Iraq: Two years on
: In the two years since the Iraq war, we have indeed seen the winds of freedom begin to, what?, waft through the Middle East.
It’s fair to wonder whether those wisps would be a windstorm if some things had happened differently in Iraq: If we had maintained security there… If we had quashed the insurgency before it began with greater force while we were still at war… If fewer Iraqis and American soldiers had died… If, as a result of living in security, we could have worked to rebuild the country’s infrastructure… If we had been able to start buildig the nation’s economy as well… If the terrorists there had not been able to frighten and intimidate anyone from voting…. If they at least had electricituy 24 hours a day… If we had not tortured — and murdered — Iraqi prisoners…
If all that had happened, would we see other citizenries in other nations embloldened as those have been in Iraq and Afghanistan to vote, in Lebanon to rise up and demand self-determination? Would we have seen more popular movements take on the courage to stand up not only to tyrants but also to terrorists as we have seen with the Lebanese dare to Hizbullah and the voters’ dares in Afghanistan and Iraq to the thugs who would have stopped their elections? Would we have seen more steps, abeit baby ones, toward democracy such as we’ve seen in Palestine, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia? Would we have seen other, larger steps toward democracy from dictators backed against the wall by their people? Would Americans be more united in the humanitarian cause of nurturing freedom in the world? Would our on-and-off allies in Europe be eager to help?
Fair questions, all. Answers, of course, exist for none.
I wish things had gone better in Iraq; who wouldn’t? Others wish the war had not happened, of course. But not me. I believe the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein in power. I certainly believe the world is a better place with democracy and self-determination and popular movements taking hold in the Middle East. And, yes, I believe that in the long run, the world will, indeed, become a safer place.
That is my view, two years on.
: The New York Times editorial page had a quite different view, of course.
It is an exercise in Eeyorism. The editorial, of course, complains about WMDs as a rationale for war (it never was mine). It reluctantly ackowledges that the real reason may, indeed, have been installing democracy in the Middle East (the one Tom Friedman so often articulated only a page away): “…overthrowing Saddam Hussein would shake up the hidebound, undemocratic regimes in the Middle East and free the natural democratic impulses of Arab and Islamic people. This rationale may still hold up. Iraqi and Afghani voters marching stolidly to the polls was by far the most hopeful image in the past two years.” But it qualifies even that, arguing that Iraq isn’t directly related to the positive events in Lebanon and Palestine. I’d argue with that. But having made that qualification, it comes back, heels dragging, to concede: “With all that said, even the fiercest critic of George Bush’s foreign policy would be insane not to want these signs of hope to take root. That would not excuse the waging of an unnecessary war on false pretences, but it could change the course of modern history.”
Well, however reluctantly, they did acknowledge that good came of the war. Pulling teeth out with your bare fingers would be easier.
There’s a lot more from that perspective, under the dark cloud. But this is what struck me:
The Enduring Principles
Like a great many Americans and most Europeans, this page opposed the invasion of Iraq. Our reasons seem as good now as they did then. Most important is our belief that the United States cannot work in isolation from the rest of the world. There are too many problems, from global warming to nuclear proliferation, which can be solved only if the major powers collaborate. Americans need both the counsel and restraint of other world leaders. The White House has almost unthinkable power, and the rest of the globe has the right to take a profound interest in making sure it is exercised wisely.
No, making nice with France is not the real lesson, “The Enduring Principles.”
The enduring principles of Iraq and Afganistan are these:
People want to be free.
Democracy is a natural right.
Given the slightest chance to grab freedom and self-determination themselves, any people will do that.
The greatest gift we can give them is that chance.