Judge the water, not the well

I don’t really want to add anything further to what I’ve said about Iraq, but Christopher Hitchens makes a good point in the Weekly Standard, a point I have made myself in the past, directed at those who blame the current violence there on the American occupation:

“Anyone with the smallest knowledge of Iraq knows that its society and infrastructure and institutions have been appallingly maimed and beggared by three decades of war and fascism (and the “divide-and-rule” tactics by which Saddam maintained his own tribal minority of the Sunni minority in power). In logic and morality, one must therefore compare the current state of the country with the likely or probable state of it had Saddam and his sons been allowed to go on ruling.

At once, one sees that all the alternatives would have been infinitely worse, and would most likely have led to an implosion–as well as opportunistic invasions from Iran and Turkey and Saudi Arabia, on behalf of their respective interests or confessional clienteles. This would in turn have necessitated a more costly and bloody intervention by some kind of coalition, much too late and on even worse terms and conditions. This is the lesson of Bosnia and Rwanda yesterday, and of Darfur today. When I have made this point in public, I have never had anyone offer an answer to it. A broken Iraq was in our future no matter what, and was a responsibility (somewhat conditioned by our past blunders) that no decent person could shirk.”

I don’t whole-heartedly agree with him, especially when he concludes from this that “The only unthinkable policy was one of abstention.” First of all, that implies that the only form that intervention could have taken was what actually happened, which is a pretty limited and fatalistic view. And secondly, it is not inconceivable that we c0uld have continued to abstain from getting involved even if Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia all invaded together. Isn’t that another lesson from Rwanda and Bosnia? I know that Hitchens is basically making a moral case, but that doesn’t make “ought to” the same as “have to.” Nevertheless, his basic point that Iraq was heading for sectarian ethnic conflict and probably a civil war as soon as Saddam died or got deposed no matter what the conditions is pretty hard to argue with. In fact, the presence of American troops has probably had a unifying effect both on Iraqis opposed to and supportive of their presence, although that by itself doesn’t necessarily legitimate or make worthwhile the whole engagement. So those who argue that the Americans turned Iraq from a peaceful and orderly little haven into Palestine/Rwanda should definitely shut the fuck up.

p.s. I also like his similarly inarguable headline “Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad,” although surely he would be the first to admit that that is not saying a whole lot.

One Response to “Judge the water, not the well”

  1. selling waves » Blog Archive » I’m not hitched to this bandwagon Says:

    […] !

            I’m not hitched to this bandwagon
                Since I offered this cautious defense of Christopher Hitchens’ overall assessment of Iraq about a month ago, I  [...]

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