The Limits of Limey-Bashing: A Response to the Response

We’ve got ourselves a donnybrook, folks. So let’s get it on!

“HW seems to be arguing that the debacle in Iraq can be laid at the feet of shifting war aims, the corollary of which suggests that a modest war merely to remove (or otherwise disable) the Baathist regime and neutralize any nuclear threat would have been possible or morally acceptable. I could not have supported such a war.”

That my right honourable friend could not have supported such a war isn’t really the issue. The “debacle” in Iraq is considered a “debacle” by Americans and the world because America staked its victory and reputation on there being a peaceful, democratic and united Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. To suggest that Americans or anyone else would care whether Sunni and Shiite Iraqis set about slaughtering each other had the war aims not been changed strikes me as humanitarian wishful thinking. A modest war to remove the Baathist regime was indeed possible. The stated aim of the war was regime change. That’s what happened.

“It is common sense that if the regime is toppled it is axiomatic that those who do the toppling inherit a great deal of responsibility to sort out a post-toppling political order.”

Common sense to whom? The moment after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the anti-war left demanded the immediate withdrawal of coalition forces, responsibility be damned. Beyond eliminating a threat to international peace and security why should it be assumed the force that eliminated that threat should further meddle in a country’s internal affairs? Is Ethiopia responsible for Somalia’s post-Islamist order? Many Somalis don’t seem to think so.

“So it was inevitable that any war aim that includes the toppling of one regime would require us to put another, nominally democratic, regime in its place.”

I don’t agree at all. Besides which, nowhere is it written that you have to keep Iraq a unified state or stake victory on the establishment of a specific post-invasion order.

“Rather, the critical question surrounding the democracy rationale for war against Hussein is whether it is ever a good idea to take up arms for the purpose of extending democratic governance to a land that has not known it.”

Democratization was not the rationale for war. And so it was not the argument that I addressed. As to the question, I think it’s a tremendously “good idea,” in theory, to take up arms against tyrants – that’s what they deserve. Tyranny is a bad idea and so should be resisted. But is it a “good idea” for an outside actor in terms of self-interest? It depends how immediately troublesome that tyranny was to your security and prosperity.

“On the matter of feasibility I think it is feasible to impose democratic governance on a foreign nation.”

It’s feasible to impose any type of governance on a foreign nation, as long as you’re willing to pay the price and crush all resistance.

“Furthermore, HW contends that the war aims were largely accomplished – (”Saddam Hussein was removed from power, the infrastructure of his regime and military was destroyed and his threat to the security of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Gulf States was eliminated, along with his ambitions to secure nuclear weapons and sponsor terrorist attacks. Of course, a further outcome was the power vacuum created in Iraq, but that’s irrelevant to “victory” as defined here.”) . This strikes me as absurd. (Though HW took care to couch “victory” in quotation marks.)”

The war aims were indeed accomplished. The threat of Hussein was eliminated.

“The Hussein regime is gone and it will not come back, but to claim that the resulting power vacuum is “irrelevant” to the previously cited war aims of securing Saudi Arabia, Israel, or the Gulf States seems to me fallacious. The prospect of intra-Muslim violence within countries across the region is heightened by the escalating sectarian bloodshed within Iraq. Furthermore, the Sunni dictatorships that America has traditionally considered friends are imperiled by the rise of a Shia crescent with Iran at the fore. And can all of this really be considered an advantage to Israeli’s security? (Is there any doubt that Hezbollah was emboldened to take provocative actions this summer by the shifting balance of power in the region?)”

Sunni Arab regimes are quite capable of crushing any potential Shia insurgencies, given that they are not constrained by the same concern for delicacy that applies to western nations. Given the choice between confronting potential ethnic discord or an emboldened Saddam Hussein, I think it’s a pretty safe bet which way most Arab sheiks will go. The Shia are a tiny minority of the Muslim world. There’s no guarantee that the Shiite factions will even win in Iraq – the Sunni militias and their backers can keep them tied down in a civil war for many years to come. This talk of a “Shia crescent” is a little overblown. It’s not as if they can win. Iran isn’t Arab, Iraq is only 60 percent Shiite and Syria is majority Sunni. As for Israel, its enemies are now busy worrying about each other and the one Sunni leader who might have led the region against it has met the business end of a hangman’s rope. Hizbollah felt plenty emboldened to snatch soldiers in an identical cross-border raid in 2000, with Saddam Hussein still comfortably in power. If Hizbollah felt the need to be provocative it was because its position had recently come under threat from the American-backed Cedar Revolution.

To address Evan’s question, I can’t see how democratization per se would be adequate justification for war. It’s certainly justified against a tyrant’s claim of sovereignty, but not in terms of the costs of direct military action. If undertaken, there has to be a unified and legitimate democratic opposition that commands the loyalty of the country’s people – Nelson Mandela, not Ahmad Chalabi.

The notion that the removal of Saddam Hussein would lead to a peaceful democratic revolution throughout the Arab world always struck me as somewhat absurd. I supported the ouster of Hussein because I believed, based on his ambition and history, that he was an exceptional danger to the region who would commit atrocities on a massive scale if given the opportunity. I believed his policy of ambiguity regarding weapons of mass destruction was intolerable (and yes, I believed he was developing them, since I saw no good reason not to) and that containment was becoming a mockery. I considered it the least bad option, given the alternatives and however foolish and dishonest the Bush administration’s approach. Not that it matters but I don’t apologize for holding that position.

After Saddam’s ouster, I supported the new elected Iraqi government and its coalition backers against the terrorist insurgency that was trying to destroy it, whatever my misgivings about the administration’s competence or the wisdom of trying to hold an artificial country together. I don’t apologize for that either. Now that the Shiite parties have chosen to engage the Sunnis in direct militia warfare and the Iraqi government has clearly become a front for those militias (a process that has a great deal to do with the coalition’s failures in prosecuting this second war), I no longer feel that government is worth backing. I’d like to see the coalition devise some way to protect and support the Kurds but beyond that I see little reason for the coalition to keep fighting.

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2 Comments on “The Limits of Limey-Bashing: A Response to the Response”


  1. […] small-d Fiendishly Clever Tagline Pending « The Limits of Limey-Bashing: A Response to the Response […]


  2. […] “HW maintains his insistence that “victory” in Iraq is not dependent upon keeping Iraq whole or the emergence of a certain post-war order.” […]


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