Jan 17, 2021 – The West Coast Ports Lockout of 2002 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 342

Description: It’s October 2002. Congress is debating the Iraq War Resolution. George W. Bush invokes the Taft-Hartley Act for the first time in decades to halt a lockout of West Coast longshoremen in a contract dispute over future automation. Bill, Rachel, Kelley.

Links and notes for Ep. 342 (PDF): http://arsenalfordemocracy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/AFD-Ep-342-Links-and-Notes-The-West-Coast-Ports-Lockout-of-2002.pdf

A tentative thought on presidential qualifications

I’m not 100% sure about this, but I feel like we Democrats should probably stick with nominating people who didn’t vote for the Iraq War, given that the whole “well that was a world-altering catastrophe” thing hasn’t really stopped being true…

I realize that we’re not “supposed” to bring this up twelve years after the Iraq War started, but people who voted for the Iraq War should probably be automatically disqualified from being President of the United States. As a lifetime policy.

Anyone who cast that vote was exercising astonishingly bad judgment whatever their reasons — whether that person was a true believer, fell for the lazy/massaged intelligence without looking into it independently, or was scared about the short-term political ramifications of voting no. The important fact is that the consequences of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 for the world and for the United States were catastrophic. I know that — 7 years out from Bush and 12 out from the invasion — it can seem a bit distant today. But the resulting mess we’re in over here and the resulting mess they (with our continued involvement!) are in over there is ongoing. It is still not done blowing up in our faces and causing misery for the people who actually live there.

Even if it were true that we could have no way of knowing what would happen, it did happen, and it means anyone who supported the war made an appalling call that will haunt their foreign policy record forever, just as it financially and strategically haunts the United States and violently haunts the Middle East.

But at any rate, it wasn’t actually that hard to know at the time why the war was a bad idea. I was basically a child when the Iraq War began, but my social studies teacher made sure we knew about Iraq’s sectarian division. Which — newsflash! — any adult in politics in October 2002 who remembered back just 11 years to 1991 should have known about too. I also knew the difference, as a child, between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Our actual elected government pretended not to.

I’m sure plenty of potential candidates who didn’t vote on the Iraq War or express a view might do worse as president. That’s unknowable. But at least we know for sure that they didn’t do that. There don’t seem to be a lot of serious consequences in Washington for grievous policy errors abroad. There probably should be.

Maybe let’s stop trying to “help” Iraq for a second

Iraq-NO-FLY-ZONES-map-1991-2003There’s this sort of myth, which sprung up in the 2004-2008 period of the U.S. War in Iraq, that the world could not just tolerate Saddam Hussein’s cruel rule a moment longer than March 2003. This was used to justify the invasion retroactively when it turned out that there were no weapons of mass destruction, which was the original stated reason.

Of course, it’s a bit odd on its face to claim that the cruelty of his regime was suddenly supposedly intolerable by the end of 2002 (more so given that it took more than four months between the U.S. authorization of force and the actual invasion), in a way that it had not been a decade and a half earlier, when he was an American ally.

Moreover, not only was the Iraqi regime not actively committing some kind of genocide at the time of the invasion (again, not the stated reason for intervention at the time it happened), but the U.S. and the world had already pretty effectively contained the regime over the course of the 1990s.

No, Iraq wasn’t doing great by the end of 2002 — it certainly couldn’t be expected to under the weight of massive sanctions from around the world — but it was probably more stable and less violent than it had been for quite some time. And that wasn’t by chance.

With US/UK no-fly zones operating continuously from 1991 to 2003 to protect the Kurdish population and the Shia population from Iraqi air campaigns — the U.S. alone flew more than 200,000 missions by the beginning of 1999, often taking a lot of Iraqi anti-air fire — along with other protective measures for the persecuted zones, the bad old days were basically over (by comparison to what preceded or followed anyway).

Again, I recognize it was certainly far from ideal. Dissenters and sectarian minorities were still being persecuted at the hands of the regime in the Sunni areas and on the ground in the south, but that’s a situation that happens in authoritarian regimes the world over. In stark contrast with the 2003-2011 U.S. war, the ad hoc solution from 1991-2003 involved very little loss of life on either side — somewhere in the range of 50 people were killed during the no-fly zone operations — and it prevented the regime from going around bombing and gassing everyone (or sectarian extremists from killing each other). By the end of 2002, the world had a pretty solid handle on keeping Iraq stable and non-genocidal. Then George W. Bush’s invasion happened.

At that point, the whole country broke. Just plain fell apart into total violence and an extremists’ free-for-all where everyone could avenge every old wrong. We had no plan, no resources, no experience, and not enough troops, and we just decided to wing it. And the inevitable result was just total pandemonium and wholesale destruction.

We did that. That’s on us. And we never really did fix it before we left. (Which isn’t an argument for staying indefinitely, as I’ll get to in a moment.) There’s no way that was better than the default situation in 2002 where the persecuted populations were protected from mass slaughter and everyone else had it bad but weren’t living in an unending hell (one which never ended).

Now as ISIS pours over the border from Syria, capturing four major cities (including the country’s second largest) and perhaps soon the northern oil fields, while the Iraqi Army falls back into a chaotic retreat, U.S. pundits — the war everywhere always brigade — are asking each other whether it’s time to re-intervene in Iraq.

Because apparently a permanent U.S. military engagement from 1990-2011 wasn’t enough. Because apparently we didn’t do enough damage in the second round while trying to “help.”

Look, I’m no isolationist. I’m actually even an advocate for humanitarian military intervention in many cases, to the point of annoying some other progressives. But I try to be smart about it and historically conscious. And right now, right there, this just isn’t one of those cases.

Iraq now is like when you break an antique, keep trying to help fix it, and everything else around it breaks in the process and the big pieces keep breaking into smaller pieces. Finally your grandma tells you “just stop.”

Colin Powell is alleged to have once said, prior to the 2003 invasion, that there was going to be a “you break you bought it” policy on Iraq with regard to American involvement. Thomas Friedman dubbed this the “Pottery Barn rule,” in spite of Pottery Barn not actually having such a rule. But either way, one imagines that if you blew up an entire Pottery Barn store, you would not be asking “hey so do you think I should go back and help out?” two years later when someone else accidentally broke a vase.

We need to stop “helping” Iraq.

Infographic: Iraq War vote vs. VA scandal critiques

The Iraq War sent a lot more Americans to the VA for serious long-term care issues. Where did current U.S. Senators stand on George W. Bush’s Iraq War in 2002? Have they publicly criticized the Democratic successor to George W. Bush for the Veterans Affairs scandal? Find out from these graphics on both the Republican and Democratic U.S. Senators in 2014:
Note: Senators who were elected to Congress significantly later than the 2002 Iraq War Resolution or the 2007 surge and were not involved in the Bush Administration’s war effort have been omitted from this list.

As an additional reminder, although President Obama famously opposed the Iraq War in 2002, the past and present Obama Administration prominently includes four ex-Senators who voted in favor of the Iraq War Resolution: Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel.

Corrections/Clarifications: 1) The Republican chart was corrected to reflect Cornyn’s election was November 2002, not October 2002 as initially stated. 2) The short-form social media version of the charts did not indicate clearly that Sen. Blunt was a U.S. Congressman in 2002.