Monday, September 27, 2004

Volokh Conspirator Orin Kerr has posed three questions to bloggers who supported US military intervention in Iraq prior to its commencement. Now, given the ambivalence of my prior support for the war, I may not qualify for his poll, but since I mostly answered all his questions back in April, I thought I'd compile my official response:
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?
To quote myself:
[T]he striking thing about all of the....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....

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 wrote that in April, and I stand by it. The conquest of Iraq had all sorts of enormous benefits--for the US, Iraq, and the world. In focusing exclusively on the current troubles there, antiwar commentators have ignored all the previous troubles: a huge sitting-duck Maginot line guarding a resentful Saudi Arabia against a belligerent northern despot (in between terrorist attacks on its barracks and compounds); regular air patrols--including bombing runs on anti-aircraft installations--to suppress an Iraqi air force bent on slaughtering recalcitrant Iraqis all over the country; a collapsing sanctions regime stoking anti-American feelings in both Europe and the Arab world, while increasing internal Iraqi suffering; and so on and so on and so on. (Remember "rogue nation" Libya?)

If it had been known in 2002 that all of these problems could have been eliminated so cheaply, there would have been no argument at all against the war.
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?
Again, to quote myself, in April:
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.
I'd alter this assessment in only one respect--and that change represents my answer to question 3....
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?
The Iraqi invasion was a success, period. In fact, it was a spectacular success, with many positive effects and very few negative ones. No subsequent events can change that. The management of its aftermath may yet turn out to be a failure, although it would take a great many more major future disasters to turn it into one. At some point, though--and I believe that point has already been reached--blaming future unfortunate developments in Iraq on the initial American military intervention makes about as much sense as blaming them on the invention of fire. The chain of causation may be there, but the myriad oft-unmentioned beneficial consequences overwhelm even the most conspicuous detrimental ones.

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