Is Iraq a Lost Cause?

One can’t doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed.(William F. Buckley) 

Iraq’s elected leaders can still save their country. They must now prove that they want to. Time is rapidly running out. (New York Times editorial, March 1, 2006) 

This is a war over ideas and values and governance…. America’s opponents know just what’s at stake in the postwar struggle for Iraq, which is why they flock there: Beat America’s ideas in Iraq and you beat them out of the whole region; lose to America there, lose everywhere.
(Thomas Friedman) 

The American-led war in Iraq continues to be a hotly contested topic. It’s instructive to take a look at a few of the American voices in opposition to this war, ranging all the way from the far left to the right. 

The strongest opposition has come from the political left, the mainstream media, the Democratic Party, and the academic world. The outlines of this opposition are well known for they are the daily fare of news and commentary.  At its extreme, people engage in demonizing the Bush administration, going so far as calling for the impeachment of the President. 

Hard Opposition

The media tends to focus on the bad news of bombings, more bloodshed, and mistakes that are not hard to find in the confusion of every war. Good news of progress and success in the rebuilding of a wrecked society is under-reported or entirely ignored. Just visit some of the most belligerent websites, and listen to the speeches of the academics who seem to believe that their task in the classroom is to instill in their students hatred towards their own country. The most strident opponents display an attitude that suggests they want to see America defeated. 

For example, history professor Kenneth Long, speaking at the recent conference of Historians Against the War, explained that one of his courses was especially devised in “helping students see the ugly realities of American military aggressions over the past sixty years…” He is teaching his students that “there have been no good American wars, that the country has never come at all close to living up to the values it professes, and, thus, that there is really little new about the current American aggressions in Afghanistan and Iraq.” 

Such statements are grist for the propaganda mill of the Arabic language broadcasters, but that does not seem to bother those who preach such self-loathing. They are not at all deterred by the fact that their statements are exploited by those who claim that killing Americans will earn them an assured place in heaven. Is it any wonder that the American and other coalition soldiers, who daily face the risk of being killed or maimed for life, have nothing but contempt for such armchair critics?  

Enough is Enough?

What is more troublesome for the Bush administration is the growing skepticism of erstwhile supporters of the war. Some are now saying that the cost is not worth the sacrifice in view of the relentless and indiscriminate killing of people and the destruction of vital infrastructure in Iraq. 

The recent attack on a major Shiite shrine – the Golden Mosque in Samarra – and its deadly aftermath confirms to many that the civil war between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims is inevitable. These developments give rise to the fear that in the end Islam fundamentalists will establish their own tyrannical rule just like Hamas is now trying to do in Palestine. 

Perhaps the most formidable opposition to staying the course in Iraq comes from those who have impeccable pro-American credentials.  Two of them deserve mention because of what they have contributed to the defence of American virtues. 

William Buckley, the major force behind the post-World War II revival of American conservatism, has argued that the task of creating a democratic and free Iraq is not within America’s capabilities and should not even be attempted. As he put it in March 2003, at the onset of the war:  

What Mr. Bush proposes to do is to unseat Saddam Hussein and to eliminate his investment in aggressive weaponry. We can devoutly hope that internecine tribal antagonisms will be subsumed in the fresh air of a despot removed, and that the restoration of freedom will be productive. But these concomitant developments can’t be either foreseen, or implemented by us. What Mr. Bush can accomplish is the removal of a regime and its infrastructure. The Iraqi people will have to take it from there. 

In a February 28, 2006 article Buckley reiterated that the removal of Saddam Hussein and the institution of an elected government was a necessary and major accomplishment, but that the rest is now up to the Iraqis themselves.

Daniel Pipes, who has written extensively about radical Islam, also faults the current American attempts to build democracy in Iraq. He admires The Bush administration’s “visionary boldness” but finds that it lacks the required “operational caution.” He argues that democracy can only be built slowly especially where it must replace an imbedded totalitarian tyranny. In April 2003, Pipes wrote: 

Democracy is a learned habit, not instinct. The infrastructure of a civil society – such as freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, the rule of law, minority rights, and an independent judiciary – needs to be established before holding elections. Deep attitudinal changes must take place as well: a culture of restraint, a commonality of values, a respect for differences of view and a sense of civic responsibility. 

In a recent New York Sun article Pipes referred to the six-week victory in the spring of 2003 as “a glory of American foreign policy and of the coalition forces.”  He described the Bush administration’s determination to create a free and democratic Iraq as a noble aim inspired by the best of America’s idealism. 

Nonetheless, Pipes insists that the nobility of this aim does not match the requirements for the rehabilitation of Iraq. He advises that the time has come to acknowledge that the destruction of tyranny in Iraq, which he calls a “landmark of international sanitation,” is all that can be accomplished.  He sums up: 

Fixing Iraq is neither the coalition’s responsibility nor its burden. The damage done by Saddam will take many years to repair. Americans, Britons and others cannot be tasked with resolving Sunni-Shiite differences, an abiding Iraqi problem that only Iraqis themselves can address. 

Sounds quite simple and persuasive, doesn’t it? However, nothing in the Middle East cauldron is simple. That’s why the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, quoted  at the beginning of this article, is right: This is a war of ideas that will have far-reaching ramifications beyond Iraq.  

Staying the Course

I find the arguments for staying the course, as argued by David Frum, Victor Davis Hanson, Rich Lowry, Christopher Hitchins and many others, the most persuasive.  

But who can be sure? It is still possible that despite the best efforts and the noblest motivations, the forces of evil and tyranny will prevail. Despite the risks and nagging uncertainty, let me summarize the case for the ongoing American-led effort in Iraq, as I see it: 

One. To pull out now is to abandon the many people of goodwill in Iraq (and Afghanistan) who would meet the same fate as the tens of thousands Iraqis murdered and dehumanized in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war. 

Two. The Iraqis still need outside military and other help, notably in adequately training and equipping their security forces, if they are to defeat the old guard of tyrants and murderers, which is one indispensable condition for success. 

Three.  Failure in Iraq will be a sign to the Islamofascists that Allah is making them invincible, a conviction that will assist them in further spreading fear and disunity in the West. 

Four. As long as our soldiers (including Canadians in Afghanistan, representing the free West) are fighting and dying on the frontlines, we should support them for they are fighting for the cause of our freedom too. 

Five. The war in the Middle East is not only, nor even in the first place, about territory or Iraq. It is a microcosm of the war between the still free and democratic West and a cabal of fanatic religionists that wants to establish a Taliban-style dictatorship. The problem is that the Islamic fanatics are very determined, whereas we in the West are complacent, materialistic and lacking in conviction about things truly significant. 

Telling it as it is

One of the positive developments is the increasing number of moderate Muslims and others in the Islamic world who have begun to speak up strongly, often at great personal risk. Among them are a number of courageous women, including Wafa Sultan, an Arab woman now living in the U.S, who recently took on Ibraham Al-Khouli on Al-Jazeera television. She challenged his attempt to blame others for the cruelty and violence committed in the name of Allah. She gets to the heart of the matter in a way that many in the West are too ignorant or cowardly to do: 

The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations…. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violations of these rights, on the other. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete. 

May the spirit of courage and honesty reflected in Wafa Sultan’s eloquent testimony yet prevail.