Monday, June 27, 2005

Question 10: Will We All Ever Agree That Iraq Was Right or Wrong?

Question ten in our ongoing debate series about the War in Iraq and the War on Terror is a two part question.

If Iraq becomes a real and stable democracy, will we all be able to agree it was worth it? If Iraq descends into anarchy or a terrorist-supporting theocracy, will we all be able to agree we made a mistake?

Question One: Why did we invade Iraq?

Question Two: Has the Iraq war set any precedents?

Question Three: Are we safer?

Question Four: Why do some think America is the enemy?

Question Five: Why are we so divided?

Question Six: Why do we use words like ‘Hitler’ and ‘unpatriotic’?

Question Seven: Can you oppose the war and still support the troops?

Question Eight: Why has there been a rise in democracy in the Mid East?

Question Nine: What’s the next step on the War on Terror?


At 11:24 AM, Blogger EG said...

In time, yes. Emotions are raw at this time. The Viet Nam War created great chasms within the U.S. Today, only through news clips and films do we see the anger of both sides. Time tends to bring wisdom.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

If Iraq becomes a real and stable democracy, will we all be able to agree it was worth it? Some will never, ever agree it was worth it. No matter what!!! Call it hardheadedness or whatever… Some if not all people are just flat set in their reckoning on this matter and nothing is going to change their mind.
If Iraq descends into anarchy or a terrorist-supporting theocracy, will we all be able to agree we made a mistake? My original short answer to this part of Question 10 will be the only one I will give. (There is no other acceptable answer to this question in my view.) "This question is a mistake… We can never, ever let something like this happen. NEVER!!!"

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

If we have either clear success or clear failure in Iraq, I think reasonable people will agree after the years have done their work, eroding the sharp edges.

That said, it would have been a lot easier if Bush had been right in his early rhetoric -- we use overwhelming force to bring down Baghdad, then the Iraqi people welcome us as liberators. If he had been right about that, I would be behind him now. Honestly I would.

But if we end up with year after year of instability, which is what will likely happen, and conservatives want to call that success, then I doubt if we will ever agree.

It really makes sense to think about how many people are being killed over there day after day and add it all up. Compare it to life under Saddam. Ordinary people used to feel safe in Iraq.

If we had waited for a better opportunity (or better yet, acted on one of the earlier opportunities when the Iraqis were themselves rising up), we might have been able to help them without so much bloodshed.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

I wonder how history will remember this after all of us are gone. Even if, heaven forbid, we lose twice as many soldiers before this is all over, it'll rank as a rather minor conflict for the U.S. Of course, it will always be a major moment for Iraq.

I think , overtime, a consensus will develop about the outcome of Iraq. If it does become the stable, democratic nation we hope it will be, then I think most will agree we did the right thing--although I expect there will be debates from here on out regarding the wisdom of nation building via military force.

Aubrey, I admire your take on what will happen if we fail. Really, that can't be an option. Even people who support the full withdrawl of American troops have to support doing everything we and the International community can to help Iraq become a stable nation. It's simply not acceptable to let them collapse into another tyranical regime.

But it is posible that they develop into a less than pro-American nation. I don't know what happens then. As long as they aren't contributing to terrorism against us, I think we can handle an Iraq that is not really an ally. But anything less and I don't know. Iraq could end up stable but still bad for our interests. At that point, I don't know. But it will be another administration's problem. And that's something to remember, people call this Bush's War, but, like it or not, it's our war. It'd still be here inf Kerry won and there will likely still be some work to do after Bush leaves office. What happens in the next 3 years may set the stage, but what happens in the 10 years after that will also guide how we as a nation come to see this conflict.

At 2:27 PM, Blogger Lokon said...

No, I think the people of our generation will never agree that it was right or wrong... problably like korea.

At 10:31 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

Although most people are in the majority that Vietnam was a bad idea, there are still people out there who don't. So, no, we'll never agree on Iraq.

If Iraq becomes a stable democracy, I'll give props to Dubya, but I'll never agree with the shady way he went to war. He should have come clean from the beginning that it was a democracy building exercise and left all that WMD and terror tie crap on the barber floor.

On the flip side of the coin, if Iraq is still a major failure ten years from now, there will still be Dubya's defenders trying to figure out a way to blame it on "dem damn demos".

At 12:18 AM, Blogger Ted Carmichael said...

I think it is important to point out that most people who are against the war in Iraq - including myself - don't want us to fail there. But that is decidedly different from either believing we will fail there, or believing the necessary cost of success is not worth the outcome.

In his book All the Trouble in the World, P.J. O'Rourke wrote about the logical fallacy of saying that the environment should be protected no matter what the costs. He pointed out that such an extremist statement - even though polls show that many, if not most Americans would agree with it - simply doesn't reflect reality. It's a knee-jerk response that, taken to it's logical conclusion, would virtually shut down every manufacturing plant and method of transport in the country.

Saying that we must win in Iraq no matter the costs is a similarly false idea. We could reinstate the draft, send a few million more troops, spend billions putting a wall around the whole of Iraq, and institute martial law on a level never before seen in the world. Or we could drop a few nuclear bombs in key places and tell the survivors to "figure it out for themselves."

Neither option is truly an option, in that the costs are too high ... in terms of lives, of course, but also in terms of the economic impact, the loss of a moral compass, and by how either option would undermine the stated goal of "a free and democratic Iraq."

That's all just a long-winded way of saying that debate on this war should not be in terms of "Win at all costs." Rather, it should be about what the likely outcome is, and what that outcome will truly cost us, in lives, gold, reputation, and safety.

But what are the costs so far? First, there's oil. The price of crude sank to around $12 a barrel - in 1998, I believe - and was generally between $20 and $30 before the Iraqi war. Now it is over $60 per barrel and holding steady. India and China's increase has played some part, to be sure. But the damage to our reputation in the eyes of the world, and damage to Iraqi production, is almost certainly a large part of that increase. And those added costs produce a serious drag on our economy.

Then there are the direct costs. According to Paul Wolfowitz, containing Saddam Hussein would have cost about $2.5 billion a year. Contrast that with the $207 billion projected (for Iraq war alone) through Sept. 2005, and the $4-5 billion per month to sustain the effort. (I got part of these numbers from here, which may be biased, but seems carefully done.)

And their's the human costs, of course. 1740 American soldier deaths in Iraq, over 12,000 (officially) wounded. Tens of thousands more Iraqi civilians killed and wounded. And there's also the quality of life issues in Iraq ... loss of income and security, and lower levels of electricity, potable water, and basic needs. I would submit that the life for the average Iraqi has been much worse for the last two years than under Saddam Hussein. That may change soon, and - God willing - it will.

But the key point is, that may not change. It's a big risk, and there is as much a chance of a repressive government forming in Iraq as a democratic one. Most likely, it will settle somewhere in between the two.

Finally, there are a lot of costs to this war that are impossible to quantify. Damage to our moral authority is one, tied together with our dismal record of late in diplomatic circles. The Iraq war may give rise to more, rather than less, terrorism, due to our freefall in popularity in the Middle East. There has also been profound economic damage done to Iraq. As the rise of Hitler taught us - and last week's election of a popular fundamentalist in Iran may confirm - brutal governments are often born of poor economies, democratically elected or not.

Also, much of the damage to our own economy is hard to quantify. Lost exports? Money invested in war rather than production? Interest rate increase to sustain larger debts? It's nearly 20 years after Reagan and we're still debating whether or not 'trickle down' economics worked. (Did the tax cuts pull us out of the recession of 1982 or create it?) The arguments on Bush's fiscal policy - spend now, pay later - will go on for decades.

So far I've only talked about the negative side of the scale. There are some positives to balance it out. Saddam is gone, and he was a brutal dictator. The Iraqi people are free of his regime, and working towards some semblance of a free society. We've shown a willingness to "go it alone" to achieve our goals (which may not be entirely positive or negative).

Getting rid of Saddam Hussein and creating a free and democratic Iraq are worthy goals. Spreading peace, freedom, and stability in the Middle East is a worthy goal. Protecting America and American interests from terrorism is a worthy goal.

But in order to believe that the Iraqi "war of choice" was worth the costs, then you have to believe that: 1) Removing Saddam's regime and our efforts there will lead to a democratic and free Iraq; 2) Such a democracy will not only encourage other Middle Eastern countries towards increased civil rights and stability, but also be a better such example than Afghanistan alone could have been; 3) The long-term effects of such an influence will help our reputation more than the Iraqi war has hurt it; 4) This war will encourage civil rights more than a sustained program of education, economic stimulus, and other goodwill efforts could have done; 5) Terrorism will tend to die out as a result, rather than be inflamed; and 6) The economic costs - both direct costs and those of lost opportunity - are reasonable or endurable, given all the above.

(I didn't include the human cost in that last bit on purpose. I don't think anyone would argue that human lives aren't valuable ... we just differ, it seems, on whether the net result will be positive or negative.)

Given all that we have squandered so far, and how many obstacles must be overcome to balance out the scales, I don't think the Iraq war will ever have been worth it. I also don't believe either victory or failure will be decisive enough to end the debate any time soon. (Well ... I had to make some attempt to answer the question as asked, didn't I?)

At 1:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can ayone agree what right and/or wrong is?

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Kenneth Almquist said...

I think it is going to be hard to get an agreement that Iraq was worth it even if all goes well, because of the opportunity costs.

One of these is the war against al Qaeda et al. We took resources away from that to fight in Iraq. If al Qaeda fades away, this will be a minor footnote in the history books. If not, people in the future will be amazed that even after 9/11, fighting al Qaeda wasn't the top foreign policy goal of the United States.

A second opportunity cost is that we haven't stopped the genocide in Darfur. When told about Clinton's inaction on the Rwandan genocide, Bush is reported to have declared, "Not on my watch." But as a result of Iraq, we have neither the troops to intervene nor the international standing to shame other contries into addressing the issue. Because of Darfur, I don't think that Iraq can be justified on humantiarian grounds, no matter how much it improves the lot of people living in Iraq.

At 10:53 PM, Blogger Sean said...

i agree, only time will tell. at least five years after we leave Iraq will be the soonest that a judgement can be made.
i wish the left would at least acknowledge that. But most dont seem to be capable of seeing anythign but complete failure.

look at jennifer still talking about if we were accepted as liberators. That is not an objective fact. Every soldier i spoke with says we were welcomed as liberators. But there goes the absolutes, regarding things that are not absolute.

ordinary people use to feel safe under saddam? are you serious. Exactly why there are the issues with this war. If people actually believe what jennifer is repeating, then they are not open to objective facts. It is alos irrelevant. More people died due to our fighting ww2, than would have dies only at the hands of the germans. irrelevant.

I agree with Ted though. That it is not "win whatever the cost". i also think that saying the only way we win is if Iraq becomes a democracy is wrong. Even if Iraq does fall into some level of chaos, that is not automatically bad. Sorry, but civil wars happen, and are almost impossible for outsiders to prevent. I always felt we should have let them split the country in three, and left. But, there is a balancing act, regarding cost and reward. the biggest reward we have already gotten, saddam out, and other nations know we can mount a serious military campaign to topple them.


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