The war in Iraq has become a costly trap from which the United States should extricate itself soon. With the election only a few weeks away, the Republican administration insists on “staying the course,” on denouncing all the different insurgents as desperadoes, and on reassuring the public that things are improving just as more than one thousand American soldiers have died and attacks are sharply increasing. Those who have put their hopes in a change of administration have several reasons for being frustrated and disappointed.
First, the Democratic team has seemed anxious not to upset voters who have been persuaded by the administration that the “War on Terror” depends on the American “liberation” of Iraq and do not want to hear about the limits of American power. John Edwards has talked of ultimate victory, and John Kerry has crippled his campaign by his all-too-calculated contradictions, especially when he stated that he would have voted for the congressional resolution that granted power to initiate war to the President even if he had known in October 2002 what is known now. He should simply have observed instead, as Senator Hillary Clinton did, that had we known then what we know now, there would have been no resolution and no vote.
The two Democratic candidates have been critical of the ways in which the Bush administration invaded Iraq and bungled the occupation. But they could have put forward much earlier arguments that Kerry was only beginning to make in late September.
(1) Saddam’s regime did not present a clear and present danger to the United States;
(2) no proof of collusion against the US between Saddam and al-Qaeda has ever been shown;
(3) the switch from the war on terrorism, which led to the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, to the war in Iraq was a highly imprudent diversion of resources, and a contribution to—indeed a godsend for—terrorists, a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecy;
(4) the lofty goal of liberating the Iraqis cannot be achieved by imposing a regime of exiles through military force, in circumstances drastically different from those of 1945 Germany and Japan;
(5) the awarding of lucrative contracts exclusively to American companies has thrown a deep shadow over the idealistic language of the administration;
(6) the willful decision to limit the size of American forces in Iraq (for reasons that were never made entirely clear) was an unexpected boon to insurgents, since the US forces could not deal with the acute problems that were inevitable in a partly devastated country;
(7) American expectations that the occupation would be popular were based on a mixture of ignorance, hubris, and misinformation provided by exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi;
(8) a genuine concern with liberation would have required close US collaboration with internal factions, restraint in the use of destructive tactics, prevention of looting, and scrupulous respect for international obligations, especially toward prisoners;
(9) during most of the period between the summer of 2002 and the summer of 2004, the Bush administration,…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Try two months of unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 a month.
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.