Friday, August 12, 2005

Losing Iraq

Christopher Hitchens asks if the American Left really wants the United States to lose the war in Iraq. According to Hitchens, Left wisdom allows only one correct answer on Iraq: “Uncle.” He reports that opponents of the war ignore the gruesome reality of Iraq under Saddam Hussein and the chaos that was bound to ensue in the region had American forces not toppled the Ba’athis dictatorship. Unlike others, Hitichens does not raise the spectre of mayhem likely to occur if the US withdraws forces from Iraq too soon but his logic certainly leads there. Hitchens asks what he believes are hard questions of his former comrades on Left whom he regards as ossified, unthinking ideologues. He has only scorn for such muddled thought.

As one of those comrades, I don’t consider his questions at all hard. I can answer unequivocally that No, I don’t want the US to lose in Iraq. Nor am I unaware of the horrors of Iraq under a Ba’athist dictatorship. Where I differ with Hitchens is his faith in a single handed American military crusade. Hitchens considers Islamic Fascism is as much a threat to democracy today as Nazi fascism was in the 1930's. He sees BushCheney as the only western leader to recognize and act against this terrorist threat to democratic societies. Shades of Winston Churchill. It’s a comforting image, one that gives meaning to the sacrifices made by American and other troops serving in Iraq. But the image is false. Iraq is largely irrelevant to defending against Islamic (or any) terrorists.

Iraq is a front in a war only because BushCheney chose to make it so. Iraq was in no way a significant part of the terror network that attacked Americans in Tanzania, Kenya, Bahrain, New York and Washington, DC. That network is a threat not only to life and property but also to the open, democratic society that is the hallmark of western democracy. Hitchens is correct that democratic societies have every right to protect themselves from this threat. He further believes that democracy is the best antidote to Islamic fascism and praises BushCheney for his bold leadership when the rest of the world refuses to acknowledge reality. Hitchens berates anti-war critics as BushCheney haters who want to see him fail at all costs.

As a dedicated BushCheney hater, I reject Hitchens slur. He says I would be mortified to see BushCheney succeed and oppose the war only to validate my prejudices. What fucking rot! I oppose the war because it was unnecessary, its justification based on an ever evolving series of lies, misinformation and manipulation. This war wastes American and Iraqi lives. It destroys, Iraqi homes, businesses, public and private property. Combat and security operations wholly ignore and often offend Iraqi culture. And too many American soldiers have lost their humanity in the process; I see it in the prisoner abuses and shoot first mentality of soldiers in a country where everyone looks like the enemy. The entire operation has been planned in appalling ignorance of Iraq’s history and nationalism.

BushCheney could not have done this job any worse, at any greater disservice to America’s honor and reputation. Their lies, complete disregard for human life and cynical manipulation of American patriotism do enrage me. But I don’t wish for failure because I hate them. I don’t wish for failure at all. I am pointing out the unfortunate consequences of a poorly planned military operation in pursuit of political/economic objectives in a region of longstanding hostility and mistrust. I and many others warned of these consequences before the invasion. Every event and development in Iraq since March 2003 has been consistent with these predictions. I, along with the entire world, have every reason to insist that the United States come to terms with the forces it unleashed upon Iraq.

Iraq may actually create and maintain a democratic, stable government. Maybe. More than likely the result will be a weak, unstable government that will be a continuing problem for years to come, much like the one Britain created in the 1920's. The road there will have been a costly one. More than two years after accomplishing an easy “victory” in Iraq, the United States has failed to fulfill one of the primary duties of an occupying power: to provide the security necessary for non-violent political evolution and consensus. We haven’t done much to rebuild the country although we have given much money to American and Iraqi contractors. Iraqis have seen their living conditions deteriorate into a hellish existence filled with death, destruction and uncertainty. The BushCheney path to a new Iraq has been a painful one for Iraqis and Americans. As difficult and tedious as building a coalition to pursue Saddam Hussein’s removal and (most important) prepare for a post-Ba’athist Iraq would have been, it is far preferable to the mayhem and carnage that is Iraq today.

Being right about Iraq offers no solace whatsoever. How can I, or the many others who warned that invading Iraq would precipitate nationalist resistance and exacerbate ethnic and sectarian tensions, find any satisfaction in Iraq’s sorry state two and a half years after “Mission Accomplished”? I cringe at the stories and images from Iraq: ruined cities, civilians killed and maimed, corruption, waste, a steady stream dead and wounded Americans.

To return to Hitchens’ question. No, Christopher, I don’t want the US to lose in Iraq. It’s too late for that. Now it’s a matter of how best to limit that loss. Pursuing the same failed policy promises only greater losses for America, Iraq and the world.