Iraq’s Legacy is Still Being Written

December 23rd, 2011 at 12:33 pm | 66 Comments |

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The controversy over Mitt Romney’s latest comments on Iraq makes one thing clear: the war may be over, but its shadow haunts our political discourse. To declare oneself an unrepentant supporter of the intervention is to risk opprobrium: in a blogpost assessing the moral feasibility of voting for Ron Paul with all his baggage, Conor Friedersdorf suggests that it’s hardly worse than voting for someone “who insists that even given the benefit of hindsight, the Iraq War was a just and prudent one.”

The prevailing view, increasingly shared on the right as well as the left, views the war in Iraq as a blunder if not a crime, a terrible waste of life on both sides. But reality is more complex—and, if early triumphalist views of the war proved tragically wrong, antiwar absolutism is also misguided.

For one, there is a large and important group that does not see this war as utterly pointless: the Iraqi people.

Survey after survey has found Iraqis more or less evenly split on whether the 2003 invasion was right or wrong, usually leaning toward “right.” (In 2009, only 28 percent saw it as “absolutely wrong.”) This is remarkable, considering that humans have a strong ingrained instinct to loathe foreign invaders—particularly ones with a different culture and a different dominant religion—and that respondents included people who held privileged positions under Saddam Hussein. In other polls, as many as three out of four Iraqis have agreed that Saddam’s removal was worth it despite the hardships.

In some important ways, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was not a misnomer. Iraqis today have freedom of speech, religion, and political activity that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. Indeed, President Obama has acknowledged this despite his opposition to the war. In his 2010 Oval Office speech on the war’s official end, he stated that American troops “defeated a regime that had terrorized its people” and that “Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.”

This brings to mind the early days of the invasion, when jubilant crowds in Baghdad tore down the statue of the fallen tyrant and even some staunch war critics on the left were ready to convert.

This optimism was soon shattered. By 2008, polls found that nearly half of Iraqis wanted U.S. and allied troops out immediately while another 20 percent wanted them to leave within the year. Most troubling, many Iraqis voiced sympathy for attacks on American soldiers, who came to be seen as killers rather than liberators.

The war’s mismanagement was undoubtedly part of the fiasco. But the problem goes deeper. Any military that tries to be a benign occupying force faces an extremely tough quandary. Being too aggressive in dealing with the occupied population invites backlash and anger; not being aggressive enough may lead to anarchy and anger over failure to prevent violence. U.S. troops have faced Iraqi hostility on both counts.

Wrongful killings of civilians—especially in the chaos of insurgency where it can be near-impossible to tell combatants from non-combatants—create another painful dilemma. If the military metes out severe punishments, both the troops and many people back home will likely see this as a betrayal toward soldiers serving their country in an unimaginably harsh and deadly situation. If the punishments are too lenient or non-existent, there goes any chance of winning hearts and minds.

Indeed, negotiations to allow some U.S. forces to remain in Iraq collapsed over the 2005 killings in Haditha, where 24 Iraqis, including six small children, were gunned down by U.S. Marines who had just lost a comrade to a roadside bomb. The squad leader is still facing trial; charges against several others have been dropped, sometimes in exchange for their testimony. However cloudy the circumstances, such an outcome shocks conscience and common sense.

In the recent talks, Iraq’s government wanted the U.S. to allow American soldiers to be tried by Iraqi courts for offenses on Iraqi soil. While U.S. resistance to this demand is understandable, so is Iraqi bitterness.

This is not to vindicate the left-wing cliché of the war as American slaughter of Iraqis (or even racist slaughter of “brown people”). Nearly 90 percent of the post-invasion deaths have been Iraqis killing Iraqis in sectarian or insurgent violence. What’s more, whatever the failings of U.S. military justice, Iraqis had a vastly better chance at protection and redress against abuses by American troops than by Hussein’s henchmen.

But human nature is such that the deaths of “one’s own” at the hands of foreign invaders, no matter how benevolent, will be seen as more galling. If this reaction smacks of tribal loyalty, so does the Rush Limbaugh crowd’s knee-jerk defense of virtually any U.S. service member accused of crimes against Iraqis. Political resistance from the right has almost certainly helped undermine the effective prosecution of such cases, and with it the goodwill America had earned among Iraqis.

One problem with hindsight is that it’s impossible to tell how events would have developed in a different scenario—in this case, one without the war. Assuming that something like the “Arab Spring” would still have broken out and reached Iraq, the ensuing bloodshed might well have exceeded that of the last eight years. On the other hand, the immediate escalation of sectarian strife in Iraq following the withdrawal of U.S. troops does not encourage optimism.

No sane person would argue that the U.S. and its allies should send in troops whenever and wherever there is a tyrannical regime whose removal would benefit the population, with no other policy goal. The point is that the morality of intervention is full of gray areas, and history’s final verdict is far from being in.

Indeed, despite the conventional wisdom that the war is overwhelmingly unpopular in the U.S. today, polls show that Americans are evenly divided on whether taking military action in Iraq was the right decision; even 37 percent of Democrats believe it was. It is also worth remembering that many people of unquestionably high moral stature—including Czech president and former dissident Vaclav Havel, who died last week—supported the intervention. History, which disproves the pacifist shibboleth that freedom can never be exported by military force, may vindicate them yet.

EDIT: There has been a slight change to the last paragraph.

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66 Comments so far ↓

  • TerryF98

    Good grief, I thought this sort of thing went out with Stalin. To sugar coat the Iraq disaster is Pravdaesque in nature.

    Just ask the 100,000 dead Iraqis and the million displaced Iraq citizens if they are happy with the outcome of the dumbest and most dishonest war in the history of America. The answer will not be yes.

    • jakester

      Yeah, we should have just left Saddam there, a noted humanitarian and parlimentarian

      • TerryF98

        I agree it was none of our business. Tell me why Bush left the rest of the despots in place. And there were plenty he ignored far worse than Saddam.

      • Emile

        Yes, cause those who replaced him are all noted peace laureates.

      • Houndentenor

        If that were the criteria, there was a rather long list of dictators even worse that could have been removed. That wasn’t the reason given at the time. It was about the WMDs which we now know didn’t exist. After it became clear that the WMD rationale had been an outright lie, the Bush administration changed the argument for the war.

    • WaStateUrbanGOPer

      This sort of subliterate drool– i.e., that Cathy Young puts forth arguments that seek to airbrush history a la Joseph Stalin– could only be written by someone who has never bothered to read the bulk of her work. How anyone could reach such a conclusion even after having read only the essay published above is itself unfathomable.

      Terry, I could save you the trouble of actually having to waste your no doubt scarce and precious leisure time on such contemptible exertions as research and close reading, and simply tell you that the rational content of Cathy Young’s writings point in the diametrically opposite direction of totalitarian communism, but by all means let’s act like a big boy (or girl, for all I know) and google “Cathy Young” along with “Reason Magazine” and “Boston Globe,” and then report back in two or three hours and tell us if you still seriously think she is a historical revisionist of the Stalinist school.

  • dugfromthearth

    The invasion of Iraq was a fine idea. Doing it with no plans for what would happen next was criminal.

    • zephae

      I agree. I still think the war was a good idea in theory and I still think many of the reasons for going to war were strong (Iraq’s loss of sovereignty, it’s violation of many UN Security Council resolutions that promised the use of force, the prior actions of the US Congress, the failure of Saddam to certify that he was in compliance with WMD disarmament), but the big rush to invade quickly, the deceptive and fraudulent selling of the war, and the lack of any coherent strategy certainly makes the venture a fantastic fiasco.

      • TerryF98

        No war is a good idea in theory! Especially when you have a half ass duo of Bush and Rumsfeld running the thing!

      • Houndentenor

        Everything we were told before the invasion was a big bag of lies. WMDs! We’ll be greeted as liberators! The oil revenues will pay for rebuilding the country! Wrong, wrong and wrong.

    • armstp

      So you were lining up to either sign up yourself to go over there or you were lining up your kids to send them over there to fight?

      Did you join the military and go to Iraq? If not then why not?

      I suggest you ask a U.S. solider if the Iraq war was a good idea.

  • sweatyb

    I think we can safely say that in terms of the cost-benefit to the United States the Iraq war was an unmitigated disaster.

  • Graychin

    That’s funny. On my TV, it was an American tank that pulled down Saddam’s statue.

    That was the way CNN saw it too.

    http://articles.cnn.com/2003-04-09/world/sprj.irq.statue_1_statue-marines-baghdad-s-firdos-square?_s=PM:WORLD

    But this all happened back in the halcyon days when the Bushies were “creating their own reality,” so your adoption of that alternate reality is understandable.

    If you want to review the reality in which the rest of us live, check out “Lie by Lie: A Timeline of How We Got Into Iraq”:

    http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/leadup-iraq-war-timeline

    Bonus: it even mentions Mr. Frum! (See entry for 1/29/02.)

  • Emile

    I am laughing at Ms Young linking to a random comment on a discussion board as evidence of “left-wing cliché of the war as American slaughter of Iraqis (or even racist slaughter of brown people)”. Seriously? How pathetic.

    • armstp

      Ms. Young is your typical Russian who comes to America and becomes a Republican/conservative. It all makes sense to her when she sees it through her own personal Russian history. You know the freedom thing. Fighting tyranny. etc.

  • rbottoms

    A total waste of the lives of my former comrades in arms, it was a goat screw of massive proportions and represented a criminal abdication of focus on our mission in Afghanistan.

  • Oldskool

    People who write this kind of claptrap should show readers one of their paychecks so we can see who’s paying them.

    There was no good reason to invade Iraq even if they had WMDs. Hey, they SHOULD have had them, they were ours to begin with.

    As it was, our no-fly zones kept an ample lid on Sadaam Hussein. It didn’t cost Iraqis a great deal for us to invade, so why shouldn’t they have been in favor of it? They really had nothing to lose, and too, it’s not like we polled them beforehand to ask their opinion. We on the other hand, lost a great deal even if apologists like this writer can’t do basic accounting.

  • anniemargret

    An immoral fiasco.

    So it was taking out Saddam that was the reason for the invasion of a country that did us no harm?

    How many fools do you think are out there? Very few on the Democratic and Independent side of things. We saw from the get-go that the invasion had little to do with Saddam than it was taking advantage of the fear and revenge we felt as a nation after 9/11, to complete the PNAC idea formulated a decade earlier. A vision for a taming of the Middle East for Israel’s protection, a foothold for the US for geopolitico reasons, and for oil interests. Any of the above, all of the above.

    No question Saddam was a monster. Should he have been overthrown? At some point with the Iraqis when they were ready, not from our own selfish purposes. Was it worth it?

    No. Not 4500 Americans dead, tens of thousands more maimed or psychologically ruined for life, their families torn apart, or the hundreds of thousands of innocents dead and maimed through our ‘thoughtful war’, or the billions, no…trillions spent on it.

    No. No. No.

    Not worth it.

    But the worst of it is the lying. The deceit. The deliberate manipulation of fact and fantasy, the deliberate lying to the American public, conflating Saddam and 9/11 so that the American soldiers sent there actually thought that Saddam was responsible for the event of 9/11!

    If that isn’t immoral, what in God’s name is?

    Shame on all of those who willingly participated in this scam…you know who you are, and if you haven’t yet apologized to the American people, to the Iraqi people, to the soldiers who honestly gave up life and limb, then what’s stopping you?

    Pride? Get rid of it. It’s a blot on the collective soul of America, because from that fiasco came even more lies, culture wars, hate and fear, political manipulation, religious zealotry, more lies…

    The GOP has the honor of taking it all in, and then spreading it out. The Dems take some blame, too, although the preponderance of it lies within the GOP, who promulgated it and pandered to keep it going.

    This country needs to get back an honest, peaceful soul and I’m not sure if and when we will ever do that, until we lay bare our dishonesty first.

    • Houndentenor

      And shame on the Democrats who went along with it. Yes, Hilary Clinton, that finger is pointed at you, plus a whole host of other spineless weasels. I have no respect for anyone who bought into those lies or was too cowardly to take a stand, unpopular as it might have been at the time. The lack of leadership on the Democratic side is appalling. It’s why I could not support HRC for president in 2008 and won’t in 2016.

  • Danny_K

    The people who led us into Iraq seem utterly unable to take responsibility with their failures. Just a simple, “I was wrong” would suffice, but it will not happen for many years to come.

    • anniemargret

      It will never happen. These people don’t feel the same way that millions of Americans do about that ‘war.’

      • JimBob

        Merry Christmas Annie

      • dante

        These are the same type of people who think that the Vietnam war was good and just, and that our problem was that we didn’t stay to “finish the job”, no matter how long that would have taken…

  • armstp

    Cathy,

    You are wrong with many of your statements and conclusions. You have written a fairly junior varsity piece. It is obviously you do not have much deep knowledge of Iraq and what has transpired there over the last 10 years. I do not even understand the point of this article. I thought it was going to be about Romney and then you go into this diatribe about the Iraq war and justifying it. You are a journalist really? A very poorly written/researched article/post. It reminds me to never read Reason Magazine.

    antiwar absolutism is also misguided.

    Actually, it was the antiwar abolutionists who got it exactly right and the rest of us should have been listening to people like Obama. The problem is that a great number of us were lied to. We were told there was an imminent threat and Iraq had WMD or that Iraq was directly involved in 9-11.

    For one, there is a large and important group that does not see this war as utterly pointless: the Iraqi people.

    This has now become the classic justification of the war by those on the right. We freed the Iraqi people. We did it for the good of the Iraqi people. First of all Americas would have never agreed to go to war at all those costs in lives and in treasure to help the Iraqi people. Iraq was never a threat to the U.S. No Iraqi ever attacked the U.S. Second, it is far from clear, as you claim, that the Iraqis are completely happy with the Iraq war. Depending on who’s numbers you believe up to a million Iraqis have died, many millions fled the country and most are living in worse poverty than they did before the war. Most Iraqi are not even sure that a new government/leader will be any better than Hussein.

    Survey after survey has found Iraqis more or less evenly split on whether the 2003 invasion was right or wrong.

    Being “evenly split”, whatever that means, is far from a strong point that the Iraqi people themselves were for the war.

    Iraqis today have freedom of speech, religion, and political activity that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

    Are you sure about the point above? What is your proof? Have you been to Iraq or are you just pulling this statement out of your ass? Some freedom, if you today can be gunned down for your speech, religion and political activity. At best Iraq is like Russia today, which I am sure you are well aware of. Maybe there is modestly more freedom than under Sadam, but not much more and certainly nothing to brag about or to justify a war and all that cost.

    This brings to mind the early days of the invasion, when jubilant crowds in Baghdad tore down the statue of the fallen tyrant and even some staunch war critics on the left were ready to convert.

    I think you need to go back and check the video tape again, as it was the U.S. marines that tore down that statue of Saddam Hussein and then proceeded to cover the face with the U.S. flag. Not the best moment for America, as it confirmed many beliefs in the Middle East that this was a U.S. invasion to occupy a Muslim country. It represented the worst of America.

    However cloudy the circumstances, such an outcome shocks conscience and common sense.

    I think you need to read some of the classified documents that were recently found in a dumpster in Iraq by a NYT reporter. It is clear that is was not about any cloudiness, as you say, but rather the U.S. Marines going on a rampage and then a big cover-up.

    What’s more, whatever the failings of U.S. military justice, Iraqis had a vastly better chance at protection and redress against abuses by American troops than by Hussein’s henchmen.

    This is a real douzy of a statement. Basically, what you are saying is that civilian deaths by Americans can be somewhat justified because it is not as bad as Saddam killing them. There is “better redress”, which in itself is far from clear. Not one single U.S. soldier has ever been found guilty of killing up to the 1.0 million Iraqis that may have died. I don’t think an Iraqis thinks about redress when they are dead whether by Saddam or the U.S. military. They are just dead.

    The Arab Spring, that you mention, has completely undercut the entire argument that the Iraq war was justified because it freed the Iraqi people. They kicked out very similar brutal repressive rulers in both Tunisia without violence and in Libya with violence largely on their own. They did not need the U.S. Marines.

    Nonetheless, history’s final verdict is far from being in.

    I would say the final verdict is very much in and the result is that the Iraq war was one of the biggest foreign blunders in U.S. history. In many ways far worse than Vietnam, as we should have known better.

    …..

    One very important point:

    You link to a Washington Post article about the number of Iraqi dead and this is the quote from that article I assume you want to reference:

    “Exactly how many Iraqis were killed by Americans may never be known. An analysis last year by King’s College London of 92,614 civilian deaths reported from 2003 through March 2008 by Iraq Body Count — a Web site that monitors civilian casualties — found that 12 percent were caused by coalition forces. Though there is no reliable figure for total civilian casualties throughout the nearly nine-year-long war, most estimates put the overall number of deaths at more than 100,000. According to the Defense Department, 4,474 American service members have died, 3,518 of whom were killed in action.

    The vast majority of civilian deaths were the result of Iraqis killing Iraqis, whether in bombings or the sectarian bloodletting that engulfed the country in 2005-07, said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan.”

    **

    The article you quote says that there are no reliable sources of how many Iraqis were killed and who killed them. So how can we draw any conclusions? It also quotes a U.S. military Maj. Gen. who says the vast majority of civilian deaths were from Iraqis killing Iraqis. First, of course he is going to say that, he is in the U.S. military. He is not unbias and objective. Second, without the U.S. invasion not many of those Iraqis would be killing other Iraqis.

    There are other sources that say many many more Iraqi civilians died. I would rather believe the more objective and independent World Health Organization and those from John Hopkins University and their Lancet Report than the U.S. military.

    **

    “The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Iraqi health ministry conducted a survey of 10,860 households in 2007. Ministry employees questioned 10 households in each of more than 1,000 clusters across Iraq’s 18 provinces, picked to give a representative sample of the country’s population. People were asked to list any family deaths in the two years before the invasion and the first three years after. Some 115 (11%) of the clusters, mostly in Baghdad and the mainly Sunni province of Anbar, could not be approached because of insecurity. The organisers decided to calculate the probable number of deaths there.

    The results showed that the national rate of killing between April 2003 and June 2006 averaged just over 120 a day. This was double the number killed during Saddam’s last two years in power. The study’s figures ignored deaths from accident, disease or suicide. They estimated the civilian death toll in the occupation’s first three years as 151,000. The true figure could be anywhere between 104,000 and 230,000 allowing for misreporting, they said. But even the lowest figure on this range is more than twice as high as the IBC’s figure of 47,000 for the occupation’s first three years. In December 2005, Bush gave a figure of 30,000 civilian deaths.

    The WHO/Iraqi health ministry study was published in January this year in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr Salih Mahdi Motlab al-Hasanawi, the health minister appointed after the ministry’s ban on releasing official morgue figures, said the survey was prompted by controversy over civilian casualties.

    What he had in mind was the storm aroused by two studies led by researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and published in the prominent British medical journal, the Lancet. In the first survey in 2004, 990 randomly selected families in representative locations across Iraq were asked to produce the death certificates and list the names of members who died between January 1 2002 and the start of the invasion, and those who died thereafter. Subtracting the former from the latter, this produced an “excess” rate. This was then used to calculate the deaths in excess of normal fatality rates in Iraq’s total population.

    The first survey found at least 98,000 such deaths up to October 2004. The second survey, in the summer of 2006, interviewed a separate but also randomly chosen sample of 1,849 households and found an excess of 655,000 deaths up to June 2006, of which 601,027 were said to be from violence rather than natural causes. This amounts to 2.5% of Iraq’s population, or more than 500 deaths a day since the invasion.

    “Sitting in his office in Camden in north London, where every surface is covered with wobbly piles of files, the Lancet’s editor, Richard Horton, admits that the figure “seems crazy”. “But the second study validated the first one. The pre-invasion mortality rate is the same in both, and the upward lines of the post-invasion rate are exactly the same”, he says.

    He is particularly pleased by information unearthed last year by a Freedom of Information request by the BBC’s Owen Bennett-Jones. This found that the chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence described the methods used by the second survey as “close to best practice” and added that the “study design is robust”. The adviser warned the government to be “cautious” about criticising the survey findings .

    The study in the Lancet was led by researchers at the Centre for Refugee and Disaster Response at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health. It was an epidemiological survey, one of the fundamental methods of charting disease in a population or the long-term effects of a disaster. Like Horton, Gilbert Burnham, the centre’s co-director, recalls his initial surprise when the figures from the team of Iraqi researchers started coming out: “It was like, ‘Wow. Is this really the case? What is happening here?’” ”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/19/iraq

    • WaStateUrbanGOPer

      “You have written a junior varsity piece.”

      Lack of self-awareness is the parent of unwitting self-parody. Thanks for yet another reminder of this truism.

    • balconesfault

      Actually, it was the antiwar abolutionists who got it exactly right

      Correct. If you go back and play various “what if” scenarios based on what would have happened had the US not invaded Iraq, only the most die-hard neocon would claim that the result could have been more devastating to the US military, to our global strategic interests, to our efforts in the war in Afghanistan, and to our economy. W’s father had it right. The son, and all his disciples, are deeply mired in self-justifying delusions.

  • FoolForum

    Don’t obscure the issue, Iraq was connected to 9/11 with not just faulty intelligence, but falsified intelligence. That is criminal. Frum went right along with it, just going along to get along, and he probably still thinks its a great idea but tarnished by a few “tactical errors”. The “tactical error” was to allow the office of special plans to exist in the pentagon and write counter-intelligence like a J.K. Rowlings book, and I still have yet to hear the likes of him admit that it was wrong and downright negligent. You drive off a cliff with somebody in your car, you can get hit with negligent homicide. You drive the country off a cliff, you call it “staying the course”. Get real. The reason they will never admit it was wrong isn’t just because of pride, but some elements in the neoconservative movement hold Marxist ideas like the spread of democracy being a higher ideal than sound economics or even the consensus which they claim to represent. Those are the useful idiots, the rest of them indirectly profited from it, pure and simple. Why cap OBL and get it over with when you can milk the public purse for every dime? We got contracts to sell! Disgusting.

    • anniemargret

      There is one person whom I admire whose conscience met the day of reason and light…and that was Andrew Sullivan. A big proponent of the invasion, he was sucked into the lie that this was somehow connected to 9.11, that ‘they’ hate us, that ‘they’ want to ‘bomb Cleveland’ to take our liberties away, that they hate us because we are ‘christian’ or because Saddam wants to bomb Israel and the US.

      All pure B.S., half-truths, lies, obfuscations. And it still goes on,.

      Andrew Sullivan finally saw the light and because he is a decent person, because his Catholic faith propels him to not only be honest to others, but to himself most of all, he apologized for his error. That took courage and it made him a better person.

    • WaStateUrbanGOPer

      Well, speaking of Andrew Sullivan, he recently gave David Frum one of his celebrated “Yglesias Award” nominations for admitting that, in hindsight, he would not support the Iraq war if he had it to do all over again. I think this is a fairly good start for Frum.

      • anniemargret

        Thank God. I didn’t know that, and glad to hear it. I do understand those that went along with that decision, all the Americans (and Congress), who went on a knee-jerk vendetta against anyone that sounded like they had a Middle Eastern name of any kind.

        It is human to jump on the bandwagon and it is easy to see what happened after 9/11.

        But those that devised and plotted to deceive the public and the soldiers they sent to fight there, have a deeper, more solemn obligation to themselves and their concept of God whatever that might be. Because it is becoming more and more apparent that our invasion of that country was ill-conceived, mis-directed, boastful, arrogant and presumptive.

        This country has no right to invade another unless we are directly attacked or that clear and pristine evidence points in that direction.

  • jakester

    Anyone wants to hazard a guess as to how many people would have died if Saddam was still in power compared to the figures above?

    • FoolForum

      Sure, 0 Americans.

      • WaStateUrbanGOPer

        I opposed the war, but statements like this (and similar sentiments expressed by the likes of Terry and Armstp) need to be called out as what they incontrovertibly are: the squawkings of provincial isolationism. The people making this vulgar noise would’ve no doubt felt right at home alongside the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Westbrook Pegler and Father Coughlin.

        One needn’t have supported the invasion of Iraq in order to acknowledge the humanitarian disaster that country was prior to the invasion. (And I do not, by the way, deny that it is a humanitarian post-invasion.)

        • WaStateUrbanGOPer

          The last sentence in the post above should have “disaster” nestled in between “humanitarian” and “post-invasion.” I really wish this damn modify button would work.

        • armstp

          WaSt,

          “Charles Lindbergh, Westbrook Pegler and Father Coughlin”

          So you are now comparing a pre-emptive war of aggression against Iraq to declaring war against the aggression of Germany and the Nazis. What a joke….

          “One needn’t have supported the invasion of Iraq in order to acknowledge the humanitarian disaster that country was prior to the invasion. “

          So you are claiming that the war was justified on humanitarian grounds or that somehow I do not acknowledge the issues in Iraq before the invasion. That seems like a strange statement. Of course I am very well aware of what the conditions were like in Iraq before the U.S. invasion.

          > a big part of the humanitarian issues were caused by the U.S. and its endless sanctions, which only hurt the Iraqi people and not the regime.

          > not sure what going to war and killing 5-10% of the population, driving millions out of their own country, starting a civil war and leaving most in worse poverty than before the war can anyway be claimed to be more humanitarian than before the war or why it matters what the humanitarian conditions were like before the war, other than the U.S. made it worse.

          > since when is it the role of the U.S. to go into every country to improve humanitarian conditions or throw dictators out?

          I am not sure I get your point. You first claim you were against the war, then you say that by saying the war was stupid and unjustified (which must be what you are saying) you are like Nazi appeaser Lindbergh and then you say that somehow I do not know the humanitarian conditions before the war, which is not true, which I am not sure how that relates to anything.

        • WaStateUrbanGOPer

          No, I was merely pointing out that if one were to transplant you and your knee-jerk pacifism to the late 1930s you would be keeping some pretty loathsome company.

        • armstp

          WaSt,

          I am not sure it is all that bad to be called a “pacifist”, particularly with regard to Iraq, but that seem a little strange to say. So anyone that disagrees with going to Iraq or with the outcome or with this article is a “pacifist” or is a Lindbergh. Yeah, right! I am sure you are the kind of person who calls Obama a Socialist. We should have had more “pacifists”, as you say, to keep this country out of Iraq. Imagine where this economy would be if we instead spent a couple of trillion on research and education.

        • gmat

          Oh yeah, don’t you remember?

          Saddam = Hitler, and

          Anyone who opposed the US invasion of Iraq = Chamberlain and/or American non-interventionists who “allowed” WW2 to happen

          Didn’t you get the memo?

    • balconesfault

      Good question.

      I would guess that far less people than have died in sub-Saharan Africa over the same time period because of lack of access to proper medical care and nutrition.

      How would you have felt spending about 1/10th that investment (say, 200 billion dollars) on programs to address these issues over that time? Sadly, my experience tells me that the people most likely to be engaging in various mental gyrations to justify the Iraq debacle are the same as those most likely to be complaining about the approx $1.5 billion we spend on humanitarian and food aid programs to that region of the world.

  • COProgressive

    Ms. Young wrote;
    Indeed, despite the conventional wisdom that the war is overwhelmingly unpopular in the U.S. today, polls show that Americans are evenly divided on whether taking military action in Iraq was the right decision;

    The strange thing is if Bush the minor had only ask his Dad……..

    “Trying to eliminate Saddam…would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible…. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq …. There was no viable “exit strategy” we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.” – George H. W. Bush

    If only his son could read.

    • WaStateUrbanGOPer

      “If only his son could read.”

      Your point is well taken, but it really ought to be extended to all of the posters on this thread sans AnnieM, Jakester, you and me. For reading through the comments it struck me that (1) hardly anybody actually bothered to read Cathy Young’s essay, (2) that very few of those who did grasped the nuances of her argument, and (3) that nobody (and most notably FF’s resident Chomskyite twitcher, Armstp) took the time to look up the fact that CATHY YOUNG OPPOSED THE IRAQ WAR IN THE FIRST PLACE.

      It may come as a shock to doctrinaire peacenicks like ARMSTP, but not all persons who oppose preemptive wars are out-and-out pacifists, and into the bargain as it were most of them are totally capable of thoughtful reflection in hindsight of events: of weighing the facts and putting them into perspective in contrast to their earlier opinions, as Young has done in this essay. I’d say most of these people– among whom I would include myself– have both a highly developed sense of humanitarianism and justice, but that they tend to temper these sentiments with a pragmatic outlook. In geopolitics, as in everything else, each situation needs to be evaluated and dealt with in accordance to the given facts. In contrast to this, one can only imagine an ideologue like Armstp bawling for ‘peace’ in the streets of London circa 1938.

      • Traveler

        WaStateUrbanGOPer,

        I normally concur with your perspectives, but respectfully disagree here. I don’t really care what Ms. Young thought or said before, and I found the article reasonably nuanced and realistic as far as it went (begging the statue revisionism). But it overlooked the huge geopolitical disaster that the war unleashed.

        By not focusing on Afghanistan when the wind was at our backs, that entire theater of the conflict was lost. This will continue to trouble us for years, if not decades to come. That alone was unacceptable. But combine that with the debacle of Bremer and Rumsfeld for the post war in Iraq, and the price we paid gets that much worse. Having just left, we see a significant uptick in violence, the same sectarian divisions, a dysfunctional parliament and prime minister, with Iran now holding all the cards. We have an embassy with 11,000 staff that we schlep around the green zone at a cost in the range approaching a million a day.

        So essentially, in fell swoop, we not only trashed our economy (and that of Iraq), we killed thousands of our soldiers and wounded so many more, our (in)actions were responsible for terrorists killing untold numbers of civilians, but we also incited a vast army of jihadis and gave them sanctuary in Pakistan. All this while we were busy getting minimal “nation building”. So what we have left is a split decision by the Iraqis (no doubt along sectarian lines), while we have lost virtually every potential benefit from this misguided adventure. I cannot think of one single benefit that can be taken from the war, outside of good training opportunities.

        As for armstp, he is no apologist like Chomsky. I didn’t read the links he posted, but there does seem to be good reason to consider that the actual deaths were higher. However, I get very suspicious when there is an order of magnitude difference in the methods. Be that as it may, I was surprised at your tenor. Frankly, the war was a disaster, and irrelevant to our national interests. As I document above, it was in fact very much against our interests. How anyone could think otherwise eludes me.

      • Oldskool

        There’s nothing left to argue. It was a stupid idea before when went in, no matter the excuses, and it’s still stupid today.

        People who write things like “History, which disproves the pacifist shibboleth that freedom can never be exported by military force, may vindicate them yet” seem to be hoping for a better verdict to vindicate the warmongers.

        If Iraq ever turns into anything decent, it’ll be in spite of our ignorant war, not because of it.

      • armstp

        WaSt,

        Whether the author opposed the war or not what she says in this post is just wrong and a bit strange. For someone who was “against” the war she sure goes out of her way to justify the U.S.’s actions in Iraq in this post.

        The author’s statement”

        “..the morality of intervention is full of gray areas…”

        says it all.

        The morality of the “intervention” is only full of gray areas for those conservatives who are trying to continue to justify this disaster in their own minds.

        By her even calling this an “intervention” instead of a pre-emptive war of aggressive against a country and people who never harmed an American says it all. It was certaintly not sold to Americans as an “intervention”, but as a eminent real direct threat to the U.S. This is the worst kind of article on Iraq, as it itself tries to “grey” the reason for or culpability of the U.S. in this war.

        “In contrast to this, one can only imagine an ideologue like Armstp bawling for ‘peace’ in the streets of London circa 1938.”

        Again’ comparing a pre-emptive war against Iraq to WWII. What a joke.

        By the way I was original for the Iraq war, as like many I was lied to about Iraq having WMD, about it being a eminent threat to the U.S. and about it being linked to 9-11.

        “I’d say most of these people– among whom I would include myself– have both a highly developed sense of humanitarianism and justice, but that they tend to temper these sentiments with a pragmatic outlook. In geopolitics, as in everything else, each situation needs to be evaluated and dealt with in accordance to the given facts.”

        You are really full of yourself. I think I am fully well aware of “pragmatic outlooks” and evaluating situations in accordance with the facts, as you say.

        I am not sure what any of that has to do with a post by an author which is completely full of BS.

      • armstp

        WaSt,

        I think you need to get your facts straight.

        In her own words:

        ” Yet, as someone ambivalently pro-war in 2003, I remain unrepentantly ambivalent and far from certain about history’s eventual verdict. “

        http://hnn.us/node/130991

        Cathy has mostly been an apologist for Bush and the war. In the articles she has written about Iraq over the years she comes across as someone confused and trying to justify in her own mind and to others her support for the war.

        By the way you should read a little Chomsky. He has been absolutely right on many issues. He is a welcome intelligent voice to the conversation.

        And I think your comparison of Iraq to WWII is a little off-base. Really that is all you got?

        I actually supported the war initially, but came to realize it was a big mistake. Like many others I was drawn in by the lies of WMD, the eminent threat and the supposive tie to 9-11. At least I will admit when I am wrong. Kathy Young continues to go on about “grey areas” and that this was somehow an “intervention”.

  • balconesfault

    Survey after survey has found Iraqis more or less evenly split on whether the 2003 invasion was right or wrong, usually leaning toward “right.”

    Yes … this is remarkable. After the spilling of so much American blood in Iraq … after filling our VA hospitals with men suffering from broken bodies, broken minds, broken souls … after the US long term spending on the Iraq War will end up well above $2 trillion, and perhaps reach $3-4 trillion …

    Hey – perhaps less than 50% of Iraqis think we really screwed up their country. Damn, that is one helluva success metric.

  • Houndentenor

    We should have had this debate before the invasion. But since anyone asking questions about this sort of thing in 2002 and 2003 was branded a traitor to America, we didn’t. Other countries did and those willing to go online and read the lengthy discourse in the foreign newspapers (including the British ones for the monolingual among us) there was a wealth of information about the history of Iraq and the cultural divisions. Iraq could easily be the next Yugoslavia. It’s a country made up by the British with no regard to ethnic and religious history of the people thrown together by lines on a map.

    I don’t know what happens after we leave. I do know that the Bush administration gave no thought to what would happen before we invaded. We were warned about this and the majority shouted down anyone raising these questions eight years ago.

  • balconesfault

    We will be able to have an honest dialogue over Iraq when those who supported the invasion are willing to admit one thing – the decision to invade when we did was purely opportunistic, and not strategic.

    Bush’s neocon advisors wanted to invade Iraq long before 9/11 – we know that from their Project for a New American Century manifesto.

    The 9/11 attacks gave them the opportunity to ratchet up the fear factor with respect to Saddam, and convince a significant portion of America that Saddam had the capability and intent to launch terrorist attacks on America that would surpass 9/11.

    This fear factor gave the Bush Administration tremendous ability to leverage career politicians into giving him the ability to decide to invade Iraq without fleshing out the real immediate need, or conducting a comprehensive plan for how the post-invasion period would be managed.

    The invasion of Afghanistan and predictably quick smashing of the Taliban government gave Bush a huge amount of men and materiel in the theater of operations … getting support from the American people to deploy everything needed for Iraqi Freedom might have been problematic, but diverting our forces from Afghanistan was a much easier sell.

    We invaded Iraq when we did for two reasons – because we could, and because Bush and Cheney feared the window of opportunity would close if they didn’t act quickly. The last thing they wanted/needed was for UN Inspectors to continue to find no evidence of WMDs, after all.

  • midwest guy

    I was very strongly opposed to the war from the beginning, but it is clearly and obviously far too early to tell what the most important long-term outcomes will be. I am sure it will take at least another decade before we truly understand what kind of society and government we have enabled (or perhaps installed) in Iraq.

    Meanwhile, I am quite certain that we wasted many thousands of lives and an estimated several trillion(!) dollars in this venture. I would respectfully suggest that even if the analysis is limited to the financial outlay, it is hard for me to imagine how anybody could convince me this was the best possible way to use several trillion dollars borrowed from our children and grandchildren. When combined with the estimated 100k+ civilian deaths and our own thousands of military deaths and disabilities, it is going to take a really, really big wonderful Iraq to make me feel this was all worthwhile. I am not holding my breath…..

    For those who care about such things, I am quite certain that any planned war with Iran will make this whole nasty Iraq war look like a cheap and easy cakewalk.

    • Houndentenor

      Yes, it looks like the same people who got everything wrong about Iraq are now beating the drums for an Iran invasion. If a Republican gets elected next fall, that will happen (aside from Paul, they all seem to be hinting at invading Iran) and we all know that the Democrats will cave when it comes down to it.

      • anniemargret

        If Democrats ‘cave’ on invading Iran, I will switch my party affiliation to unaffiliated. I will not support a party that is hell bent on starting yet another Middle Eastern war based on ‘presumptive’ theories.

        The next war in the Middle East (Iran), if created, will unleash World War III, a new 21st century holocaust. It will involve not only nuclear-armed nations, but all nations who will be impacted.

        Economically it will devastate us even more than we are already. This country is still debating whether or not ‘climate change is real’ and we’ve got China already spending big bucks on green energy sources. They are not fools. But the GOP continues to pander to the worst elements within their party for votes, not caring a whit what it will do to this nation and our standing in the world.

        If we want to remain a superpower, and if we want to be the arbiter for peace, we need to step back and let the Middle East, and Israel, work out solutions for themselves. We need to remain outside of sabre-rattling with a nation surrounded by nuclear armed nations in that part of the world.

        Unless there is a direct, proven, attack against this country, we need to keep out of it. It only takes ONE nuclear bomb to go off, folks, to start Armageddon. If the evangelicals want it, they can send their sons and daughters to fight over there, otherwise the rest of us prefer Peace, not the end of time.

  • Cathy Young

    Just wanted to chime in with a few quick comments (unfortunately, I’m going away for a week’s vacation and won’t really be able to join in the discussion much).

    Regarding the fact that “only” about half of Iraqis say that the invasion was right (closer to 60% in some polls): as I go on to point out immediately after that, there is a huge psychological hurdle, for any normal person, to saying that the invasion of one’s country by a foreign power was “right” even if it is beneficial. I think the salient figure is that three-quarters believe the ouster of Saddam was worth it despite the hardship. (Presumably, the remaining 25% include people who were complicit in the Saddam Hussein regime, and who frankly have no more moral standing on the issue than slaveholders did on whether the Civil War was worth it.)

    Finally, I want to point out that armstp argues within the same post that Iraqis would not have been killing each other in sectarian strife if it hasn’t been for the US invasion, and that the Iraqis could have overthrown Saddam on their own the way Libyans did Khadaffi. Leaving aside the role of NATO airstrikes in the events in Libya, does anyone seriously think that the death toll from the overthrow of Saddam without US/Allied intervention would have been smaller than from the war? Or that sectarian/tribal warfare would not have erupted with equal or greater violence (with no foreign troops to control it)? The reported death toll in Libya for a civil war that lasted a few months was a reported 25,000-30,000. That’s in a country with a population one-third that of Iraq.

    (I’m focusing, for the moment, solely on Iraqi deaths/suffering; whether American loss of life can be justified is of course another matter.)

    Finally, to WaStateUrbanGOPer : I wouldn’t quite say that I opposed the war. I was ambivalent about it then, I’m ambivalent about it now. Curse those gray areas.

    • Dazedandconfused

      The mistake was in trying to re-form their government, Cathy. Had we simply removed Saddam and kept the Iraqi Army running with one of the generals, it might of had a shot.

      The Shia and Sunni sects were on the way to integration in Iraq, but not to the point where in the complete lack of government they wouldn’t tribe-up and struggle for power. The Shia would have been quite happy to see Saddam gone, and everybody would have been happy to see the sanctions lifted and just might have been looking forward to better times ahead rather than desperately seeking to hang on to what they have.

    • Oldskool

      Why are you so concerned about how Iraqis feel? It’s as irrelevant now as it was the day after 9/11 when the Shrub gang decided to invade Iraq. You cannot unring the bell by invoking the feelings of the victims of our stupidity. Maybe you do it to soothe your own conscience but the only thing anyone should feel is shame and embarrassment that this country is so full of ignorant and gullible people.

    • WaStateUrbanGOPer

      I tend to assume that when a person is ambivalent about a war, and you can find that person’s byline in Reason Magazine, that they are essentially opposed to it!

      However, I stand by my point that many of the responses your essay were childish and thoughtless.

      • balconesfault

        You share the attitude expressed by the corporate media – opposition to war is inherently childish and thoughtless … it is the serious people who realize that war must be fought, lives must be sacrificed. And those serious people inevitably get the lions share of the media time, as we saw during the run-in to the Iraq invasion.

      • armstp

        Calling people “pacifists” or Lindbergh is childish. It is not even clear what your point is. What exactly is childish?

    • balconesfault

      Regarding the fact that “only” about half of Iraqis say that the invasion was right (closer to 60% in some polls): as I go on to point out immediately after that, there is a huge psychological hurdle, for any normal person, to saying that the invasion of one’s country by a foreign power was “right” even if it is beneficial.

      I had considered that point – and I do agree that nationalism is a very powerful force – but I think you are making an unsubstantiated logical leap here as well. For example, I assume you are interpreting the following from your links: In the USA TODAY/ABC News Poll, Iraqis by 43%-36% said life was better than before the invasion. to represent a plurality support for the invasion.

      But that question is not asking whether the price paid by Iraq during the invasion – the massive economic and human losses – was worth it. If you shoot my neighbor then give me half his possessions, I might respond that my life is better after I receive his stuff … but that is not the same as supporting the idea of you shooting my neighbor. And when you cite the 28% who viewed the war as “absolutely wrong”, you leave out that another 28% still viewed the invasion as more wrong than right – a solid plurality over the two “right” responses. In other words – I’m not particularly impressed by your evenhanded presentation of data.

      Furthermore, these polls obviously excluded the millions of Iraqis who had already voted with their feet, abandoning their lives and possessions while fleeing to neighboring countries. And of course, they don’t get to ask the dead, either.

      Next – you cite how many Iraqis who consider the invasion absolutely wrong might have been compromised by their relationship to Saddam’s government. How many of those who currently view the invasion as right have been beneficiaries of the hundreds of billions that American taxpayers pumped into their economy through direct and indirect contracts? That’s not a counterbalancing compromising circumstance?

      Finally, that’s a pretty damn patronizing attitude … in essence – “we know you appreciate America invading your county, even if you people can’t admit that fact”.

      • armstp

        Iraqis have certainly had no problem kicking out U.S. “liberators” the first chance they got and not awarding U.S. companies oil contracts.

    • armstp

      A few points:

      > any polls of Iraqis and their views of the invasion should be taken with a big grain of salt; who did the poll?; what question was asked? Does the poll represent all Iraqis? etc. etc.

      > “does anyone seriously think that the death toll from the overthrow of Saddam without US/Allied intervention would have been smaller than from the war

      First of all it depends on whos numbers you use for the death of Iraqis because of the war. The WHO and John Hopkins said that up to a million Iraqis could have died directly because fo the war. That is 3.3% of the Iraq population. Your 25,000-30,000 Libya number represents 0.5% of the population.

      Now you have to add to that several million Iraqis who have become refugees either outside of Iraq or in their own country and the millions more who now live in poverty in Iraq.

      However, I am not saying that it would have been bloodless for the Iraqis themselves to overthrow Saddam, only that the Arab Spring has proven that the Iraqis might have overthrown Saddam themselves without the U.S., which completely undercuts conservatives arguments that the Iraq war was worth it because we “freed” (if that is what we have really done) the Iraqis (at great cost to America I might add).

  • anniemargret

    The outcome of whatever good happened in Iraq, is completely overshadowed by the harm it did.

    No one who could add up the thousands in deaths, maimed and psychologically harmed, the trillions spent, the land depleted, the resources made bare, after years of sanctions, the morale of the troops lowered when they realized it wasn’t Saddam, after all, that had anything to do with 9/11, the lies and continued lies that emanated after we left, etc…

    And finally, if ‘they’ ask my sons or my daughter or other sons and daughters to fight, then don’t for God’s sake, for heaven’s sake, for morality’s sake, LIE.

    And they did. And continue to lie.

    There are no ‘gray areas.’

    • balconesfault

      And they did. And continue to lie.

      And that’s the kicker … for if they continue to lie, you know that when it suits their purposes, they will lie again.

  • gmat

    My god, where to begin.

    The writer equates “The prevailing view …[of] the war in Iraq as a blunder if not a crime” and “antiwar absolutism.” Try again.

    Then there’s all that stuff about what the Iraqis think about it, and how nice it is they now enjoy liberty. So what? The conversation is (or should be) about whether or not the whole project was worth it to the US. It wasn’t.

    Liberty for Iraqis is a nice thing. But it’s not worth getting thousands of Americans killed, and thousands more losing limbs and/or brain function, and pissing away hundreds of billions of dollars. Not to me anyway. And I have two kids in the army.

    Killing Saddam’s regime? Well, to whatever extent he posed a threat to US security, invading and killing him was worth considering. Then have a conversation with his successor about what got him killed, and how the same thing could happen to his successor, then depart.

    But using the US Army as policemen for a bunch of people who despise them? Getting Americans killed and crippled to keep one Iraqi from killing another? That’s stupid.