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Fine, Have it Your Way (In Iraq) October 27, 2006

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy.

There is plenty of room for reasonable debate on strategy in Iraq:  Whatever we do or could have done, destroying wealthy tyrranies and building stable democracies in cultures and countries that seem ill-disposed to them is costly, risky business.  Given the resources at stake — both in terms of the cost of our military operations and in terms of the value of a democratic, oil-rich, Muslim country — it is worth constantly reevaluating our course of action.

But nothing excuses the left’s revisionist and hypocritical assault on the United States’ role in Iraq.  On the war to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime, plenty of other pundits have contrasted Democratic politicians’ criticism now with their complicity then in the assessment that Saddam posed such a serious threat to American security that war was justified.

Less attention has been paid to the many liberals who believe things would be better now if we had left Saddam in power.  James Taranto today, following Hans Blix’s latest emanations on the subject, notes:

Blix is not the first to say that things would be better if Saddam Hussein still ruled Iraq. But if he and others really believe this, why don’t they advocate restoring Saddam to power, or at least employing Saddam-like methods to bring the situation closer to the supposedly preferable status quo ante?

Remember the furor over nude human pyramids at the Abu Ghraib prison?  If our Western conscience can’t even bear that, how can we countenance pundits’ nostalgia for Hussein’s notoriously brutal torture and murder of millions of Iraqis?  Just because he made the trains run on time?

Indeed, as Taranto suggests, if liberals are willing to tolerate human rights abuses I am certain our own military could impose order on Iraq with much less torture than Saddam ever used.


1. federalist - November 26, 2007

Shelby Steele has an important essay today expounding the difficulties unique to “Wars of Discipline,” like that in Iraq, as opposed to “Wars of Survival,” like the World Wars.

[M]oral authority is the single greatest challenge of American foreign policy. This is especially so in wars of discipline, wars fought far away and for abstract reasons. We argue for such wars as if they were wars of survival because we want the moral authority that comes so automatically to them. But Iraq is a war of discipline, and no more. If we left Iraq tomorrow there would be terrible consequences all around, but we would survive.

Our broader war against terror, on the other hand, is a war of survival. And it is rich in moral authority. September 11 introduced necessity and, in its name, we have an open license to destroy that stateless network of terrorism that attacked us. America is not divided over this. It was Iraq — a war of discipline — that brought us division. This does not mean that the Iraq war is invalid. Ultimately, it may prove to be a far more important war in preserving a balance of power favorable to America than our war against al Qaeda.

The point is that wars of discipline will always have to be self-consciously fought on a moral as well as a military front. And the more we engage the moral struggle, the more license we will have to fight these wars as wars of survival. In other words, our military effectiveness now requires nothing less than a smart and daring brinkmanship of moral authority.

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