Thoughts, Ideas, Observations

Not Just the Execution

John Bedell

"Baghdad Police find 72 Corpses in 24 Gruesome Hours"
--Associated Press

Now that Iraq looks to be sliding into civil war, many journalists and politicians who supported the American invasion are looking for cover.  They are questioning the wisdom of the war, but I am not hearing them say "I was wrong."  Instead I hear,  "The war was a good idea but the administration mishandled it."  This has been Thomas Friedman's line from the beginning, and now all sorts of self-justifying fools are trotting it out.  Andrew Sullivan has a piece in this week's Time titled "What I Got Wrong about the War," but instead of giving himself a hard look he shifts the blame to Bush and company: "first, I overestimated the competence of the government."  On his blog he trots out a quotation from Gladstone to sum up the situation:  "Even when you do a good thing, you may do it in so bad a way that you may entirely spoil the beneficial effect."  Meanwhile, the people who led the war and the occupation are already writing memoirs in which they blame everyone else for what has gone wrong.  Paul Bremer blames the Army,  the Iraqis, and "bureaucratic red tape," while the generals have been leaking battle reports to show that they knew what was needed and to blame Rumsfeld for not letting them do it.  

I certainly agree that Bush and his cronies have horribly mishandled the aftermath of the invasion, but I still insist that their key mistake was launching the war in the first place.  Perhaps the war could have been managed better; perhaps some violence could have been prevented.  Perhaps the insurgency of the Baathist holdouts could have been curtailed by swift action after Baghdad fell.  But perhaps not.  Perhaps other decisions would only have made things worse.  The current violence in Iraq, it seems to me, has in any case little to do with the early days of the insurgency .  It is driven by a political impasse between the different ethnic factions in Iraq, something that has been predicted since 1991 by people who know the country.  Its key actors are Shi'ite militias supported by Iran, based on networks that were in place well before the invasion, and al Qaeda- linked terrorists who would certainly have found their way into Iraq no matter what policies Rumsfeld and Bremer adopted.  

Anyone who supported the invasion on the assumption that it would be a neat, clean, triumphant victory followed by a smooth transition to a new Iraqi regime was deluded.  Deluded not just about the situation in contemporary Iraq, but about the very nature of war.  War is not neat and clean.  "Surgical" warfare is a fantasy.  In war, things go wrong, and people get killed.  War is a rabid dog, and when you let it out of the cage you have to expect that it will hunt and destroy.  To say afterwards that you only intended for it to bite a couple of your enemies is folly.

We do know one way to limit the destructiveness of war, and that is to limit its aims.  The American and French Revolutions, launched around the same time by people who knew each other's work and shared a vision of a free world, had nearly opposite outcomes.  The explanation one most often hears for the difference is that the American Revolutionaries had in practice very limited aims, whereas the French tried to overthrow the existing order of society and put a new one in its place.  This lesson was much taken to heart by George Bush I, who limited his war to the simple objective of driving Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.  He refused to be drawn into revolutioniazing either Iraq or Kuwait.  Many at the time thought he had made a terrible mistake, and some of them, notably Cheney and Wolfowitz, hung around the government to influence George II.  They embarked on their war with a much grander vision.  Their goal from the beginning was to remake Iraq into a friendly, stable nation, and in doing so to revolutionize the whole Middle East.  Such goals are never had cheaply.

Because they knew Americans would never embrace the thinking behind their war plan, Bush and his people lied about what they were doing.  They ran up the flag of "weapons of mass destruction" and spread falsehoods and innuendos about ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, whipping up the fear left behind by 9-11 into war hysteria.  Meanwhile they buried reports about how risky and costly it would be to occupy Iraq, offering fantastic projections that the whole thing could be paid for by Iraqi oil revenues.  Does anyone think Americans would have supported the war if they had known it would cost 2500 American lives and 250 billion dollars?  

What disgusts me about Bush and his friends is that they have never taken this war seriously.  They refused to raise taxes to pay for it, which makes me think that to them the lives of American soldiers are less important than making sure their rich friends get to keep all their money.  They refused to plan seriously for the post-war period.  They refused to seek help internationally.  They refused to be honest about their objectives.  And they have refused to face the reality of what is happening in Iraq.  Instead they wrap themselves in the flag, sing "God Bless America," and denounce everyone who opposes them as a friend of terrorists.  They, and everyone who supported them, have failed the most basic task of adulthood, which is to think seriously about the consequences of our actions.  Their war was a schoolboy prank that has now led to 50,000 deaths.  It might not have, but it did.  That is the reality, and no one who supported the war should now be saying that it should have turned out otherwise.  War is not like that.  Life is not like that.  When you embrace drastic measures, you have to be prepared for drastic consequences.  

Spare me your evasions and excuses, you ex-Bushies, and hang your heads in shame.

March 14, 2006

From the 
Commonplace Book

Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war.

--Shakespeare, Julis Ceasar, III, i


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Faith, Error, and the Death Penalty




At Each Other's Throats

Not Just the Execution



The Principle of Violence

Iraqi Democracy

Clash of Civilizations

A Sniper Nation

War and Alienation

Revisiting the War

September 11

Taking Anarchism Seriously

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What is Justice For?


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