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Monday, June 12, 2006

Derbyshire Agonistes

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that the original cranky conservative John Derbyshire has issued a mea culpa for supporting the Iraq war. His reasoning?
Did I support the 2003 invasion of Iraq? Yes I did. Do I support the continuing effort to get civil society going in Iraq? No I don’t, and haven’t for over two years. So do I support the war? Well... define “war.”

Let’s start from the fact that the whole thing, taken in one piece—attack plus follow-up nation-building effort—has been a huge negative for the USA. Is there anyone, really, who is glad we did it? Most of my NR colleagues are still talking up the administration’s Iraq policy. It’s hard not to think, though, that if wired up to a polygraph and asked the question: “Supposing you could wind the movie back to early 2003, would you still attack Iraq?” any affirmative answers would have those old needles a-jumping and a-skipping all over the graph paper.

We are stuck there in that wretched place with no way out that would not involve massive loss of geostrategic face. Getting on for 3,000 of our troops have been killed, and close to 20,000 maimed. We’ve spent untold billions of dollars. For what?
Derbyshire, ever the pessimist (or realist, as he would no doubt call himself) believes strongly that nation building is doomed to failure.
One reason I supported the initial attack, and the destruction of the Saddam regime, was that I hoped it would serve as an example, deliver a psychic shock to the whole region. It would have done, if we’d just rubbled the place then left.
All liberals cheering at Derb's "defection" can now sit down.
Far from being seen as a nation willing to act resolutely, a nation that knows how to punish our enemies, a nation that can smash one of those ramshackle Mideast despotisms with one blow from our mailed fist, a nation to be feared and respected, we are perceived as a soft and foolish nation, that squanders its victories and permits its mighty military power to be held to standoff by teenagers with homemade bombs—that lets crooks and bandits tie it down, Gulliver-like, with a thousand little threads of blackmail, trickery, lies, and petty violence.
I don't think the strongest supporter of the war can honestly say that Derb is completely wrong. Maybe if we'd had more boots on the ground immediately after Baghdad fell, maybe if we hadn't foolishly disbanded the Iraqi army, maybe, maybe, maybe things would have turned out differently. But that would have entailed having a Defense Secretary who can admit he doesn't know everything and/or a President strong enough to overrule his Secdef. And we had (and have) neither.
We are not controlling events in Iraq. Events in Iraq are controlling us. We are the puppet; the street gangs of Baghdad and Basra are the puppet-masters, aided and abetted by an unsavory assortment of confidence men, bazaar traders, scheming clerics, ethnic front men, and Iranian agents. With all our wealth and power and idealism, we have submitted to become the plaything of a rabble, and a Middle Eastern rabble at that. Instead of rubbling, we have ourselves been rabbled. The lazy-minded evangelico-romanticism of George W. Bush, the bureaucratic will to power of Donald Rumsfeld, the avuncular condescension of Dick Cheney, and the reflexive military deference of Colin Powell combined to get us into a situation we never wanted to be in, a situation no self-respecting nation ought to be in, a situation we don’t know how to get out of. It’s not inconceivable that, with a run of sheer good luck, we might yet escape without too much egg on our faces, but it’s not likely.The place we are at is surely not a place anyone in 2003 wanted us to be at—not even Vic Davis Hanson.

Since the Iraq war was obviously a gross blunder, is it time for those of us who cheered on the war to offer some kind of apology? Here we are—we, the United States—in our fourth year of occupying that sinkhole, and it looks pretty much like the third year, or the second. Will the eighth year of our occupation, or our twelfth, look any better? I know people who will say yes, but I no longer know any who will say it with real conviction. It’s a tough thing, to admit you were wrong. It’s way tough if you’re a big-name pundit with a reputation to preserve. For those of us down at the bottom of the pundit pecking order, the stakes aren’t so high. I, at any rate, am willing to eat some crow and say: I wish I had never given any support to this fool war.
I wish it were easier for me to argue with this. From Day 0, I supported the war in Iraq on mainly humanitarian grounds. 300,000 bodies in mass graves and the nochalant existence of rape rooms and torture rooms was enough for me. It's not that I didn't care if Saddam had WMD or not, I just didn't think it was necessary that he have them for us to do whatever we could to end his reign of terror.

But if I had known how incompetently this war would be fought, not by the men and women doing the actual fighting, but by the pointy heads in Washington, I don't know how I would have felt. Certainly I continue to believe that a world without Saddam is a better place, but increasingly it feels as though the war in Iraq has become a war on Iraq, and I can't begin to imagine the state of mind of the Iraqi people. A "long, hard slog" is one thing, but as Derbyshire says, our fourth year over there looks much like our third year, or even our second, and that ain't good. And not all of it can be attributed to the media's biased coverage. (Although some of it can.)

I'm not quite yet ready to join Derb in his meal of pate de crow gras, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that the way the Bush administration has conducted this war is highly disturbing, and it's become increasingly difficult to be at all optimistic about the final outcome. That said, I still refuse to agree with Derbyshire's conclusion:
So why am I eating crow? Because I think it was foolish of me to suppose that the administration would act with the punitive ruthlessness I hoped to see. The rubble-and-out approach was not one that this administration, or perhaps any administration in the present state of our culture, would be willing to pursue. The universalist dogmas that rule unchallenged in our media and educational institutions have fixed their grip on our foreign policy, too. When the Founders of our nation said “all men” they had in mind Christian Anglo-Saxon men. Our leaders, though, want to bring the whole world under the scope of those grand Lockeian principles.

Perhaps this will work, or perhaps it won’t. My belief is, and always has been, that it won’t. My fault was in not grasping the scale of the administration’s multiculturalist ambitions. (Of which, to be fair to them, they had given plenty of hints, and even one or two frank declarations of intent.) George W. Bush believes that, to borrow and adjust a line from the colonel in Full Metal Jacket: “Inside every Middle East Muslim there is an American trying to get out.” The effort to stabilize Iraq, and the reluctance to just leave the Iraqis to fight each other among the rubble, followed inevitably from that belief, which is, according to me, a false belief. I see all that now. I didn’t see it then. I am sorry.
I think one of the biggest problems we have is that there are many people in the Bush administration who agree with Derb, including Cheney and Rumsfeld. I don't think either of these men - arguably the two most powerful people in Bush's inner circle - ever had any interest in bringing freedom and/or democracy to Iraq, or any other nation, and in large part, I think that's why we're in the mess we are now. We had a saying in the Army: Proper planning prevents piss poor performance. It's beyond debate that we never properly planned for the post-invasion period in Iraq, and I find it impossible to believe that the fact the neither the Vice President nor the Defense Secretary has the stomach for nation building had nothing to do with that.

Finally, I don't - and never did - believe that inside every Iraqi is an American trying to get out, and as much as I'd like to believe that inside most people is a free person trying to get out, sadly I don't even think that's true of Americans anymore. But I still believe that there is a point at which, as the world's only superpower, America has to look at a situation and say, "Enough. No more." For me, Iraq under Saddam met this standard. And on matters such as these, Europe is unfortunately mostly useless, and the UN is a sick joke, so whether we like it or not, it's us or no one. And, unlike a growing number of Americans, I don't like the idea that it's no one.

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