Pissing Inside My Tent

HW is tireless, an indefatigable sparring partner. One who – to paraphrase that great wordsmith Lyndon Johnson – I am glad is typically inside my tent pissing out, rather than outside my tent pissing in.

There seems to me various points of disagreement and I would like to address them as concisely as possible. First, HW claims that victory in Iraq, “at the outset,” was not dependent on the establishment of a functioning democracy in the wake of Hussein’s ouster. It was only after the invasion was complete, that Bush altered the script and said that success depended on the establishment of a unified, democratic Iraq, that victory became dependent on securing same.

My dear friend confuses his history, giving the impression that the democratizing argument was not given prominent voice until after the invasion (and maybe after the lack of WMD became apparent). This is simply not true. To give but one example, on February 26, 2003, Bush gave a major address in Washington in which he laid out his vision for a post-Saddam Iraq. It can be read here. It largely speaks for itself, making it abundantly clear that the democratization argument was part and parcel of selling the war from the outset. It was not the primary reason put forward, but from the moment that regime change became the policy, the administration argued that a democratic Iraq could flourish if Saddam were removed from the scene.

I concede, at least in part, that I may conflate what Bush’s war aims were and what my own motivation were for supporting the war. And perhaps the democratization argument was window-dressing, but while it is dicey to venture to guess what is in Bush’s heart, he seems nothing if not a true believer in the freedom agenda he has given voice to since 9/11 – with more rhetorical zeal than anyone since, perhaps, Wilson (and maybe Reagan).

As for the left’s response to the war once it was launched…for sure many on the left have been steadfast in their demand that America leave Iraq. But who is giving voice to that policy on Capitol Hill? Kucinich? My point is that the broad center of the Democratic Party (which, I concede is not synonymous with the left) has advocated a variety of positions, but few have been as simple as “Vacate, come what may.”

And one more point, because I see it throughout HW’s response, the strategic logic is not so simple (HW defines it as “saber-rattle with weapons of mass destruction and be destroyed.”) While there is an element of truth to this, the key foreign policy narrative that emerged after 9/11 was a new realization that collapsed states in far off areas could, if unattended to, lead to wholesale slaughter in American cities. Therefore, I think my friend is way to callous in his assertion that there was any sort of simple math to be done regarding Iraq. It was always the case that a militarized regime change in Iraq (which, of course, is far more strategically vital than Afghanistan) meant that America would have to guarantee that something stable, and hopefully nominally democratic, would take root in its place. I just do not see recognition of these complexities in HW’s response. I ask you bluntly, do you think it would have been viable (strategically and/or ethically) policy to exit Iraq the day Saddam was captured? And if not, what are we disagreeing about?

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