Politics & Policy

The Mounting Protests

Thinking through Iraq.

It’s correct that there is political commotion mounting in opposition to the Iraq war. It is important to distinguish between two kinds. One, which is gaining attention, centers on misrepresentations. The so-called Downing Street Memo is cited. This records an exchange at 10 Downing Street on July 23, 2002, at which, it is said, the representatives of Mr. Bush made it clear that the president had resolved to proceed against Iraq irrespective of what the U.N. might do.

Rejecting that account, the Bush people have said that the invasion was not finally planned until after the appeal to the United Nations by Secretary of State Powell on February 5, 2003.

The revisionist line is saying that the war should not have taken place and that many who gave it support were deceived by apodictic claims from the White House that the enemy had weapons of mass destruction.

That argument, gaining strength with the formation of an “Out of Iraq” Congressional Caucus, is one thing–a reiteration of antiwar and isolationist sentiment. This is unrelated to reservations being expressed within the conservative community having to do with the need to rethink the claims of that war on our support.

Last week a conservative dissenter submitted an analysis to his colleagues. Several points were made.

After the success of the military enterprise, “two goals then took form. The first was to organize elections, giving Iraqis’ tribal divisions an opportunity, acting together, to record their willingness to establish a self-governing republic. Once again, the results were gratifying. Some 80 percent of those who voted registered their endorsement of a constitutional regime change.

“The second goal has been to bring such order to Iraq as is required to effect the self-government the voters had endorsed. This objective has failed.”

The failure, it is argued, cannot be redeemed by prospects that remain illusory. There isn’t freedom of civil action in Iraq. There are areas in which order is routinely exercised, but there are no areas where Iraqis can assume safety from insurgent disruption.

In the past twelve months, our policies have been expediential: an attempt to effect such order as is required to permit a devolution of authority to Iraqis. The planted axiom has been that it is only a matter of time before the two great passions–for stability and for political self-government–converge into a new and viable Iraq.

Not to be taken for granted. “No developments in the first half year of 2005 warrant confidence that these goals are being met, or even that they are predictable. The blame for this cannot responsibly be assigned to any one delinquent body. The United States military has performed with courage and perseverance. The Iraqis have never submitted to the insurgents, by whom they are nevertheless frequently overcome.”

The critic persuasively argues that no commitment by the United States can be interpreted as extending beyond a reasonable allocation of the nation’s resources. We could not, in March 2003, when the war began, be expected to fix a figure of soldiers dead and billions spent, after which geopolitical assumptions would be revised. “As major military operations are measured,” we are reminded, “our losses in Iraq are statistically exiguous, but they are nonetheless inordinate. The disposition to bear the cost and pain of human losses is necessarily measured by coordinate purposes and achievements. Our desire that the new Iraq, uninterrupted by insurgency, should proceed as a free and independent state is less than a commitment to which we are prepared to make sacrifices without measure.”

The critic concludes, “The moment comes in every military venture, short of national self-defense, when responsible thought is given to the correlation of ends and means. One reason given for venturing into Iraq was the need to impress upon the nations of the world the decisive nature of U.S. intercessions. We effected this by going into Afghanistan and Iraq. But we have dulled the example we set out to make by tolerating costs without corresponding advances on the strategic goal.”

A respect for the power of the United States is engendered by our success in engagements in which we take part. A point is reached when tenacity conveys not steadfastness of purpose but misapplication of pride. It can’t reasonably be disputed that if in the year ahead the situation in Iraq continues about as it has done in the past year, we will have suffered more than another 500 soldiers killed. Where there had been skepticism about our venture, there will then be contempt.


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