Thursday, October 19, 2006

Proposal on Iraq

Jonah Goldberg's column on the Iraq War is thought-provoking in a way our current debate over the war is not. I don't agree with every word, but I do think that he actually frames the debate properly...
In the dumbed-down debate we're having, there are only two sides: Pro-war and antiwar. This is silly. First, very few folks who favored the Iraq invasion are abstractly pro-war. Second, the antiwar types aren't really pacifists. They favor military intervention when it comes to stopping genocide in Darfur or starvation in Somalia or doing whatever that was President Clinton did in Haiti. In other words, their objection isn't to war per se. It's to wars that advance U.S. interests (or, allegedly, President Bush's or Israel's or ExxonMobil's interests). I must confess that one of the things that made me reluctant to conclude that the Iraq war was a mistake was my general distaste for the shabbiness of the arguments on the antiwar side.

But that's no excuse. Truth is truth. And the Iraq war was a mistake by the most obvious criteria: If we had known then what we know now, we would never have gone to war with Iraq in 2003. I do think that Congress (including Democrats Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Jay Rockefeller and John Murtha) was right to vote for the war given what was known — or what was believed to have been known — in 2003. And the claims from Democrats who voted for the war that they were lied to strikes me as nothing more than cowardly buck-passing.

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction is a side issue. The WMD fiasco was a global intelligence failure, but calling Saddam Hussein's bluff after 9/11 was the right thing to do. Washington's more important intelligence failure lay in underestimating what would be required to rebuild and restore post-Hussein Iraq. The White House did not anticipate a low-intensity civil war in Iraq, never planned for it and would not have deemed it in the U.S. interest to pay this high a price in prestige, treasure and, of course, lives.

According to the goofy parameters of the current debate, I'm now supposed to call for withdrawing from Iraq. If it was a mistake to go in, we should get out, some argue. But this is unpersuasive. A doctor will warn that if you see a man stabbed in the chest, you shouldn't rush to pull the knife out. We are in Iraq for good reasons and for reasons that were well-intentioned but wrong. But we are there.

Those who say that it's not the central front in the war on terror are in a worse state of denial than they think Bush is in. Of course it's the central front in the war on terror. That it has become so is a valid criticism of Bush, but it's also strong reason for seeing our Iraqi intervention through. If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened.

Bush's critics claim that democracy promotion was an afterthought, a convenient rebranding of a war gone sour. I think that's unfair, but even if true, it wouldn't mean liberty isn't at stake. It wouldn't mean that promoting a liberal society in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world wouldn't be in our interest and consistent with our ideals. In war, you sometimes end up having to defend ground you wouldn't have chosen with perfect knowledge beforehand. That's us in Iraq.
I don't know if I agree with Goldberg's contention that the war was a mistake or that we let the Iraqis vote on our presence, but at least he's trying.

The problem right now is that everyone is criticizing the President's course of action in Iraq, but very few (and I'm talking elected or would-be lawmakers) have a concrete plan (or any plan) on what they would do... except a wholesale withdrawal, which does not serve American interests. I see candidates on the left running ads all the time saying "they opposed Bush on Iraq" or "will oppose Bush on Iraq." That's a choice, but it's hardly one that is reassuring.


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