Thursday, March 20, 2008

An unapologetic apologia for the Iraq war

Contrarian Christopher Hitchens takes stock of the Anglo-American intervention into Iraq, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the war, in "How did I get the Iraq war so wrong? I didn't" (The Australian, March 20, 2008).

Hitchens reminds us of some notable successes achieved:
A much-wanted war criminal was put on public trial.

The Kurdish and Shi'ite majority was rescued from the ever-present threat of a renewed genocide.

A huge, hideous military and party apparatus, directed at internal repression and external aggression was (perhaps overhastily) dismantled.

The largest wetlands in the region, habitat of the historic Marsh Arabs, have been largely recuperated.

Huge fresh oilfields have been found, including in formerly oil-free Sunni provinces, and some important initial investment in them made. Elections have been held, and the outline of a federal system has been proposed as the only alternative to a) a sectarian despotism and b) a sectarian partition and fragmentation. Not unimportantly, a battlefield defeat has been inflicted on al-Qa'ida and its surrogates, who (not without some Baathist collaboration) had hoped to constitute the successor regime in a failed state and an imploded society.

Further afield, a perfectly defensible case can be made that the Syrian Baathists would not have evacuated Lebanon, nor would the Gaddafi gang have turned over Libya's (much larger than anticipated) stock of WMD, if not for the ripple effect of the removal of the region's keystone dictatorship.
Hitchens provides no conclusive reason to claim these positive developments outweigh the negative results: the costs of the war in lives and treasure and its undesirable unintended consequences.

Yet, he does rebut the easy answer of those war critics who think that had we simply not intervened, any bad result would not be our fault. He dubs this position the "Bishop Berkeley theory," to wit, "if a country collapses and succumbs to trauma, and it's not our immediate fault or direct responsibility, then it doesn't count, and we are not involved."

Hitchens points to the potentially shameful and dire consequences of the Bishop Berkeley attitude toward a "war of choice" in Burma, Rwanda and Darfur.

Alas, in a morally ambiguous world, there is no safe refuge from responsibility.

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|| headland, 3:59 PM

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