Monday, April 26, 2004

Apparently, in the wake of the recent troubles in Iraq, at least one conservative supporter of the American campaign there has developed doubts about the administration's handling of the Iraq campaign's aftermath. Three bloggers have cried foul in response, arguing (in Matthew Yglesias' words) that
When George W. Bush is president and is advocating a war and you, too, are advocating for war, then the fact of the matter is that you are advocating that the war be conducted by George W. Bush. That Bush would botch things was a perfectly predictable consequence of said support, based on--among other things--the fact that he'd botched everything else he'd ever done.
Or, as Kieran Healy puts it,
[S]upporters of the war can’t run away from the problems of its aftermath just because they personally might have done things differently, because frankly anyone who knew anything about both the Bush administration and the complexities of a war in Iraq could have predicted that it was going to be a mess.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that it "proves too much". After all, numerous opponents of the Iraq war complained that it would waste too many soldiers' lives, while provoking massive worldwide hostility to America and neglecting the effort to eradicate Al Qaida. Surely, though, those opponents must have known that this administration would have found ways to get troops killed while alienating world opinion and falling down on the anti-terrorism job, even had it not chosen to target Iraq. Shouldn't they have been thankful, then, that at least the war in Iraq would topple a horrible dictator in the process?

A more reasonable discussion of the pros and cons of the Iraq campaign, I think, needs to be independent of whether the Bush administration can be assumed a priori to be evil and/or incompetent. And the striking thing about all of the aforementioned retrospective assessments of the war is their astonishing level of collective amnesia. The remarkably short, painless, casualty-free conduct of the military campaign itself has apparently now reached the status of an a priori given, and its effectiveness is therefore currently understood to be best measured by the state of Iraq's transition into peaceful, united, democratic statehood.

Now, there's no doubt that some supporters of the Iraq war have set themselves up for failure by creating absurdly optimistic expectations for Iraq's miraculous metamorphosis from fascist hellhole to democratic role model. But that's no excuse for the rest of us to live in their dreamworld. Iraq is, and most likely will continue to be, a far better place for Saddam Hussein's having been toppled. To be dissatisfied at the lack of more spectacular progress there is to embrace the neocons' own fantasies of democratic transformation--a rather poor position from which to critique them.

If one starts from my initial position, however--that is, sincere ambivalence about a risky, potentially catastrophic military incursion with the sole goal of ousting a horrible, dangerous military dictator--then the whole project looks markedly better in retrospect than it did at the outset. It's true that no "weapons of mass destruction" have been found--although few doubt that a chemical weapons program would have been easy for Saddam to reconstitute, given that he had had a highly successful one in the past. On the other hand, the strongest argument against the war--the largely unuttered "body bags" argument", envisioning a long, drawn-out, horribly bloody campaign involving thousands of civilian and military deaths--turned out in the end to have been completely contradicted by events.

I've already made it clear numerous times that I consider the grand effort to democratize Iraq to be naively optimistic. And I suppose it's possible that by hanging around for long enough, the American army could ultimately damage its country's strategic position enough to undo its spectacular victory in Iraq. But to declare the current circumstances there a disaster based on a little continued unrest is to lose track of the recent history of that troubled country--which about a year ago experienced, despite a few bumps since, a truly wonderful upturn in its fortunes, thanks to its friends from the United States of America.

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