Monday, March 12, 2007

Going Down Memory Lane Part Two

Paul Saunders and I wrote this essay, "Liberation Theology," on April 2, 2003.

The war in Iraq is concluding its second week and the multiplication of Monday-morning quarterbacks evaluating the American war plan is continuing almost without restraint. While these kinds of questions are always appropriate in a democracy, few seem to share our view that, not unlike Otto von Bismarck's comparison of politics to sausage-making, war should be judged by its outcome rather than its process.

Nevertheless, there are in a sense two wars underway; one is a narrow effort to dislodge Saddam, the other is a broader campaign to democratize Iraq and eventually the rest of the region. The United States is certain to prevail in the first war, though the timing and cost of its victory are unknowable. The outcome of the second war—which will necessarily last much longer--is considerably harder to predict.


Prominent neo-conservatives like William Kristol have suggested repeatedly for years we would receive a friendly reception from the Iraqi people; for example, Kristol testified in February 2002 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "As in Kabul but also as in the Kurdish and Shi'ite regions of Iraq in 1991, American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators." (He bravely went on to say that "Indeed, reconstructing Iraq may prove to be a less difficult task than the challenge of building a viable state in Afghanistan"--a statement that remains to be tested.)

Though Baghdad has not yet been taken, none of these predictions have been borne out in other Iraqi cities, even in the predominantly Shi'ite south, which many assumed would not only enthusiastically greet U.S. forces but turn decisively against Saddam Hussein's regime. There have been no mass surrenders; no widespread popular uprisings; and resistance has intensified in some areas. Many Iraqis probably do desire an end to Saddam's tyranny, that is true, but the brunt of the fighting to remove him from power is going to be done by coalition forces, not by Iraqis.


At a broader level, the neo-conservatives' effort to create a sense of inevitability around Saddam's demise to encourage quick surrender has a considerably less attractive mirror-image, which seems to have become Baghdad's strategy. The mere fact that the military campaign will be measured in weeks or months rather than days creates substantially more opportunities for war's deadly roulette wheel to generate terrible accidents, such as the casualties in Baghdad's markets (though the cause of these incidents remains to be seen), or this week's civilian deaths at American checkpoints, which fuel resentment of the United States. Taken together with manifest efforts by the Iraqi regime to make such incidents more rather than less frequent, this has the potential to create a self-reinforcing cycle of anger toward America that slows the war and, as the clock ticks on, generates new tragedies.


This is in no way intended to question the war; Iraq was and is a threat to the United States and what has begun must be completed successfully in a manner that upholds American interests and values. Similarly, we do not seek to judge the results of a war that has not yet been completed; in the famous words of Yogi Berra, "it ain't over 'til it's over." Nevertheless, the evolving contours of the conflict do raise questions about the extent to which U.S. liberation would be welcomed by others in the region and the degree to which military power is likely to be an effective instrument of democratization. We will have to wait for the answers.

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