Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Now What?

Gregg Easterbrook thinks that we must leave Iraq immediately, having discovered that there are, in fact, none of the banned weapons that furnished our justification for invading in the first place:
Why are we in Iraq? If the reason really, truly was that we really, truly believed Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons, then our assault on Iraq was justified, but now we must leave immediately, as no banned weapons have been found. Arguing "we're there by mistake, but are obliged to pile more mistakes atop the original mistake"--even France has recently said as much!--makes no sense.

Either the Bush aministration (sic) must admit that it was wrong about weapons of mass destruction and articulate different--possibly valid--reasons for the occupation of Iraq, or we must leave immediately.
Easterbrook gives Bush an out -- if he can articulate post-hoc rationalizations that would have justified the war had they been argued before the war, then we can also stay.

But the question whether we stay in Iraq and for how long must be divorced from the question of whether we should have gone in the first instance, because US military invasions typically have a transformative effect on the invaded country. This invasion is no exception. Having invaded Iraq, having toppled along with Saddam's tyrannical regime all the elements and institutions of civil order, it is incumbent on us to stay and fix, as best we can, the mess we've helped to create. In the long run, assuming Iraq's reconstruction is handled competently and fairly, the Iraqi people will be immeasurably better off without the Baathist regime. In some important respects, they already are. Picking up and leaving at this juncture, whether the war was justified or no, would be shortsighted, irresponsible, and immoral. We owe it to the Iraqi people to help them lay the foundations of a new order. And we owe it to ourselves to make sure that when we leave Iraq, it is to the thanks of a people freed from the yoke of an awful dictator and left with the means to build a stable, free, and prosperous society of their own. If we leave now, that won't happen.

Aside from ignoring that realpolitik rationale for staying in Iraq, Easterbrook errs logically by reducing the argument for staying in Iraq to"we're there by mistake, but are obliged to pile more mistakes atop the original mistake." It is not self-evident that by remaining we will pile more mistakes atop the original mistake. Early evidence is not encouraging, to be sure. It seems clear that advance planning for the post-war period was, to put it mildly, sub-optimal. But just because the Bushies aren't doing it well, doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

By the title of his post, Easterbrook implies that staying would be the equivalent of staying in Vietnam. I rejected that comparison before the war, and I reject it now. Vietnam was a quagmire precisely because we intervened in a civil war and sought to prop up a corrupt and unpopular dictatorship. In Iraq, we deposed a corrupt and unpopular dictatorship. Iraqi resentment at the invasion and occupation -- if the occupation and transition back to Iraqi rule are handled humanely, generously, and wisely -- will cool. Sadly, though, humane, generous, and wise are not adjectives I'd use to describe George W. Bush or those to whom he's delegated responsibility for this war and its aftermath. That's not an argument for leaving -- just for voting Democratic in 2004.