It is an axiom of mine, that anyone who goes around making noise about issues of note, should be willing to test and re-examine their own beliefs and assumptions every now and then. Therefore, I am taking another look at the war in Iraq, testing claims made by both ends of the spectrum. I would suggest as I begin, that in my experience few people on the Left are willing to test their own assumptions, so this is hardly an exercise in balance, but for all that it is worth the look.
The odd thing about all the debate surrounding Iraq, is that neither of the two major camps ever seems to pursue the most valid criticism of the other side, in my opinion because it would require granting a degree of validity to their complaint. It is reasonable, for example, for the Left to challenge comparisons between the War on Terror and our presence in Iraq, to the Allied effort in World War 2. Not that Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Assad do not show similarities in their goals and ideology to Mr. Hitler and Mr. Stalin, but the Middle East is not Europe, the forces of Iran and Syria are not at all comparable to the well-planned legions of the Reich and the USSR, and the United States faces a much different culture in the Middle East than in Europe. After all, in World War 2 the prevailing religion of the region in Europe was sympathetic to Americans, while the prevailing religion in the Middle East is by no means sympathetic, nor even neutral. The Pacific theater was much the same as Europe, in that the United States generally enjoyed a good reputation except for the Japanese troops. The Left could very reasonably point out these ways in which the War in Iraq is not like World War 2.
The Right, of course, can even more easily dispose of the myth that Iraq is like Vietnam. In Vietnam, the United States was not responding to any specific threat, and chose to support a corrupt regime simply because it was not Communist. The U.S. Congress and leadership ignored their field officers and failed to listen to the men in the battles. In Iraq, despite all the claims to the contrary, the United States has addressed a specific threat to U.S. interests, international terrorist groups who would overthrow nations friendly to the West and the United States. For the most part, the Iraqi people respect and trust the American troops; the “insurgency” is more and more proving to be a loose coalition of Baathists who have nothing to lose by fighting the Americans, radical Muslims who have bought into the lie that the United States wants a puppet state, and waves of foreign fighters recruited, trained, supplied and directed by Iran and Syria. There was never a ‘War for Oil’, excepting that the nations which tried to prevent the removal of Saddam Hussein were profiting by their deals with him – honest deals would hurt their business, and yet the Left never pays attention to greed when it is born and raised in France or Germany. The war was legal in every substantive sense, from Saddam’s repeated violations of the cease-fire terms, to the attempted assassination of President G.H.W. Bush, the constant firing-on of Coalition aircraft by Iraqi ground fire, the fraud so commonly present in the U.N. Food-for-Oil program, and Saddam’s constant refusal to provide proof that he had properly disposed of the known WMD stockpiles, again as required by the cease-fire agreement. Iraq was necessary, right, and properly fought. In any historical sense, less than five thousand U.S. combat deaths in five years is a success story. Yet I am convinced that the Right will be much quicker to admit that Iraq is not D-Day, than the Left will be to admit that Iraq is not Vietnam, and never was.
So why the fervor on Iraq? Essentially, I think, it comes down to the fact that Americans usually prefer a war where things return to status quo ante. That condition is not possible here. Instead, we were left in 2003 with the choice between letting Saddam continue to do as he pleased, with unknown consequences, or going in and taking him out. Americans strongly disapproved of not invading Iraq in 1991, and that sentiment only gained strength through the years. And the 9/11 attacks, as much as the Left tries to deny it, radically changed the matrix. The connection between Saddam and 9/11 was not that Saddam had anything directly to do with 9/11, but that he stood alongside the monsters who did it, allied with them in mind and spirit. It’s easy now, with so much attention focused on U.S. casualties and the propaganda of people like Michael Moore, to forget that the reason the Congressional authorization for the war passed so easily was not some lie or trick by the Bush Administration, but the national mood which demanded action to set things right. Going in and taking out Saddam would mean rebuilding the country, to prevent a vacuum which would surely be filled by Syria and Iran, but it also meant a unique opportunity, to give Arabs a chance at running their own country. Kings and Mullahs and Dictators of many types have filled the region for countless years; what passed for elections in the Middle East would be laughed at in derision even by veterans of Chicago and New York politics. The tens of millions who defied death squads in Iraq to vote, proved that Arabs are every bit as thirsty for a Democratic Republic, as anyone in the United States. The Left never stops to ask itself why so many veterans of the Iraq War continue to re-enlist; in large part it’s because they believe in the mission, a fact which must not be glossed over or forgotten.
In the end, Iraq was a victory, but it remains to be seen to what degree. If we leave too soon, the Islamists could too easily gain control of Iraq and begin a bloodbath not seen since Pol Pot, another history the Left denies because they cannot accept their role in creating it. On the other hand, Republicans must understand that our commitment cannot be open-ended in Iraq; while we keep bases in perpetuity in Japan and Germany, this depends on the national will as much as the need for them. As desirable as it would be to have a quick-response force in Iraq to stabilize the Middle East from the next madman who thinks Allah wants him to invade a neighboring country, to pretend that we could maintain such a force at similar cost to our bases in Germany and Japan is naïve. The ideal resolution remains to be determined, but the best course for both Left and Right would be to work for a scale-down without a time table, but which makes clear the expectation of Iraq’s self-determination in arms. It would need to keep open the prospect of returning U.S. troops if and when the need arose, and indeed should include plans for future U.S. military exercises in the area to warn the neighbors that the United States would always be able to do whatever was necessary. But for here the need to define ‘victory’ and to stand together as a nation is the most important mission. The Left and Right would find it distasteful to stand alongside one another, I do not doubt, but the Right needs the Left to be part of the national message, and the Left needs the Right in order to hope that the war may hope for an end.