Iraq was not a doomed enterprise, but a U.S. crime

It has become fashionable for those who originally supported the war but turned against it – like Matt Yglesias – to push a strange sort of deterministic anti-war critique that has caught on elsewhere as well in the liberal side of the blogsphere.

Yglesias’ version is smart in many ways. Today, he uses a version of it to defend Bremer:

“I think Bremer has essentially been turned into a scapegoat for very broad intellectual errors and policy mistakes that affected a wide swathe of the American elite from 2002-2005. Rather than acknowledge that this is what happened; that certain stupendously wrong ideas gained widespread adherence in the two years after 9/11, there's been an enormous willingness to believe that, hey, no, everything's fine, it's just that Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld are really dumb.

The trouble with trying to defend Bremer from this unfair position, however, is that every time he opens his mouth he's refusing to adopt the only really viable defense he has -- that he was the fall guy for a doomed enterprise. It's not that disbanding the Iraqi Army wasn't an error, it's just that having done things the other way 'round wouldn't have produced the desired unified, democratic, and yet willing to be used as a platform for US power-projection throughout the region Iraq that Bremer was supposed to produce.”

Now, if the idea is that the catastrophe in Iraq is just due to a few bad American leaders, then of course that isn’t true. But the notion of the “doomed enterprise” is romantic nonsense, and has the additional negative externality that it washes away all responsibility from the actors involved. While the U.S. had no business, right, or need to invade Iraq, once Iraq was invaded, there were a number of courses of action that presented themselves. Not every action braided into the disaster that has impacted with such mind boggling force on the Iraqis. Allowing Iraq to be looted and calling it the price of freedom, and then disbanding the army and most of the security forces was not forced upon the U.S. by the gods above. In fact, in Gulf War I, the U.S. devised a coalition that actually had force – the members of the coalition could impact and even change U.S. actions. The French basically forced George Bush I to protect Northern Iraq from Saddam’s army. The lesson that his pea brained son took from this was never involve the U.S. in an arrangement in which the U.S. does not have supreme power. That, of course, was at the root of the evil of the occupation. The U.S. had a responsibility, once Baghdad fell, to consult with the U.N. and submit to the appointing of a U.N. approved interim government. At that point, the U.S. military should have been subordinate, taking orders from, that interim government. Almost surely, that interim government would have been more interested in the security of the Iraqis than the benefits accruing from giving them a flat tax – one of Bremer’s comic opera achievements.

It is definitely true, as Yglesias points out, that the U.S. war goals were internally incoherent. They were logically incoherent, insofar as they promoted democracy in Iraq and the supreme rule of a foreign occupying power in Iraq. They were psychologically incoherent as they premised paying for the foreign occupying power with Iraq’s own money while at the same time promoting the alliance of Iraq and the U.S. – as though massive resentment about the looting of Iraq’s wealth to go to the richest country in the world wouldn’t be the result of that plan. The second plan was scotched, the first was never meant seriously. But the U.S. miscalculated, as it became apparent in 2004 that the American forces would simply be fighting everybody if they didn’t start on the road to elections. When, as I have lamented until I am tired of lamenting, the anti-war party fell apart, refusing to become an anti-occupation party and freezing time in a perpetual quest to go back to Spring, 2003, the chance for pushing back against U.S. policies in Iraq in the country was missed. The reason for this was the palpable fear of seeming anti-American. But that reason was fucking lame. The Iraqis became the victims of the inability of the anti-war movement to scream out loudly about the looting of Iraq, the deadly insouciance and moral turpitude of disbanding Iraq’s security forces, the thrusting of insane shock therapy economic policies on the country. It won’t do now to look back at those things as inevitable concomitants of the occupation, for which nobody is to blame. The blame is with the U.S. Let’s all say that in a rousing manner. The blame is with the U.S. This fucking country was directly responsible for the violence that ensued in Iraq. This fucking country promoted sectarianism by way of the usual occupier’s divide and conquer methods it introduced from the minute it touched Iraqi soil and airlifted the comic opera militia of Chalabi into the country. This fucking country was the first to make a mockery of Iraq’s judiciary by using it as an instrument of arbitrary arrest, as per Bremer’s hard on against Sadr. This fucking country couldn’t seem to gather the army together in POW camps and demobilize and remobilize it, but had plenty of time for herding ordinary Iraqis en masse into prison camps like Abu Ghraib. As a general rule, when a state invades a second state and the first state is absolutely unfamiliar with the language and culture of the second state, the first state is going to make a hash of governing the second state. However, this doesn't mean that it is necessarily going to unleash mass murder on an unprecedented scale in the second state. For that, you need to be especially bad.

There was no deterministic doom at work here, as in a Faulkner novel. Let’s cut the crap.