The glow is off the rose. Look, no serious represenative of the left in this debate is gloating at the failure of Bush Administration policy in Iraq. No one wants to see our boys killed and maimed; nor does anyone want to see all the Iraqi casualities of the postwar period. But we have to face facts and admit that we are failing and figure out what we’re going to do about it. That was the theme of Charlie Rose’s September 4, 2003 show, Postwar Iraq: How is it Going?, one of his more dramatic and incisive recent programs. It featured Fouad Ajami of the Johns Hopkins University and Jessica Tuchman Matthews, president of the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace.
I’ve heard Ajami many times on this program and always admired his forthrightness and good common sense in discussing throny and difficult issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I had no idea that, barring a few minor cavils over Administration policy, he supported the Bush Iraq policy hook, line and sinker. It was a sad discourse on his side. Basically, the thread of his argument was that things aren’t going well now, but we have to stay the course. If we don’t, then we will look like fools to the rest of the world and especially to the Arab world. In that case, we will never be able to have serious influence in Arab capitals again if we ‘cut and run.’ When Rose asked him why we shouldn’t leave Iraq now, Ajami’s reply was: “We simply won’t do it. It’s a preposterous idea.” So much for serious intellectual debate!
Matthews’ position was much more nuanced and well-reasoned in my opinion. She believes that we have lost the possibility of succeeding at the Iraqi postwar reconstruction and trasition to democracy which we’d hoped to accomplish. The bombings of the UN compound tell us that possibly even the UN is no longer viewed as an honest broker. Therefore, the Bush Administration attempt to broker a Security Council resolution that might draw our former adversaries on this issue (France, Germany, etc.) into participation in the Occupation is no longer viable. It is time to consider our exit strategy.
Think of all the prewar rationales we no longer hear about (except from the unrepentant Bill O’Reilly types):
1. Sadaam developed weapons of mass destruction
2. An opportunity to destroy a state that is a direct physical threat to the U.S.
3. Create democracies throughout the Arab world
4. Transform Iraq from failed state into economically thriving, democratic state
5. Direct Hussein-Al Qaeda links to 9/11
Each of these neocon rationales has been discredited or simply unproven. This in turn discredits the entire purpose of the war and undermines any reason for going on.
Matthews argues that in making war on Iraq our goal was to dismantle a ‘terrorist state’ and instead we have created one where none existed before. In this postwar period, every Islamic militant and terrorist in the world seeks to converge on Iraq to kill the infidel Americans. Before the war, these extremists had no such ‘focus’ to their worldwide propaganda and recruitment efforts. We’ve handed them the best recruitment tool they could hope for.
The Bush argument that sticks deepest in my craw is the contention that it is actually a good thing that U.S. armed forces are now facing Arab terrorism in Iraq because otherwise we’d be facing them here on our shores. This is a preposterous and borderline idiotic argument. Our boys are being killed in Iraq because we’ve sent them on a fool’s errand. Sadaam Hussein may have hated the U.S. before the war, but he never participated in 9/11 and I haven’t even seen evidence that he’s participated in any anti-U.S. terrorist conspiracy since the attempt on George Bush senior’s life in Kuwait in the 1990s. Now, we’ve taken a state that was bad, horribly managed, totalitarian but not an overt fomentor of terrorism against us; and transformed it into the greatest breeding ground in the world for such hatred. It’s quite an accomplishment and one for which George Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Don Rumsfeld deserve all the credit.
All of George Bush’s professed good intentions conveyed in speeches before the war, reminds me of those great Graham Greene novels of the 1950s like the Quiet American, which deal with westerners in the third world who come with the best of intentions and leave having wrought unmitigated havoc.
Wolfowitz, Kristol and the neocons based their plans for Iraq on their theories (some would say ‘fantasies’) rather than the actual reality of the country itself. We based our pre- and postwar policies on our own assumptions of what we wanted to happen. These folk didn’t take into account that the Iraqi people (and certainly the militants themselves) had differing views. How could we possibly think we knew what was best for Iraq when almost no government operatives knew anything about Iraq, its culture, its religions, history and language. This is sure a danagerous way to make a policy.
To hear the show, go to Charlie Rose Show archives, search for the Sept. 4th program, and click ‘listen.’