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Sunday, March 19, 2006
Greenhut: Sorry to say, 'I told you so' on Iraq
There's a part of me that wants to say, "I told you so," as the nation thinks about the three-year anniversary this weekend of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and what it means for the nation's security, for the future of the Middle East, for the federal budget and for the image of this democratic nation throughout the world.
Clearly, the war has not improved U.S. security or helped the Middle East. The war certainly hasn't led to the domino effect predicted by ideologues who thought that one nation after another would move from dictatorship to Western-style democracy. The U.S. budget has taken a hit, with the war costing upwards of $200 billion. America's prestige - for those who care about such things - is at an all-time low.
Quite obviously, Iraq is descending into civil war. The democratic government the Bush administration is championing may, at some point, become an Islamic dictatorship, not too different from what one finds in neighboring Iran. The country is in shambles, and the death toll is appalling: 2,300 American soldiers and 25,000 to 30,000 Iraqis, not to mention the tens of thousands who have been injured, according to most guestimates.
The justification for invading Iraq has shifted as much as the sands of the desert outside Baghdad. First, we needed to invade because of the threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found, despite three years of searching. Then there was the next rationale, going to Iraq to stop al-Qaida. Again, no evidence has ever linked Saddam to al-Qaida, and certainly the country is now more a magnet for Islamic terrorists than it was before.
Finally, we heard the "we must democratize Iraq" rationale. It's a Johnny-come-lately argument. Few Americans would have supported a war with that goal. It's a given that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and deserves anything he's got coming to him. That still doesn't legitimize democracy-building as a legitimate U.S. war aim. If it is, then our nation really ought to get busy, given the scores of nations across the globe that are suddenly in the need of regime change.
Things have gone pretty much as the Register's editorial page had predicted. "At some point, even the most ardent war supporters have to realize that the United States Treasury isn't a bottomless pit. ... Imposing democracy on a people from the top down perhaps has worked a time or two under certain unusual circumstances, but it's not the model," I wrote in an April 2003 column. Later that month, I argued that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism "seems to have taken the Bush administration and its neoconservative supporters by surprise."
Many war supporters are coming to the same conclusion, however belated. Professor Francis Fukuyama joined a group of neoconservatives who warned President Clinton in 1998 about "a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War." The letter urged the president to adopt a new strategy that "should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power."
Fukuyama now argues that the Iraq war was a mistake, that it was based on illusions - the weapons of mass destruction, and the idea "that Iraq would somehow transition easily out of a totalitarian dictatorship into a peaceful and relatively successful democracy," he said in an interview with journalist Nathan Gardels. "This was a peculiar illusion for neoconservatives because in the past neoconservative thinkers were known for being skeptical of the prospects of social engineering in U.S. domestic policy" [Fukuyama elaborates on these arguments in his new book, "America at the Crossroads," which is reviewed on page 4].
These so-called "conservative" thinkers understood that government cannot drop aid and social workers into an American inner city and fix things, yet they were willing to believe that American troops could parachute into a far-off nation, depose a dictator and remake the nation.
Traditionally, the differences between the political left and the political right have come down to differing visions of the nature of humanity. The left sees humans as malleable. Leftists believe that people can be molded if one imposes the right policies - anything from, say, tweaking the tax code to create a more equal distribution of wealth to herding people into re-education camps to purge them of counter-revolutionary thinking.
Broadly speaking, the right does not see humans as guinea pigs who can or should be cajoled and experimented upon. Human beings are limited and flawed. So instead of using government to create New Soviet Man, or some such utopian nonsense, conservatives have traditionally viewed government as a means to enforce some ground rules to allow people to live their flawed existences in relative peace and safety.
My views fit in the latter category. Human beings cannot be reformed into something that they are not. And they are born with an innate dignity and natural rights. Even if they could be dramatically changed, they shouldn't be forced to live in ways that are not of their choosing.
So I naturally oppose social engineering, the many ways that government uses its coercive powers to poke and prod us along. And I naturally opposed a war that took domestic social engineering to an international level.
In a February 2003 column, I quoted "Mr. Republican" himself, Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio, who in 1951 embraced the traditions of our nation when he argued that: "No foreign policy can be justified except a policy devoted without reservation or diversion to the protection of the liberty of the American people, with war only as the last resort and only to preserve that liberty."
Yet those in a pro-war frenzy branded all war critics as "leftist," even those who relied on arguments that expressed the essence of the American founding. Things look a bit different after three years of violence and reflection. The brutal attacks, the lack of safety for ordinary Iraqis, the political mayhem and the resurgence of Islamic fanaticism in Iran and elsewhere give a lie to most of the war crowd's promises.
It should be our wish and prayer that Iraqis one day embrace a democratic system that respects the rule of law and individual freedom. But it is not our business to create it. Even if it were, such an undertaking probably isn't even possible. It's good to see war advocates such as Fukuyama admit as much now, but it would have been easier had they listened to some of us who made obvious warnings three years ago.
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