Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Iraq War: Why It Wasn't a Mistake. Or Was.

While noting that the Bush administration has indeed made some errors, British ex-pat journalist Christopher Hitchens has unapologetically supported the war in Iraq since Day One as a matter of principle.

There is a certain appeal to this even for someone like myself who has not supported the war -- at least since I realized that my president was lying through his teeth in order to justify it. This appeal is because in principle the whole bloody tragic adventure does indeed have praiseworthy aspects even if it is the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. That tends to get lost for most of us in the ongoing Sturm und Drang, but certainly not for Hitch.

His new commentary in Slate focuses on President Bush's September 12, 2002, speech to the United Nations on Iraq (see photo) and how things might have turned out had the U.S. not decided to pretty much go it alone, a decision that in retrospect makes sense if you only consider the U.N.'s fecklessness and the opposition of France and Germany, among other allies.

Recall, however, that Bush's neoconservative brain trust had decided years earlier that the U.S. had to go back into Iraq -- and in all probability would have to go back in alone -- to salvage American honor, instill democracy, and so on and so forth. So, for me there always was a "going through the motions" feel to the diplomacy aspect of the U.S.'s run-up to the invasion, and no matter how stirring the president's speech may have seemed at the time, there was a certain hollowness to it.

Hitchens does not let any of that get in the way of a bit of "what if" revisionism. Nevertheless, he is thought provoking, as always, and concludes with this promise:
Well, if everyone else is allowed to rewind the tape and replay it, so can I. We could have been living in a different world, and so could the people of Iraq, and I shall go on keeping score about this until the last phony pacifist has been strangled with the entrails of the last suicide-murderer.

People who still believe that Saddam Hussein consorted with terrorist groups and had WMDs are breathlessly awaiting the dissemination of 68,000 Saddam era documents captured after the invasion that were released last week by the Pentagon after it initally refused to do so.

Some conservative outlets, including The Weekly Standard and The Conservative Voice, aren't waiting and already are declaring that smoking guns aplenty have been found, although so far the meatiest info vetted concerns Saddam ordering that plans be drawn up for a chemical weapons attack on Kurdish guerrillas in 1987, four years before the first Gulf War.

The documents -- a series of memos between Saddam's office, military intelligence and the army chief of staff -- do not say whether the attack was carried out, although a doctor travelling with the guerrillas has said that there was a mustard gas attack about that time.

Maybe there are indeed smoking guns, but I keep coming back to an inescapable fact:
If there are indeed smoking guns in the documents, why hasn't the White House already seized on them and ordered their release to bolster a case for war that has been largely discredited? These people are masters of spin, push back and all that. Why haven't they used these documents if they're so hot?
By the by, the documents are available here through the Army's Foreign Military Studies Office. Be sure to brush up on your Arabic before you have a look.


Blogger Andrew Sullivan, like Hitchens, has supported the war, but unlike him has found that increasingly hard to justify. The Daily Dish maestro participated in a panel discussion at Columbia University yesterday that included some pretty high-powered people.

Here are excerpts from Andrew's report:

I was out-classed by my fellows: Victor Davis Hanson, Ken Pollack, Joe Klein and Noah Feldman. The crowd was large but not too hostile. The general atmosphere was one of intense sadness at so much incompetence after so much potential. I learned a few things. I was not as aware as I should have been about how much Iran now controls the Ministry of Interior in Iraq; which makes dealing with them all the more necessary. Noah, Ken and I remain at some level befuddled by what can only be called the irrationality of the Bush administration's policies. I'm still amazed that, according to Joe, there are six times as many analysts devoted to China in the D.I.A. as devoted to Iraq. I'm still staggered that, despite insistence from Bush appointees on the ground, the administration refused to provide more troops when they were desperately needed. I still find baffling the enormous gap between the stakes the president enunciated and the casual, on-the-fly, on-the-cheap way in which this war was waged. . . . I have come to the provisional conclusion that it is a function of the president himself. He is interested in the grand idea but utterly bored by its execution. He is also incapable of good management. . . . He seems terribly awkward in the face of complexity and difficulty, of grappling with his own errors, as if he can simply will them away, rather than actually grapple with them.

VDH [Victor Davis Hanson] still won't criticize this administration. His response to every factual elaboration of staggering ineptitude is to point to other wars and larger errors. At this point, the only thing defenders of Rumsfeld can do is direct attention elsewhere or sigh and hope that in the long view, everything will turn out okay. Maybe they will. But it seems to me that the American public is rightly losing patience with this crew - and that itself will affect the war. Patience is essential to pulling through. But is it at all reasonable to expect the American public to be patient with an arrogant, dismissive incompetent like Rumsfeld? . . . If the president wants the country to hang in there, he needs to replace his defense secretary . . . If Iraq needs a national unity government to get through the next three years, then America needs a least a little bit of one itself. Over to you, Mr Bush. Are you serious about winning this war? Or are you still winging it?

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