April 4, 2003

Some thoughts on the Iraq crisis

I am reluctant to enter the political fray because voicing my opinion seems a weak alternative to actually doing something. Still, I am no political idiot; I follow the news and often enough, I am paralyzed by my ambivalence between the two opposed ideologies. However, when my own voice seems under threat, I am liable to do something. Over the spring break, I spotted some pro-war demonstrators dressed in American flag garb, as if they had some sort of monopoly on patriotism, or being American, or something. Taking personal offense, I confronted them. Well, if a determined individual can start a war in the Middle East, I could at very least make a ruckus with some pro-war demonstrators. My chant of support the troops-bring them home-just didn't make them happy. I was soon pulled aside by a policeman, who asked me where I was headed (work), and gave me a ride there.

Don't get me wrong: I have my share of problems with the anti-war protestors. But now with the war under foot, I find myself more and more in their camp on issues.

Even before it began, when the war seemed only inevitable, my only real hope was that the war would be over quickly. As things stand now, the only possibility of that is an American victory. With the battle for Baghdad under way, even the anti-war European governments like France and Germany have come out in support of a quick American victory. There is a good reason for this. Saddam Hussein's only hope for victory is a long protracted war with enough civilian and American casualties that support for the war erodes in America. The quicker American troops win the battle, the sooner international aid can flow into the country.

Anti-war protestors take note: The next chapter in this conflict is what truly matters. It is the "nation building" that takes place after the war on the ground that will free (or fail to free) the Iraqi people. Democracies can and have been built in the aftermath of war. Things just take a while. At the end of World War II, it could have been cogently argued that the German and Japanese "national characters" make them incompatible with democracy. That case can certainly not be made now.

The other side of the coin is American imperialist ambition. To me, it seems that this is the more intractable problem. Policy makers in the Bush administration like Paul Wolfowitz seem obsessed with Iraq only as a stepping-stone to remaking the Middle East, and the Middle East is only one region in the world. With the persistence of grass roots activists at home, and the whole world watching, it is possible to make Iraq something other than Bush's spoil of war.

Although I do not support making Iraq an American colony, the work of rebuilding Iraq must be an American responsibility. It is another application of the old standby rule: you broke it, you fix it. (After all, Hussein's regime is a direct result of that peculiar form of imperial neglect known as American Middle East policy.) It will be a long, arduous process-nothing like dropping laser-guided bombs and firing cruise missiles. At the very least, it will keep American resources and men from being used elsewhere for imperialist adventures.