While I disagree with a couple of his conclusions from the last two paragraphs - I happen to feel we won't be able to conclusively pass judgement on the war's impact on the middle east and on the battle against Islamofascist terror for years to come - James Bow
has done an admirable job summing up both the positives and negatives of the Iraq war to date (nod to BBG
for pointing me in the right direction).
I would think that it is time to acknowledge, as others have done, liberals and conservatives alike, that while things aren’t as bad as they could have been, this war doesn’t look nearly as good as it did during the days leading up to it.
No shame in admitting that type of mistake. We all pursued our ideals using the best facts available, and some of our predictions turned out to be right and some turned out to be wrong. It’s still a source of surprise to me that there were no weapons of mass destruction. That’s fine. Make adjustments. Learn from our mistakes. Move on.
But let us learn from our mistakes, at least. And let’s ensure that some people accept responsibility for what they’ve done.
Equally importantly, in my opinion, James eschews inflammatory rhetoric in favour of reasonable questions and comments presented in reasonable language. Over-the-top commentary in the blogosphere can be fun, and venting is an important function for many like Sean
and myself who only partially joke about blogging being cheaper than therapy. But an uninterrupted diet of blog-rants can produce intellectual constipation. As someone whose own rhetoric becomes inflammatory from time to time, I appreciate James' sobering influence on the discussion.
So, with James' example to follow, how comfortably do I sit in my Monday-morning armchair on the issue of the Iraq war, George Bush, and the broader war on terror?
Well, first, I'd agree the U.S. intelligence on WMD's and the immediate threat posed by Iraq was so incredibly faulty that the entire American intelligence-gathering and analyzing apparatus should be pulled apart from top to bottom. The fact that intelligence agencies from a number of other countries thought the same thing is a mitigating factor, but not really a valid excuse. The U.S. has more resources than anyone else to devote to knowing what it needs to know - period. And this isn't the first time in recent years the intelligence community has been dead wrong on a pivotal issue - anyone remember the fall of the Soviet Union? These aren't peripheral issues. To be right about what sort of oil contracts are being signed in secret by what countries is inconsequential if you're wrong about a major justification for war.
Yes, yes, I know the threat of WMD's wasn't the only rationale the Bush administration put forward for the invasion of Iraq. But it was undoubtedly the most compelling one. To suggest Congress would have authorized the use of military force in Iraq for the sole purpose of freeing Iraqis from Hussein's brutal totalitarianism and creating a free democratic society from scratch is pure fantasy.
Personally, I don't believe Bush lied. I've always thought the analogy of a police officer who sees a known felon reaching into his jacket and shoots him, only to discover afterwards it was all a bluff, is a good one. You don't blame the cop after the fact, because he made the best decision he could on the basis of the information available to him at the time. Better safe than sorry. But I can understand why others see the Bush administration's wilful ignorance of any dissenting points of view as tantamount to lying. I believe James is right when he says the administration heard only those opinions it wanted to hear, and that's completely indefensible.
The question of troop levels for the war and the immediate aftermath is more difficult to answer, even in hindsight. More troops means more opportunity for logistical cock-ups. It means more expense. It means more targets for insurgents. And it might not mean more effectiveness. I also think the failure of Turkey to allow ground troops to attack from its soil was a critical hindrance
to eliminating resistance before it could get organized.
In its defence, Turkey was in a difficult position as the only true Islamic ally of the United States. For its own internal political reasons, Turkey required a more widely-based international blessing, and it never got that. Which has to be seen as another glaring failure of the U.S. government. It's questionable whether Russia, China, and France would have ever allowed the UN to put its stamp of approval on an invasion of Iraq. But did Rumsfeld have to undermine the effort by spouting off about 'Old Europe' in front of a camera and microphone? In recent decades, the U.S. hasn't been particularly adept at diplomacy. I believe that's partly becuase they're big and powerful, not because they're stupid or inept. How diplomatic were the Russians at the zenith of their power? Not very - they didn't need to be. Diplomacy comes most easily to small and middle powers, because it's the only real tool they have.
But if the U.S. truly wants to lead the rest of the world away from the politics of power, to the politics of international cooperation and the rule of law as their rhetoric suggests, they need to do better. Because there's a serious gap between their words and their deeds right now, and it hurts their credibility, big time.
Some of the other points critics of the war make are questionable, and come down to carping. Take the example of disbanding the Iraqi army and banning Baathists from holding any positions of power. Turned the country into a chaotic mess, right? In hindsight, maybe. But we'll never be able to know what would have happened if the U.S. had taken the other fork in that road. It's quite possible the insurgency would have been far more effective with Baathist sympathizers in key government positions. And how much would the brutalized Shia and Kurdish populations have supported the reform process if their oppressors had been left in positions of influence? This sort of criticism is about counting angels dancing on pinheads.
Is it worth having the discussion about hypotheticals? Sure it is. But we shouldn't jump to unsubstantiable conclusions. That holds true for my side of the argument as well: keeping experienced Baathist hands on levers of government with which they were intimately familiar might well have avoided much of the chaos that has allowed the insurgency to survive this long. Just because I have a hard time swallowing that line of reasoning doesn't mean I'm right.
As far as James' assertion that the Iraq war has diverted attention, energy, and resources away from the war on terror, while I can see his point, I'm not convinced. I'm one of those people who thinks at some point you need to drain the swamp and kill the alligators. And I believe that the most sensible way to do that is by reaching for low-hanging fruit first. Iraq was low-hanging fruit: a brutal dictatorial regime whose pursuit of WMD's was consistent (although his stockpiles were nonexistent), whose willingness to use them was documented, whose ties to terrorism (though not to Al Qaeda) were established, whose hatred of the U.S. was unquestioned, whose defiance of international law was ongoing and on record, and whose threat to neighbouring countries was feared. If you're going to start changing things anywhere in the middle east, I think you can make a good argument for starting with Iraq.
You can make a good argument for starting with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict too. You can make a good argument for starting with Iran. You can make a good argument for starting with Saudi Arabia. You can make a good argument for starting with Syria and Lebanon. And you can certainly make a good argument for non-military methods in each and every case. None of those good arguments mean Iraq won't end up being a positive influence on the region, and therefore a strategic success in the years to come. If the jury's an honest one, it's still out on the wisdom of choosing military intervention in Iraq over the other options.
The decision to run two campaigns simultaneously - Afghanistan and Iraq - is another one that will be second-guessed by historians decades from now. America's inability to properly secure all of Afghanistan because of troop commitments to the Iraqi theatre has certainly slowed the progress of stable freedom and democracy in that country. The lack of real support from the rest of the world has also surely been disappointing to the U.S. - a lot of fine words and pledges, but few boots on the ground in the Afghani countryside, and dwindling financial follow-through as well. Unfortunately, the biggest problems in Afghanistan - from a U.S. perspective - were imported from the middle east: Bin Laden and his Arab muhajadeen. To not go back to the source of the threat - the rise of radical Islam in the middle east - might have been equally problematic for the Americans.
Still, with those caveats, I would have preferred a more focused effort in Afghanistan before going into any middle eastern nation. To have shifted attention so quickly to Iraq gives credence to the "NO BLOOD FOR OIL!" crowd of simplistic ninnies.
This is not to understate the importance of oil in the U.S. decision-making process. Oil certainly complicates all these issues, and not only in Iraq. It makes the U.S. look hypocritical in much of its idealistic rhetoric about freedom and democracy. The Americans remain overly 'nuanced' in their responses to injustice and oppression around the world - Rwanda, Darfur, and Kazakhstan come immediately to mind, not to mention Saudi Arabia. The selective outrage on human rights issues from the U.S. makes my eyes roll and my stomach lurch. There's no doubt in my mind that as a critical strategic interest, middle eastern oil was a significant factor in the decision to prosecute both Gulf Wars. But it's not as simple as the "NO BLOOD FOR OIL!" mob would suggest.
Many of these people also point to the Iraqi insurgency as evidence the threat of terrorism has increased due to the war, contrary to its stated goals. While I can see their point on a superficial level, that argument doesn't hold water with me. Without Iraq, Al Zarqawi and his like would have found other ways to cause trouble, most likely in the U.S. From a purely American standpoint, as gruesome and tragic as it is, it's better to have the scumbags killing people in Iraq than killing people stateside. And although it again illustrates the gap between American high words and ideals and real actions, I can't blame the U.S. for wanting to fight this war overseas rather than at home. That just makes sense, and so far it's worked (knocking firmly on wood right now). In the short term, the Bush administration's policies have been an effective barrier to terrorist attacks on American soil. If you don't believe that, then you have to believe they're the luckiest country on the planet; for three years solid now, they've engaged in provocation of the terrorists equivalent to stirring up the biggest, deadliest nest of hornets in the world and haven't been stung once. Luck's certainly a part of their success, but I can't believe it accounts for all of it. Of course, whether the long-term threat of terror is augmented or reduced by the Iraq war remains to be seen. That, I will freely admit.
An unintended consequence of the Iraq war is that it seems to have coalesced a great deal of latent Bush-hatred and anti-Americanism both in the U.S. and worldwide. Like many, I lament the idea that if you support a war on terror, you must support all George Bush's methods of prosecuting that war. And I equally lament the idea that if, like me, you support Bush's efforts to fight terror and support freedom and democracy in whatever realpolitik capacity he chooses to, you must automatically support his administration's and party's policies on gay rights, taxes, abortion, the environment, and just about anything else.
In our serious, non-ranting, non-trolling, non-baiting moments, let's call each spade a spade on its own merits, and leave tied-issue politics to the political spin-doctors. America is not evil because George Bush gets a pile of things wrong. And anti-Americanism hiding behind a fig leaf of anti-Bush propaganda doesn't fool anyone with eyes, ears, and a brain. Anyone - including bloggers like me - who can't or won't distinguish between support for one policy and support for another should be taken precisely as seriously as they deserve to be. The Iraq war doesn't change any of that.
As to what the Iraq war does
change...well, it's my humble opinion we'll just have to wait and see.