Iraq, pt II - Truth or Consequences
I think that any honest appraisal of the situation in Iraq must include the admission that the administration has made several errors. While these errors may not be terminal, they have set the reconstruction back - of this I am quite certain. A fair assessment, however, would also note that much has gone right, and that while serious obstacles remain, all hope is not yet lost. Furthermore, a look at the big picture indicates that the repercussions of the invasion of Iraq continue to manifest themselves in all sorts of places. It is these consequences, both intended and otherwise, positive and negative, that I intend to look at today.
Let’s look at the obvious ones: the immediate aim of the invasion, the toppling of the Hussein regime, clearly took place. The Ba’ath party that once controlled Iraq no longer does so. This was clearly the main intended consequence of the invasion. A by product of that action, and also an intended result, was the establishment of a democratic society (if not a liberal one) in Saddam’s place. Clearly, this one is a work in progress. For a chronology of all the warts this process entails, the reader we invite the reader to peruse the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Guardian, Le Monde, Pravda, or any other respectable newspaper. For a countervailing view, Arthur Chrenkoff’s excellent Good News from Iraq series is worth a gander.
I’m also going to argue that there have been a series of unintended consequences, or perhaps unforeseeable ones, that have sprung up in Iraq. Quite frankly, I think many of these can be construed as positive, as well as some negative. I’m going to discuss them in no particular order.
Afghanistan: with much of the media spotlight currently on Iraq, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan has gone quite well – better than many had originally thought. Less media attention means that the insurgents/fascists/terrorists have gone to Iraq, where they can preen for the BBC and al Jazeera. I think this has helped in Afghanistan’s reconstruction.
The flypaper theory: I have mixed thoughts about this theory. The theory goes that the vast bulk of Islamofascist resistance is headed to Iraq, where they can act against US forces directly without having to plot and plan those pesky hijackings. Furthermore, Iran and Syria may continue to get drawn into conflict in Iraq. Ultimately I think that neither Iran nor Syria have the resources to contribute great amounts of men and materiel over a sustained period of time; continuing to get drawn into Iraq could substantially drain the resources of those two countries, which could help the US achieve some more of its longer-term goals in the Middle East. I think that the leadership of both countries realizes this, and that they’re banking on creating enough instability in the short term to cause the US to leave.
Democratization on the agenda in ME: I think it is fair to say that democratization is now at least on the lips of parts of intelligentsia in the Middle East. Whether or not this is merely a tactical concession to the current administration, to be dropped once a President who follows a more “realistic” foreign policy ascends in to office, is not known. All the more reason for Bush to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.
Discovery that US intel services may not be as reliable as previously thought: without a doubt, this is one area where the Bush administration is in for serious criticism. The decision to go to war, to gamble with America’s prestige, not to mention the lives of thousands of people, was based on faulty intelligence. It bears repeating: the intelligence was wrong. I’m not saying that Bush lied or consciously manipulated the facts, but there is no doubt the intel was wrong. And the buck stops with the President. That the President used the presence of WMD as the primary causus belli when there were many other ways to state the case turned out to be, in hindsight, wrong. While this doesn’t minimize the other reasons for war, many of which are worth defending, using what turned out to be bad intelligence to make the case was a mistake.
Intelligence reform: for every broken egg there exists the potential to make omelettes. If the war in Iraq exposed problems with our intelligence gathering capabilities, then it also creates an opportunity to fix the structural flaws that may have led to them. Simple enough.
Looking at my notes, I see that most of the remaining thoughts I have focus on the Atlantic relationship. I think that I’ve gone on long enough for one article. I suppose I will save the remainder of my notes and try to turn them into a separate article.
One thing I would like to point out is that there are serious problems in Iraq. Postwar planning was clearly not taken seriously enough by those in a position to implement those plans. This allowed the development of an insurgency that may well have been preventable. A lack of sufficient troops (or, at the very least, a lack of proper distribution of troops) allowed the insurgency to become self-sustaining, and put personnel in jobs for which they were not qualified. This led to the disaster at Abu Ghraib, which remains for me one of the darkest days I’ve had in public service. I put my own support behind the invasion based in large part because of firm belief of the goodness of America and American intentions. Seeing those pictures was for me not altogether different from a punch in the gut.
That said, it appears that the Administration seems to have gotten the message, and is now moving aggressively against the insurgency. Ultimately, the future of Iraq is far from determined - despite all the missteps, the opportunity for real and lasting change is there. History books may well remember Abu Ghraib in small text of their footnotes; a democratic Middle East may well be the subject in the big text that hangs above it.