As the sectarian US-backed central government in Iraq loses up to half its territory to jihadist forces, the country is entering its biggest crisis in years. So far the Obama administration is resisting pressure to intervene with air strikes or drones.
This would be a useful time for the US intellectual cheerleaders of the disastrous 2003 invasion to gaze upon their handiwork and consider how high that achievement ranks in their CVs. Certainly they bear some responsibility for today’s events. They acted to destabilize the country in the first place, uprooting a secular dictatorship.
But no, yesterday’s Tom Friedman column about religious extremism in Iraq ignores the shooting war there and spins off into a discussion of environmental issues in the region. How soon we forget that he sold the Iraq invasion as a radical-liberal liberation! As he wrote in 2003 (thanks to Belen Fernandez):
this is the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the U.S. has ever launched — a war of choice to install some democracy in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world.
Most of the troubles we have encountered in Iraq (and will in the future) are not because of ”occupation” but because of ”empowerment.” The U.S. invasion has overturned a whole set of vested interests, particularly those of Iraq’s Sunni Baathist establishment, and begun to empower instead a whole new set of actors: Shiites, Kurds, non-Baathist Sunnis, women and locally elected officials and police. The Qaeda nihilists, the Saddamists, and all the Europeans and the Arab autocrats who had a vested interest in the old status quo are threatened by this.
Many liberals oppose this war because they can’t believe that someone as radically conservative as George W. Bush could be mounting such a radically liberal war.
Today, an analytical piece in the New York Times (co-authored by Michael Gordon, another instrument of the late war) quotes Kenneth M. Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm, the book that did more than just about anything, except Pollack’s numerous op-eds in the Times, to convince liberals to support the 2003 invasion. If the Times wants to keep quoting Pollack, fine, but tell us what he said before. Nowhere in the article is Pollack identified as having been terribly wrong about Iraq when it mattered most. Pollack wrote in 2002 that the Iraqis would welcome us as a liberating force and soon be on their feet after our army toppled the regime:
In purely economic terms, Iraq itself, with its vast oil wealth, would pay for most of its reconstruction. It might take some time to bring the oil back online.. but it is hard to imagine that it would take more than two to three years to have Iraq back to 2000 to 2001 production levels… Consequently, in purely economic terms, it is unimaginable that the United States would have to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and highly unlikely that we would have to contribute even tens of billions of dollars [to rebuild the country]. The United States probably would have to provide $5 to $10 billion over the first three years to help get Iraq’s oil industry back on its feet, initiate the reconstrution of Iraq’s economy, and support the Iraqi people in the meantime… redeveloping infrastructure and other basic costs. However, the need for direct U.S. aid should decline steeply thereafter.
Those who argue that the United States would inevitably become the target of unhappy Iraqis generally also assume that the Iraqi population would be hostile to U.S. forces from the outset. However, the best evidence we have suggests that the Iraqi people would be pleased to be liberated, and over the longer term, their acceptance of U.S. forces would likely be determined by the efforts the United States undertook….
When you’re fighting a fire, why would you turn to the arsonists who set it for advice? Whatever the U.S. should do — or not do — we should certainly put a giant asterisk next to the people who got us and Iraq into this terrible mess in the first place and pay more attention to those who were right all along.