Four years on

Jules Crittenden was there on March 20, 2003 and remembers the start of the war in Iraq.

Christopher Hitchens has been the left’s most eloquent advocate of the war in Iraq. On its fourth anniversary, he pushes back against critics one more time.

My own thoughts on the four years of war in Iraq. Saddam is gone and he’s an object lesson to tyrants like him. Given the circumstances in March 2003–a recently successful catastrophic terrorist attack on our own soil; Saddam’s known ties to international terrorists; more than a decade of Saddam playing games with weapons inspectors and defying the US (and the UN); Iraqi anti-air guns shooting at our pilots enforcing the no-fly zones almost daily; Saddam scooping out Oil-For-Food money to build palaces and buy his own safety and who knew what else; and the sanctions regime that was rapidly crumbling at the time–we had to do what we had to do.

We overestimated the Iraqi army’s capability and willingness to rebuff the invasion. We gave the Saddam regime a year to do something with its WMDs, weapons that every intel agency on earth believed he had prior to the invasion. We underestimated the corrosive effects of 35 years of rule by fear, both on the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people. The latter led to the situation we’re now in and trying to correct by building a civil society where there really was none. Our military is good for so much more than shooting people and blowing things up, but it needs help from all across the government that it isn’t getting so far. The administration has been slow to adjust to the humanitarian side of the war, but seems to be catching up. The administration has also been slow to acknowledge that the Iranians and Syrians have made good on their threat to turn Baghdad into Beirut, and that slowness has added to the deterioration of the situation.

Did I think we would still be fighting a hot war in Iraq four years after the invasion, or that we would be on the brink of quitting? No way. I was naive on that point. I thought the Iraqi people would be more grateful and step up to self rule much more quickly than they have. I underestimated the effect that Saddam’s rule had had on average Iraqis, and underestimated how much trouble the Iranians would be willing and able to cause us. I won’t make those mistakes again, and I hope that no American administration will either. But hope isn’t a plan. I suspect that the next administration, regardless of party, will be weaker on the war than the current administration.

I wasn’t naive on the effect that the left’s anti-war stance would have on the war. On my old blog I sounded that alarm often enough. And I’ll say it one more time: If you really want peace and if you really love the freedom to protest and denounce your leaders and your country, ramp down the anti-war rhetoric. Every word from the Cindy Sheehans and Michael Moores of the world is tonic to the terrorists. Each word against the war tells the enemy in Iraq and Iran and Syria and everywhere else that they can beat the United States by outlasting it. That’s a ghost left over from General Giap’s strategy in Vietnam, and it needs exorcising. But the political climate in the country today tells me that we won’t get that exorcism any time soon. The people protesting against the current war are already against the next one, no matter where or how it starts. They don’t want America to fight for anything, no matter how just or necessary the fight may be.

So four years later we’re surging troops into Iraq in a last gasp to win the thing. We’ve made a grinding progress lately, and shouldn’t forget the bank shot win we got in Libya by invading Iraq. Ghaddafi’s weapons programs were much farther along than our intelligence suspected (another black mark against our intel capabilities), and his turn led to rolling up the A.Q. Khan nuclear network. We shouldn’t forget that the world doesn’t work according to our fix-it-now mentality, and that things just take time. Building a country from the mess that Saddam made takes time.

Behind everything is the experiment going on in Iraq: Can democracy work in the Middle East? I’m no longer as sanguine as I once was on that question. Democracy in Turkey has put an Islamist-leaning party in power. Democracy in the Palestinian Authority has put terrorist Hamas in power. Democracy in Pakistan would no doubt bring Islamists into power there. Democracy in Iraq has religious parties sharing power there. Sharia law has been written into the constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan, our two Islamic democracy laboratories. The trend toward democracy in the Middle East has so far had the opposite effect that we need in order to transform the region. But that’s the trend, and trends aren’t permanent.

It may be that a few years of Islamist misrule will swing Middle Eastern democracy toward more openness and freedom, eventually. It may be that the Islamist reformation leads to a backlash against radicalism and Wahhabism. It may be that terrorists continue killing fellow Muslims and thereby discredit themselves among their fellow Muslims. It may be that Russia wakes up and stops helping Iran develop nuclear weapons. It may be that the West wakes up and defends itself. It may be that the mullahs fall in Tehran and the Islamic revolution is dealt a death blow where it started. Time will tell.

It may also be that the West keeps going down the path to dhimmitude. Ahem. It may be that we give up on Iraq, and a genocide follows our exit. It may be that the Iranians aquire nuclear weapons and use them or hand them off to terrorists who will use them. It may be that Islamic democracy plus our retreat from Iraq creates a permanent layer of Islamist rule and emboldens radicals in Egypt and Jordan, where they currently have little or no power. It may be that we’re on the edge of a very difficult time that we could have avoided if we had more cultural confidence and more awareness of what’s at stake and how to win. Time will tell.

Whatever turns out, the invasion of Iraq wasn’t the beginning of the war and victory or retreat from there won’t end it. That’s one of the few things that we know for sure.

As the war enters its fifth year, here’s a look at how things are on the ground. Not perfect by a long shot, but there’s a confidence in opposing Islamic radicals on camera, knowing that the global reach of YouTube can come back to haunt you. On the other hand, when eating a salad is an act of courage, you don’t live anywhere near Disneyland.