedict anti-Semitic because he joined the Hitler Jugend as a kid?

Pat Patterson on :

Only if he had lied about his associations.

Zyme on :

americans discussing about anti-semitism of Grass :D you guys never cease to amaze me

bob on :

Well, if your point is that this is a German problem and should only be discussed by Germans, I disagree; but, if you are referring to the fact that most people havent read all of Grass' novels, you may have a point. If you made it through that crappy novel set in Berlin where the Stasi narrator thinks he's Fontaine in the 1880s, you, Sir, are a God. Besides, at least no one is talking about this: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/0,1518,481898,00.html. Your laptop's silence does not mean yes. Bad Germans, bad Germans...

Zyme on :

My point was that I thought it would be even more "scheissegal" to americans what Günter Grass thought about jews more than six decades ago than it is to most germans. I mean who is that guy? Just another one of those funny 1968ers the working population is currently in the process of getting rid of biologically :)

David on :

"who is that guy?" - just the author of one of the greatest novels of the 20th century - Die Blechtrommel.

Zyme on :

Oh please - spare us ;)

Zyme on :

Well for foreigners such books might be interesting if they want to experience the history of german literature. But we germans have plagued our society with such books long enough. It is time to move on.

David on :

Well, it's sad that an American has to defend Grass against the spurious accusation of anti-Semitism. Where are the German lovers of literature?

bob on :

Oh, come on. If your finest work, the Danzig trilogy, is predicated on the elegiac assumption that many Kashubians were unfairly deprived of their heimat because as he was wont to say 'we were too Polish for the Germans and too German for the Poles' and then you turn out to have volunteered for the Waffen SS, that seriously undermines the foundatonal credibility of the man's works. We can all explore the notions of forgiveness and reconciliation between the Germans and the Slavs, but when the writer advancing these themes willingly joined a genocidical military force whose purpose was to enslave and liquidate his neighbours, complains that his neighbours forced him to leave the neighbourhood, it's amusing. Grass' authorial presence infuses most of his books about Danzig and the Poles, regardless of the characters and plots. You are constantly being reminded of the Germans' fate; a fate which might have been avoided, the books imply, if more Germans had been like Grass. Well, the problem was that too many Germans had been like Grass.

Zyme on :

"Well, it's sad that an American has to defend Grass against the spurious accusation of anti-Semitism." So do you want to defend his achievements in literature or his stance on jews? What does the one have to do with the other? Martin Luther is accused of being an anti-semite as well - yet those that are part of his religious faction have no reason to care. For them it is the religous achievement that matters.

Pat Patterson on :

The question was regarding statements, I asked if association with anti-Semites counted. The correct answer would have been no, but Rohrshach commentary seems to be more fun.

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