Thursday, November 01, 2007

My Iraq war

Recently both Arthur Silber [here, and here]and Chris Floyd have discussed our shared if diffuse responsibility for the possibly impending war with Iran. Unnecessary war number 2 or 3 under George Bush, jr, depending on your point of view I suppose. Of course, I also suppose there still are people who believe all our post 9-11 wars have been wars of necessity, just as there must be people who believe we were attacked because "they hate us for our freedoms."

Also, Dennis Perrin has recently discussed his view of the Iraq war and how it has changed in the past few years[pt 1]. [and part 2 and part 3] I've resisted navel-gazing related to my view of the war for some time, partly because of a certain self-consciousness, but also out of a desire to leave myself out of political posts as much as possible, to offer objective arguments unrelated to my personal history, etc. But now I feel I should also offer an accounting of how I've viewed the Iraq war, then and now, and how I think my Arab-Americanness plays a role in my views.

My last posts discussing it at any length were here, "Saddam's Last Night"(December 2006) and "Leaving Iraq, pt 1"(March 2006). I first discussed my view of the (then pending) Iraq war in early April of 2002 in a BBC forum, which I was surprised to see was still available, here:

Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK Should there be military action against Iraq?

Neither Bush nor the Democrats have the resolve to attack Iraq and see through the consequences of an ouster of Saddam Hussein. Most Americans who may be in favour of Saddam's ouster are unwilling to concede the responsibility to help a post-war Iraq rebuild itself. My impression is that most Americans favour a viscerally rewarding and superficial solution and I fear that we will just bomb the hell out of Iraq's infrastructure and leave her people desolate, with only token, guilt-salving efforts at reconstruction. If we do this we will have made our problems in this region much, much worse. We already seem to be headed in this direction in Afghanistan.
Jonathan Versen, Dallas area, Texas, US

Then in February of 2003 I wrote:

Sunday, February 23, 2003

I would very much like to believe that Bush is serious about liberating the people of Iraq, but I cannot trust him. I don't believe George W. Bush means to liberate the Iraqi people. I believe he means to remove Saddam but keep the Baath party and its apparatus in place, including the secret police. He will betray the Iraqi people just as his father did, while taking credit for their supposed liberation. Why else would Turkey's consent be so important? They can't wait to invade the north and suppress the Kurds. And how can we take Bush seriously as a liberator when he publicly speaks of using nuclear weapons against Iraq?

I am a democrat, not a republican, but if Bob Dole were president and said he wanted to liberate Iraq , I would be willing to believe him. In my eyes George W Bush is unprincipled and untrustworthy-- he only wants to go to war to distract people from our sour economy and our failure to capture Bin Laden.


flash-forward to November 2007: today I wince at much of what I wrote in the early days of my blogging(Feb 2003 was my 2nd month blogging at HZ). And although I think I would be more skeptical about the hypothetical of a Bob Dole in his 2nd term dealing with Saddam, I do think the proposition, tentatively glimpsed, that George Bush the 2nd represented a different kind of Washington oligarch was accurate, one who was blithely unconcerned about the long-term consequences of his actions in a way that was markedly unlike more traditional politicians-- like his father. The somewhat overpraised Iraq study group report from last year reminded us of this difference, as did Junior's disdainful response to it.

But in 2002 and early 2003 the main thing I had to go on was Bush Junior's style(for lack of a better word). I remembered the Chinese spy-plane incident from early 2001 and how you had Colin Powell speaking like a traditional pol, contrasted with GWB shooting his mouth off like a crazy man as if he was trying to escalate the situation(and undermine his secretary of state, sometimes in concert with Cheney). Bush behaved more like a normal president in the fall of 2001 in his initial reaction to 9-11. Whether this was just him in tightly-scripted marionette mode, I suppose we'll never know for sure.

Then 2002 rolled around, and he had to revert to the mean of being George Dubya Bush, and we were treated to the "axis-of-evil" speech. The war in Afghanistan was, what, barely three months old and he was apparently bored with it, and wanted to have another war.

When I wrote my comment in the above-referenced BBC forum, I still hadn't fully grasped just how destructive and different Bush,jr and the neocons were from traditional American oligarchs. I felt certain that whether it was Bush senior's old cronies in the White House dictating the script or just political inertia dictating that things be done the way they'd always been done, that if Saddam was removed from power by Junior, he would've been replaced by a Saddam-clone who was just as brutal to his people but friendlier to Washington. (I imagine a Dole invasion would've been like that too, although I'm also thinking Dole would've been content with the Afghanistan adventure.)

Of course if that happened, all the people who would die in the war, Americans and Iraqis, would've died just so that the US government and Dubya could show the world how tough they were, and life in Iraq would eventually be pretty much the same except for the lifting of sanctions and the no-fly zones.

The figure generally touted for how many deaths were caused by the sanctions regime is approximately 500,000 deaths. (I note we didn't really talk about that in 2002-2003 in the mainstream US press.)

Anyway, going with the 500,000 deaths* figure for 1990-2003: the only argument for war I could see in 2003 was the alleviation of the sanctions, because I believed it was otherwise politically impossible to persuade the American public that the US should just allow the sanctions to be lifted and not worry about Saddam. In other words, the only rational argument I could see for the war was,

"Look: you Americans are profoundly racist or misinformed or naive, or some dank mixture of all three, and there's seemingly no overcoming that. Since you want this disgusting, stupid war and your revenge on the Arabs, at least after you win and destroy Iraq you'll feel guilty and lift the damn sanctions and in terms of lives saved in the conquered postwar, post-sanctions Iraq, eventually, the war will mean fewer net deaths, as opposed to say, the alternate of maintaining the sanctions for another 20 or 30 years(??!) and not having a war. Maybe."

I wanted to write something like that in 2003 but felt ill at ease doing so, even anonymously.** Now, I recognized that using that sort of rhetoric can only serve to antagonize people. Additionally, it's something I would like to believe is not actually true, or at least only true of a disreputable subgroup. Even today I'd like to believe isn't true, although many things that have happened since then makes me feel as if the national debate is coarsening, and various genies are being encouraged to leave their bottles. I will post some additional thoughts about this subject in a couple of days.

*and actually that's per the Lesley Stahl interview with Madeline Albright in 1999, so it's really for 1990-99, come to think of it.

(**I was signing myself just as"Hugo" 1.2003--7.2005)

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