Volokh Buddy Orin Kerr, after listing grim news, has three questions for the hawkish among us bloggers, regarding the war in Iraq. I accept his offer; his questions are in bold:
First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?
A short series of short questions that require long answers. Initially, in the preparations towards this war, I had a number of concerns that are not unfamiliar. A unified Arab front would campaign against us militarily1, a rise in retaliatory terrorism on our home front as we further anger our enemies into reaction2, and that there was a rush towards mobilization that would make a shoddy military campaign3. Over time, as the campaign actually approached, I shed most of those preconceived concerns and saw that the invasion would actually work, and has continued to work, despite the grim news that we hear every day.
I do believe that the invasion of Iraq is a good idea, on two standpoints: the moral and the tactical.
Many of the tactical points have been covered by Gerard Van Der Leun’s post, WHY WE ARE IN IRAQ : Military Bases Are A Requirement, Democracy is Merely an Elective. But rather than extensively quote his five reasons nor instruct all of you to go there and go back, if I may paraphrase and add instead:
- I consider Iran and Saudi Arabia to be the greatest ideological, if not material, sponsors of Islamist terrorism. The Wahabbislam of Saudi Arabia and the fundamentalism of the Iranian theocracy make for natural bedfellows. Capturing Iraq both isolates Iran and Saudia Arabia from each other, while at the same time provides a central nexus from which the entire Middle East is accessible. Our presence in Kuwait and Qatar do not allow for this. Tactically, Iraq is of the same value as the Philippines was for over four hundred years, until our increased presence in Japan and our cooperation with Taiwan secured south-east Asia, coupled with the Philippines’ capitulation to terror, made that country irrelevant.
- While it is true that being in the center of things makes it easy to strike at anyone easily enough, it is also true that one can be attacked from any direction. Truly, most would argue that if we sealed off our borders and increased immigration control to the point of diminishing returns, we could be more secure from terrorism here at home than if we took the fight to another country. Those who argue this may be right, if our nation has not already been infiltrated by terrorists who lie in wait for the right opportunity to attack.
- The isolation of terrorist cells from each other through the disruptions caused by our continuous attacks on their overseas associates makes it harder and harder to organize. Instead of an organization whose trust base could coalesce into a coherent movement, cells are slowly, more and more becoming autonomous. Indeed, they may just choose to attack with an atomic or biologic of their own volition, but I am only left to wonder why nothing has happened on our soil so far.
- Our presence in Iraq also attracts those who wish to kill us: our soldiers are much easier targets than civilians, by the sheer factor of their proximity and accessibility to the enemy. Taking the very liberal estimate that one American casualty is matched by twenty terrorist deaths, and considering the very unscientific portion of five percent as those who make it to the homeland to do some trouble, twenty thousand dead terrorists translate to one thousand chances with which they could have “gotten it right.” Condi Rice was not kidding when she said that all they need to do is be right once.
If the aforementioned seems like a laundry list of talking points and rationalizations, my support of the Iraq war on moral grounds would even seem much more so.
Saddam Hussein was a despotic leader who used WMD on his own subjects and had a track record of violating the terms of his disarmament, from crystallized sarin to howitzer shells (the presence of only one of which already constituded a violation of the terms of his containment and was reason enough to invade. Flimsy reason yes, but technically sound.) Iraq, now a struggling free democracy for the first time in its history, has had local elections where secularists, and not Islamists, have won across the board.
Iraq was, at the time of the invasion, the most secular of the Arab nations, and the easiest to sway from the tyranny of Islamism. Even they know, despite their cynicism, that the despotism of Saddam Hussein pales in comparison to what a Taliban-like regime would impose on them. Admit it or not, the taste of freedom stays on the palate forever, and makes one yearn for it. I cannot, for one, conceive of the Iraqis—descendants of the first civilization on earth—choosing the lazy path of embracing despotism in exchange for the false security such a leader might offer.
All these form a gestalt of why I support our invasion of, and continued presence in Iraq.
Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?
I will admit to a certain level of skepticism, even cognitive dissonance, regarding the news stories that Mr. Kerr listed. First of all, his phraseology is quite amusing: “not-very-upbeat bews coming of Iraq these days” makes it seem like the grim news just started recently.
For the love of Bob Barker, the grim news started the moment our forces first launched the “decapitation bombing” that signaled the start of the campaign! This torrent of bad news grinds like a millstone on a news junkie’s mind, and this particular news junkie asks one question: is it always that bad?
There is no news of reconstruction, no news of commerce returning in baby steps in more secure areas of Iraq, no news of how Iraqis’ lives have changed. There is little emphasis on what we replaced and too much emphasis on where we are doing wrong, as if the only acceptable outcome is the perfect one: no more attacks in the streets, no more roadside bombings, no more foreign terrorists killing Iraqis who wish to take responsibility for their own defense, security, and freedom. Maybe when those perfectionist standards are met the media can pay more attention to higher-earning stories domestically, and ignore completely anyway, the rebuilding and humanitarian capacities that our soldiers perform.
Attitudes towards the war are becoming increasingly sour because there is little to no positive reinforcement in the media. I won’t even ascribe liberal bias to their actions, but capitalistic greed. Editors most likely think that no one wants to hear about reconstruction and national rehabilition efforts, and thus not garner enough advertisers to make it worth their while. My bet is that even when things get really peachy in Iraq, heck, if the entire desert turned into amber waves of grain, the media will find something depressing to call newsworthy.
Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?
My caveat in answering this question is that perfect is the enemy of good. With that in mind, a five through twenty year success trend in Iraq will be characterized by the following:
- A democratic or republican government that establishes and follows the rule of law
- A decline in American, Iraqi civilian and Iraqi peacekeeper casualties.
- An increase in the justified, pre-emptive killing of foreign and domestic terrorists, who are caught in the act of mobilizing terror, not through police action, but through Iraqi military action. Prerequisite of this is of course the establishment of a secure, stable, and competent Iraqi Armed Forces.
- An increase in the arrest and prosecution of terrorist conspirators, achieved not through the gestapo methods of Saddam’s Iraq nor that of Saudi Arabia, but through an Iraqi intelligence network that works closely with our own.
- An oil- and water-based economy that can make Iraq self-sufficient and with enough positive growth to minimize foreign debt on a yearly basis while ensuring capital payment over time.
- The presence of secure American military bases in Iraq with a troop deployment geared more towards maintenance and stable security than it is for pursuing foreign threats.
The icing on the cake is the establishment of an Iraqi navy that can help secure the Persian Gulf and further isolate Iran. Further economic icing would for industry outside the dependence on natural resources to develop; although this will happen long after I’m an old man.
So there you have it, my answers to Orin Kerr’s questions. Notes on the superscripts: (1) the true activities of the “united Arab front” are seen in the influx of foreign terrorists from different terrorist-sponsoring nations. They’re sly, they are, knowing that they wouldn’t ever win a head-on war with us. (2) Reactionary terrorist acts have risen outside of the United States. From a purely Machiavellian point, this is a good thing, because none of these attacks are on our nation. However, it is worth noting that there is a rise in terrorism against our allies, and they have either failed, as in the case of Japan and Australia, or succeeded, as in Spain and the Philippines, into swaying allegiances against us. (3) The military campaign was brilliant, but I would be totally cognitively dissonant if I did not admit that the PK operations post-campaign could be improved by higher orders of “better.”