Success? Failure? How long have you got?
Some folks are somewhat smugly noting Jonathan Kay's lack of smugness. Why? Because Kay has published a piece in the National Post recanting his earlier support of the war in Iraq.
Kay makes three points to support his decision to issue a public mea culpa:
As I saw things in early 2003, there were three good reasons for deposing Saddam Hussein, any one of which, by itself, was sufficient to justify his ouster: (1) Saddam was a maniac who had weapons of mass destruction; (2) The creation of a democracy in the heart of the Muslim Middle East would transform the region by firing a fatal crack into the monolith of Arab tyranny; and (3) Putting the wrecking ball to Saddam's dungeons would end the wanton slaughter of Iraq's long-suffering people.
Turns out I was zero for three.
The first zero became obvious in the early months of the American occupation: The WMDs simply weren't there.
The second zero is playing out on the streets as you read this: Rival sectarian militias, rogue Iraqi security units, foreign Jihadis and coalition soldiers locked in an endless war of all-against-all. Amidst the carnage, millions of brave Iraqis have voted in national elections. But the forms and pageantry of democracy can't disguise the fact that the tolerant, pluralistic government everyone wanted remains a pipe dream: While Iraq's legislature serves as an arena for squabbling amongst the country's three main groups, the real spoils are hashed out on the streets by their various militias. Far from setting off a freedom epidemic in the Middle East, Iraq's tragedy has created Exhibit A for every Arab tyrant looking to justify his hold on power.
And then, last week, the third and final zero: a new study of 1,849 randomly selected, geographically representative Iraqi families conducted by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
These 1,849 families had collectively suffered a staggering 547 violent deaths since the American invasion, a number almost eight times higher than one would expect based on pre-invasion death rates. If you extrapolate that increase to the whole of Iraq, you come up with a total of about 600,000 violent deaths.
As critics of the John Hopkins study have noted, extrapolation is an imperfect business. So let's assume the real total is half that -- that a mere 100,000 per year died violently in the three years following the invasion. This reduced total would still be stunning enough to undermine the humanitarian argument for war. Consider: During his quarter-century of absolute power in Iraq, Saddam killed about a million innocents through aggressive war, internal slaughters, political pogroms and assorted acts of torture and brutality. Do the math and you find that, as horrible as Saddam was, his killing machine chewed up humanity at less than half the rate of the bloody insurgency unwittingly spawned by America's invasion.
Jonathan Kay is, by all accounts, a fairly bright man, so I'm wondering why he chose these three particular points and these three specifics to support those points. Because you can make at least as good a case against each of those points as he makes for them.
Everyone opposed to the war likes to talk about WMD's. There was undoubtedly bad intelligence out there - French, Russian, British, and yes, American - about Saddam's purported stockpiles and production capabilities. Heck, even Saddam's own generals were reportedly surprised he didn't have them when push came to shove and they were facing the considerable might of the U.S. Army in the field. And he was certainly working to acquire WMD capacity despite the U.N. sanctions. So to me, second-guessing the coalition's decision to invade, given the intelligence they had, is like second-guessing the cop who sees a known violent criminal reach into his coat when told to freeze, and drops him, only to find out he only had a cell-phone in there. One of the best life lessons I've ever learned is that leaders make the best decisions they can with the information available to them at the time, and accept the consequences of those decisions. So I think Kay's first point is overblown Monday-morning quarterbacking.
The newest anti-war prop is the Lancet study. Call me a cynic, but the last study was a farce. The current study is receiving some informed criticism as well. Besides, when the first study was released less than a month before the U.S. Presidential election, and the current one was released less than a month before the Congressional mid-terms, my Spidey-sense starts tingling.
But all this talk about numbers obscures a more subjective criticism, which is that those who accord peace a higher relative value than freedom or justice will think one more death is too many, and no amount of talking with them will convince them otherwise. Some, both within Iraq and without, would argue that when the goal is a free and just society, a simple ledger can't tally the true results.
That's why the fact that the Lancet study seems to be what pushed Kay over the edge is so surprising to me.
Because to my way of thinking, the linchpin of any reasonable argument against the war is Kay's third supposed failure: it hasn't produced the free and just democracy supporters of the war hoped it would.
That's certainly true, as long as you append the statement with these two words: to date.
From the West's point of view, the Cold War was a failure until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Or, to put it in different terms that might make my point more clearly, the Russian Revolution was a success from 1918 to 1991. So to all who would declare any major geo-political event an unqualified success or failure, I have a question: what's your time frame?
Kay and other "misguided hawks" see Iraq in decline and have given up hope. They're like the investor who buys a stock at $50, sees it drop to $30 and decide to cut their losses and sell. Others see the drop as temporary, and have faith the stock will rebound and yield the profits they'd expected.
To me, the question is not whether Iraq is a success or a failure, it's whether Iraq is more like Apple Computers or Bre X - one eventually pulled out of the dive, and one cratered.
Whether Jon Kay is willing to admit it or not, his flip-flop is less about concrete facts, and more about his tolerance for risk and his own time horizon. The jury on Iraq remains out, and will remain out until the allies and the Iraqis themselves stop working on the problems facing that country.
Both the I-told-you-so's and the boy-was-I-ever-wrong's are premature.