Victory in Iraq
In the days leading up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, I was against the invasion. I was against it because I could not understand what would have been the gain for the US. Like most others, I thought we should first finish our effort in Afghanistan.
But instead of believing the MSM, or even the Bush administration, I sought to figure it out for myself. These were still times when 911 felt fresh. I started out asking why we were attacked. Did US involvement (our purchase of Middle Eastern oil) not bring wealth to an area not seen good times since the fall of the Ottoman Empire? Many ideas were proposed. I quickly rejected the idea that as victim we were responsible or deserved to be attacked. I also rejected the premise that poverty and ignorance led the terrorists to attack us. No, they were mostly middle class or higher, and for the most part college educated. Why then did these men not made a success of themselves in their own town and nations? As I looked deeper, it became clear that despite the veneer of civility, the people of the Middle East, Arabs in particular, were an oppressed bunch. Politically, all the nation states of the Middle East were authoritarian.
At the same time, the few voices opposing the war suggested that the Iraqis could not possibly govern themselves should we liberated them, that we cannot and should not "impose" democracy on Iraqis. I was struck by how elitist and even racists these Western voices were. Were the Germans not similarly disposed as unfit for democracy as evidence by their actions during WW2? Same with Japan? And are these not among the stalwarts of Democracy in the 21st century?
Sometimes an idea is so obvious and commonplace that it is taken for granted, and not even register or appreciated. That idea is that all men crave self-determination once the basic securities of food and shelter are obtained. That like the Germans, the Japanese, and even the Vietnamese, when given the opportunity and freedom for self-determination over their lives, most will gladly do so. A people's political voices cannot be suppressed for long. This came to me like an epiphany.
The Arab voices had been muffled in the Middle East for a long time. It is one thing to speak up in dissent and ask for change away from oppression, taking great personal risk of liberty and life to do so, it is another to do the same and take great risk of liberty and life of your family and friend. When people cannot speak out directly at home, in one's community, one's nation, then people finds alternative outlet. For most Arabs, it became easier to accept the harsh reality of the present and work toward a better afterlife as promised in Islam. For small few, having moved through Islam, the choice was to strike back at their own government. It isn't Islam per se, but politics in the name of Islam. For these Arabs, these would be terrorists, they sought change not for greater liberty, they sought change to empower their own politicalization of Islam. They are Islamofascists.
How would the Islamofascist strike back at their own government, weaken their government and empower themselves while keeping friends and family relatively safe? By only indirectly attacking their own government, and do it away from their own nations. How would these few act against their government indirectly? By attacking what keep their government going and in power. And thus it became obvious to me that when the terrorists attacked us on 911, it was to force us to reconfigure our support for Middle Eastern regimes, perhaps even withdraw from the region entirely.
Given our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, nay, given the whole world's economy reliance on Middle Eastern oil, the US cannot withdraw from the Middle East. Could we then reconfigure our relationship with these authoritarian regimes and push for greater liberty and democracy? We have been for quite some times without much success. Never the less, this could never be the solution because no nation state ever want to be told how to be by a foreign power. But there was an alternative. Iraq was technically in a state of war, with a ceasefire intermittently broken.
Iraq was an opportunity to directly transform a political process of a nation toward democracy. There is hopeful reason to believe that a free and democratic Iraq could transform the entirety of the Middle East, just as a democratic Japan has done for the Far East and Germany had done for Central Europe. It was a huge gambit that would take years to accomplish and decades to take effect. Victory in Iraq and transformation of the Middle East certainly not guaranteed. I saw the Iraq war as an opportunity of great transformational and historical power. A gambit that earned my awe and respect for the strategic thinking involved.
I understood that the hunt for Osama bin Laden would be a dead end. As soon as we kill him, another would rise in his place, declare bin Laden a Martyr, and continue their Islamofascist plans without him. Only through culture and political transformation can we eliminate their raison d'etre and limit their appeal and recruitment power (financially or manpower wise). I also understood immediately that Iraq as the transforming nidus of the Middle East policy could never openly be declared as our reason, motive, or goal in resuming military action against Sadam Hussein's regime. The world will not tolerate the arrogance of the US stepping into the Middle East with the strategic goal of transforming the regional governments. They did not even want the US to remove the homicidal dictator of Iraq!
I thus tolerated the pretext of weapons of mass destruction on Iraq's part to nullify the ceasefire. I also tolerated the apparent meme of war for oil, because it really wasn't for oil but about oil. Such fine but important difference would not be appreciated.
After the Iraq invasion started March of 2003, I understood that the success or failure of the endeavor to transform the Middle East via democratization of Iraq cannot be known until at least five years have passed. A few months over the five-year mark, I believe Iraq should now be seen as a success for Democracy. Today, November 22, 2008 is Victory in Iraq. Does this mean that a Democratic Iraq will transform the region? I hope so, but I doubt we will understand whether this happen or not for at least a decade.