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Monday, March 17, 2008

Hitchens on the fifth anniversary 


Christopher Hitchens is, for better or for worse, eloquently unapologetic for having supported the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein. Teaser:

This is all overshadowed by the unarguable hash that was made of the intervention itself. But I would nonetheless maintain that this incompetence doesn't condemn the enterprise wholesale. A much-wanted war criminal was put on public trial. The Kurdish and Shiite majority was rescued from the ever-present threat of a renewed genocide. A huge, hideous military and party apparatus, directed at internal repression and external aggression was (perhaps overhastily) dismantled. The largest wetlands in the region, habitat of the historic Marsh Arabs, have been largely recuperated. Huge fresh oilfields have been found, including in formerly oil free Sunni provinces, and some important initial investment in them made. Elections have been held, and the outline of a federal system has been proposed as the only alternative to a) a sectarian despotism and b) a sectarian partition and fragmentation. Not unimportantly, a battlefield defeat has been inflicted on al-Qaida and its surrogates, who (not without some Baathist collaboration) had hoped to constitute the successor regime in a failed state and an imploded society. Further afield, a perfectly defensible case can be made that the Syrian Baathists would not have evacuated Lebanon, nor would the Qaddafi gang have turned over Libya's (much higher than anticipated) stock of WMD if not for the ripple effect of the removal of the region's keystone dictatorship.

None of these positive developments took place without a good deal of bungling and cruelty and unintended consequences of their own. I don't know of a satisfactory way of evaluating one against the other any more than I quite know how to balance the disgrace of Abu Ghraib, say, against the digging up of Saddam's immense network of mass graves. There is, however, one position that nobody can honestly hold but that many people try their best to hold. And that is what I call the Bishop Berkeley theory of Iraq, whereby if a country collapses and succumbs to trauma, and it's not our immediate fault or direct responsibility, then it doesn't count, and we are not involved. Nonetheless, the very thing that most repels people when they contemplate Iraq, which is the chaos and misery and fragmentation (and the deliberate intensification and augmentation of all this by the jihadists), invites the inescapable question: What would post-Saddam Iraq have looked like without a coalition presence?

I'm too tired for a longer dissection, other than to say that the many contemporaneous objections to OIF -- including fatuous assertions by presidential candidates and their surrogates that it was the greatest foreign policy mistake in American history -- will shrink into nothingness upon the full rendering of the verdict of history. That will depend on one result and one only -- whether the Persian Gulf and the Arab world are much changed in the time elapsing before the writing of that history and whether that change has a salutory impact on the many incompetencies of that region, or not. And who will write that history? A young scholar who was born too late to have experienced the passionate arguments and sharp politics of the last five years.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

4 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 17, 11:21:00 PM:

On the passing of the last soldier who was there at the Christmas Truce in no mans land during World War I a historian said something like this:
Thus do memories become history.

Until I read those words there was something missing from my understanding of the subject.

Many people have pointed out that Lincoln was the most hated President in American history. Many on the left and right have no idea of the significance of that fact. Look to the Solid South in voting records 100 years after the War Between the States, and you might begin to grasp it.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 17, 11:31:00 PM:

"War is...Hell" - W.T. Sherman

Too often we forget that simple truism. Too many who initially supported OIF forgot how dirty it can be, and somehow now want to retroactively wash that off of their hands with statements like "of course the Bush Administration's War in Iraq was imcompetent/corrupt/badly planned/fill in the temporizing intellectual excuse".

I supported the war, and still do. I know more than a few men who have served in Iraq. Some have very gruesome tales to tell, when they are in the tale-telling mood. It's not pretty. It never is. My father's generation fought the Japanese and Germans, and that war was ugly and unimaginably terrible. Whole cities bombed to rubble. Men, women, children slaughtered on an immense scale. We still try to retro-actively rationalize it with movies like "Saving Private Ryan". We still try to make something noble out of all the killing and death.

Saddam was a bad man; a very bad man. If you want some point of reference, read "The Republic of Fear"; don't watch that intellectual drivel "Fahrenheit 9/11". It very clearly delineates just how bad the Baathists and Saddam were BEFORE the first Gulf War. He was clever, sinister, ruthless. And he wasn't alone; he had quite an apparatus behind him, with some of our so-called 'friends' only too willing to do business with him. He was never, ever going to let it go and walk away. Bloody revolution and civil war, with the Iranians probably in the mix, were the likely outcome of his fall.

What has happpened since OIF started in 2003 has been pretty bad, especially for the dead, maimed and crippled; us and the Iraqis both. Nothing can be put back the way it was. But to pointlessly condemn it, is to blind yourself to the very likely "alternative" outcomes. The cruel clumsiness of the Iran-Iraq war of the '80's comes to mind; half a million dead, at least, and a million wounded, on both sides. And nothing, NOTHING was accomplished by either country.

Hitchens points to all that begins to appear to justify it; maybe so. The future is yet to be written. I hope it turns out well, especially for the Iraqis. The Iraqis have no exit strategy. For they have to live with the outcome, for better or worse. I personally pray for the better.

And that's what's great about blogs, because you can't talk like this in public anymore, unless you know that your listener agrees with you. And that's a price we've all paid, too.

-David  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Mar 18, 06:35:00 AM:

Great comment, David. All of it, including the sad truth in the last paragraph.  

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