Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Problem with Iraq:

I write this post with the assumption that liberating Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and spreading liberal democracy to that illiberal nation was a just thing to do.

However, my problem -- or I think *the* problem -- with the war is this: The populace is willing to stand for two types of wars.

1) A war that is not only "just" in its cause, but so grave an issue that we are willing to sacrifice so many men, perhaps hundreds of thousands or millions to fight it. The Civil War, The Revolutionary War, World War II were wars of the past that qualified. World War I, The Korean War and Vietnam exacted far more deaths and casualties than what we are facing now -- but even those wars I don't think qualify. We may have been willing to march off to war for WWI and Korea then, but Vietnam was the turning point in viewing war differently. Fighting those who would invade or perform acts of terrorism on US Soil certainly would qualify. Although Afghanistan won't exact those heavy casualties, insofar as we fought the Taliban who were in part responsible for 9-11 might place that war in this category. Certainly if Aliens from outer space were to invade the Earth tomorrow and attempt to enslave or exterminate us, that type of War would qualify.

And if the cause is so grave, then we would fight this war with such a level of desperation that we would send more than enough men and would do practically whatever it took to win as soon as possible. Look at what we did in World War II with Tokyo and Dresden, and then Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

2) A war, again where the cause is just -- like fighting down a bully who unjustly invaded its neighbor or protecting a religious or ethnic group from genocidal oppressors -- but where we can literally bomb the bad guys into submission with a statistically insignificant number of casualties on our side, like the first Iraq war or The Balkins.

And obviously we are not going to fight such a war with the level of intensity that we would fight wars in category number 1. We may consider fire-bombing the next Hitler, but we aren't going to fire-bomb Darfur like we did Dresden.

The problem is that today's Iraq War fits into category number 2 and the casualties that we are suffering are more than statistically insignificant. Can we handle them? Sure. But to the American populace, spreading democracy to illiberal lands and playing guardian to a bunch of warring tribal factions isn't worth the lives of our men. Our aid, our fire power? Perhaps. But lives? No.

So we either find a way to get things under control or we get out. And when we get out, we do so with a warning that, although we'd like you to have a well-functioning liberal democracy and we in good faith tried to make that happen, you can choose whatever form of government you'd like. But if you become an Islamofascist state and try to develop Nukes or host terrorists, we'll be back with our bombs next time. And we won't stay to help clean up.


richrath said...

Jon, Your dichotomy of types of justifiable war is pretty useful to your argument. But for me, I'm not sure that #2 holds in Iraq 2003.

There is a noble idealism in 'removing a bully' (Dictator) who threatens a region or spends great resources on oppressing those within his borders (or both). But I am not willing to say that any war the US starts to remove said bully is automatically justified.

The idea to act on the years-festering political desire to 'rid the world of Saddam Hussein' was a good idea insofar as it expressed that idealism, but to apply this justification fairly would mean applying it much more widely, and that's just not feasible. Nor is it desirable from a strictly US-interest standpoint, or a world-interest standpoint. There are far too many rulers very much like Ol' Saddam, so based on the nobility of the idea, how are we to choose?

One way, of course, is to ask "What direct gain would we (the US) get if we succeed in removing X bad guy and creating some type of representative, liberal republic in its place?" It's an easy call now, because two very simple criteria spring to mind: 1) Resources and 2) wider political stability in a region (this may take the form of pressuring X bully's neighbors or just removing the largest threat).

IF we try to justify Iraq on either of those counts, we've failed. And we are not likely to succeed unless we hunker down and stay for...well, a long time. No one can say how long.

Another important point is the "Pottery Barn" thing: Once you go in and break Iraq or anywhere else, you own it. Or at least you've got a moral responsibility to try like hell to fix it and make it right.

I was never of a mind to think that there was ANY scintilla of urgency in the question of should we remove Saddam by force. He was not threatening us at all. Thumbing his nose, sure, why not. But so what? If we aint' big enough to ignore that, realizing that we largely created this monster, well shame on us.

My point in expounding on your #2 justification, is that even though I never thought that it held in the case of Iraq 2003, since the decision was taken, we owe it to the Iraqis morally to help them fix what we broke. Mainly, I think we should have focused from the get-go on physical infrastructure -- this would have built more trust. Second, disbanding the Army was pure folly, given that there was no other law, and we never established trust and therefore no authority. So security went to hell quickly. So now we're stuck, morally obligated to help, until asked to leave. And we're still unable to justify the war on resource or broader stability grounds.

Ugh. Be careful what you wish for.

Jonathan said...

I'm not going to debate whether it was legitimate to fight the war in the first place.

I will say that I agree that the world has many leaders out there as bad as SH and that we can't tackle them all (nor should we).

But rather that we have to "pick our battles." And that's what we did in Iraq.

As far as the "you break it you buy it," even if Civil War breaks out when we leave, I don't see that outcome as any worse than what they had when Saddam was in power.