Thoughts on Operation Iraqi Freedom, ca. March, 2003
The following is the text of an email that I sent a friend
of mine, in March 2003, after he asked me what I thought about
the war in Iraq.
Big Chuck, Good to hear from you. Thanks for asking. What has
kept me from speaking is the understanding that my opinion
doesn't matter, but since you asked . . .
Before we started a
war, Congress should have declared war. Congress is not
fulfilling its constitutional responsibility to declare war.
Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom should all
have begun, if they began at all, with a declaration of war.
Congress hasn't declared war for political reasons: fear of
accepting responsibility for the consequences. By Public Law
107-243 of Oct 16, 2002, Congress authorized the President to
use force after he determined that "reliance . . . on further
diplomatic or other peaceful means alone . . .will not
adequately protect the national security of the United
States." This "Law" would have made a fine draft of a
declaration of war, if Congress had had the guts to accept
its responsibilities, and lined through this business of the
President making the determination. Instead, the Congress
allowed the wrong branch of the government to make the
decision, leaving them the room they need to spin their stand
on this issue during their next campaign, depending on
whether the war is a triumph, a disaster, or something in
between. The 107th Congress has no balls. We should not
re-elect this crew.
On the other hand, President Bush has
balls. In his own mind, after listening to the varying advice
of his disparate national security advisers, he decided that
the Ba'ath regime had to go. He determined to take it out,
come hell or high water, and damn the French, the UN, the
democrats, or anyone else. And that's what he's doing. This
shows a level of conviction not seen during the Clinton
years. We'll never know whether he made the right decision.
We'll know only too well its negative consequences, but we'll
never know what would have happened if we had left Saddam in
power. The ultimate wisdom of his courageous decision,
therefore, is to us indeterminable. Some of the negative
consequences, however, are already manifest, while others
require only limited powers of prognostication:
Americans are dying, and their deaths will impact their
families for generations that come. Anyone who studies the
history of an American family can trace the effects of
wartime losses, descending from generation to generation.
Innocent civilians are dying. This sentence lies there, flat,
but not so its rewording. We are killing children.
The strain of violence in American culture, already too
strong, is being reinforced. We have been a people too ready
to go to war. This is the third war of my generation, without
counting "police actions" in places like Panama, Kosovo or
Grenada. With each war, we seem more willing to go to war.
After 9/11, we had the sympathy of the entire world, less our
true enemies. Like the treasures of blood, money and
political capital that this war is going to cost, this
treasure of sympathy has been spent.
This war will never be over in our lifetimes. We will crush
the Republican Guard, depose the Ba'ath regime, install a new
government, and redeploy from Iraq. To the Arab street,
Islamists and the poor, ignorant masses of the Third World,
this will always be a war of aggression and humiliation. Some
(and only a tiny fraction is needed) will respond to it
asymetrically, that is, with terrorism. As for moderate Arabs
(and they do exist), I wonder if they'll forgive us our good
deed with better grace than have, for example, the French.
After 9/11, our best hope of checking Islamist terrorism was
with the help of the Arab and Muslim worlds. We can't hunt down
cells of extremists without help from their police and
intelligence forces. We can't reform Islamic fundamentalism at
all, making it tolerant and pacific, but maybe, in cooperation
with the rest of the world, the Arabs and Muslims themselves
could. Maybe the Arabs and Muslims needed a good brush-back
pitch, and maybe Iraqi Freedom is that pitch.
What I worry most
about, though, is that by responding with the right amount of
force, but in the wrong direction, we have alienated the people
whose help we needed to achieve a task as difficult as the
containment of communism. There are a billion Muslims in the
world. How many will help us? If "screw them" is the jingoistic
response to that question, then my parting comment is, I hope
you like Holy Wars.
Your friend, TC
PS: For the rest of our lives, with each passing year, we will
look back with nostalgia at our naivete, and we will envy the
luxury of our own ignorance. And the French will gloat. And
pass us unfiltered cigarettes.
I still agree with most of the points in this email. There
are a couple of points that in hindsight it's obvious I was
luxuriating in my ignorance.
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