Iraq, pt I - why are we here?
I’ve been having problems with my computer lately, but I’m up and running again, hopefully for a while this time. I have some thoughts on foreign aid, but I think I’m going to save those for later. I’m going to talk about Iraq, clearly the single most important foreign policy issue the US has faced in some time. I have a vague idea that this is going to take the form of two essays, one dealing with how we got here, and one dealing with the consequences, intended and unintended, of the decision to go to war in Iraq. I assume that this is all basic knowledge for the average reader, but I feel it lays an important foundation for a) an understanding of my worldview; and b) an understanding of where I intend to go from here. So if it all seems terribly basic to you, bear with me.
To start with, I’d like to draw the attention of our readership to the excellent essay
by Peter Beinart in the most recent New Republic. Beinart draws a loose correlation between current times and the immediate post-World War II period. Beinart assesses that while there are numerous differences between the Communist threat and the threat posed by fascist Islam, there are important similarities, and ultimately both are threats to the liberal values. Generations of liberals grew up believing that all humans should have the right to achieve what they are capable of, in other words, that one’s ability and one’s attitude should determine what they accomplished. Gender, race, sexual preference, inter alia, should not hinder someone – in short, the liberal beliefs that I held (and which I still hold to this day) instilled in me the belief that all humans should be equal members of society.
Suppose that, in the course of traveling the world, a liberal such as the one described above came across a society wherein the local men treated women as second class citizens, considered homosexuals pariahs and condoned their killing, and viewed people who didn’t adhere to their religious beliefs as infidels. That liberal ought to rightly conclude that this group of people’s beliefs were antithetical to those he or she possessed. Furthermore, if a group of members of said society declared their unremitting hatred for the liberal’s values and culture, declared that they intended to wage a war against them, and backed their talk up with a series of spectacular and deadly attacks, our liberal could understandably consider himself in conflict with those aspects of the aforementioned society.
Thus the west finds itself in conflict with a new foe, that of fascist Islam. That some Westerners choose to find another enemy, namely the United States, does not lessen the resolve of the fascists in their struggle to achieve their goals - Western countries that officially decry American hegemony nonetheless find themselves in the crosshairs of the fascists.
That’s where we are today - with the West, divided as it may be, facing an implacable foe – one that, according to the 9/11 Commission, it shares nothing with, even a respect for human life. Accommodation with the fascists will be no more successful than finding an accommodation with the Soviets. Ultimately the fascists must be overcome by some combination of force of arms and political means. Just like many people living in the Soviet Union weren’t diehard communists, most Muslims do not embody the values of the fascists and would, I believe, accept democracy and a form of liberal values. Similarly, just as the majority of Russians and Eastern Europeans didn’t openly criticize their communist parties, most moderate Muslims don’t publicly criticize fellow Muslims, even if they don’t agree with their actions. It is always easier to blame someone else (America) for their problems anyway.
So then, what to do about this region of the world that is, in many ways far removed from the West in terms some of its attitudes? For decades, the answer seemed to be to ignore it – academics and policy makers concluded that either the West could not or should not intervene in the cultural norms of another region. This mode of thought lasted, of course, until shortly after planes began colliding with the tallest buildings in New York City. Suddenly, policy makers (if not academics) began looking at the region qualitatively and realized that a significant chunk of it was so far behind the rest of the world that the most rudimentary elements of civil society didn’t exist. Afghanistan was on one edge of the region, but Iraq was smack dab in the middle of it.
While Iraq was not a mullocracy along the lines of Afghanistan, Iraq had its own tradition of collisions with the west. Furthermore, the regime in Iraq was one of the last remaining Stalinist regimes in the world. That it existed in a region filled with backward regimes that repressed their own people, all while blaming the problems of the region on Israel and the United States, further put it in the crosshairs of the Bush administration. That it was believed to posses weapons of mass destruction, and had used such weapons in the past, that it had invaded or attempted to invade its neighbors, and that it thumbed its nose at the collective will of the international community further made it a pariah. While Iraq itself was not an Islamic fascist society per se, it was nonetheless a fascist one. Creating democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan would go a long way towards putting democratization on the agenda across the Middle East.
It was this combination of Iraq’s location, its belligerent antipathy towards its neighbors and the international community, and its thirst for (and alleged possession of) weapons of mass destruction that made Iraq a special case. Once the White House became convinced of the need for reform in the region, Iraq became a logical place to start. And once the Hussein regime refused to leave power, President Bush made the fateful decision to depose him. This would open a pandora’s box. And that will be the subject of my next posting (assuming my computer doesn’t fry out again). I hope to look at the consequences, both intended and unintended, of the invasion of Iraq, and maybe try to take a stab at what it all means.