Monday, February 19, 2007


Should we "Win" in Iraq?

The news this morning from Iraq is that although things are still going badly in Baghdad things are looking up in Anbar Province. It is reported that tribal leaders there have switched sides and are now cooperating with American troops and are fighting against the Al Qaeda fighters. Last night on the CBS Program 60 MINUTES one segment dealt with Kurdistan. Kurdistan, a separate region of Iraq, is peaceful and prosperous. Kurds love Americans. Soon, perhaps, trans-oceanic air flights will ply between an airport in the local capital and New York.

I believe the 60 Minutes story. I like to believe the story about Anbar Province, but I know it could also be a planted story by the Bush Administration. But, assuming that all this good news is real, I began to think about the implications. What if Bush's war turns out well for us after all? Will I be happy?

One of my conservative friends, H, accuses me of having such a strong hatred of George W. Bush that I want his adventure in Iraq to fail. At first I simply dismissed such an accusation as an example of H's intemperance and extreme partisanship. Now, I have to admit that he is at least partly right. I do want the adventure in Iraq to fail because success in Iraq would teach the American people the wrong lesson. It would teach them (us, actually) that our military might makes us able to impose our will wherever we choose to impose it. It reinforces the American myth of our moral purity. We are "always right" and we are strong enough to enforce our benevolence on any part of the world that we choose. Victory in Iraq means that it is all right for us to invade Iran and impose our will there. Victory in Iraq feeds our hubris, our sense of virtue and correctness. We will have an empire but it will be a benevolent empire, not like the British, French, and Spanish empires of recent history or the Roman, Greek, and Persian empires of antiquity. We are different from all previous people; we are virtuous, generous, benevolent, brave, powerful, and good.

If, by some miracle, we "win" in Iraq and install a government there that is friendly to us and that at least seems to be democratic, it will indicate to me, at least, that the gods are preparing for our ultimate destruction. To destroy a people, according to the ancient Greeks, the gods first make them insane. Reinforcing our belief in our own invincibility as well as our virtue will make us completely lose track of reality. We will become insane and easy pickings for the gods who would destroy us.

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Liberals have so much political capital invested in losing in Iraq, they cannot seriously think about winning. Remember how Bush was criticized for not thinking through the occupation phase of Iraq? Proper criticism, I think. What liberal today thinks through abandoning Iraq and tells us what they expect to happen. None. The sole strategy is to cause failure and then blame all that ensues upon Bush. They won't cut funding, because that would make blame obvious. But if just enough constraints can be applied to guarantee failure indirectly, that would be perfect.

The argument that winning would just induce hubris fails completely once human rights are considered. Concepts like democracy, a free press, and freedom from tyranny are not concepts of US imperialism, they are human rights codified by the UN, and accepted by most Liberals and most Conservatives. The notion that despots should be able to rule undisturbed is something from the divine right of kings. It is medieval, not progressive.
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