Like Bob Kerrey Says

I’ve just about given up trying to make the case for the Iraq war. Not because I don’t believe it was the right thing to do, because it was. Not because I mind sticking out like a sore thumb among virtually all my friends and family, because I don’t. Not even because Bush and (especially) Rumsfeld repeatedly made bad decisions and blunders that complicated what was already going to be a hard slog, because their mistakes don’t undermine the philosophical or strategic rationale.

No, I’m ready to throw in the towel because it’s obvious nobody cares anymore. I don’t think Democrats and liberals are stupid: They see the peril in ditching Iraq, and the rising tide of blood our departure would cause. They just don’t give a damn.  Republicans are starting to feel the same way.  Their insouciance is the flip side of arrogance, both of them a privilege our vast military might affords us.

I’ve worked for people whose philosophy of life is, “I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.” If a power vacuum at the heart of the Middle East causes horrible problems there and here, fine. We’ll deal with them when they arise — and maybe score a few points by blaming that idiot Bush. It’s cynical, but it’s not hidden, and people seem to be buying into it.  This question has never been polled but I suspect a majority of Americans believe that if we pull out of Iraq, and that it turns out to be a mistake, well, hell, we can just roll back in.

One of my arguments — one that everybody hates and shoots down — is this: If we hadn’t invaded, and had just waited for Saddam Hussein to die or be overthrown, the warfare between Shi’ite and Sunni militias would have commenced then. And Al Queda would have tried to capitalize on it, as would have Iran. The only way that could have been avoided was if Hussein had successfully gotten a nuclear weapon. Ex-CIA director George Tenet believes that probably would have happened between now and 2009.

So, the Iraq of 2008 would have either been in a state of bloody civil war and in danger of falling into the hands of Al Queda or Iran, or Hussein’s regime would have still been in place, equipped with a nuclear weapon to sustain his rule or the rule of his sons. And we would have been forced to deal with Iraq then, from an even less advantageous position than the one we have now — including, possibly, military action.

I have been told repeatedly this is a stupid argument. And maybe it is. But at least I now have the validation of being joined in my stupid argument by former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, the one-time presidential candidate who is now president of the New School in New York. In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal he restates the case for the war “from the U.S. point of view”:

The U.S. led an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein because Iraq was rightly seen as a threat following Sept. 11, 2001. For two decades we had suffered attacks by radical Islamic groups but were lulled into a false sense of complacency because all previous attacks were “over there.” It was our nation and our people who had been identified by Osama bin Laden as the “head of the snake.” But suddenly Middle Eastern radicals had demonstrated extraordinary capacity to reach our shores.

As for Saddam, he had refused to comply with numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions outlining specific requirements related to disclosure of his weapons programs. He could have complied with the Security Council resolutions with the greatest of ease. He chose not to because he was stealing and extorting billions of dollars from the U.N. Oil for Food program.

No matter how incompetent the Bush administration and no matter how poorly they chose their words to describe themselves and their political opponents, Iraq was a larger national security risk after Sept. 11 than it was before. And no matter how much we might want to turn the clock back and either avoid the invasion itself or the blunders that followed, we cannot. The war to overthrow Saddam Hussein is over. What remains is a war to overthrow the government of Iraq.

Okay, so far, all this does is put Kerrey in the same “wanker” category where netroots bloggers put Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman due to his robust support for the war. But then, Kerrey continues with this:

Some who have been critical of this effort from the beginning have consistently based their opposition on their preference for a dictator we can control or contain at a much lower cost. From the start they said the price tag for creating an environment where democracy could take root in Iraq would be high. Those critics can go to sleep at night knowing they were right.

The critics who bother me the most are those who ordinarily would not be on the side of supporting dictatorships, who are arguing today that only military intervention can prevent the genocide of Darfur, or who argued yesterday for military intervention in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda to ease the sectarian violence that was tearing those places apart.

Suppose we had not invaded Iraq and Hussein had been overthrown by Shiite and Kurdish insurgents. Suppose al Qaeda then undermined their new democracy and inflamed sectarian tensions to the same level of violence we are seeing today. Wouldn’t you expect the same people who are urging a unilateral and immediate withdrawal to be urging military intervention to end this carnage? I would.

American liberals need to face these truths: The demand for self-government was and remains strong in Iraq despite all our mistakes and the violent efforts of al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias to disrupt it. Al Qaeda in particular has targeted for abduction and murder those who are essential to a functioning democracy: school teachers, aid workers, private contractors working to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure, police officers and anyone who cooperates with the Iraqi government. Much of Iraq’s middle class has fled the country in fear.

With these facts on the scales, what does your conscience tell you to do? If the answer is nothing, that it is not our responsibility or that this is all about oil, then no wonder today we Democrats are not trusted with the reins of power. American lawmakers who are watching public opinion tell them to move away from Iraq as quickly as possible should remember this: Concessions will not work with either al Qaeda or other foreign fighters who will not rest until they have killed or driven into exile the last remaining Iraqi who favors democracy.

He closes by saying that a U.S. withdrawal would hand Bin Laden an immense “psychological victory,” and carries his argument one step further with an insight I’ve not read anywhere else — a powerful refutation of those who say our invasion “created terrorists.”

Those who argue that radical Islamic terrorism has arrived in Iraq because of the U.S.-led invasion are right. But they are right because radical Islam opposes democracy in Iraq. If our purpose had been to substitute a dictator who was more cooperative and supportive of the West, these groups wouldn’t have lasted a week.

Right.  The presence of democracy, and its desperate struggle to root itself in Iraqi soil:  That’s what’s drawn the brigades of poisonous wasps that are Islamists into Iraq.  Contrary to Rep. John Murtha’s assertions, if we leave, they won’t leave; not until they can kill secular-based self-government once and for all.  Optimally, they want an Islamist fundamentalist government.  But if that can’t be achieved, then any other option is better than a functioning democracy with a functioning civil society, because that’s a threat to the Islamist movement’s growth, worldwide.

The US is no longer in the business of installing friendly dictators — let’s hope. We’ve chosen a much harder path. It would have been nice if we’d taken that path without all the well-documented mistakes, but we should be proud we took it, and we need to stick to it.

Oh, hell, now I’m back in this debate again.

3 thoughts on “Like Bob Kerrey Says

  1. On September 13, 2002, just as Congress was debating whether to approve a resolution providing President Bush the authority to use force against Iraq, former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE) wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

    “The real choice is between sustaining a military effort designed to contain Saddam Hussein and a military effort designed to replace him. In my mind the case for the second choice is overwhelming. … Regime change is the only way we can safely reduce our military commitment to the region.”

    In calling for regime change, Kerrey displayed an inability to comprehend the predictable chaos that would ensue. The intelligence community warned the Bush administration in January 2003 that regime change “would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict.”

    In December 2003, an undeterred Kerrey claimed that he had been vindicated and Iraq war critics would ultimately be proven wrong. “Twenty years from now, we’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who says it wasn’t worth the effort,” he wrote.

    Today, Bob Kerrey (D-NE), unrepentant over his failed Iraq war predictions, returns to the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to blast “American liberals.” In making his argument that democracy can indeed be imposed by military force (apparently by overlooking the Iraq war), Kerrey writes:

    “American liberals need to face these truths … [A] unilateral withdrawal from Iraq would hand Osama bin Laden a substantial psychological victory.”

    Perhaps he should have thought about that before advocating regime change as “the only way” to “safely reduce our military commitment to the region.” By staying in Iraq as an occupying force, the U.S. is helping inflame the terrorist movement. But Bob Kerrey has never understood that from the beginning, so why would he understand that now?

  2. There’s plenty of hubris to go around about Iraq and the whole idea of regime change. I guess I could be wrong, but I don’t think this country will attempt another regime change for a generation. There are “leaks” these days that we are subterraineously trying to do this in Iran, but this won’t succeed unless we do more. In other words, we’re not really going to try and do that in Iran.

    Before we leave Iraq, though, we should take off our Washington-blindered goggles and see the situation for what it is in Iraq. I’m never sure, we’re getting an accurate picture. If you watch the CNN, etc. news outlets, the spin is so determined and intentional that the reports can hardly be called “news.” So, what is really happening in Iraq? It takes some real digging to find out. We owe it to the Iraqis to make informed decisions…but then, you may be right, nobody cares.

    If nobody cares, we shouldn’t have a government making decisions that mean life and death to people half way around the world, much less in our own cities and towns.

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