Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ten Years After

James Fallows has been writing about Bush's invasion of Iraq as its tenth anniversary approaches, and yesterday he posted some comments from his readers.  This one startled me: Alan Thomas, a guy who says he's "proud to be known as a liberal hawk."  He was profiled in the Washington Post, for whom he says he "filled the role of token leftist."  (That tells you something about corporate media's approach to the war, doesn't it?  They found a leftist who favored the invasion, and apparently figured that was enough diversity.)

His take on the coming invasion was also interesting, for a leftist:
The United States, Thomas says, "should clean up the world. We have the power.  I'm kind of a weirdo. It's wrong for us to sit on our hands and not do anything."
Bear in mind, he thought George W. Bush was going to "clean up the world."  Of course the US has been claiming to do that all along, and we've only made it dirtier.  Thomas told the WaPo that he was going to be on the alert for human rights violations.  "'If Bush tries to install a puppet dictator or if there are human rights violations, I'll be decrying it as loudly as anyone else on the left,' he said."

Ten years later, Thomas is unrepentant, having come up with new reasons for the war.  He wrote to Fallows:
Honestly, although my personal motive had to do with human rights ..., I think just the assassination attempt on Bush 41 is plenty all by itself--what kind of country are we if we let another country's leader pull something like that with impunity?

I have trouble understanding why you think it's so obvious now that the liberal hawks were wrong.  Maybe circa 2006 it looked that way, but aren't Iraqis better off today than they would be if Saddam (or his sons) still had a grip on power?
Ah, the assassination attempt on Bush 41.  That was only taken seriously at the time by Bill Clinton (who bombed Iraq in 1993, ostensibly in retaliation for it), and perhaps by Dubya himself.  It didn't play much of a role in the campaign of lies Bush-Cheney and their collaborators waged to justify the war, perhaps because the story had been mostly discredited.  Now it hasn't a leg to stand on: the invaders found no evidence in the records of Saddam's regime that it had ever happened.

The US has also attempted to assassinate foreign heads of state, notably Fidel Castro.  Does Alan Thomas wonder what kind of country Cuba is if they let another country's leaders pull something like that off with impunity?  Surely an invasion with some regime change is long overdue.

As for whether Iraqis are better off today with Saddam gone, that's hard to answer.  Many Iraqis don't think so.  It's certainly not for an American, scrambling to justify his support for the war, to say.

By an interesting coincidence, a writer at the Guardian today, Nick Cohen, defended his own support of the war.
Every few months a member of the audience at a meeting I am addressing asks whether I regret supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein ... I reply that I regret much: the disbanding of the Iraqi army; a de-Ba'athification programme that became a sectarian purge of Iraq's Sunnis; the torture of Abu Ghraib; and a failure to impose security that allowed murderous sectarian gangs to kill tens of thousands.

For all that, I say, I would not restore the Ba'ath if I had the power to rewind history. To do so would be to betray people who wanted something better after 35 years of tyranny. If my interrogators' protesting cries allow it, I then talk about Saddam's terror state and the Ba'ath's slaughter of the "impure" Kurdish minority, accomplished in true Hitlerian fashion with poison gas.
And, he might have added, with the support of the Reagan administration, who supplied Saddam's regime with the materials to produce that poison gas, and protected him from any consequences.   In 1983 Reagan's special envoy Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad to shake Saddam's hand and assure him of America's continued support, no matter what he did to the Kurds.

Cohen tries to insinuate that anyone who still thinks the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea must miss Saddam and wish he was still in power.  This is absurd, because the principled opponents of the invasion had always opposed Saddam and criticized the US and Britain for supporting him.  It's an astoundingly dishonest performance, repellent in its disregard for history.
If Bush was against dictatorships, Obama would "reset" relations with Russia and Iran and treat them as partners. The failure of his initiatives never deters him. Despite his efforts, Russia remains a mafia state and Iran remains a foul theocracy determined to acquire the bomb. Their peoples, naturally, are restive. Russians demonstrate against Putin's rigged elections. The Iranian green movement tries to overthrow the mullahs. But Obama and the wider tribe of western liberals have little to say to them.
In the real world, Bush was never against dictatorships: he was quite comfortable with Mubarak in Egypt and with the Saudi regime, for two obvious examples.  Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program as far as anyone -- certainly not Cohen -- knows. and Obama was threatening war against Iran as long ago as 2007.  Cohen says that "Arab liberals now want nothing to do with the supposed leader of the world's liberal left," but says nothing about Obama's efforts to keep Mubarak in power, or his support for the Saudi and Bahraini regimes.

I can't speak for everyone on the left or everyone who opposed Bush II's invasion, of course, but I have no sympathy for Saddam and would not want him restored to power.  But I think he could have been removed from power much sooner and with less horrific human cost if the US had simply let him fall, instead of propping him as we did consistently until we decided to take him out.  There were always Iraqis who opposed Saddam and favored democracy and Iraq.  Not surprisingly, the US wasn't interested in them; when the time came we chose a thoroughly corrupt huckster as our official Iraqi-in-exile.  Bush did not intend to allow elections in the new regime: only huge nonviolent demonstrations by Iraqis forced him to permit them to take place -- and then he ignored the results.  The last thing the US government was ever interested in was a democratic Iraq.