Friday, August 12, 2005

The mess in Iraq

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq, has been camping outside George Bush's Texas ranch, demanding to see the President. She wants US troops out of Iraq now. Her protest has stirred up a hornets' nest of invective from the political right. (Dawg's Blawg has a post worth reading on the Sheehan matter.) Perhaps the right is afraid that a tipping point is being reached in US public opinion. In the Sixties it took several years before that point was reached, and casualties were far heavier than they are in Iraq. As of now, there have been some 1850 US military deaths in Iraq. Although the rate of deaths and injuries is easily sustainable militarily, it is not indefinitely sustainable politically, and time is running out on Bush's ability to keep public opinion in line. Already, most Americans believe that going to war was a mistake, even if they are not prepared to demand an immediate withdrawal of troops.

The war was sold to the US public as necessary to avert an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Of course, we now know there were no such weapons. I think it's safe to say that many or most opponents of the war were surprised to find that Saddam had nothing at all in the way of, say, chemical weapons; after all, everyone agreed he was a nasty megalomaniac. But they were right to believe his regime posed no imminent threat to other countries. (One reason the French became the favourite whipping boy of the US is that France had the gall--Gaul?--not only publicly to defy the US on Iraq, but to be right.) With UN weapons inspectors crawling all over Iraq, why did the US and UK decide they had to cut the process short and go to war immediately? The likely answer: because UN weapons inspectors were crawling all over Iraq. They were in the process of blowing the cover story that had been promulgated to justify an invasion. There was a backup cover story too: Saddam is in cahoots with Al Qaeda. More than that, there was a drumbeat of innuendo from the US administration suggesting a link between Saddam and 9/11. It went something like this: "Ever since 9/11, we have become aware of the threat posed to this nation by Saddam Hussein." Notice that this statement doesn't actually claim there is any link between Saddam and 9/11. ("Ever since 9/11, I have become aware that Derek Jeter is the best shortstop in baseball." Why? Perhaps I started watching a lot of baseball to get my mind off politics.) I think it was Donald Rumsfeld who said when questioned that he had no idea where so many Americans got the idea there was a connection between Saddam and 9/11. Then there was the final fall-back justification. The US invaded Iraq to bring freedom to Iraqis, while fighting all the terrorists there. Oh, yes, and there's a bridge in Brooklyn you might want to buy.

It's an over-simplification to say that the US invaded Iraq for oil, but there's more than a grain of truth there. "We need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles." The US invaded Iraq to advance its own economic, military, and political interests, by securing control of a key country in the energy-rich, strategically vital Middle East--a goal seen as all the more important given the growing influence of potential rival powers, particularly China. But remaking a country like Iraq into a pro-US bastion is no simple task, and once you're in, there's no easy way out. Arguably, the war has diminished US security and international clout. Iraq is a mess, and even if it manages to pull itself together, it's doubtful the new state will be the pro-US Iraq envisioned by those who overthrew Saddam. Meanwhile, back home, more and more mothers are asking whether it was all worth it.

Here's a useful site for keeping informed on developments in Iraq and the Middle East.

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