Should We Be In Iraq, Knowing What We Know Today?
First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?
Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?
Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?
I have been pro-Iraq war or some equivalent since the mid-90's while I was in college taking various international relations classes at the University of Maryland. Being so, I am qualified to accept Mr. Kerr's challenge and do so below.
QUESTION #1: Assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?
ANSWER: Yes. The invasion of Iraq is part of a complex, calculated gamble. The gamble is a rearrangement of the politics and norms present in the Middle East as we've known it for the last several decades in order to destroy a certain political and cultural mindset. In other words, the goal is to promote peace for the purpose of securing more stable markets and governmental institutions in a key strategic region that has had a history of instability, oppression, and projection of violence. All with the added benefit of freeing millions of people from one of the most obscene dictatorships this world has ever known. The motivations for this war were valid in March 2003, and remain just as valid in September 2004. Remember, we have been in Iraq for merely a year and a half!!
So why was I in favor of the Iraq invasion at the start? Foremost in my mind will always be the Iraqi people. Set aside the WMD, oil, terrorism angle and you still have over 20 million people suffering under the cruelest of dictatorships. These are now 20 million+ people enjoying a greater freedom today than many had had in their mostly young lives. Everyone in the US knows how blessed we are, no matter how much complaining we do about largely inconsequential things. Even if you are a Democrat, you can agree that our government will not abduct you for a petty crime and send you home years later with scars and perhaps a missing limb or two. It won't happen here. But in Saddam's Iraq, it was an everyday occurrence. (You can argue that in addition to limbs, you might lose your life without ever having committed the hint of a crime in today's Iraq because of terrorist violence. To you I remind how early it is. We have only just begun.) If you live in any big American city, look around you. You may see persons of nearly every nationality in the world. Many are not here because life is good in their ancestral homeland. They, like you and I, are likely here because ourselves, parents, grandparents, or ancestors were escaping something back home, for something better in America. I ask you why these millions of transplanted individuals that comprise you, I, and our neighbors cannot enjoy the same advantages at home? Why do they leave the places of their birth for the strange shores of a country thousands of miles away? America is the beacon of hope to billions world-wide, that's why. Because of this, I think we have a moral duty to those "yearning to be free" worldwide. People around the world should be able to enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy here in the lands of their own births. I will always look at that reason first.
Secondly, the reader or two of my blog know my thoughts on open, free markets and why it is important to maintain the British/American system of international free trade. I firmly believe that markets are the key to peace and prosperity for all. War is sometimes necessary to clear the path for this freedom. Iraq obviously holds strategic reserves of oil, as do all Middle Eastern countries. Unfortunately, the oil wealth in the hands of dictators and thugs has turned the Middle East into one of the most unstable areas in the world. These miscreants plunder their nations' resources for personal wealth. And they will protect their golden egg with arms. Unfortunately, the types of leaders who would murder their own citizens at a whim are not the sort who are reasoned with. Oil is important. And it is not just for your car, but it fuels the ships and airplanes that carry goods from one destination to the other. If we were to be held hostage by a conspiracy of crooked oil producers, well, you might remember the 1970's. It is in the strategic interests of the United States and its citizens, and citizens worldwide, to protect the freedom of the air and the seas in order to promote free, cheap, and easy trade between nations. Prosperity is contagious when countries are dedicated to trading for mutual advantage.
What about WMD's? Definitely a big concern. It is a well established fact that Saddam supported terrorists abroad. He gave refuge to Abu Nidal. He had ties to al Qaeda affiliates operating in Iran. He paid the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. He sought the assassination of George H.W. Bush in Kuwait. Had we pursued the usual course of action since 1992 and blustered on and on about what we'd do to Hussein, then backed down, the consequences may have been disastrous. The pre-war inspection regime would have collapsed and the inspectors been expelled as usual. From there, Saddam may have finally felt safe enough to move forward with his WMD programs. Who knows? We did not find any. That's a failure of international intelligence. We all thought they had them. Not just GWB.
Our "unilateral" war. I spent a lot of time in college doing simulations of international incidents with students assigned different countries. Consensus is nearly impossible in many cases. Kerry's call for UN participation in our international affairs is absurd. For instance, citing Gulf War I, Kerry says he is shocked that we went forward this time without a broader coalition. This argument is a red herring. We learned in law school never to add facts to a hypothetical. You always deal with the facts at hand, otherwise your conclusions will not be appropriate. That is exactly what is happening when Kerry uses Gulf War I to compare our coalition for two. They are entirely different circumstances. Two very good reasons why: 1) In Gulf War I, at issue was the very tangible, readily apparent violation of the borders of Kuwait by an invading Iraqi army. Iraq occupied Kuwait, claimed it as its rightful territory, and plundered it. Our coalition included the French and German militaries. We fought to return Kuwait to the Kuwaitis. 2) Gulf War II was the result of a failure of Iraq to declare its WMD program, a much less clear basis for war. We pressed this issue in response to the world created by 9/11 and the possibility of rogue state sponsorship of terror. Iraq filed a conspicuously incomplete report, failing to prove that it had destroyed its WMD programs and weapons. We invaded with a smaller coalition, not joined by France, Germany, or Russia. We crushed Hussein's army, killed his sons, and captured and imprisoned him. All without the ringers from the 1991 war. And what of them? Well, turns out the French and Russians were supplying the Iraqis with arms nearly until the start of the war. It also turns out that France, Germany, Russia and many high-ranking officials in the UN were being bought off by Iraq with dirty Oil-for-Food money (UNScam). These are the countries and officials we needed on board for a valid coalition?
In conclusion, I am not currently, and never was, under any illusions that the war would be short, and the American presence in Iraq temporary. Germany, Japan, Korea. We're still there. I think we are in Iraq there for the right reasons. Human rights, new political/social mindset, free trade. And I do not think we should leave until the job is fully and properly completed.
QUESTION #2: What reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days?
ANSWER: I believe there is some truth to them. But I also believe there is more to the story. Some parts of Iraq are horrific. Bombs, bullets, casualties. But other parts of Iraq appear to be quite peaceful and prospering. The question is: what is the difference between the two Iraqs? Answer: Islamic/Baathist dead-enders. American troops and civilian contractors can be found throughout the country, supported and advised by coalition partners. The only regions where the Iraqi people are left in dismal circumstances are where their own violent elements and trouble-makers from abroad are condemning them to live in dire circumstances.
Newspapers, TV shows, and magazines are out to make a buck. They show people what they want to see. They are also out to elect candidates with similar views and will use words and images to attempt to accomplish that aim. There will always be factions in journalism as anywhere else. You just have to know your source. Whether it is right or left wing. Know your source. The reality is likely in the middle somewhere. The solution is to read widely, and get divergent views. Process the information you receive and judge accordingly.
QUESTION #3: What specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?
ANSWER: History is the best judge. Europe, Japan, and Korea were not won and reorganized overnight. I do not like to use statistics when talking about fallen military men, but 55,000 dead in Vietnam over 15 years is not the same as 1,000 dead in Iraq in 1.5. Other wars the United States has won with spectacular result were looking far more grim a year and a half in: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War. Every war has periods of set-backs. This one is no exception.
Beyond the war aspect, the most important measure of success is the level at which Iraqis choose to control their own destinies. Will they accept a representative government? Will they descend into civil war? Will Iraqis choose to be the example of proper governance that the Middle East has historically lacked, or will the people let the few wolves achieve dominion over the sheep once again? America can only take this fight so far. Everyday Iraqis must rise to the challenge and take their country back. Success ultimately will be measured by what the Iraqis do with their freedom when the Americans leave. The American revolution was won only when the merchants, farmers, and frontiersmen took the independence they gained and held fast. They sought something better, fought for it, and did what it took to turn an idea in to the America we know. Hopefully there are some extraordinary Iraqis who will do the same and lead their people into future prosperity. The key to success is whether the Iraqi people use their newfound circumstances to create a stable representative government and free economy, or stagger into the future as just another faltering Middle Eastern state.