One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that its always better to acknowledge your weaknesses and address them head-on. Consequently, I can’t flinch when I acknowledge the fact that in the short and medium term, the United States invasion of Iraq has been a disaster. Too many lives have been lost. Too much international goodwill spent. Too much money wasted. Too much divisiveness within our own country.
Even acknowledging that however, I believe that the United States invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein was an unfortunate, necessary step in the establishment of a post-cold war world order. The implementation of this action has been ham-handed and incompetent and has resulted in the diminishment of the United States’ world stature. Sloppy execution does not negate my belief in the necessity of the underlying act however.
The next article in this survey will discuss in detail why I think the Iraq invasion was justified and necessary. First however, without going into great detail, I want to address some of the multitude of reasons which other people have used to justify the Iraq invasion. At best, I viewed some of these justifications as complement to my primary reason for supporting the invasion.
The events of September 11, 2001 awoke the United States from its post-Cold War slumber. As might be expected from someone who is awoken suddenly, we were startled, we were frightened and we were angry. We awoke with a bloody lip and no real understanding of why we had received it.
We found ourselves fighting a “war on terror.” Our initial response was to invade Afghanistan. Even today, this was a very supportable decision. Afghanistan was a failed state led by a radical government. That government was providing safe-harbor to the organization that was responsible for the attacks. The United States intention to invade Afghanistan for the purposes of overthrowing the Taliban, capturing Al-Qaeda leadership and imposing democracy for the Afghan people was supported by much of the world.
Iraq was the harder case of course. The fall of 2002 seems so long ago now. Pro and anti-war elements were beginning to divide the country but the unity of 9/11 still masked most of the fissure. Take a moment to review this Pew Public Opinion Polls on the Iraq War taken in October of 2002, several months prior to the invasion and just before the 2002 elections.
In hindsight, its become clear that the critics of the invasion were right about a great many things, both in regards to the reasons for invasion and the prosecution of the war. As an American, I accept their foresight on many of these issues and applaud those people that voice their disapproval of the war from the beginning. You have a great many strong arguments on your side.
As to the status of those programs in 2002 I had no real reason for disbelieving the information conveyed through the Bush Administration. I’d like to believe that we were not purposefully deceived by our President. I think that the Bush Administration wanted there to be an existing WMD program so much that their decision making process was skewed and single-minded. They were so determined to make a case to the public that invading Iraq was necessary that not all points of view were properly considered.
Ultimately, its become clear that Iraq’s previous stocks of chemical and biological weapons had been destroyed following the Gulf War. The UN regime enforced by the United States had effectively prevented the re-establishment of that program. Invading Iraq to rid them of WMD was the wrong choice.
The incompetence of the Bush Administration is one area where I completely agree with the opponents of the invasion. At the beginning of the Iraq invasion, I believe that the Bush Administration had convinced itself that, as a result of 9/11, the United States had overcome the Somalia Syndrome. In fact, I don’t believe that we had. I believe that Donald Rumsfeld’s failed strategy of using less troops was a product of the fear of the loss of American life. A product of the fear that once things got difficult public opinion would turn. As a result of the tactics used, the prosecution of the war and the rebuilding of Iraq has been a total failure to date. This I fully admit.
Prior to the invasion, I did not understand the history of Iraq as well as I should have. I did not understand the depth of the division between shia and sunni. Between Arab and Kurd. I didn’t comprehend the potential for internal strife and civil war. Unfortunately, neither did the Bush Administration.
The Bush Administrations failure to understand these divisions played a significant role in the resulting civil war which raged in Iraq in late 2006 and early 2007. Maybe it was only the brink of civil war. Maybe it was only sectarian violence combined with foreign terrorists and gang violence. I guess I don’t really care what you call it. It was what it was. It is hard to calculate exactly how many Iraqi’s have died as a result of the invasion and resulting violence. No matter how you count it or what you call it, however Iraqi civilian deaths are very, very high.
I understand that my position is unusual. I acknowledge that a lot of mistakes were made in the Iraq invasion. That the United States reputation has been damaged. That too many people have died. That my own judgment on the merits of the Iraq invasion had holes in it.
After all this then, how can I write that I still support the initial decision to invade?
First, as I wrote above, I convinced myself, as part of my decision to support the war, that it might be a long occupation and that there might be difficult periods. What has actually happened is just about the worst case that I envisioned. I have definitely questioned my support for the invasion and there have been many times where my support for continued prosecution of the war has wavered. Even though I had steeled myself to expect a long, difficult war I have found that I was unable to be without doubt.
Second, as I’ll explain in the next article, I believe that the reasons underlying my support for the war are still defensible today. The continued problems that we are experiencing in Iraq take the sheen off of my argument. An argument can be made that they now outweigh the good that I believed could be achieved through the invasion. I don’t believe that that is the case however.
|Articles In This Series:|
|Part 1: Introduction|
|Part 2: The Wrong Reasons to Support the Iraq Invasion|
|Part 3: Invading Iraq Was the Correct Choice|
|Part 4: America Must Remain Motivated to Engage the World|
|Part 5: The United States Has the Means to Lead the World|
|Part 6: The 2008 Election is a Historical Inflection Point: Will the U.S. Change Direction?|