This is an essay that I've been writing in my head and reciting bits of out loud at various intervals, in variously heated discussions for five years. I write and publish it now for the following reasons:
- The case for the original intervention in Iraq, taken in all its parts, seems to me enormously strong. However, I have never before seen all the arguments adduced in one place.
- Many of the arguments opposed to the intervention seem to me to be mistaken on the facts. These errors should be confronted.
- The situation in Iraq is pivotal at this moment. Moreover, the will of many people and political leaders of the United States to carry it through and their will to continue to prosecute the wider struggle against violent Islamist fascism seem to me in a more parlous state than any time in the last six years.
I choose to use the word "intervention" here throughout to describe the toppling of the Hussein regime in Iraq by American, British, Australian, and other coalition military forces because I believe it is the most balanced and neutral term. Personally, I prefer "liberation" but that is tendentious, in that it assumes much of what I hope to prove. Opponents of the war prefer "invasion" which, is also at least tendentious and which I believe also to be incorrect. It is one claim, among many others, I hope to disprove. I begin with the least compelling one, just to get it out of the way.
There is a school of thought that holds that the Iraq War, and in fact the entire War on Terror, were nefarious schemes cooked up in Crawford, Texas, so that America would be distracted while Bush and Cheney ram through legislation that destroys our civil liberties, hands the government to the religious right, and robs the poor to enrich the Administration's corporate cronies. It is pointed out that the War on Terror has no clearly definable objective, thus it can never be achieved, thus it can never end. The leap is then made to say that a never-ending, permanent state of war is just what Bush and Cheney need to keep us blinkered and subservient.
The first problem with that line of argument is: 9/11. It actually happened. Planes were hijacked, the towers came down, and 2,999 men, women, and children Americans and citizens of ninety other nations were murdered. This is, prima facie, pretty compelling evidence that there is an Islamist terrorism problem one that predates the War on Terror, the Iraq war, and any Republican scheming. If you don't think 9/11 is evidence of an Islamist terrorism problem if you want to maintain that it's all still a Republican scheme then you are one of, or very close to, the conspiracy theorists who believe that the government knew about, or indeed perpetrated, the attacks of 9/11.
In that case, the first thing you need to do is read this report commissioned and published by Popular Mechanics, in which image analysis experts; professors of aeronautics, geophysics, civil and structural engineering, computer science, and physics; civil and structural engineers; fire chiefs and fireground safety experts; seismologists; combustion experts; airline accident investigators; demolition experts; and pilots, comprehensively refute and debunk all of the claims of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists. You then need to indicate whether you think the Bush administration was also behind the attacks in Bali, Madrid, and London. (Which would, admittedly, explain why federal spending is out of control). Finally, you might explain why Don Rumsfeld went to work that morning presumably because he was such an evil genius that he knew the plane would come through the wall, but stop at the photocopier.
And as for the Iraq War specifically, regime change in Iraq has been the policy of the U.S. since 1998, when the Iraq Liberation Act was signed into law by Bill Clinton. George Bush doesn't have father issues, and Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld (both wealthy men) didn't come up with this because they needed a war on to make money.
Frankly, this Wag the Dog hypothesis is not a serious line of debate, and is unworthy of noble liberal and anti-war positions, and only hurts more compelling arguments against the war by making its proponents sound like wackos. On to the serious objections to the intervention.
There is, I think, on the face of it, a strong case to be made here. It would seem a fairly basic principle that violence is only morally permissible in cases of self-defense and that only a defensive war could ever be a just war (if any could). And it was this line of thinking, actually, that initially caused me to be opposed to the war, in the months preceding it. An offensive attack seemed unjustifiable, and unworthy of American ideals, and a terrible precedent to set.
But one thing, among others, that I eventually came to realise was that those making this objection suffer from a confusion of concepts. One can "invade" a sovereign nation. However one cannot invade, but only liberate, a prison camp which is what Iraq under the Hussein regime was: a Stalinist terror state, run by a psychotic crime family. To say we "invaded the country" is a bit like saying the Allies invaded German concentration camps. Yes, we attacked and drove off and in some cases killed, though we were actually trying not to the jailors. But the twenty-five million captives the actual population, and rightful owners of that country were in fact liberated from the tyranny of a nightmare regime.
The Hussein regime, and its enforcers, had no legitimate claim to sovereignty there, and were guilty of enormous crimes, and we "intervened" on behalf of its millions of victims both internal and external, present and future.
First of all, those who make this claim invariably seem to be ignorant (and, I suppose, must be ignorant) of what has happened to Iraqi oil since the intervention: Every single solitary dinar made from the sale of it has gone into a fund for the Iraqi people overseen by the U.N. If we're there to steal their oil, we have a funny way of going about it. (Even if we had taken all that oil, I'm pretty sure it would have been cheaper just to buy it than to pay the enormous cost of the war, the occupation and the reconstruction.)
A second point I might make is that, in fact, it was opposition to the war that was about oil. Specifically, the lucrative French and Russian oil contracts with the Hussein regime, which I'm sure had nothing to do with their energetic opposition to the intervention.
The first response to this claim has to be: "So much the worse for international law." All humanitarian interventions ones which are military in nature, which is to say likely to be effective and actually save people are illegal under international law. This is why the Kosovo intervention (which stopped a slaughter and saved tens or hundreds of thousands of lives) was, and had to be, undertaken outside of the aegis of the U.N. and the international system. It was "illegal." But as William Lloyd Garrison, the Boston abolitionist, taught us: "That which is not just is not law."
The basis of the founding of the U.N. and the post-WWII international system was the sovereign nation-state and its whole purpose was to prevent any more wars between nation-states. No provision was made, or has since been made, for situations (like Kosovo, or Iraq) where the shit-head usurper who happens to run that nation-state starts mass-murdering its people. The current international system of law says he's allowed to do that or, at any rate, that no one else is allowed to stop him. Citing violation of international law as a condemnation of intervention is to abandon morality for legalism. The endless, shrill cries of "Illegal war! Illegal war!" do not move me, because they do not carry any moral weight.
And this is not merely a philosophical point: it has directly resulted in the great horrors of the age like, recently, Rwanda; and, currently, Darfur. Bush has meticulously stuck to the U.N./international law route with Darfur; and what has happened is what always happens when we do that, which is that everyone's dead. And, if we had adhered to these laws with regard to Iraq, Uday and Qusay would still be raping and torturing with perfect impunity, and in great luxury and comfort. Instead of rotting in Hell as they should be, and happily now are.
The second response to this has to do with the body which actually writes, and "enforces", this international law: the United Nations. You'll recall that 2/5 of the permanent security council is made up of Russia and China two countries with their own very particular agendas, and which are not noted for their tender attention to humanitarian principle or practice. Another 1/5 of it is France, a country that while not totalitarian or abusive has a foreign policy establishment which so nakedly and unashamedly pursues its own national interests as to have almost made selfishness charming.
These countries were only put on the security council because they were the victors in WWII, and it met the realpolitik needs of the moment. But that moment has long passed. Why isn't India, the world's most populous democracy, on it? For that matter, why were the Canadians or Australians not given a seat at that time? They contributed as much, and fought as hard, as any of the Allies. And I'd certainly prefer to have Canadians making humanitarian decisions, or Australians making security decisions, to the Chinese or Russians.
But the larger point beyond the weird and problematical make-up of the security council is not only that the U.N. as a whole is ineffective, and should be expected to be ineffective, as a moral arbiter or enforcer. The larger point is that the U.N. is actually structurally incapable of acting as a moral agent, or a force for good, in the world. This is because every tinpot, genocidal, ethnic-cleansing, gay-stoning dictator gets a seat at the table, right beside . . . Sweden; and New Zealand. No distinctions, which would be moral distinctions, are ever made or could be made, as the U.N. is run. If you've got control of a country including if it was by means of a bloody coup followed by liquidation of your political opponents you get a vote just like the Irish Republic.
This, only incidentally, is why you end up with absurdities like the election of Sudan to the human rights commission at the same time (2004) that it is overseeing and sponsoring a full-scale genocide. It's also why we shouldn't be enormously surprised by such U.N. scandals as the "Oil for Palaces" crimes, or the U.N. child prostitution rings. Or, again, the mass killings in Rwanda and Darfur, which were allowed, and are being allowed, to happen by the U.N. and the system of international law.
But, importantly, it was precisely this blinkered obsession with international law (and Bush and Blair's genuflection to it) which resulted in the WMD issue being the main justification for the intervention and in the subsequent hay-making of anti-war people, when stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction failed to turn up. They claimed that the absence of weapons stockpiles completely invalidated the whole enterprise. However: it was only the weapons violations which, under international law, would allow for any kind of a military intervention. Thus it was the illegal weapons case that Bush and Blair were obliged to make most strongly in the public arena.
However: the WMDs, and the weapons development programs, were only one one of four compelling and urgent reasons for the intervention. And it is also, as it happens, the least strong of the four reasons. And yet, even as the weakest of the justifications, I will argue that it alone was, or should have been, sufficient.
"Weapons of Mass Destruction" AKA "unconventional weapons", or "NBC - Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapons". These of course were the official rationale for the intervention. This rationale is now almost universally believed, by opponents of the war, to be completely discredited due to the failure to find stockpiles of these weapons in the country. Because it was the chief justification cited, opponents also believe, again, that it invalidates all justification for the intervention. And you hear this claim made widely: "Bush lied, people died." "We were deceived." And, mainly, "There were no weapons of mass destruction."
Right. Well, and then again, you might feel very differently about that if you were one of the people upon whom Saddam actually used such weapons.
In a word: Of course there were weapons. One need only ask any resident of Halabja. On 16 March 1988, Iraqi planes dropped gas canisters of chemical weapons believed to include the nerve agents Sarin and VX on the residents of the town. At least 5,000 people were killed outright, with a further 7,000 injured or suffering long-term illness. This was part of the infamous Anfal campaign, in which the Hussein regime is believed to have used chemical weapons in attacking up to 24 villages. In 2005, a Dutch court hardly in the pay of Bush or Blair ruled that Saddam had committed genocide against the people of Halabja.
There are an enormous number of such documented cases of use of chemical weapons by this regime. If you want an hour's reading of documented cases, with details, history, dates, and citations, start with the Wikipedia article on the subject. The claim that there never were any weapons is simply absurd. We know they existed at a certain point. We know the regime used them again and again against real people. We know there were extensive programs in place to develop these weapons. And we know the regime was systematically deceiving international inspectors who were there looking for them.
Another thing we know is that the Hussein regime would have had nuclear weapons in the early 80s, if not for the Israelis, who in flagrant violation of international law, and to a howling chorus of condemnations in the U.N. sent a few brave and enormously skilled pilots in and destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor, near Baghdad. (They did it before the reactor went live, so Iraqi civilians wouldn't be subject to fallout; and they did it on a Sunday, when workers wouldn't be there.) Not entirely incidentally, this reactor was sold to Iraq by the French.
So there was without question intent, capability, weapons programs, and weapons. Why were few or no weapons stockpiles found after the intervention? Who knows. There are a variety of plausible theories. Chemical and biological weapons are notoriously unstable, not great for long-term storage. Iraq is a huge country, with a lot of trackless desert; we know Hussein buried fighters and tanks before the Gulf War. Or perhaps they were secreted across the border into Syria which we would have no way of knowing, as Syria is now the last Baathist totalitarian state. As a diplomat whom I heard speak at the British Academy put it: "History will not be very much interested in whether there were stockpiles of weapons there, say, on a Tuesday, when we invaded."
But the whole point was to verify that this regime did not have these weapons. And now we've done it, in what is probably the only way it was ever going to be certain. Given all of the known facts above, anyone who would rely on the word and good faith of Saddam Hussein that he had disarmed, or that he would not use such weapons, or give them to terrorists is extremely credulous, and not someone I would care to entrust with the safety of a nation.
And even if you continue to hold that Iraq had no weapons, and was not a threat, it's still absurd to maintain as much of the left steadfastly does that Bush and Blair knowingly lied about it. The U.N. believed Iraq had WMDs. The French believed they had WMDs. Ditto the Israelis. In fact, every nation with any kind of advanced intelligence service believed the same thing. If Bush and Blair knew Iraq did not have WMDs, then they were privy to a unique and perfectly kept secret and were just about the only people on the planet who were. Not even the people at the anti-war marches, before the intervention, ever claimed there were no weapons. Bush and Blair could not "lie" by stating something they, and everyone else, believed was true.
This is another shibboleth of the left. Just as with the "there were never any WMDs" claim, it has been said so many times, in so many echo chambers of the left (and the left-leaning media), that it is believed to be an undisputed truth. But, like the "no WMDs" claim, it is also completely wrong. The links between the Hussein regime and terrorism were substantial, clear, and documented.
For starters, Hussein had a standing policy of paying $25,000 to families of Palestinian suicide bombers who mass-murdered Israelis. This is not disputed. ("President Saddam Hussein has recently told the head of the Palestinian political office, Faroq al-Kaddoumi, his decision to raise the sum granted to each family of the martyrs of the Palestinian uprising to $25,000 instead of $10,000," - Tariq Aziz, at a Baghdad meeting of Arab politicians and businessmen on March 11, 2002, as reported by Reuters.)
Other facts not in dispute are: The Hussein regime gave safe haven to Abu Abbas (planner of the Achille Lauro hijacking) and the notorious terrorist Abu Nidal and welcomed home Abdul Rahman Yasin, an Iraqi who admitted on national television in the U.S. to mixing the chemicals for the first World Trade Center bombing. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, fresh from running an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, was treated in a Baghdad hospital. (He'd been plinked in the leg by American GIs.) After two months recovery, he set up an Ansar al-Islam terrorist training camp in northern Iraq.
I refrain from citing the evidence of other Iraqi connections directly to al Qaeda, and to the 9/11 attackers, because they are murkier and disputed unlike the facts above. (Though, to this day, the Czech government maintains that Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi consular official, met with Mohammed Atta, ring-leader of the 9/11 attackers, on 08 April 2001 in Prague.) But, based only on undisputed facts, the claim that Iraq had no connections to terrorists is as false and verifiably false as the claim that there were never any weapons of mass destruction.
So it is fact that the Hussein regime had programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. It is also fact that the Hussein regime was an active state sponsor of terror. These facts took on a compelling and horrible new significance after 9/11.
What the 9/11 attacks demonstrated, incontrovertibly, was that there are people out there who will do to us whatever is the worst thing they can manage. If al Qaeda had had a suitcase nuke in 2001, they would have detonated that in lower Manhattan instead.
Given that fact, what level of risk is an acceptable risk that they might get their hands on such a weapon? Many of the same people who say we should have left Iraq alone are the ones who say the government should have anticipated and prevented the 9/11 attacks. If the Hussein regime were to provide unconventional weapons to terrorists, and if they were used to kill tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans, would it be said that the government should have seen it coming and prevented it? I submit that if there were another mass-casualty attack, after 9/11, no one could claim that we couldn't see it coming.
Bill Clinton, in fact, saw it coming. In a 1998 speech on Iraq he warned of a "rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists," and spoke of an "unholy axis" of international terrorists and outlaw states as one of the greatest threats Americans faced. This threat was not first recognized, much less invented, by the Bush administration. It was just that 9/11 happened, on Bush's watch and drastically changed the calculus of risk. The unthinkable had become a real and gathering storm.
What is the responsibility of the government in this case? Depend upon the weapons inspectors, who were being led on merry chases throughout Iraq? Depend upon a 14th U.N. resolution calling for Iraq to disarm? Hope for the best? Suppose Bush and Blair had hoped for the best, and the worst had happened? Would you absolve them? What would you feel your responsibility to be, if you were in their role?
You hear that an enormous amount here in the UK: that Blair was subservient to Bush's whims, and allowed Britain to be drawn into a disastrous war. Well, it is difficult to believe that people making that claim have ever heard Blair speak on the topic, or are conversant with the facts of history.
Just for one, it was Blair who dragged Clinton (kicking and screaming) into the Kosovo Intervention. Blair has been consistent in his principles, and in his statements of principles, from the start. He has also been the most eloquent defender of the intervention though it's not much of a feat to be more eloquent than Bush a role it would be hard to imagine him pulling off, if he didn't really believe it and was just toeing the Bush line.
In his resignation speech, Blair apologised for the things he got wrong during his time in office. He also said, "But, hand on heart: I always did what I thought was right." You could do worse than go watch that speech. Or listen to his defenses of the war, and then decide if he's a poodle.
A few numbers and phrases tell the horrible tale of 30 years of Baathist rule or 30 years of not intervening: 300,000 bodies in mass graves. Disappearances. Routine summary execution. Torture. People being forced to watch the torture of their families. Children's prisons. Dedicated rape rooms.
Regardless of the motives or rationales of the anti-war crowd, they cannot escape this chilling fact: if they had had their way, all of the above would still be going on. A million people marched in central London against the war in effect, if not in intent, in support of preserving the pyschotic Baathist death machine, and its indefinite infliction upon 25 million human beings. A lot of the anti-war people (and I've talked to a few) simply found it impossible to stomach Bush and Co. and their hubris and unilateralism. And so, you know, if it came down to a choice between Dick Cheney's corporate cronies cornering the construction market in Nasariyah, or on the other hand a few more decades of Uday and Qusay feeding people into human shredders . . . well, keep the shredders humming!
But I believe that the strong have a responsibility to help the weak. Some say: Well, if you're going to invade here, why not invade everywhere? Why not topple North Korea? (Which is such a stinking prison that Christopher Hitchens described it as being like someone read 1984 and said, "Hey, let's see if we can make this work.") Are you going to try rescue all of the oppressed peoples of the world?
Well, my first response to this is: "God willing." It is, emphatically, something to be hoped for. And, also emphatically, in this fallen world, it is typically only force that liberates people. "Free Tibet" the bumpersticker says. Well, the driver may feel like a better person driving around displaying that for decades. But if Bush were to say, "Great idea, the 101st Airborne goes in on Thursday" that same driver would likely be horrified. But how does he think people get freed? (There's a new, countering bumpersticker that says, "Afghanistan: freed. Iraq: freed. How's your Free Tibet campaign going?")
As well, a case can be made that we intervene in Iraq so we don't have to intervene everywhere. Would Libya have voluntarily come clean and surrendered its illegal weapons otherwise?
But, moreover, this "If Iraq, why not everywhere?" argument is flawed on its logic alone: Inability to do good everywhere is no justification for not doing good anywhere for not doing good somewhere, when we have the opportunity. Better to light a single candle, than to curse the darkness, as our friends at Amnesty remind us.
Simply, sadly, in this fallen world: There are things worse than war. One blessed day that will stop being the case. But pretending it's the case now doesn't do anything to help get us there and it certainly does no favours to those who may die and suffer so that we can occupy the imagined moral high ground of being anti-war.
"Not in my name," say the anti-war marchers. Fine. Well, my country was brutally attacked, and thousands of my countrymen killed, by Islamic extremists on 9/11. And my country's response was to go out and free 50 million Muslims from two of the most oppressive and violent regimes on Earth. I'm enormously proud that this was done in my name. We warmongers shut down the rape rooms.
In addition to the other two strong cases for intervening so far mentioned 1) weapons of mass destruction, and 2) the unacceptable risk (post-9/11) that they might give these weapons to the terrorists who would kill us all, I believe that 3) the humanitarian case is unanswerable.
But a 4th and, I will argue, most important justification for the war remains: addressing the very root cause of 9/11 by introducing freedom and hope into the Arab/Muslim Middle East
And this brings us to the single greatest case for the intervention in Iraq one that, somehow, had been least made, and is least understood. But it was surely understood by the architects of the intervention. It is this: Islamist extremism and mass murder is bred, or at least made possible, by conditions as they have been in the Middle East for the past 80 years. These are conditions of no political freedom, of no economic opportunity, of oppressive government and backwards education. The states of the Arab/Muslim Middle East are, in the main, run by oil-rich, oligarchical, self-interested tyrants. This was the system the western powers set up after the First World War and which the West has propped up all the years since, in the name of "stability". "Stability" being a polite term for "oil".
But keeping the oil flowing, it turned out, was never going to keep us safe. And "stability" has been an excuse for helping to keep an entire region of the world in chains.
It is only by beginning to reclaim and rescue the people of the Middle East from these intolerable political and economic conditions that we may hope to make ourselves safe from future 9/11s. It has been widely missed, but George Bush got this and, in a major historical change of policy, distinctly declared a complete reversal of the U.S. stance toward the Arab/Muslim Middle East. 9/11 demonstrated that the policy of allowing the Middle East to remain a cesspool of oppression and despair was not only wrong, but dangerous. This cesspool was going to boil over, and it did. It bubbled up in the 1993 Trade Center attack, and the pot rattled loudly in African Embassy bombings; and it all spilled over onto us 9/11.
It will only be by creating a beachhead of decent, consensual, pluralistic government and society in the heart of the Middle East, that we can hope to begin to drain the swamp that produced 9/11 or, at the least, to give modernity a little space to fight for itself, and to come into being there. It was the only deep response to 9/11. Everything else is shovelling seaweed against the tide. As long as people there have nothing better to work or hope for, they will be vulnerable to the lure of terrible, misguided ideologies.
Some say, Why Iraq? Why not any of the other 22 countries of the Arab League? Well, you've got to start somewhere; and this is where we could start. And a beachhead of freedom and self-determination in Mesopotamia will be a beacon of hope, and a harbinger of change, for all the Middle East. How do you think Boy Assad feels with free elections going on right on his border? How do you think the Ayatollahs regard a neighbor with a constitution that guarantees civil rights? Why do you think these "neighbors" are sending head-hackers, and bombers, and weapons across both borders?
Well, al Qaeda feels very differently about it. They're pretty clear that Iraq is the central front in the war between al Qaeda and the U.S. They've helpfully identified themselves as "al Qaeda in Mesopotamia"; and numerous intercepted dispatches between al Qaeda leadership in Iraq, and in NW Pakistan, declare their intent to take control of Iraq, and use it as a base for training, attacks, and the expansion of dar al Islam worldwide Shar'ia, and a revival of the Muslim Caliphate.
All of the most destructive attacks in Iraq the mass-casualty suicide bombings, the destruction of the Samarra mosque are perpetrated by al Qaeda. They do this with a view toward toppling the elected government, terrorizing the population, and demoralising the U.S. to the point where we abandon the country to them. But doing so would be to hand an enormous victory to al Qaeda similar in importance to them to driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and we all know what they did with Afghanistan as well as to Iran, the greatest sponsor of state terror, and who is working hard to ensure the young Iraqi Republic fails.
Because of this, it has gotten very difficult indeed to maintain that the Iraq War is a distraction from the War on Terror. Coalition forces are capturing and killing al Qaeda leadership and fighters all over the country. Al Qaeda is continuing to send fighters into Iraq. And, frankly, I for one much prefer having the Marines dealing with al Qaeda in al Anbar province, to having stockbrokers and waitresses having to face them in lower Manhattan. Incidentally, I am also pretty sure that al Qaeda does not prefer this.
And with that, it is worth pointing out the elephant in the room. There have been no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in the six years since 9/11. It's hard to think back to the national mood in the days and weeks immediately after; but, in fact, we were all waiting for the other shoe to drop. We would have been as amazed as relieved if told that nothing else like that attack would happen anywhere in the U.S. for the next six years.
This is at least a provisional reason for thinking that the Bush strategy has worked. And it's not counter-intuitive: by playing offensively by going after them where they live we make it impossible for them to come after us where we live.
Those on the left who claim that the Iraq War has only inflamed the terrorists have some explaining to do about A) why the terrorists haven't struck us once since; and B) why 9/11 and the first Trade Center Attack, and the African embassies bombings, and the USS Cole, and Khobar Towers all happened before the Iraq intervention.
Well, a similar case was made in the movement to end the Vietnam War. And the U.S. withdrawal didn't make things better. The south was overrun by the Communists, and millions of our friends and allies South Vietnamese who had trusted us were imprisoned and killed. Nearly a million boat people took to the waters to escape, many of them perishing, all of them suffering. These were real people, and real lives destroyed. I don't know what Jane Fonda would have to say for herself if she ever had to face those people.
And I don't know what we would say to our friends and allies in Iraq if we abandoned them now; abandoned them to chaos and Islamist terrorists, and the same Baathist sickos who imprisoned them and tortured them for the 30 years prior. These are the people who came out in their millions to vote in their first election braving mortar attacks and suicide bombers to do so. These are the members of the Iraqi government, who risk not only their own lives, but their families, in going to work every day to try and make a success of the first experiment in democracy and pluralism in the Arab Middle East.
No, most of the insurgents are an unsavoury mix of: al Qaeda (who need no further condemnation); thugs and troublemakers sent over the border by Iran and Syria to topple the new Republic; and former Baathists whom you'll recall are the same assholes who were making life hell for the Iraqi people in the first place.
Also, this misguided idea (as Hitchens points out) misses out on the fact that there actually is a real people's army in Iraq it's made up of Kurds, and called the peshmerga. And the Kurds, let me tell you, are one of the very best reasons both for not abandoning Iraq, and for having hope that we and our friends there will succeed.
The Kurds, you may not be aware, are the largest stateless people on Earth. They're spread mainly across Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey and have mainly been kicked around by all these guys, rather brutally, for a long time. Hussein, for instance, reserved his most brutal tactics for use against the Kurds especially after they were encouraged to rise up in revolution after the Gulf War, and we promptly abandoned them.
But, despite that, the Kurds have made a tremendous go of it, on all fronts: The Kurdish areas of Iraq, in the north, are almost completely at peace. Their economy is growing. And they're even doing a brisk trade in tourism they have a busy airport. Their security forces have the job well in hand; so much so that they've been able to contribute men and, believe me, Kurdish fighters tend to be skilled and tough old bastards to the counter-insurgency in the South.
At least as striking is the fact that the Kurdish members of the Iraqi government are very widely recognised to be fearless and incorruptible and that their ministries are running much better than the next guys'. And, finally, most striking, is the fact that despite the decades of horrible repression at the hands of Hussein's Sunni cadre they have no interest in reprisal or revenge, and are totally cool with power sharing (and oil revenue sharing) and basically getting along in a new, free Iraq.
We should stay in Iraq for our friends the Kurds who have hardest fought for their freedom, and have absolutely made the best of the freedom they have won.
Well, the people who are over there fighting it, in the main, disagree with you. Of course the military is a huge, varied group of free men and women. But, in the main, if you ask soldiers, they tend to believe in what they are doing there and in the possibility of succeeding in the mission. And, moreover, despite the losses, despite the heat, despite the frustrations and setbacks, re-enlistment levels are historically high. If the soldiers aren't giving up, why should we?
Do you understand the situation better than the soldiers on the ground? The ones who daily look into the faces of the people we're trying to help? Does Senator Diane Feinstein understand the situation better than General Petraeus (BS, U.S. Military Academy; Master of Public Administration and PhD in International Relations from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University; top-most graduate in his class at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College), or Ambassador Crocker? They've both said that, while difficult and fraught with peril, victory in Iraq is achievable.
To that, I might add: whatever the difficulties, whatever the dangers, whatever the risks having undertaken the lofty and laudable goal of helping to birth a free Iraq, we simply must succeed. The costs and dangers of failure are too high. At the same time, the potential benefits are incalculable: the dawn of a new, peaceful, free Middle East. Twenty years ago, all of Eastern Europe was under the totalitarian boot; now they are free. (And they know whom they have largely to thank. (Not the CND.) And they know how shitty life under totalitarianism is. Both of which are reasons why the Poles have troops with us in Iraq.) Twenty years ago, all of Latin America was a disaster of military coups and dictatorships; now, while still troubled, almost all of the Latin American countries are democracies. The time for the Middle East is now. It must be now.
I think perhaps people in the U.S. have fallen into the habit of thinking that there are only two kinds of wars: misguided, unwinnable quagmires like Vietnam; and nearly instantaneous, pain-free cake-walks like the Gulf War. And since the Iraq War isn't a short cake-walk, it must be an endless quagmire. Well, in fact, in most wars like WWII the outcome is not known in advance. It is through our efforts and perseverance, and the bravery and sacrifice of our people in uniform, that the tide will be turned and victory won through.
In 1940, Britain stood alone: a small island nation, in the shadow of a Europe that had fallen entirely into darkness. Invasion seemed imminent; the Wehrmach unbeatable. Many in Britain advocated cutting a deal with Hitler, to save the country. Churchill would have none of it. He knew that accommodating with evil was not just wrong, but futile. He it was, in fact, who defined an appeaser as "one who feeds the crocodile, hoping it will eat him last".
In 1864, the Civil War in the U.S. was the worst quagmire imaginable. What the north had hoped would be a few-months-long cakewalk, had turned into a murderous, four-year slog with no end, certainly not victory, in sight. Lincoln I swear to you was reviled in ways that make the abuse heaped upon Bush seem polite. (Just for a few choice samples: he was "a despot who would meet with the fate he deserves: hung, shot, or burned"; a "fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism"; a "worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero". History, as we know, has been rather kinder.)
No one including Lincoln thought he would even win re-election. The South knew then as do al Qaeda and the Iranian-sponsored militants in Iraq know now that their greatest hope lay in their enemies losing their will, giving up, and going home. The Confederates openly crowed about the likelihood of a Democrat defeating Lincoln, and ending the war (in their favor). Today, Bin Laden chides the Democrats for not getting the U.S. out of Iraq.
But Lincoln albeit depressed out of his mind knew that emancipation was right, and that preserving Union was his job, and he carried on. He won re-election, the tide in the war turned more rapidly than anyone could have imagined, and in four months the war was won and over. Lincoln found his General Grant to turn the tide, and it is to be hoped Bush has found his Grant in General Petraeus.
(George Bush, incidentally, and despite being unvaryingly, and increasingly tediously, depicted as a monkey in the political cartoons of the Guardian, is a voracious reader of history: Lincoln and Churchill, the Khymer Rouge and Algeria. And he reads these things for a purpose: for instance, he almost certainly knows more than you do about the genocide in Cambodia, or the slaughter of Algerians after the French left.)
I've realised that it does behoove a supporter of the intervention to have some explanation for why things have gone so wrong especially when we predicted being welcomed as liberators, showered with flower petals in the street. (Which we did get, but only for a few weeks.) So I've become a minor student of the mistakes we've made: disbanding the Iraqi army and setting loose hundreds of thousands of young men, many of them armed, and with nothing to do was probably first on this list. Most important was probably allowing the looting in the weeks after toppling the regime. Evidently, nothing is so important as setting a tone of order and there being someone in control right away and we didn't do it. Failing to control the (conventional) weapons stockpiles which are now being used to kill our soldiers was very stupid. And apparently very many other small but important mistakes were made by Paul Bremer and his crew.
I hate to say "live and learn", but then again I'm not sure anyone has ever really tried anything quite like this before.
And, since the rise of the insurgency and al Qaeda, it seems a flawed strategy was pursued. John McCain, for instance, was loudly yelling about it as early as 2003, and now is enjoying a well-earned "I told you so." But he believes that the new strategy is now the right one. And there are all kinds of reasons for believing it is succeeding:
To take just one obvious, but illustrative and hugely important, example: al Anbar Province. Only a year ago, this was declared to be lost to al Qaeda. Now our forces have reclaimed and cleared the area of al Qaeda fighters, and sent them scattering from there, and from the areas around Baghdad into the hills. And we're denying them sanctuary even there.
But of much more significance is not what we've done to al Qaeda in al Anbar, but what the residents have done. In the main, they've figured out that al Qaeda are a bunch of brutal killers, and that they'd like their homes back, and have formed citizen patrols to keep the streets safe from them, and have provided intelligence to Coalition forces, and have generally gotten onside. This is so significant because it means that we have not only defeated al Qaeda; but we may have also completely discredited them, in the heart of the Middle East.
Because, in the end, the larger struggle is one of ideology. As that simpleton Bush put it, freedom is at war with fear.
That's the funny thing. Bin Laden and his ilk subscribe to the Salafist school of Islam which holds that God's authority is absolute, and may not be shared with any temporal authority (like a democratically-elected government). This is why they target and kill so many Muslims those who have submitted to a worldly political authority have turned aside from God, and are actually worse than infidels.
It should be stressed that the mainstream of Islam, historically, has been totally okay with co-existing with temporal powers. But bin Laden and Co. don't see it that way. Only Shar'ia, religious law, will do as the law of the land. And everyone must be subject to it. (You'll note his latest video screed, urging Americans to become Muslims.) All must bend the knee.
But the thing is: the very core of liberalism, the very central idea, is the separation of a public sphere from a private sphere. And the first implementation of that was separation of church and state. (Which the Founding Fathers of the U.S. didn't quite invent, but were the first to try out.)
And these principles of freedom of faith and confession, not to mention other principles such as equality for women, tolerance for gays and minorities, consensual government, etc. are totally incompatible with Salafist Islam. (Or, put another way, with Islamism.)
So it really is a battle for how the world is going to be run. On one side you've got rational inquiry, freedom, tolerance, pluralism, equal justice, etc.; and on the other side you've got a totalitarian, remorseless, brutal enforcement of God's word by those who are sure they know his mind. Freedom is most certainly at war if not with fear, then with totalitarian Islamism.
And and this is important Iraq is where freedom turns the tide. If we give up there, we'll be handing an enormous victory to the head-hackers and suicide murderers, the enemies of modernity and all the hard-won accomplishments of not just modernity but of civilization itself. We'll be handing a sanctuary and staging ground to al Qaeda to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan, and within which to reconstitute their ranks and plan their bloody atrocities. We'll be empowering Iran, and its nuclear ambitions, and its plans for a second Holocaust. And we'll be abandoning our friends and allies there those whose commitment to freedom is so much nobler than ours, because it carries such a great personal risk and cost to a bloody chaos, followed by a return to shackles not dissimilar from the ones we just helped them cast off.
On the other hand: if we persevere, and if we win through . . . we will have a second democracy in the Middle East (after Israel), a free and tolerant and just state in the heart of Arabia, 25 million friends who will have the safety and freedom they have so long been denied and so emphatically deserve, an ally (rather than an enemy) in the war on terror and, mainly, a shining example to all the long-oppressed peoples of the Middle East of what can be achieved when freedom confronts, and conquers, fear. I believe we have the means; all we need is the will.
Of course, I may be wrong about all of this. Unlimited space is provided to anyone who would like to respond or rebut.