The New Immorality of Iraq War

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The Boston Globe

The New Immorality of Iraq War

Insanity is defined as repeating one mistaken action again and again, each time expecting a better result that never comes. Prime example: the United States in Iraq. Washington perceived a weapons of mass destruction threat from Saddam Hussein, but instead of responding with diplomacy -- internationally coordinated weapons inspections -- it went to war. When Saddam Hussein was toppled, the initiative should have passed from the Pentagon to a State Department-led program of stabilization and reconstruction, but instead a crudely violent military occupation was begun. Diplomacy was once again rejected.

Today, the United States, fearing a geo-political setback that will undercut the broader "war on terror," is putting the diehard goal of military "victory" ahead of the diplomatic initiatives that alone can enable the reconstruction of Iraqi society. The needed spirit of cooperation among Iraqi factions, and from other nations, will never materialize as long as the United States pursues the fantasy that its armed might will at last prevail. Once again, diplomacy is being rejected in favor of war. This is insane.Given the mayhem that continues to unfold in Iraq, President Bush is properly mocked for having stood before that "Mission Accomplished" banner five years ago this week. But a failure to distinguish between the aggressive war that overthrew Saddam Hussein and the collapse of Iraqi social order that followed is part of what fuels the ongoing US mistake.

However misconceived, the project of ridding the world of Saddam and his Ba'athist regime was indeed a military operation, and it succeeded. But bringing order to a post-Saddam Iraq, especially once sectarian rivalries were set loose, was not a project for which the US war machine was remotely suited. The unilateral character of Bush's intervention made multilateral civic reconstruction after Saddam impossible, with other nations content to let Washington stew in its own arrogance. "Coalition" notwithstanding, the almost exclusively US occupation became the inflammable medium in which sectarian disputes flared, with Iraq's warring parties united only in seeing that occupation as an enemy.

Let's call this repeated insanity the mistake of "supermilitarism," choosing war over diplomacy, and expecting order to follow, instead of chaos. The mistake was made at the beginning, in the middle, and is being repeated now, in what should be the end. The mistake is so deeply rooted in American structures of imagination, economy, and government that it isn't even perceived as a mistake by those in power. And it threatens the future as much as it burdens the past.

When Hillary Clinton offers as her solution to the problem of Iran the threat of "obliteration," she is in a cell of the same moral prison that prefers war to diplomacy. As any neophyte foreign service officer would know, a threat like hers only reinforces the very impulses that make Iran a problem in the first place.

In the present phase of the Iraq war, this strategic impoverishment has added a new dimension to the war's immorality. Rather than acknowledge its mistake, Washington pursues the vindication of its policy -- but not for Iraq's sake. Rather, the purpose now is the rescuing of US "credibility," lest the nation's power elsewhere be undercut. According to this realist-school analysis, American "success" in Iraq is essential if the global war on terror is to be won. Enemies like Al Qaeda will be dangerously empowered everywhere if US military forces are seen to have been defeated.

The "surge" is touted as proof that American armed might can improve things, even though daily news reports say otherwise. That is because American "success" is not the same thing as success for the people of Iraq. By itself, the US military will never prove capable of providing them with stability and security. Worse, the US occupation will continue to prevent the development by Iraqis themselves of authentic, trans-sectarian security forces.

The occupation is the mistake that keeps on taking.

The healing of Iraq would be far more readily achieved by an American acknowledgment of failure, and by the engagement of other nations that such an acknowledgment would immediately invite. But insanely holding on in Iraq until Washington can claim something like "victory" means that this globally oriented geo-political ambition -- America's standing in the world -- is being bought at the price of Iraqi blood.

James Carroll

James Carroll is a Boston Globe columnist and Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Suffolk University. He is the author, among other works, of House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power and, most recently, Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age.

 

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