June 22, 2006

Better Saddam Than the Way It Is Now

In their own warmongering minds, the worst smear that many supporters of the invasion and occupation of Iraq can come up with, even now, is: "Oh, so you'd really prefer that Saddam were back in power, is that it? Why, you're a...a...a Saddamite!" They've had over three years to come up with better and more effective smears, and this is still all they've got. It is a measure of the bankruptcy of their arguments (I use the term loosely), and the vast arid stretches of their intellects.

For those who may have joined this discussion late, I will note only that this is a classic false alternative: either you support a war and occupation of aggression, contrary to all fundamental moral and legal principles, or you support a vicious dictator. Well, pardon me -- and pardon the rules of logic -- but no, for one starkly obvious reason: unless Iraq had been a genuine, serious, demonstrable threat to the United States, it was and is not our government's business. This is not a complicated point. One would think even simple warmongers might grasp it. Saddam was a vicious, brutal, murderous thug -- and it was not our government's business. He was no threat to us. Not our business.

Let's listen to a moderate senior Shiite cleric answer the smear head-on:
National Public Radio foreign correspondent Loren Jenkins, serving in NPR's Baghdad bureau, met earlier this month with a senior Shiite cleric, a man who was described in the NPR report as "a moderate" and as a person trying to lead his Shiite followers into practicing peace and reconciliation. He had been jailed by Saddam Hussein and forced into exile. Jenkins asked him: "What would you think if you had to go back to Saddam Hussein?" The cleric replied that he'd "rather see Iraq under Saddam Hussein than the way it is now."
Don't look for that or similar items on any of the warmongering sites in the near future, or ever.

In his article, William Blum goes on to note that this reaction is hardly surprising given what has happened in Iraq since the U.S. invaded and occupied that country. He writes:
I was moved to compile a list of the many kinds of misfortune which have fallen upon the heads of the Iraqi people as a result of the American liberation of their homeland. It's depressing reading, and you may not want to read it all, but I think it's important to have it summarized in one place.
Here are some of the items on Blum's list:

-- Loss of a functioning educational system, and loss of much of the intellectual and educated middle class as they have fled the country

-- Loss of a functioning health care system, a system that had been widely admired before the war and occupation, coupled with the devastation of public health itself

-- Among the survivors, the loss of various and often multiple body parts, and the humiliation of the entire country as "Iraq has had to submit to a degrading national strip search"

-- The destruction of Iraq's ancient heritage

-- A "nearly lawless society" (see Jacob Hornberger on this point, too)

-- The imprisonment and often the torture and brutalization of over 50,000 Iraqis since the invasion began; only a very small fraction of these people has been convicted of a crime

-- An unemployment rate hovering around 50%

-- The regular, periodic bombing of civilian neighborhoods

-- Drinking water, sewage disposal and electricity generally stuck at pre-war levels

You get the idea -- and then there's civil war, death squads, kidnappings, etc., etc., etc., etc. Read all the details if you care to, and if you can bear it.

As you consider all this, I implore you to keep the single critical fact in mind: Iraq was no threat to us -- and our leaders knew it. Therefore, this was a war of aggression, period. We have done all this for no legitimate reason at all.

And the warmongers still try to convince themselves that "they hate us" because of our "freedom" and our "way of life." If it weren't so sickening and morally repellent, it would be pathetic.

I suppose I ought to say a brief word about the latest nonsense concerning Iraq's dreaded WMD (however WMD happen to be defined this week). Here's my bottom line: I don't care if we had found actual WMD, and lots of them.

I periodically return to a crucial point that most commentators still fail to appreciate: decisions of war and peace are matters of policy and judgment. For the most part, information gathered via intelligence is irrelevant, regardless of whether it is correct or not. And as Gabriel Kolko points out, it is very frequently wrong. When it comes to intelligence matters, error is the standard, not the exception.

The full truth is still worse. In operative terms, the purposes served by intelligence gathering are very rarely the ascertainment of facts. Kolko writes (and more is excerpted in the earlier post):
It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior--although sometimes that occurs--than to justify a nation's illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.
Toward the end of a detailed discussion of this point, one which heavily relies on Barbara Tuchman's work, I wrote about Iraq and WMD:
This returns us to the danger that the current emphasis on "bad intelligence" represents: given the way the question is often discussed, an inevitable implication arises. We are left to conclude that the Iraq war was not justified because the intelligence was wrong -- but if the intelligence had been right, then the war would have been justified. Many commentators fail to go on to the next part of the argument: that, even if Iraq had possessed WMD, the danger still could and should have been contained. It had been for some years -- and, after all, we managed to coexist with the Soviet Union for decades. It's true that we came dangerously close to the abyss on a few occasions, but we managed to pull back in time. And the Soviet Union represented an infinitely greater danger than Iraq ever did. I would argue, and indeed I did argue at the time, that even if everything the Bush administration claimed had been true, the war still was not justified -- and that it was definitely not strategically advisable longer term.

I submit that even if WMD had been found in Iraq, the negative consequences flowing out of the U.S. occupation still argue conclusively against this war. As explained in this post and the Peter Bergen article it excerpts, we vanquished one foe only to breathe life into a worldwide jihadist movement. We traded one enemy for a multitude of enemies. Had Iraq possessed WMD, that is still a remarkably ill-advised exchange. And make no mistake: we would have had a prolonged occupation in any case, and it would have led to the identical, profoundly negative results.
In short, even if I were absolutely convinced that we had found towering piles of WMD in Iraq, I don't care. Neither should you or anyone else. It doesn't matter.

It makes no difference because it still does not add up to anything close to a compelling case for this disastrous war and occupation, given the inevitable and overwhelming negative consequences -- and it certainly does not validate the war because it supposedly proves "the intelligence was right," after all. The decision was one of policy, and the intelligence had nothing to do with it. The interested parties have wanted to invade Iraq and rearrange the Middle East since the calamitous presidency of George W. Bush was merely a glint in Karl Rove's malignant eye, and even before that.

So, for all these reasons, I repeat: Get Out Now. Just Do It.