October 22, 2005

A RATHER RUDE ANTIWAR READER challenges me to admit that the Iraq invasion has produced a quagmire. This seems like an odd time to be claiming that given the recent elections, but I'll just endorse this statement from Kevin Drum:

In other words, democracy is nice eventually but the bigger issue is kicking over the status quo in the Middle East and forcing change. And the hawks would argue that this is happening. Slowly and fitfully, to be sure, but let's count up the successes so far: Iraq and Afghanistan are better off than before, Libya has given up its nuke program, Lebanon's Cedar Revolution is a sign of progress, Egypt has held a more open election than any before it, and the Syrian regime is under considerable pressure.

Did the invasion of Iraq precipitate these changes? I think the hawks considerably overstate their case, but at the same time they do have a case. Even if Iraq is a mess, it might all be worthwhile if it eventually produces progress toward a more open, more liberal Middle East. At the very least, it's an argument that needs to be engaged.

I think the critics overstate their case, and rather consistently ignore the good news that Kevin notes. My anonymous emailer thinks that U.S. casualties are proof of a quagmire. That's an odd formulation, since it means that any war in which troops are killed, which means pretty much any war generally, is a quagmire. There's no question that some antiwar folks think that's true, but pardon me if I'm unimpressed with that argument. (What I said here in 2003 about antiwar folks being disappointed that things had gone so well seems to remain true, as people keep making every effort to portray Iraq as Vietnam). Saddam's on trial, Iraqis are counting ballots, and as noted above we seem to have shaken things up -- though I'd argue not enough yet -- throughout the mideast.

If Bush's effort here fails, it won't be because the antiwar critique of bloodthirstiness and warmongering is correct. It will be because Bush hasn't been vigorous enough in toppling governments and invading countries in the region. What happens with Syria in the next little while may answer that question. (And don't miss this).

In the meantime, this piece by Jim Bennett from 2003 is also worth reading again. It has certainly proved prescient -- just read the last paragraph.

UPDATE: Reader Fernando Colina emails:

One of the indications that the war may be going much better than the MSM would want it to is the Miers controversy in the right. At critical points in the course of the war I suspect that most conservatives would have let the Miers thing go relatively unchallenged because of overriding national interest. Not any more.

For years, the left has been focusing on domestic issues and has wished the war to go away; well, maybe it's about to and the right is now refocusing on spending, the border and the supremes. The game has changed.

I think that's probably right.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Stuart Williamson emails:

Quagmire is one of those ominous-sounding words that negativists apply blindly to any minor reversal or static situation. A quagmire is like a quicksand, into which you are steadily sucked down to death. That is certainly not the situation in Iraq and the Middle East generally. The truth is the exact reverse. The Arab peoples are slowly, slowly being raised out of the bog of despotism. Iraq is not even a stalemate: the forces of democracy are gaining, painfully slowly, but steadily. The best parallel is a wrestling match, with
the coalition gradually pinning their weakening opponents to the mat. Anyone who uses "quagmire" in a critical sense can be immediately dismissed as blindly anti-war and beyond reasoned response.

Indeed. Plus, people were declaring a "quagmire" by this time in 2001, suggesting that they're both unduly negative, and anxious to be so.

More here and here.