Thursday, January 08, 2004

Juan Cole on the Iraq war (restated)

Juan Cole, "Informed Comment" - January 8, 2004

Pigeonholing Cole

I've been concentrating in this Web Log in recent months on Iraq, though I continue to follow al-Qaeda, Pakistan, Iran and other big Middle East developments. I've noticed that others in Blogistan are sometimes puzzled at where exactly I stand on matters. This puzzlement derives in part, I think, from the analytical nature of my enterprise here. I am not a politician. I am not running for office. Good analysis is not black and white. In politics, you are inconsistent if you say you are anti-Bush and then you praise him for something. But in a more dispassionate kind of analysis, it would be foolish to put forward the proposition that W. has done nothing right. Actually I thought many of his initial reactions to 9/11 were well considered, including the Afghanistan War and his determination not to allow Islam per se to be demonized (something he has been criticized for by the Neocons and the Christian Right). Politically, I am probably opposed to 90% of what he has done, including further skewing the tax structure toward the super-rich, gutting political rights with the Patriot Act, etc., etc.. But unlike a politician running against him, I am willing to admit the 10%.

1) I hate Saddam Hussein, the Baath Party, and everything they did to Iraq, including invading Iran, gassing the Kurds, invading Kuwait, and putting tens of thousands of Shiites in mass graves. Because of my friendships with Iraqi Shiites, I lived through the pogroms as they happened, and they got me in the gut. I also have Iranian friends who suffered from the Iran-Iraq War. One puzzled observer said I sounded like a war blogger when I started celebrating the US defeat of the Fedayee Saddam. Probably I did. I hate them. They were the SS of Iraq. Our brave men and women who are out there risking their lives to make sure the fascists can't harm anyone else deserve our praise and support.

2) Because of 1), I declined to come out in opposition to the war. As late as February, 2003, I thought it was still possible that the UN Security Council would authorize the war, which would have made it legitimate in my view. I now think that the terms of the Genocide Convention could have been effectively evoked to justify the war at the UN.

3) When the Bush administration dumped the UNSC and acted unilaterally, it put me in a difficult position. I felt the war lacked legitimacy in international law, thenceforth. Then when Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith grossly mismanaged the aftermath of the war (I have never, ever, seen such an amateurish, ineffective and frankly screwed up effort in a major foreign policy arena), I grew increasingly disgusted.

4) I think there is a 60% chance that the whole situation in Iraq will go south, and am therefore worried about the consequences.

5) I think the US owes the Iraqis. The US overthrew the Iraqi government and disbanded the Iraqi army, and therefore is responsible for putting the country on a sound footing before just walking away.

So, my position is that getting rid of Saddam was a good thing; and that US troops deserve credit for the efforts they are making to restore security and root out Baath remnants in Iraq; but at the same time, I believe the war was illegitimate in international law and contravened the UN Charter, and that many of the actions of the US in Iraq contravene the international law of occupation. In the end, I think the war was unwise and not justified by the arguments that Bush put forward. But now that it has been fought I want to hold the administration's feet to the fire about not creating a mess and just walking away from it. (That was tried in Afghanistan by Bush senior and it gave us the Taliban and al-Qaeda).

I was struck, when I spoke at MIT, by how one speaker stood up and made the CIA the fount of all evil. Well, I don't think there is any doubt that the CIA has done some bad things from time to time, from the 1953 Iranian coup to the overthrow of Allende, to the sorts of rogue operations that the Church Commission exposed in the 1970s. But the CIA was acting as an arm of the executive for the most part, so one might as well say that the elected presidents were responsible for a lot of bad things. After September 11, I can't tell you how glad I am we have a CIA, and how much I hope the field officers and analysts get up to speed on Arabic and radical Islamism, and are able to prevent further major acts of terrorism against innocent US citizens.

I'd never get elected to anything, even if I wanted to, because I dislike the kind of "consistency" that is based on a black and white view of the world. I think ethics and reasoned analysis require us to have a complex view of the world, not a simplistic one. And, I think ethics always requires us to balance competing and contradictory values (I agree in this with Isaiah Berlin).