Now that President Bush has launched a new propaganda campaign to convince Americans that we are winning the war in Iraq, it's a good idea to go back to the basics and look at the pluses and minuses of this war.
The minuses we all know. The war was sold on false pretenses, there being neither weapons of mass destruction nor ties to al-Qaida, which after all, was responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Saddam Hussein's government was secular, and the majority of people in Iraq are Shiites. Al-Qaida is a fanatical religious movement that is Sunni, which is why you need never fear that al-Qaida will take over Iraq.
The other minuses are the loss of American prestige, nearly 2,200 dead, about 16,000 wounded, and $221 billion and counting in money. So, that's the downside of the Iraq War. What's the upside?
Well, for the sake of argument, let's assume we do win the war, however strangely the Bush administration might decide to define victory. But let's assume we win. The insurgents are defeated. An elected government of pro-Iranian Shiites is in charge. What are the benefits to the American people?
When a young Marine asked that of Vice President Dick Cheney, he reeled off a list of benefits for the Iraqi people, but said not a word about Americans. Since victory (stipulated only for the sake of argument) is paid for by American blood and American treasure, some benefit should accrue to the American people. What?
I can't think of any. That's too high a price just to feel good that we did a bunch of foreigners a favor by relieving them of their homegrown dictator. You could argue, I suppose, that after victory Americans could visit Iraq as tourists, though on this beautiful planet Iraq is not quite — but almost — dead last on the list of scenic places to visit. Besides, it will be decades before Iraqis get over their hostility to Americans, who since 1991 have made their lives miserable with two wars, periodic bombings and cruel sanctions.
Americans jolly well won't be safer. The pathetic and infantile argument that if the terrorists weren't fighting us in Iraq they'd be in New York is not worth talking about. Ninety percent of the people fighting us in Iraq are not terrorists, but insurgents who resent the occupation of their country by a foreign power. The other 10 percent are using Iraq as a training ground. After we leave Iraq, some of those might attack us in other places, but they would have anyway. Just because it's been four years since the 9/11 attacks doesn't mean al-Qaida has given up or even been thwarted by our bureaucrats. There was a long time gap between the first attack on the World Trade Center and the second. Al-Qaida is patient.
That, by the way, is another downside to the Iraq War. Al-Qaida was our enemy, not Iraq, and we have aided al-Qaida by invading a Muslim country as well as diverting resources that could have been directed at finding and killing Osama bin Laden.
As for the original neoconservative belief that a democratic Iraq would infect the rest of the Middle East and Israel could live peacefully, that was a joke from Day One. The only friends Israel and we have in the Middle East are the dictators we pay, in one way or another, to be our friends. Popularly elected governments would make it quite clear they hate Israel and the U.S.
I can tell you one positive thing about this war, if the American people will learn from it. We should never, ever again allow a bunch of academic ideologues and Washington lawyers who don't know crap about the real world to gain control of American foreign policy.
The next American president should ask two questions of all the people who present themselves as Middle East experts. Have you lived in an Arab country? Do you speak and read Arabic? If the answers are no, then he should say, "Hit the road, Jack." Twenty-two hundred Americans probably would be alive if Bush had asked those questions of his neoconservative warmongers.
January 2, 2006
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.