pragueBlog

2003-08-06  

First read Scott MacMillan's new post in which he reviews a Slate article on the perils of nation building. Scott himself predicts that we'll stay in Iraq only long enough to whack Saddam and see out the next election, after which we'll pack up and leave them to their own devices. My comments below are to his post.

As pessimistic scenarios go, it's certainly plausible and very well elucidated (as usual).

I have a few qualifiers:

1. The title of the article refers to the author of a book who "knew Iraq would go to pot...." Well, it hasn't gone to pot - yet. Remember a week or two ago all the blog posts about all the good news and progress in Iraq that is (almost deliberately) not being reported. It's WAY too soon to make any judgments on the success or failure of the post war period in Iraq. The received wisdom among the war's opponents just a few months after its end that it's going badly or has already failed smacks more than a little bit of being a wish. "I told you so" arguments are diluted a bit anyway by the aim of the arguer to cover him or herself in glory.

What's the standard for success? Zero casualties absolutely? How realistic is that? What about the process of putting institutions and infrastructure back in place where what came previously was unusable (run by Baathist party members) or had deteriorated badly (just about any utility infrastructure you care to name)? If we had twice as many men there from the beginning and planned twice as well in advance, I doubt the process of setting Iraq on its feet much less securing the peace would be completed so soon after the fall of Baghdad.

That said, I haven't read the book. But if he's arguing that he's got some kind of benchmark to tell you if you're managing to pull off your nation building project or not, I would say it's a pretty good idea for a book and would make an interesting discussion over coffee.

2. Does the "more troops = fewer casualties" theory apply to the war period or aftermath or both? If our casualties were only a few hundred out of a quarter million, I don't see how increasing that to half a million would have reduced it further. A lot of those were from accidents and friendly fire. Doubling the size of the army would increase things like that, would it?

3. The Democrats are not urging more commitment in Iraq not because they're worried about worrying the voters, but simply because they have smelled weakness in the form of the WMD issue and they're gnawing away at it like a hungry dog with a bone. In election politics, this is going to go down as one of the greatest ever cases of taking the eyes off the ball. Bush is actually vulnerable on lots of other things like the deficit and unemployment, the shady dealings of Enron and Worldcom and etc. Are the Democrats saying anything? The answer's no or they need new press officers.
The American voters are not quite so delicate as they think - the Dems should be fighting on the economy as well as even greater application of American power in the war against terror.

4. For me, the most troubling aspect to all this emerges when you look behind these arguments against nation building. Nation building is an ex post facto problem, the facto being War. The war had to be fought and won first. If you want to argue that the administration's post war policy is not far sighted or committed or well thought out enough, and the purpose behind that argument is to increase pressure on the administration to step up and do more, I'm behind that all the way. If, however, the motivating force behind the argument is that we should never have gone to war with Iraq in the first place, then let me off the bus.

Your comment in replying to my post from a couple of weeks ago (that I keep meaning to respond to and never manage) was "Iraq: Do it right or don't do it all." In conscience, I can't accept any scenario in which the absolute moral justification for the removal of the regime isn't admitted as a first principle. There are a whole host of other issues. But how is it possible that the human rights victory has drifted so far out of the picture? The simple fact is that Saddam is out of power, his sons are dead, and he will be soon.

My version of your campaign slogan is "Iraq: Do it. Do it right, but do it."

I do strongly recommend this piece by that (marxist) professor at Manchester Norman Geras that got a lot of attention a week or so ago. It perfectly captures for me the moral dangers inherent in opposing the war policy in Iraq, and nicely illuminates how the whole of the anti-war movement on the left betrayed its most essential core values in opposing Bush simply for the sake of opposing him. (NB this guy's blog is about two weeks old. As a result of that one post he was linked to by virtually all of the principal bloggers out there and apparently had immediate and massive traffic. I notice him mentioning today that he's being interviewed by nationally syndicated radio shows now. Thus the power of the blogosphere continued to grow...)

Steve | 18:53 |
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