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Sunday, March 23, 2008

How Did I Get Iraq Right?

How Did I Get Iraq Right?

It’s kind of sickening to read but Slate ran a series on “Liberal Hawks” (whatever the fuck that is) explaining why they were wrong initially and why they have changed their opinion of the necessity of the war in Iraq. I don’t know which is worse; the apologies of a bunch of mealy-mouthed know-nothings, or those who still cling to the war’s justification and continue to support it. Just look at any right-wing blog and you’ll see the faithful clinging to the five-year sinking ship known as the Iraq War. They still criticize war opponents as naïve and misguided. In their view, war opponents have no idea how to win the war against Islamic fundamentalism or how to stabilize an unstable Middle East. Of course, you can look at their record of performance over the last five years and it’s obvious that the conservatives have failed miserably at everything in the region (as well as their domestic failures). I would just like to state why I was right from the beginning and I’m still right today.

First of all, I never believed the claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. No one in America, and I mean no one, seemed to give a shit about Iraq’s use of chemical weapons in their war with Iran, a war about which Henry Kissinger said that the only unfortunate part was that only one side could lose. No one really seemed to care when chemical weapons were used against Iraqi Kurds. I believed the U.N. inspectors when they said that Iraq showed no evidence of a “weapons of mass destruction” program. I trusted Jacques Chirac more than my own president when he said on the eve of the war that Iraq was not an imminent threat and no invasion should be imminent. Hell, even I thought that we would find at least a few WMD in Iraq after the invasion. We found jack shit.

I knew that the war wouldn’t be easy. Sure, the war part would be easy but then we would own the country and would have to run it. I remember in the weeks after the invasion lots of conservatives were actually calling for war opponents to apologize for having the gall to criticize the President’s “plan.” I never believed that the war would be over quickly and I certainly didn’t think that it could be done cheaply as was promised by the Vice President. Even I didn’t predict that the war would go so as horribly wrong as it has been going. If anyone at the outset had said the war would last five fucking years she would have been lynched.

Unlike most Americans (and most of Bush’s advisors), I knew the difference between Shiites and Sunnis. Remember how neo-cons hated when people compared Iraq to Viet Nam? I never made that comparison. I knew that Iraq would be a lot tougher to occupy than Viet Nam because the cultural differences between “us” and “them” were far greater than in Viet Nam. We don’t speak the language, we don’t know the customs, we don’t understand Islam, and we will never, ever be accepted in Iraq or in any Muslim nation—at least not while we are carrying guns.

So where are we after five years of war? Instead of some Muslim kid in Morocco sitting in a cyber café downloading pictures of Britney Spears and dreaming about going to California, we now have that same kid reading jihadist internet sites and considering his future as a suicide bomber. Instead of strengthening the vision of America’s role as a place of freedom and opportunity, we have convinced most of the Muslim world that we hate Islam and want to destroy their religion.

I am often accused of hating America by people who don’t even seem to understand what my country is all about. I happen to believe in the American ideal of freedom and opportunity for all. I also believe that this ideal must be protected and nurtured. I believe that the American ideal is vastly superior to anything offered by nations governed by religious superstitions, superstitions that seek to rob human existence of joy and intellectual freedom. I think that anyone who believes that we need to impose our vision through force probably doesn’t understand our freedoms. It’s kind of like America’s belligerent opposition to Fidel Castro which has kept him in power for over 40 years. Had we accepted him and had free trade with Cuba from the start, he would have been ousted about 35 years ago. We didn’t believe in the strength of our own ideal.

Radical, oppressive Islam is a strong ideal when it faces military adversity. Bush often spoke of our need for resolve in Iraq. What could possibly be more resolute than strapping explosives to your body and then blowing yourself up along with innocent men, women, and children? I hope that none of us have that sort of resolve. What we need is belief in the superiority of our ideal and confidence that it will succeed, that it will triumph over visions less clear, less democratic than ours. How different the world would be now had we turned the other cheek after 9/11 (while tracking down those responsible and making sure they could do us no further harm). What if we had showered the world with goodwill instead of striking out militarily? I don’t think that it is too late. I think that if we changed course those who wish to do America harm will find less refuge in the world. Right now those folks have doors opening for them from Marrakech to Kabul. We can close more of those doors with good deeds than gunpowder. But what do I know? I’ve been right from the beginning.

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