Friday, December 16, 2011

8 and a half years ago

Officially, the conflict in Iraq has ended for the United States. This is a good moment to reflect, and I'll repost one of my proudest pieces of writing. I published this on my old blog, Instant Replay on March 10, 2003, ten days before the invasion.
Instant Replay Invades the Iraqi Question

IR has come under tremendous pressure from U.N. inspectors to take a position on the United States' buildup in the Persian Gulf and the possibility of going to war against Saddam Hussein's corrupt regime in Baghdad.

Having taken a month and a half off from blogging has given me the clarity to address this firmly. I will attempt a linear argument, but I'm a bit pressed for time, so don't hold it against me that I can't make a comprehensive 12,000 page declaration.

Instant Replay believes that Saddam's regime is as corrupt, ungodly, and "evil" as government can be. The Iraqi people I know have no love of Saddam, and most Arabs think he's a little nuts. Saddam Hussein has earned his ouster, and he deserves anything anyone can throw at him. It's not a question of whether Saddam deserves to be keelhauled; it's a question of whether the United States - or anyone - should do it.

There are three arguments for disarming Iraq by force. One is humanitarian: war now will save lives in the long run. One is political: Iraq may be linked to al-Qaeda and is undoubtedly linked to Palestinian insurgents, on whom the U.S. and Israel are waging a war. The last is legal: Saddam has disregarded a long series of UN resolutions and has developed WMDs.

So Saddam deserves to be ousted, and there exist a few good reasons to oust him. IR believes that if the UN Security Council can agree to a course of action, that course should be followed. That may involve another six months of inspections, during the heat of the Iraqi summer. It also may involve another six years of circus, like the last six years. Either way, Saddam has put himself on the international agenda, and the world community has a responsibility to deal with him.

IR believes that the United States has tenuous legal grounds at best for entering the war. The U.S. does have moral footing of some sort, though. However, most importantly, the U.S. should not preempt the UN for political reasons.

The disastrous consequences of unilateral action will include a sharp split from our important allies - Europe, Russia, China, others - in the war on terror, increased terror against the U.S., and a loss of flexibility in dealing with the very real threat of North Korea.

By disregarding not only the UNSC but - more importantly - our allies, we are sacrificing post 9/11 favor for worldwide resentment. It's not that the Russians will become suicide bombers, it's that they won't tell us before some Uzbek does. In the post-Cold War world, we need allies more than we need victories. I don't know that Bush's people - all of whom are Cold Warriors who cut their teeth on Nixon and Reagan battles - understand that. Bush needs to listen to his Daddy, who was the #2 architect of the New World Order (Gorby was #1, imho), and ignore Samuel Huntington, author of "Clash of Civilizations."

The gains from conquering Iraq would be modest and mainly deterrent. However, I believe that the costs could be much higher. The U.S. will give ammunition to every Islamist pedagogue, their versions of Samuel Huntington, and the "Clash of Civilizations" will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some of Bush's strongest hawks point to Israel as a country who really knows how to deal with terror: by cracking down hard. Has anyone noticed that Israel is the most fear-ridden, terror-stricken country in the developed world?? Following longstanding Israeli tactics of preemption and punitive aggression will only lead to an Israelization of America.

This argument brings us back to the starting point: the war on terror. While IR won't commit to this position, it would like to raise the question of the wisdom of waging such a war. Since one successful terrorist can win the entire "war" by slipping through and blowing something really important up, isn't this a war we can't win? Seizing assets and arresting militants by cooperating with other countries is great. But intervening militarily and punishing those who host terrorists - the same way we punished villages hiding Viet Cong guerrillas - may be "right", but it doesn't augur success.
The last paragraph in particular proved hauntingly correct over the next eight years. After getting comments from a few friends, I posted follow-up posts that strengthened my not-now position on the war.
While I respect (some of) those who support war on Iraq, I only respect those who can give a reasonable political answer for their convictions. In response to David's comments, saying that being against a preemptive invasion of Iraq is "an avoid war at all costs mentality" is building a straw man. I supported the war in Afghanistan, and I argue vigorously with pacifists, since sometimes options are really exhausted.

DJN's naivetee is unsettling. He writes, "A new Iraq will be great news for missionaries." That couldn't be farther from the truth. If Iraq conquered the U.S. and changed our regime, would anyone (even Democrats) be more likely to embrace Islam? With the American evangelical community as hawkish as ever, Christians in Iraq face the prospect of persecution from neighbors, and Christianity could be set back by decades in an already anti-Christian country. Christianity was first crushed in that part of the world when the predominantly Christian Roman Empire went to war against the Persian Empire. Persian Christians were persecuted and Christianity was looked at as an enemy religion. If Christians want to spread Christ's love, war should not be their tool of choice.

Ali Baba misunderstands the purpose of the United Nations. His domestic policy background seems to taint his view of diplomatic relations. Other countries are not in danger of dictating American foreign policy. The U.S., on the other hand, habitually dictates foreign policy to many states beholden to us for aid and support. As well we should. The world of international affairs is anything but equal, and the parity of states in the UN General Assembly is an important instrument of free speech, but not of global decision-making.

I have never argued that the U.S. should bow to the UN in all its policies. That said, the UN is an excellent forum for gauging world support. In Gulf War I, we were helped by most of the world, and Secretary of State James Baker did a tremendous job at rallying support. He didn't have to do that so that we could act, he did it so that we could act with the best possible results.

Instant Replay's position is that Iraq deserves to be disarmed, but that it is not America's problem only. If Saddam has WMD's, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and perhaps Europe are the ones who should be scared. As long as the U.S. has the possibility of war hanging over Saddam's head, we're safe. Once we start a war, we've got a target painted on our backs. Instant Replay's position is not about morality, it's about politics, and as I told David recently, Republicans need to give up being "right" for once and act in their own - and the country's - best interest.
The prescience above shows the value of having 3/4 of an undergraduate degree. If only someone in the Bush White House had been so ill-educated!

1 comment:

taoist said...

My main argument for going into Iraq was always humanitarian. I believe, even after the mishandling of certain aspects of the war that greatly prolonged it and multiplied the damage done, we can still make a convincing case that we saved a great many lives - and I think there's still a decent chance that Iraq will be able to develop into a reasonable and free nation, although their path became much more difficult the instant Obama was elected.

Similarly, I believe that we should be doing much more to support the replacement of the other most tyrranical regimes around the world. In particular, I think that China could be convinced to abandon the North Korean atrocity, and let that people group be free.