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Iraq – Agony, Ordeal, and Recovery

IV. Lessons

I supported the removal of Saddam Hussein, because we had not finished the job in 1991 and the UN/U.S. sponsored containment of Saddam was about to dissipate. And while I was critical -- who was not? -- of the conduct of the occupation between 2003-2007, I still supported staying on, both on humanitarian grounds (withdrawal would have doomed the Kurds and those Iraqis invested in the reconstruction) and because the only thing worse for a global power than fighting an unpopular and apparently impossible war was losing one. The troops didn’t vote on their deployment. When they are sent to the front, we have a duty either to ensure they are supported at home or to withdraw them. The worst conduct is to call for their deployment and withdraw support for their mission in mediis rebus -- with the concession that they will probably still be at the front despite political opposition at home.

Note the recent Gallup survey of Americans’ views of the world at large. We hear ad nauseam of anti-Americanism, but the Islamic Middle East should consult these polls: Americans, if the survey is correct, despise the entire region. Well over 70% of the American population does not like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Palestinians, and Syria. Why other than the serial ingratitude? To generalize, we are tired of the tribalism, religious hypocrisy, and intolerance, misogyny, conspiracy theory, cheap anti-Americanism, and anti-Semitism -- as well as the abstract hatred of the U.S. and the concrete conniving to visit and emigrate here. I have traveled the region a lot and won’t go again. Why? I tired of meeting the Westernized” Middle Easterner, in coat and tie, who over lunch starts in with either his conspiracy theory or his Hitlerian hatred of the Jews. Whether in Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, Morocco, Libya, Palestine, Libya, or Tunisia, the experience is always the same.

Do not believe in prewar political consensus. As soon as things become difficult, those who most loudly called for war (of both parties) will most loudly call it quits, and soon deny that they really had ever been for the war.  Any U.S. intervention that incurs over a hundred casualties has a shelf life of about three months; after that, “you did it, not me” is the cultural norm.

Antiwar opposition is mostly a political force of the left, not a principled and consistent antithesis to the use of U.S. power. That means a Democratic president enjoys far more latitude to conduct war. Bill Clinton could bomb Serbia without either congressional or UN approval in a way George Bush could not. Barack Obama, predator-in-chief, did not ask the Congress to go into Libya -- only the Arab League and the UN. Guantanamo was a gulag under Bush and forgotten under Obama. Ditto renditions, tribunals, drones, and preventative detention. For the media, liberals make war only when forced to by bad people and in spite of their greater humanitarianism; conservatives do so willingly and as a reflection of their bloodthirstiness. If Obama preempts in Iran, we will read about the terrible Iranians who forced his hand; had Bush, we would have heard of calls for impeachment.

We are an ahistorical, me-only generation. An Okinawa or Hue does not exist in our memories. War is supposed to proceed like apps on an iPhone. No one knows of the intelligence failures surrounding Pearl Harbor, the near criminally wrong protocols of the B-17 campaign between 1942-3, or the failure to provide our troops with adequate tanks and anti-tank weaponry in World War II.

Going to war is a matter not of avoiding mistakes, but of seeking to correct them as soon as possible. For a postmodern society that knows no history, mistakes must not occur. And when they do, someone else is always to be blamed.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)