Friday, November 19, 2004

Lowering the bar in Iraq

With the occupation failing, and the prospect of free and fair elections growing more distant every day (and the likelihood that, if truly free and fair, they would be won by anti-western theocrats), an op-ed in the NYT argues for a dramatic lowering of the bar. America must adopt "more realistic" goals in Iraq, they say, and they present a stark choice - between partition or a "secular strongman".

For an invasion and occupation predicated on freeing the Iraqi people from a murderous dictator, this is lowering the bar all the way to the ground. Lest anyone forget, Saddam Hussein was a "secular strongman". To advocate simply installing another, after killing so many in the name of democracy, is simply monstrous.

But the root of this problem is clear. The authors list America's goals in Iraq as

find[ing] a way to withdraw most of its troops over the next several years and leav[ing] behind an Iraq that is not in a civil war, that is not a haven for Al Qaeda and is not an immediate threat to its neighbors

There's an obvious absence from this list, and that is the Iraqi people. Having waged a bloody war for their freedom, their interests are now completely ignored. But as John Quiggin points out, the coalition has never treated the war as a humanitarian intervention.

Instead, they regarded themselves as the victors in a (pre-emptively) defensive war and Iraq as a defeated enemy state, which they could reconstruct (or not) as they wished.

But humanitarian intervention was the only argument for the war which passed the laugh test (and even it failed to stack up). For the Americans to completely ignore these concerns makes the critique of them as imperialist conquorers pretty much dead on.

Before the war, President Bush spoke of his commitment to building a free Iraq and promised that

we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected.

He must be held to this.