Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War
I appreciated Ken Pollack's honest reassessment of the question of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq. The Bush team could learn a lot from it.
Since my liberal hawkishness regarding the Iraq war was never rooted in the WMD issue, I look at the postwar a little differently. The debate about the Iraq war for me was always a struggle between hope and experience: hope that we could partner with Iraqis to remove the genocidal tyranny of Saddam Hussein and replace it with some kind of decent, pluralistic, representative government in the heart of the Arab world, and my experience—particularly living in Lebanon during its civil war—which left me skeptical about ever producing a self-sustaining, multiethnic democracy in that region. It was a real struggle in my head. In the end, I let hope win. I have no regrets.
Indeed, having visited Iraq three times since April, I feel even more strongly today than I did the day the war started that, while the Bush team has made an utter mess of the diplomacy and postwar planning, it was still the right war and still has a decent chance to produce a decent outcome.
Why? I think there were four reasons for this war, and I identified with three of them: There was the stated reason, the moral reason, the right reason, and the real reason.
The stated reason for the war was that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction that posed a long-term threat to America. I never bought this argument. I didn't have any inside information. I simply assumed that whatever WMD Saddam possessed had to be, after a decade of sanctions, so limited that it was easily deterrable. There was absolutely nothing in Saddam's history to suggest that he was suicidal—that he had the capability or will to attack the United States directly and pay the price.
He was always deterrable and containable. This was always a war of choice.
The WMD argument was hyped by George Bush and Tony Blair to try to turn a war of choice into a war of necessity. They will have to answer for that.
Personally, I believed the right reason and the moral reason for the war were more than sufficient to justify it. To be sure, they would have been a hard sell as a war of choice, but not impossible—had Messrs. Bush and Blair really thrown themselves into it.
The moral reason for the war was that this was a genocidal regime responsible for the deaths of some 1 million Iraqis, Kurds, Iranians, and Kuwaitis as a result of Saddam's internal suppression and external wars with Iran and Kuwait. Saddam was 10 times worse than Serbian thug Slobodan Milosevic, whom NATO took on without U.N. cover.
The right reason for the war, and this was the core of my own argument, was that the real weapons of mass destruction that threaten our open society were not the hidden WMD of Saddam. Those, as I said, were always deterrable because Saddam and his sons loved life more than they hated us. No, the real WMD that threatened us, and still do, are the young people being churned out, year after year, by failed and repressive Arab states, who hate us more than they love life and therefore are undeterrable. I am talking here about the boys of 9/11. I am talking here about all the youth identified in the two U.N. Development Programme Arab Human Development reports—youth who want to run away from the Arab countries they were raised in because they are so frustrated, angry, and humiliated by how their governments and society have left them unprepared for modernity. Sept. 11, I have always believed, was produced by the poverty dignity, not the poverty money. It was the product, as Egyptian playwright Ali Salem once remarked, of young men who felt so humiliated by the world, they felt like dwarfs, and dwarfs search out tall towers to bring down in order to feel tall. Humiliated youth, ready to commit suicide using instruments from our daily life—cars, planes, tennis shoes—and inspired by religious totalitarians are the real threat to open societies today.
Therefore, the right reason for this war, as I argued before it started, was to oust Saddam's regime and partner with the Iraqi people to try to implement the Arab Human Development report's prescriptions in the heart of the Arab world. That report said the Arab world is falling off the globe because of a lack of freedom, women's empowerment, and modern education. The right reason for this war was to partner with Arab moderates in a long-term strategy of dehumiliation and redignification.
The real reason for this war—which was never stated—was to burst what I would call the "terrorism bubble," which had built up during the 1990s.
This bubble was a dangerous fantasy, believed by way too many people in the Middle East. This bubble said that it was OK to plow airplanes into the World Trade Center, commit suicide in Israeli pizza parlors, praise people who do these things as "martyrs," and donate money to them through religious charities. This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something—to let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society. Yes, I know, it's not very diplomatic—it's not in the rule book—but everyone in the neighborhood got the message: Henceforth, you will be held accountable. Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we could—period. Sorry to be so blunt, but, as I also wrote before the war: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.
Unless we successfully partner with Iraqis, though, to build a new and more decent context, that terrorism bubble will eventually come back tenfold. We must get this right. Yes, I know, it may all turn out to be a fool's errand. A decent Iraq may be impossible. But I would rather go down swinging as an optimist than resign as a pessimist. Because if there is no way to produce governments that can deliver for their young people in the Arab world, get ready for a future full of Code Orange and Code Red.
Paul Berman is the author of Terror and Liberalism and The Passion of Joschka Fischer, which is forthcoming in the spring. Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and most recently the author of Longitudes and Attitudes. Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and a regular contributor toSlate. His most recent book is A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq. Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for Slateand is the author of The Wizards of Armageddon. George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where his article about the occupation recently appeared. He is working on a book about America in Iraq. Kenneth M. Pollack is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Jacob Weisberg is editor of Slate and co-author, with Robert E. Rubin, of In an Uncertain World. Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and the author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.