Invading Iraq

I wrote this review for Colin Walters, the book review editor of The Washington Times, shortly before he died, and before the Times became an unpaid shill for the Administration. Colin was a self-educated ex-British Army sergeant and boxer: a beautifully well-read, thoughtful, dignified gentleman. You don’t see that kind of style much any more, neither in men nor women. Alas.

The Washington Times, February 23, 2003

Arguing case for invading Iraq and intervention on a global scale

THE WAR OVER IRAQ: SADDAM’S TYRANNY AND AMERICA’S MISSION
By William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan
Encounter Books, $25.95, 145 pages
REVIEWED BY ERIN SOLARO

War is a gruesome business that can too easily develop its own remorseless logic: Caution and humility are appropriate in anyone advocating it, but those emotions are absent from “The War Over Iraq” by William Kristol and Lawrence Kaplan.
The authors argue that a man who has behaved with the very real cruelty Saddam Hussein has shown his own people and who has waged aggressive war, as Mr. Hussein has also done, ought not to be permitted to develop weapons of mass destruction. They believe that since Mr. Hussein cannot be deterred (although the United States has in fact done that for the 10 years since Desert Storm), Iraq must be invaded, conquered, occupied and rebuilt into a democratic civil society, as we did with Germany and Japan after World War II.
Mr. Kristol and Mr. Kaplan see President Bush’s post-September 11 desire to “fight, for a just peace — a peace that favors liberty,” as part of a distinctly American internationalism defined by Presidents Wilson, Truman, and Kennedy. In their view, Mr. Bush refuses to negotiate with Saddam Hussein because Hussein is an Oriental, just as Wilson refused to negotiate with Kaiser Wilhelm because he had inherited his throne, rather than won it in an election. This policy led to the Kaiser’s abdication of both his throne and his responsibility, leaving a defeated Germany unconquered and unconvinced of its defeat.
The precondition for Germany and Japan’s transformation from militaristic empires into mercantile democracies required that all who thought the old orders worth fighting for be offered a chance to die for their convictions, and many Americans were killed and wounded forcing them to chose death or surrender. Only Truman was dealing with nations that had not only been catastrophically defeated but also conquered and occupied, and an occupation regime cannot impose such profound change upon a society without totally controlling it.
(When America had to defend South Korea, that effort began another attempt to make the world safe for democracy. Kennedy’s willingness to pay any price and bear any burden to defend freedom mired this nation in the Vietnamese War that would spread throughout Southeast Asia in a ferocious regional war.)
We are likely to do little better by Iraq than by Afghanistan, where we have not even tried to live up to the moral responsibility of nation-building we inherited when we destroyed the Taliban.
After Desert Storm, the current president’s father left those Iraqis who at his instigation had taken up arms against Saddam Hussein to the mercy of the Republican Guard. If they were lucky, they died with their clothes on.The authors are quite right to deride the American betrayal of the rebels.
But we had gone abroad to protect the vital interest of this nation and many others, for the world currently runs on readily-available petroleum at reasonable prices, and if it is not available, people can be rendered destitute, even starved.
Saddam Hussein’s tyranny does threaten America’s vital interests, but the threat and the interests are moral, rather than physical. Mr. Kristol and Mr. Kaplan quote Alexander Solzhenitsyn on the need for the world to interfere in the internal politics of the Soviet Union, lest that government continue to strangle its subjects in peace and quiet, but Mr. Solzhenitsyn was speaking of moral interference, not armed intervention.
There will be times when America must forcefully intervene in other countries in order to protect or advance such moral vital interests, or America is no great power. But such foreign wars should be understood as exceptions to the rule of non-interference. Mr. Kristol and Mr. Kaplan, however, extrapolate from these exceptions to formulate a doctrine for American intervention on a global scale.
Force is and will remain a legitimate and necessary tool of national policy but a doctrine of preemption and open planning for the invasion, defeat, and occupation of a sovereign nation because it may decide to attack us in the near future is imprudent.
Not only have the very nations for whom that doctrine was developed, such as North Korea, adopted it themselves, our use of preemption encourages them to do so. In my darkest dreams, which have begun to make daily appearances in the headlines, we will have driven them to do so in alliance with each other.

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