Magazine article The American Conservative

What Victory Lost

Magazine article The American Conservative

What Victory Lost

Article excerpt

Where would America be if we hadn't invaded Iraq?

PRESIDENT BUSH has enunciated an ambitious standard for success in Iraq, albeit a much more modest one than his original vision of a democratic transformation of the entire Middle East. However, even if the current U.S. program is achieved, the question remains: is this war in the national interest of the U.S.?

Success in Iraq is certainly preferable to outright failure but still may be inferior to abandonment of a policy that was erroneous from inception. Thus, even if Bush can genuinely proclaim "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq when he leaves office, will the war not leave America worse off both at home and in the world? By continuing to pursue our current policy at exorbitant cost and risk, may the United States achieve nothing more than a successful mistake?

While speculative about the past three years and many future developments, here are ten reasonable assertions about a no-war alternative.

First, although Saddam Hussein might still be in power, he would lack WMD or the conventional military capacity to endanger the region. Iraq would be significantly weaker than three of its neighbors (Iran, Turkey, Syria), while the others (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait) would enjoy a robust and credible American security guarantee. Thus, Saddam would be effectively contained, while his economic base would continue to deteriorate even with the porous corruption of international sanctions.

Second, the United States would have much greater military and intelligence assets to devote to the vital campaign against al-Qaeda and to follow up in Afghanistan. There would be none of the critical shortages that have hampered pursuit of the Taliban and no diversion of policy-level attention from making Afghanistan a genuine success. One might hope that bin Laden would no longer be in a position to make public statements challenging the United States, or to do anything else.

Third, even with no change in U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, the standing and influence of the United States in Arab countries and throughout the broader Islamic world would be much greater. To the Muslim television viewer, America is the crusading occupier of a weak Arab state with oil and certainly not a liberator. Washington can proclaim our benign motives till doomsday, but people in the region are not buying it. They believe what they see: Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the civilian casualties from U.S. bombing aimed at insurgents, the turmoil and desperation of daily life for average Iraqis, and the failure of the U.S. after three years to deliver what it promised at the outset of the war. While an American can assess these realities in a broader context, people in the Arab and Islamic worlds see them as proof of malign American intent and of the clash of civilizations we claim to eschew. They know that neoconservative ambitions lie well beyond Iraq: they want to establish American hegemony across the region.

Fourth, America's global alliance system would be in better shape, with much of the post-9/11 solidarity still intact and many governments more amenable to co-operating with us on a range of issues, especially in counter-terrorism. The UN would also be a more viable instrument of U.S. policy. While most European governments have reached an overt accommodation with Washington on many aspects of our Iraq policy, this diplomatic rapprochement is a façade. Every "coalition" government with a substantial contingent in Iraq is getting out or preparing to do so. There is scarcely an allied state where the political elite is not jaded and distrustful of the U.S. after exposure of the WMD that weren't, of prisoner scandals, and from the experience of systematic deception by Washington. Beyond the elites, public opinion among America's allies remains overwhelmingly negative about our recourse to war, our conduct of the occupation, our motives in the Middle East, and our overall ability to use our vast power responsibly. …

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