The Iraq war and me

After losing another friend to the war back home, my friend and colleague Zeyad, the Iraqi blogger now in New York at CUNY, writes with devastating directness on his blog: “I now officially regret supporting this war back in 2003. The guilt is too much for me to handle.”

I do not pretend for a second that anyone should care what I think or write about Iraq. But I when I wrote about politics and news more than media, I wrote about the Iraq war in terms not unlike Zeyad’s in 2003. Lately, I have been dancing around the necessity of writing my own, less eloquent post on the Iraq war and me. I should. So here it is.

I had separated intent of the war from its execution. In 2003, I believed the intent was proper. I followed a path that Tom Friedman has since abandoned if not recanted: that this war was not and should not have been about WMDs but was instead about bringing freedom, democracy, and opportunity to a part of the world whose primary export is becoming anger. Not unlike Peter Beinart, I saw a liberal justification to the war: antitotalitarianism, freeing people from tyranny, supporting freedom and choice, as well as coming to rescue the people we had abandoned in the first Iraq war and its aftermath. I saw a humanitarian cause.

But the execution, I saw too late after our “victory,” was hopeless and shameful. And, of course, it has only gotten worse as it has gotten more stubborn.

How do I think it should end? How should we fix this? I do not know and I am afraid I don’t see anyone today who does. I will still say — as I did in the Guardian’s Comment is Free some months ago and as the paper’s Mideast editor said more intelligently than I — that we on the left have a responsibility not to abandon the people of Iraq and to have a plan, not just for leaving but for finding some path to peace. That the White House is now apparently considering recruiting Syria, occupier of Lebanon, and Iran, who too recently was at war with Iraq, to get them out of the mess they made is either painfully ironic or just pathetic. But I won’t presume to understand the politics of the region sufficiently to prescribe a path myself. I just wish our leaders on any side would and could.

So which do I regret? The war or its execution? I fear it doesn’t matter anymore. Wishing and what-iffing that things had been done differently does no good for the people who have lost their lives there. I wish that the people of Iraq were both free and living in peace. I wish that there were a thriving example of democracy in the Arab Middle East. I wish the hate-mongers had been put in their place, on the fringe of civilization. Of course, I wish that all these lives had not been lost. So I regret much, and especially regret what we have brought Iraq to and that we still do not know where to go.

I can predict that at least one of you will seize on this opportunity to nya-nya me about my early views on the war in Iraq. Fine, if that’s your sport. But right now, what I wish most is that there can be a substantive and constructive effort to find a way to end this hell.

So no more friends are lost.