Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Iraq War Was Not a Mistake

Jonah Goldberg recently wrote--in an otherwise enjoyable piece--that most Republicans agree that the Iraq War was a mistake. While I'm not about to burn my JG Fan Club Card and smash the decoder ring (R-E-A-D-M-O-R-E-N-R-O! Aw, man!), I must vigorously dispute the notion that the war was a mistake. It is too early to say that.

Not to pick on Jonah, since he's not alone. But I don't buy this seemingly new conventional wisdom.

Note that this is completely separate from the legality issue--the war was legal.  (Although my bias against international law was not affected by my graduate school international law class. My basis for legality tends to start and stop at the authorization to use military force.)

Was it a mistake? in 2010--with full knowledge of the price in blood and treasure we'd paid--Vice President Biden boasted that Iraq could be one of the great achievements of the Obama administration!

On Larry King Live last night, Vice President Joe Biden said Iraq "could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You're going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government."

In 2014, President Obama re-started our participation in the war he responsibly ended in 2011 in order to save what we'd gained!

Consider the balance sheet right now. Iraq is a fledgling democracy that fights on our side in the war against jihadi terrorists rather than being a supporter of anti-Western terrorists; is not a threat to our Gulf allies in the south as it once was; has closed the industrial-scale oppression machine that slaughtered Shias, Kurds (with poison gas), and even Sunni Arabs who opposed Saddam; and is not a WMD threat, no matter what you thought of Saddam's potential (or the potential of his evil spawn sons) to get and use them (again).

The Iraq War was arguably quite successful even as it stands now. At worst, it is too early to say it was a mistake because of the price we paid.

Fine, the Middle East is a mess. But long before Operation Iraqi Freedom, it had been a mess teetering between autocrats who suppressed Islamism (except for their own tame Islamists who backed the autocrat) on the one hand and wild Islamist nutballs on the other who rejected the autocrats and who organized resistance to the autocrats' corrupt rule by posing as champions of the purity of Islamist rule.

Recall that United States Central Command (CENTCOM) is the smallest regional unified command by geography and is almost solely focused on the Middle East--expanding out into Afghanistan only because of 9/11. There is a reason for that focus on such a small piece of real estate. It's a clusterfuck (with oil).

With the threat of WMD proliferation making the rule of Islamist nutballs far more dangerous than they were in the days of scimitars or even suicide explosive vests, something needed to be done to push Arab Moslem societies toward democracy and rule of law as an alternative to autocracy or Islamist nutballery lest the current or future wave of Islamist jihad gain the use of WMD to fling at the unbelievers (of all faiths, truth be told).

And recall that based on a Clinton-era law, the overthrow of Saddam and the development of representative government there was official American foreign policy.

In 2010, things were looking pretty good for representative government in Iraq as an example to the Islamic Arab world about a way out of their autocracy-or-Islamist choice.

Even now, if we can help Iraq throw out ISIL and reject Iranian influence, Iraq can become a beacon of a third way.

As far as I'm concerned, all this talk of Iraq being a mistake "knowing what we know now" lacks perspective.

It may seem crazy to the "mistake" contingent to say that knowing that we'd lose 4,600 dead to defeat a Saddam regime that did not have WMD weapons in firing condition when we invaded does not convince me that we should have perhaps tried another way to implement the Clinton-era Iraq Liberation Act.

But why is 2016 the time to judge the 2002 choice to invade Iraq, ratified by Congress under divided control (Republicans controlled the House and Democrats controlled the Senate)?

This story is why I do not reject the war:

During Richard Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972, the Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, was asked about the impact of the French Revolution. Speaking of an event that took place nearly two centuries previously, Zhou famously commented that it was 'too early to say'. The witticism quickly became a way of emphasising the Chinese ability to take the long view in history.

And yes, I'm well aware that Zhou misunderstood, and was almost surely speaking of the French student riots of 1968 and not the French Revolution of the late 19th century.

But the fact that this answer was taken as an admirable way of looking at the long view of history makes the way of looking at hisory no less correct. Many people continue to claim that the Chinese have a (superior) long view of history in contrast to to the West short-term focus.

Consider our Civil War.

Was it worth it to free the slaves in 1865 when we tallied the cost in lost and broken lives?

Slavery was dying out all around the world. Did hundreds of thousands have to die in that half-decade to do it right then in America? Would it have been less cruel to let it die out on its own over several more decades? Was it worth the cost that to this day represents our bloodiest war ever?

Was the war worth that death toll and national division when Reconstruction failed a decade after the war ended and Southern Democrats rebuilt the system of oppression without slavery? Young men died in those numbers and at that cost in money to change the legal basis for oppressing African Americans?

Was the war only worth it with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which finally ending legal segregation, more than a century after African Americans were formally freed?

And the way Black Lives Matter supporters speak of modern America, you have to wonder if they believe that 19th Century slaughter accomplished anything at all even today.

Yet who today would seriously claim the Civil War was a mistake? That generation paid the blood price to redeem our nation's history of slavery, and today civil rights are guaranteed to the point that an African-American man was elected (twice) to the presidency (whatever else I may think of the man who reached that milestone, it says good things about our country that he did). At what point from 1865 to 2012 do we say the war was worth the price?

So we need more perspective on the Iraq War before we can pronounce it a mistake strategically, as opposed to a mistake for the election cycle. The Iraq War was a step forward in ending the tyranny of autocracy or Islamism, and we don't know what the journey will look like.

Even the 2011 Arab Spring was a watershed moment in popular Arab outcry for an alternative through democracy (however ill-understood) to the traditional choices of autocracy or Islamism that each suppressed liberty.

If democracy develops in the Middle East, the Iraq War will take its place as a moment when American power gave Iraqis the chance to have democracy--just as American power helped it thrive in Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan--and will stand as an example to other Arabs of what is possible with rule of law and democratic government.

In 150 years, if Middle Eastern countries are still swinging between autocracy and Islamism, without any significant progress toward democratic governments in their ranks, we can revisit whether the Iraq War was a mistake.

Unless computer AI is the best way to get efficiency and justice, I suppose.

Right now, it is indeed too early to say the Iraq War was a mistake. And I think the balance even this early shows it was a victory.

Oh, before I went into full rant mode on this topic, I guess I could have just linked to the last time I was ticked off. Our troops did not die for nothing no matter how much so many people seem to think or want it to be true.

I don't do analysis by majority vote here.