The 4th of July often serves not only as a time to celebrate the Declaration of Independence, but also as a chance for people to air their current dissatisfactions with the country's course. I tend to keep things pretty quiet on the overt political front, but after seeing one too many "I'm patriotic too, even though I'm disgusted with our adventurism in Iraq" remark, I thought I'd break my usual rule.
It's now a bit over four years since American forces rolled into Iraq and brought an end to Saddam Hussein's 24-year dictatorship. (When I went to look up the years of his reign just now in Wikipedia, I noticed that I was less than a year old when he came to power -- and since most soldiers in our army and that of Iraq are younger than I am, that gives you a bit of a feel for the magnitude of the change that came on Iraq in 2003.)
For a variety of reasons, things continue to be a big mess over there -- though whether things are getting better or worse at the moment is frankly a bit hard to tell. Good high level analysis is hard to find -- and indeed, such analysis is hard to do while events are still going on and outcomes are unknown. At the ground level, some very good reporting is being done by a few people. (See especially Michael Yon's reporting on the current work being done to root out Al Qaeda forces in Baqubah here and here.) However, on the ground reporting does not a comprehensive picture make.
Without question, a lot of grave mistakes have been made in Iraq by the current administration, by the military, and by the state department. Nothing could make diving into the millenia-old resentments of the cradle of civilization easy, but I'm sure that there are a number of occasions where, if we had done better in creating order and supporting the right home-grown movements (and suppressing the right ones more quickly and thoroughly), we could have prevented things from having got as chaotic as they have.
That said, I can't help continuing to consider the overthrow of Hussein as a positive thing. One of our bit mistakes, I think, was resting the justification for the war so heavily on the WMD question. I don't doubt that US leaders were convinced that Iraq had stockpiles of chemical weapons (indeed, Hussein may have been a victim of his own bravado in this regard -- intentionally having given the impression that he had more and more dangerous weapons than he actually did) however even in the light of the Al Qaeda threat, I don't think that these presented enough of a threat to justify a war on their own. I'm sure that there are plenty of other places that terrorists could get hold of sarin or mustard gas or a number of other nasty substances.
However, Hussein had been living on borrowed time ever since 1991 -- when we should have got rid of him. He was without question providing money and resources to terrorist groups, and specifically was subsidizing suicide bombings.
And to be blunt (I think a little more bluntness could be used in these discussions at times) Mesopotamia has always been strategically key to the region. Given that we found ourselves under serious threat from forces springing from the Middle East, and given that the government in Iraq had been in a state of semi-war with us for the last twelve years, and continued to cause trouble and try to get around the UN imposed sanctions (and take advantage of the Oil For Food program to bribe other countries with oil money, and starve Iraqi civilians by directing the money received to other purposes) I think there were plenty of reasons to finish the job and get rid of Hussein's government.
The job our country took on -- trying to encourage the creation of a stable and fairly just representative government rather than simply setting up colonial rule or a puppet dictator (as most countries in our position would have done 30+ years ago) -- is by no means an easy one. We're lucky to be paying as small a price in blood and gold as we are. However, I can't help thinking that it's an essentially honorable and worthwhile task. I hope we succeed.
Learning Notes Week of March 13
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