To the Editor:
Abe Greenwald offers a nice abbreviated history of the Iraq war [“What We Got Right in the War on Terror,” September] but fails miserably to establish “The Centrality of Iraq.” We came face to face with the worst of al Qaeda and prevailed, at a cost of more than two trillion dollars? We botched the first five years, lost 4,000 lives among the best Americans we have, got 35,000 wounded, and took our eye off Afghanistan. George W. Bush—the self-described war president—was oblivious to the subprime housing crisis and unsustainable fiscal policies that lead to the financial crisis of 2008. Did the dysfunctional Iraqi government provide any impetus to the Arab Spring? Where is the evidence that a partially functioning Iraqi democracy has created democratic movements in any other country in the Middle East?
Invading Iraq was a monumental strategic blunder. The loss in blood and treasure far exceeds the strategic benefits. Had our resources and focus been applied elsewhere, America would be stronger today.
New York, New York
To the Editor:
I write to correct and clarify a few points in Abe Greenwald’s otherwise outstanding and persuasive article. Mr. Greenwald wrote that Attorney General Eric Holder “tasked the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) with investigating John Yoo and his fellow official Jay Bybee for writing supposedly unethical memos regarding enhanced interrogations.” In fact, OPR began and did most of its work reviewing Mr. Yoo’s and Mr. Bybee’s legal opinions during the Bush Administration, and Mr. Holder did not “task” OPR with this assignment.
In addition, Mr. Greenwald writes that Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis’s review of OPR’s efforts “vindicated Yoo and Bybee and condemned the OPR for sloppiness.” Indeed, Mr. Margolis’s 69-page review condemned the OPR for sloppy work and for numerous unjustified criticisms of Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee, but Mr. Margolis does not really “vindicate” them. Mr. Margolis concluded that aspects of Mr. Yoo’s and Mr. Bybee’s legal work were “flawed,” that their “errors were more than minor,” that it is a “close question” whether Mr. Yoo “intentionally or recklessly provided misleading advice to his client,” and that one of their memos “often fail[ed] to expose (much less refute) countervailing arguments and overstat[ed] the certainty of its conclusions.”
Mr. Margolis ultimately adopted a “finding of poor judgment” on the part of Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee. Mr. Margolis’s review did vindicate Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee only inasmuch as Mr. Margolis rejected OPR’s findings of misconduct and refused to authorize OPR to refer its findings to state bar disciplinary authorities. (Mr. Margolis is the top career official within the Department of Justice.)
To the Editor:
I thought Mr. Greenwald’s analysis was excellent. I do have one quibble, however. With regard to the Transportation Safety Administration, the article stated: “Yet the most authentic verdict on the soundness of our national-security apparatus comes not from the media elite or the anti-TSA mobs, but from the American people as a whole. And to Americans kept safe these 10 years, the propaganda storms on the left and right have proved to be little more than white noise.”
I think the level of security is both under-effective and overbroad. The inconvenience to the public is universal, and in my estimation has made air travel more time-consuming than driving for many short-haul destinations. Some examples are the northern reaches and suburbs of New York City to Boston, and the New Jersey suburbs to Washington, D.C.
We should look to the Israeli practice of psychological profiling so we’re not spending time conducting security clearance on an 85-year-old grandmother from Queens. The system would benefit greatly from a dose of common sense.
Rye Brook, New York
Abe Greenwald writes:
It would be interesting to know Jeffrey McDermott’s idea of an acceptable monetary cost for prevailing over al Qaeda. At what point does American defeat become the better option? It’s hard to imagine an al Qaeda victory that would cost the United States less in blood and treasure than the war in Iraq has. It is of course hard to imagine an al Qaeda victory, period. Which is why Americans should give up any notion of defeating Islamist terrorism on the cheap.
That said, the mistakes Mr. McDermott notes are large and real. But leaving Saddam Hussein in power after 9/11 would have constituted a greater mistake than any of these. Saddam was working—with assistance from France and other allies—to end the sanctions placed on his government and revive the weapons programs he had merely paused, not fully destroyed. Without relitigating the Iraq war, it is enough to note that regime scientists had, on Saddam’s orders, hidden critical components of Iraq’s proscribed nuclear-weapons program for later use; that Saddam took the measure of the region and was increasingly incorporating Islamist rhetoric, imagery, and philosophy into his ruling style; that his terrorist ties were genuine; that the “box” in which he was supposedly contained was disintegrating; and that American indifference to these facts ceased to be acceptable after 9/11. If one believes dealing, once and for all, with the most consistently violent and destabilizing force in the Muslim Middle East was not central to the war on terror, then there likely is little I can do to convince him otherwise.
A good number of important Persian and Arab liberals have acknowledged that toppling Saddam inspired regional democratic movements. But a list of quotes would be meaningless when seen against the larger regional tide of denial and humiliation regarding America’s democratizing influence. So be it. The United States need not be thanked for giving hope to Arab democrats. It’s more important that we continue to support the freedom movements we’ve inspired than to extract expressions of public gratitude.
I thank Jesse Witten both for his kind words and for pointing out my mistake in conflating Eric Holder’s directed efforts against the Bush administration with investigations that were under way during the Bush presidency. But I must disagree with Mr. Witten’s last point. David Margolis’s finding, that John Yoo and Jay Bybee did not engage in professional misconduct, and his declining to refer the matter to state bar disciplinary authorities constitute the very definition of vindication.
Finally, if James Glucksman feels unduly inconvenienced by the current TSA security procedures, he should count his lucky stars that the United States has not implemented the profiling model employed by the Israelis. American travelers would not take kindly to invasive and hours-long interrogation sessions, no matter how safe the country was.