Sunday, August 13, 2006

My position on the Iraq war: um.

My views have changed over time. It's very likely that they're going to keep changing. I've gone from undecided, to dubiously supporting, to regretfully opposing, to hopeful, to despairing. The simple fact is that there's too much at issue for me to come down with a simple yes or no answer to the question of whether the Iraq invasion was, is, or will be, a good thing or not.

I started out not knowing. I didn't believe even then that this was a simple question of "US good, Saddam bad". I listened to the talking points of the day, but it took a while to reach a decision.

The first talking point I rejected was the claim that this invasion was all about securing access to oil. I found it hard to understand why people were getting up in arms about a mere natural resource when something much more important and much more valuable to its possessors was up for grabs: power. The neoconservatives in the US had plans to solidify US dominance over the world so as to shape into a form they found more acceptable - all for our own good of course.

The second claim I had a hard time swallowing was that this was about ridding the world of a dictator. At this time, there was no indication whatsoever as to what form, if any, the post-Saddam Iraq was going to take. In fact, it was fairly clear at the time that the US was focusing on the WMD argument, with the removal of Saddam described as nothing more than "a nice bonus" - and quite possibly an optional one at that. On a TV debate here in Australia, a Kurd asked the assembled panel what would happen if Saddam did in fact comply fully with Resolution 1441, allowing UN inspectors unfettered access to all of Iraq and accounting for all of the unaccounted-for WMDs allegedly still in his possession - would that mean that the US would leave Saddam in power, free to oppress the Kurdish population in Iraq? He never got an answer to his question.

The arguments about terrorism and national security I regarded as the weakest arguments for an Iraq invasion. The alleged links between Al-Qaida and Saddam were tenuous, the spectre of a terrorist attack using WMDs sounded like scare-mongering (particularly since the most abundant source of nuclear, chemical and biological arms remains the former Soviet bloc), and the level of threat to "world security" seemed a question for "the world", not the US, to answer. And yet, this was the centrepiece of the pro-war argument: Saddam has WMDs, he's disobeying the UN, and we have to stop him even if it means disobeying the UN.

But I did consider the possibility that overthrowing a dictator could be a good thing. It was a risk though. Could I trust the US to actually replace Saddam with a government that was democratic rather than simply install yet another dictator, except this time one who serves their interests? Even if I believed that was the goal of the US, could I trust them to succeed at that goal?

Such was the state of affairs when I attended my one and only anti-war rally. That rally was held internationally. It was huge - much, much bigger than even the organisers expected. Did it make any difference? I think it did: the day after that rally, as I was scouring for articles about the rally, I saw that the US government had officially announced that they would work towards building a democratic government in Iraq. I sincerely believe that this commitment to building a democracy in Iraq would not have come about if that international anti-war rally hadn't attracted such a large turn-out. As I recall, rallies after that announcement - which I didn't attend - were much, much smaller. I no longer attended, as my main objection to regime change had been dealt with.

So did I switch to a pro-war position once it became clear that the US wasn't going to replace a sadistic, ruthless, anti-American dictator with a sadistic, ruthless, pro-American dictator? I did for a time. But after the invasion, as the rebuilding effort dragged on, I wondered just how much of a commitment the US government had really made. I wondered if the American people really understood just how much time and effort it would take to rebuild a nation (one study I've read suggested that it'd be a minimum of 5 years before things even looked like approaching stability). I wondered if, instead of celebrating the short-term overthrow of a dictator, I should be worrying about what's going to happen to Iraq, and perhaps even the world, in the long run thanks to a poorly-planned, poorly-executed invasion of Iraq which has alienated the US from its longtime allies.

And yet, I can't support a withdrawal from Iraq. The mess must be cleaned up. Invading Iraq and then failing to clean up afterwards would be the worst of both worlds. I have no choice but to hope that the neocons succeed in their efforts to bring "freedom and democracy" to Iraq, even though I view their philosophy as an overall threat to world peace.

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