Bush and Rockefeller
Two controversies are swirling. One regards President Bush’s address to the nation on the anniversary of September 11, which Democrats say was too nakedly political for that solemn occasion.
The other concerns remarks by Jay Rockefeller that seemed to say it would have been better to leave Saddam in power.
With regard to the second controversy, I have a suggestion for war opponents in this debate. It is to make war the issue. The question is not whether the Saddam regime should have been neutralized. The question is the best method to achieve that goal without destabilizing the Middle East. War was clearly a mistake. It was too blunt an instrument, and it sent Iraq into shock, making the United States inevitably less secure since as an oil-dependent superpower it is negatively affected by instability in the Persian Gulf.
Should Saddam have been defanged and if possible removed? Yes. But it is now obvious that he had been defanged. The weapons inspection regime and the sanctions had destroyed his weapons’ programs and thrown the Iraqi economy down to fourth world status. In fact, it is clear in retrospect that the economic sanctions were too stringent (even after the ban on chlorine was lifted, allowing water purification). Saddam was being attacked, constrained, and ever increasingly diminished as a threat, by sanctions and inspections, which needed to be extended and turned into smart sanctions.
War as a tactic was the wrong tactic for Iraq. It is not that any of us in retrospect wish Saddam had not been overthrown. It is a fool’s errand to compare Iraq in 2002 and Iraq now. The question is war. War was not the answer. It has not produced stability or security.
As for Bush, his speech was in fact a shameless appropriation of the tragedy of September 11 for partisan political purposes. But what was really strange was the key contradiction it contained. He maintained that the Iraq War had made Americans more secure. But then he said that if they lose the battle in Iraq, “the terrorists” will come after them.
But we never had a beef with the people of Ramadi, ever in our history. If Bush is saying that he has induced a feud between the US and the people of Ramadi so vicious that if we don’t spend the rest of the century keeping that city behind barbed wire, they will find a way to blow up something on the US mainland– if that is what he is saying, then the only logical conclusion is that by invading Iraq, Bush has made us less secure and has created enemies for us where none existed before.
But in fact, the US in the Sunni Arab heartland of Iraq is not fighting “terrorists” mostly. Bush has started to believe his own propaganda. The US is fighting Iraqi nationalists and nativists, secular, tribal or religious. If the Iraqi Sunni nationalists could take over their own territory, they would not put up with the few hundred foreign volunteers blowing things up, and would send them away or slit their throats.
This is Washington’s classical Vietnam error. They thought they were fighting international communism in Vietnam, when they were actually fighting Vietnamese nationalists with a leftist cast. Not so long after the end of the war, the Vietnamese were fighting with Communist China. That makes no sense if they were international communists. It makes perfect sense if they were nationalists.
Just as there was no grand global domino effect from our losing the Vietnam War, so there would be no grand terror effect if we left Ramadi. We left Saudi Arabia, which some might see as an enormous concession to al-Qaeda, and nothing bad happened to us. Al-Qaeda cannot control Sunni Iraq because there are too many Iraqi claimants on power and authority, whether Sunni or other. Nor would Turkey and Jordan put up with an al-Qaeda state on their borders, and both have proved that they can intervene effectively if they want to.
Ramadi is not going to follow the US troops back to Ft. Bragg if they leave. Ramadi will celebrate and then go about its business.
As for al-Qaeda, we cannot make policy on the basis of what it thinks of us. Al-Qaeda is stalking America. It is tiny and disrupted, but still dangerous. But an American withdrawal from Iraq would not change a key fact: Al-Qaeda wants to hit us, whether we are in Iraq or not. On the other hand, our being in Iraq is enraging the Muslim world and making it easier for al-Qaeda to recruit and plot against us. If we leave, all that will immediately settle down. When the French left Algeria in 1962, within a year the Franco-Algerian struggle was completely gone from the newspapers of both countries. The French Right kept saying that France could not leave Algeria. But it could, and did, and everything was all right. It will be all right if we get our ground troops out of Ramadi. They aren’t winning there, and the occupation is causing more trouble than it is worth. As for who takes over Ramadi when we leave, well, the Iraqis can work that out among themselves. We don’t care who runs Rangoon. Why should we care who runs Ramadi?