Some of my previous post on Iraq was quoted from comments I wrote here at Creative Destruction. In that discussion, Bob Hayes suggested that I was failing to consider that the situation in Iraq could be worse:
The point of my comment was to put a brake on your rhetoric concerning the uninhabitable hellzone that you perceive Iraq to be. There are worse places in the world.
Bob’s point, if I understood it, was to suggest that I’ve exaggerated how bad things in Iraq are, relative to the rest of the world. It’s certainly true that there are worse places than current-day Iraq – Uganda, say, or Darfur. However, the US government — my government — has not invaded and occupied those places. What makes Iraq — and Afghanistan — notable is not just how awful the situation is, but the degree to which US war hawks have made things worse.
I don’t think I’m romanticizing how bad things in Iraq are. But I think Bob has romanticized Saddam – and in particular, Saddam’s ability to make things bad forever. In Bob’s analysis an uninvaded Saddam and his sons were all-powerful barriers to changes, for generations to come:
You yourself have noted that under Saddam, women’s rights were declining, not improving. Do you think his sons, who had an absolute lock on taking power, would have been an improvement? They were what, 30 years old? So we could reasonably look forward to 40 more years of the Hussein family’s charming oversight.
Versus, is there a prospect for improvement now? Yeah, we warhawks have sometimes been too optimistic about immediate changes. In large part, that’s because in the propaganda war, bad conditions on the ground create fodder for the insurgency. We’d really like that to change, and so of course we are very keen to see things that point in that direction. But societies don’t change in two weeks or two years. It’s slow; it’s hard work. But given the situation on the ground right now, can you honestly say that there’s no chance for improvement? Can you honestly say that the odds for things getting better are worse now than they were the day before the invasion?
Left to itself, the condition of women in Iraq 40 years from now would have been, at best, the same – and more likely considerably worse. With Hussein knocked off and the US committed to seeing a halfway acceptable state in place, the condition of women in Iraq 40 years from now is likely to be a lot better. Guaranteed? No. There are no guarantees.
That is worth it. It is worth accepting worse conditions now for a real chance at permanent improvement later.
But – as Daran correctly pointed out in that discussion – world history is full of examples of change coming from places other than the barrel of an American gun. It is not inevitable, or likely, that Saddam and his descendants would have stayed in power forever but for a US invasion. Real change isn’t usually imposed by Yankee invaders; it comes from within a society. The US invasion has weakened proponents of liberal civil rights, including women’s rights, in Iraq. The new people we’ve placed in charge are as terrible as Saddam was, and aren’t any more inclined to give up power. So why does Bob think change for the better is now more likely than before?
Maybe change will happen someday; maybe not. Maybe it’ll be for the better, and maybe not. But all of this was true before the invasion. An unspecific prospect of change at some unknown future date is not a serious or sufficient justification for all the death and suffering that have been heaped on Iraqis and on coalition soldiers.
Meanwhile, the invasion of Iraq has made things worse for everyone except the terrorists (and the Republicans who won 2004 elections). What’s terrifying, however, is that conservatives running our government display no ability to rationally evaluate their own policies and recognize areas of failure. People who are unable to recognize error are unable to change or improve; they just keep on committing the same errors again and again. Until there is a complete changeover of American government, we can only expect terrorist recruitment to be aided by US policy, American soldiers to continue being killed and maimed, and ordinary Iraqis to continue being oppressed, raped, killed. It’s a horrorshow built by the unwitting collaboration of terrorist madmen in Iraq and Panglossian optimists in the White House. I bet the terrorists think the short-term harms they cause are justified by hypothetical future improvements, too.