Wednesday, April 23, 2003


Why the Jury is Still Out on the War in Iraq

I was and continue to be a war skeptic, although, like my pro-war friends, I am delighted that Saddam and his Stalinist-style regime have been overthrown. My concern has not been that the U.S. might not win, or that the war would take too long, but rather that the occupation would be very long and difficult, and that the war would unleash a set of unintended consequences that would get the United States into deeper and deeper trouble, destroy our security, fracture our alliances, undermine our moral authority, and ensnare us in many more destructive wars in the future.

The jury is still out on those questions, and indeed, we will not know for some time whether the Bush Administration's strategy was far wiser than I now believe it to be.

In the meantime, when I read stories like the following from today's Washington Post, I am not comforted that our leaders know what they are doing:

As Iraqi Shiite demands for a dominant role in Iraq's future mount, Bush administration officials say they underestimated the Shiites' organizational strength and are unprepared to prevent the rise of an anti-American, Islamic fundamentalist government in the country.

The burst of Shiite power -- as demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands who made a long-banned pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala yesterday -- has U.S. officials looking for allies in the struggle to fill the power vacuum left by the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

As the administration plotted to overthrow Hussein's government, U.S. officials said this week, it failed to fully appreciate the force of Shiite aspirations and is now concerned that those sentiments could coalesce into a fundamentalist government. Some administration officials were dazzled by Ahmed Chalabi, the prominent Iraqi exile who is a Shiite and an advocate of a secular democracy. Others were more focused on the overriding goal of defeating Hussein and paid little attention to the dynamics of religion and politics in the region.

Chou-en-Lai famously responded to the question "Do you think the French Revolution was a success?" with the answer "It's too soon to tell." I think that the same is true of Bush's adventure in remaking the Middle East in America's image. Perhaps we will look back on this moment in history with satisfaction, and view Bush and Rumsfeld and their neoconservative allies as visionaries who saw that America could remake the world into a vibrant garden of democracy with enough military force and enough political will. But I doubt it very much.

And so, I continue to be a war skeptic, and, indeed, I think it important more than ever to call the President and his followers to task for their shortcomings and misjudgments about this war and its aftermath. That sort of criticism, whether made in time of war or in time of peace, is the most crucial to the health of a democracy like ours. If we allow the President simply to do what he thinks best, his thinking may not be the best thinking, and we shall all have to pay for his hubris, for many years to come.


You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.
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