Monday, June 13, 2005

Silver linings in Iraq?

"You can't fix in six months what it took 35 years to destroy." These words, spoken by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq's first democratically elected Prime Minister in half a century, should be inscribed in 3-foot-tall characters as a preface to all the reporting from Iraq. Sadly, the underlying reality all too often seems to escape many reporters caught in the excitement of "now."
So begins Arthur Chenkroff's roundup of recent good news from Iraq, which with dozens of topics and over 18,000 words is both exhaustive and exhausting. While you can't deny the Chenkroff report's "thud factor," several points seem worth making.

First, as a matter of policy outcome, there's an obvious methodological fallacy at work here: just because things are going well in some specific domains in Iraq in doesn't mean that the total picture is positive, or even anything other than disastrous. (People fell in love in Auschwitz, but no one tries to conclude from that fact that the place provided a nurturing environment.) Just because the dinar isn't hyperinflating, or a few communities have finally gotten their utilities running again, doesn't do squat to vitiate the horror of dozens of people dying daily in attacks around the country.

Second, "the wingnuts do protest too much": there are, unfortunately, very good reasons why the rump pro-war faction in this country feels a need to go on at hysterical length about how great everything is going in Iraq -- i.e., because the situation is in fact a disaster. What Chenkroff presents (like almost everything else on the WSJ op-ed page) is a dicussion that masquerades as a brief about policy, but in fact it is a political argument; in this case, about whether the political choice to invade Iraq was sensible in the first place.

Third, even as a political argument, Chenkroff's article is part of a massive political bait-and-switch that the architects of the war and their media shils are trying to pull on the American people. Let's never, ever let these people forget that they told us the war and especially the postwar would be relatively easy, not a $200B (and counting) clusterfuck. For example, on the eve of the invasion Paul Wolfowitz told a House Subcommitee that General Shinseki's was flat out wrong in claiming that the invasion and occupation of Iraq would require a larger troop base and cost hundreds of billions. The reason for this, Wolfowitz explained, is that,
There was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq, as there was in Bosnia or Kosovo. He said Iraqi civilians would welcome an American-led liberation force that "stayed as long as necessary but left as soon as possible," but would oppose a long-term occupation force. And he said that nations that oppose war with Iraq would likely sign up to help rebuild it.

Even if not everything in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster, that's not what we were signed up for. Support for the war was generated not with promises that some things would be okay in Iraq two years after the invasion; on the contrary, we were told this was going to be "a cakewalk."

Moreover, it's worth noting that these guys actually believed it would be a cakewalk, that we would be greeted as liberators, and so on. That absurdly historically ignorant overconfidence is the only thing that rationally explains why these fools didn't plan for the postwar: they figured that all they needed to do was to get rid of Saddam's sclerotic "socialist" state, and everything would be peachy.

And now, two years later, the best they can come up with is stuff like "half of the artifacts stolen from Iraqi museums following the liberation have been now recovered" or, "seven trash collection projects were recently completed in Baghdad neighborhoods." Whoa nelly! I mean, that kind of progress definitely seems worth nearly two thousand dead Americans, and tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, doesn't it?

Bottom line: do you think anyone would have supported the war if they had been told that Chenkroff's article would represent a complete tally of everything good that has come from the war, when one considers the costs in prestige, blood, and treasure that Iraq has cost us?

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