Wishing upon a War

Published: Sunday | November 12, 2006

George W. Bush's party ran, but couldn't hide from Iraq and Katrina. Karl Rove couldn't fool all the people all the time. And the supposedly terminal ills besetting American democracy - such as seat gerrymandering, unmatchable incumbency spending and an imperial president - have apparently been cured by, well, more democracy.

Donald Rumsfeld's head was the Democrat's first victory trophy, and few will regret that insufferably smug and stubborn old man's resignation. Whether his successor, Robert Gates, has any new ideas remains to be seen. Saddam Hussein's conviction proved what we all knew - he was a cruel, murderous tyrant.

But that's about the only definitive statement anyone can make about Iraq. For all the assertive announcements from the White House and the counter denunciations from its detractors, it's obvious no one had a clue what was going on before the American invasion in 2003, no one really knows what is happening now, and no one has any idea what the U.S. or anyone else should do next.

Why did America invade? Why has Iraq descended into chaos? How will it all end? We hear lots of opinions, but whom should we believe? Certainly not the Bush administration. Not a single thing they've said about Iraq has proven correct. Satellite photos of people's houses are now available free on the Internet, so could the most sophisticated military force in history have been so wrong about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction?

For those who believe rational self-interest is the primary motivating force in life and politics, it's a great mystery. Did the Bush team really think bullets are more powerful than centuries old historical forces and democracies can be imposed by force? Did they really think they could grab control of Iraq's oil fields in today's post colonial world? Did they really think there was some connection between Osama Bin Laden and Iraq? Almost a trillion dollars, 3,000 U.S. lives and an estimated 650,000 Iraqi lives later, no one knows.

Men, such as Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney seem to epitomise hard nosed ruthless calculators of their national good. It was then Defence Secretary Cheney who asked in 1992: "Assuming we could have found [Saddam] "what kind of government are you going to establish in Iraq? Is it going to be a Kurdish government, or a Shiite government or a Sunni government?" How many casualties are you going to take during the course of this operation?" So what changed his mind?

We all do irrational things that we find hard to explain afterwards. Such as "Why did I cheat on my wife with this ugly woman and so destroy my marriage and lose everything I have in alimony?"

Historical example

Yet which historical example did the Bush administration look at and say, "That's the kind of success story we plan to emulate"? Or does the leader of even a sophisticated democracy such as America's just say, "We're going to invade Iraq" and then everyone just goes along? Did Bush and company give the consequences of invading Iraq no more forethought than a bar drunkard who punches out the guy beside him because someone across the room insulted his mother? Did not even one person say, "Let's find what Iraqis really think before we go in"?

I weakly supported the war. It didn't make much sense on the surface, but surely the President of America and the Prime Minister of Britain knew lots of things ordinary people didn't or they wouldn't be so adamant that it was the right thing to do. Bush I always had doubts about. But Tony Blair was the very model of what everyone thinks a leader should be - handsome, smart, principled and firm. If he couldn't be trusted, who could?

Yet, none of the 'iron clad' evidence Bush and Blair claimed to have turned out to be true, while U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, was completely correct in asserting that Iraq had no nuclear capacity. Judging by known facts and logic, the Iraqi invasion seems a case of temporary insanity. But then history is littered with those. Nearly 100 years on we still don't know exactly what caused World War I and its 15 million deaths.

Maybe, the concept of removing the tyrannical Saddam was correct, but the means were wrong. Perhaps a much bigger invading army and the preservation of Iraq's governmental infrastructure would have meant a stable democracy and not chaos. But, that's mere speculation. Dubya and his gang were more stupid and incompetent than anyone could ever have imagined. But, Iraq may have fallen apart even with 400,000 soldiers and precision planning.

Hence the uncomfortable questions. Was it only Saddam's brutal iron fist that made a deeply divided Iraq tenable as a country in its present form? Was he not so much a Hitler as a Tito, whose death was followed by the disintegration of Yugoslavia and genocide in Bosnia? Is brutal, but stable dictatorship preferable to chaotic civil war? Are Iraqis better off today than they were under Saddam's tyrannical rule? Only Iraqis themselves can answer that last question.

Serious ethnic cleansing

At any rate, Saddam was then, and why the U.S. invaded is already a historical enigma. But what should America do now? Well, again, no one really knows. Partition Iraq? Well, that would involve some serious ethnic cleansing. Invite in Syria and Iran to help? But preventing the spread of Iranian theocracy was the reason America gave arms and aid to Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war. Postpone the democratic experiment and install a military strongman or junta to temporarily impose iron fist discipline? But that was how Saddam came to be.

Some say the sanest American option is to hold a referendum, which would likely show most Iraqis want them to leave, and march out saying loudly, 'It's the people's will!'. Then let the strongest side prevail. Maybe only time can solve Iraq's problems. After all, it took centuries of war before Britain stumbled upon modern democracy and France and Germany created the European Union.

Full scale civil war

Yet, as Colin Powell told George W. Bush before the invasion, 'You break it, you own it'. To go in and create chaos and then cut and run shouting 'You're on your own!' over your shoulder would cause America's reputation to fall even lower than it is now. True, no one takes anything Dubya says seriously anymore. But U.S. abandonment of Iraq might result in a full scale civil war and cause every terrorist organisation on earth to see America and its citizens as soft easy targets. Furthermore, chaos in Iraq might spill over into Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and bring about US$200 a barrel oil. This should give even the most rabid 'Get out now!' screamers pause.

Stupid as the U.S. decision to invade Iraq was, it would be even stupider to leave abruptly now. There is no easy short-term solution. Voters' anger over a costly unnecessary war lost Republicans both House and Senate on Tuesday. But after the initial euphoria, Democrats might be as puzzled over Iraq as a dog who finally catches the car he's been chasing. Glib election mode 'we need change' promises can seem rather hollow in the cold light of actual power.

Yes, it's easy to start a war, but difficult to end one. Isn't it amazing how often these old clichés prove true?

Comments (0)

Post a Comment
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
(not publicly displayed)
Reply Notification:
Approval Notification:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image:
* Message: