I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The hanging crimes of Howard Dean

The war bloggers are experiencing some serious spasms of rage and fury over Howard Dean’s comment yesterday that "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."

The war bloggers' blood-thirstiness is really boiling over. They are unveiling their most radical impulses, stripped and standing naked in all of their crazed ugliness: "Howard Dean: Traitor and Ally to Zaqueery (sic)"

Michelle Malkin: "Howard the Coward"

Ronnie's son, Michael Reagan: "Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war!"

After that last one, why bother to post more? They are all similar in tone and substance.

This labeling of Dean as a "traitor" and the subsequent calls for his execution – all because he said that we are not going to "win" the Iraq war – leads to several questions:

First, George Bush, during the 2004 election, said essentially the same thing about the war on terrorism:

In an interview on NBC-TV's "Today" show, Mr. Bush vowed to stay the course in the war on terror, saying perseverance in the battle would make the world safer for future generations. But he suggested an all-out victory against terrorism might not be possible.

Asked "Can we win?" Mr. Bush said, "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."

Is there some reason that George Bush can say that he doesn’t "think you can win" the war on terror and still be this great powerful patriot who deserves re-election as President, but Howard Dean says the same thing about the war in Iraq and now he’s a despicable traitor who should have his neck snapped by rope?

Second, assume that a country is in the middle of a war which is costing it thousands of lives and billions and billions of dollars, and a citizen of that country concludes that the war cannot be won, so it would be better to gradually and constructively wind it down rather than fruitlessly sustain more casualties.

Does patriotism really require that the citizen lie and put on a happy face and pretend that he thinks the war can be won? Does it require that he keep his mouth shut concerning his opinion about the war? Or does his patriotic duty compel him to speak up and express his views as to why his country is making a mistake by continuing the war?

Third, what has to happen in order for us to "win" this war in Iraq? What are the criteria for winning? Since the mission originally was "regime change," which was accomplished -- at the latest -- more than a year ago when Saddam Hussein was captured, what is the mission that determines ‘winning"?

Do we have to quell the insurgency? It doesn’t really seem particularly extraordinary, let alone worthy of hanging, to observe that insurgencies are virtually never quelled. The Israelis, who are more skilled by far than anyone in the world at counter-insurgency, can’t quell insurgents who are confined to a geographical area which is a tiny fraction of the size of Iraq, despite having spent 35 years planting spies and compiling intelligence and trying really hard to do so. Is it really realistic to think that we can or will do so after 3 years in a country the size and volatility of Iraq?

Or, in order to "win," do we have to end up with a Government in Iraq that is reasonably favorably disposed to us? If the nice, shiny democracy we are building results in a Shiite theocratic Government which becomes tight allies with Iran and hostile to the U.S. (like the democratically elected Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is), have we "won"?

There seems to be this infantile obsession with viewing this war in the most simplistic terms possible of "winning" and "losing," as though it’s a college football game and we can all look at the scoreboard at the end and know who has "won."

What Bush likely meant when he said that the war on terrorism is not something that could be "won" is precisely that: that that war is not like a college football game with clear winners and losers. It is more complex than that, and the goal is to -- as Bush said -- "create conditions" that are more favorable to the geopolitical goals we want to achieve, rather than some definitive "victory".

Isn’t this clearly exactly what Dean is saying about the war in Iraq – that there is no achievable criteria for being able to wake up one day and find out that we "won," so that we can declare victory and come home? This isn’t World War II with clear national enemies who will participate in a flamboyant surrender ceremony. We are fighting a shadowy insurgency and we have unclear, complex goals which are insusceptible to quantitative measurement and which can be achieved only be degree.

Dean was plainly refuting this absurd notion that has been peddled recently that we have to prolong our occupation in Iraq until we "win." There are, to be sure, reasons for us not to withdraw hastily, including the fact that we need to do everything possible to minimize the harm that will be caused when we do withdraw, but the notion that we can just wait it out until the clock runs out and we are declared the "winners" is absurd, and that's why Dean said so.

And, even if one disagrees with Dean’s assessment, is it really now supposed to be a hanging crime in the United State to opine that U.S. has gotten itself into a war for which "victory" seems an elusive outcome?

Between calls for more torture, indefinite incarceration of our citizens without a trial, the equating of dissent with "subversion," and now a former President’s son calling for Howard Dean’s hanging, it is becoming more and more difficult to understand the war bloggers’ intense hatred for Saddam Hussein. They seem to have a lot in common with him.

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