The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Saturday, April 12, 2003
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD: A new hypothesis: political movements are most boorish in their times of triumph. The only time I came close to regretting my dovish sympathies was when the prospects for quick American victory looked most grim: an inadvertent glee had crept into some of the antiwar commentary, as though the prospect of making the hawks eat crow was more palatable than the prospects for a rapid end to the fighting. Now that Baghdad has fallen and the war is reduced to a mop-up mission, it's the prophets of belligerence who look their worst -- and believe me, their worst is a lot uglier than ours. The smug self-righteousness that mars so many warblogs even on better days has now shifted into overdrive. Apparently, the fall of Baghdad proves the antiwar forces were wrong, because of course the only reason anyone opposed the war was because he thought we might not win it. Apparently, the doves didn't care about Saddam's victims, because of course an invasion was the only possible way to bring his dictatorship down.

Apparently, if you've spent a year pretending the only antiwar voices worth noting were those of celebrity airheads and Stalinist sectaries, there's no reason to stop now.

Were all the deaths worth it? There were three arguments for this war before it began, and they look as shaky now as they did a month ago. The least compelling rationale was the one that everyone spent almost all their time debating: that Saddam Hussein violated U.N. resolutions and was concealing "weapons of mass destruction." I do not now care, nor have I ever given a rat's ass, which countries have violated any U.N. resolutions; and I can't see why Saddam's arsenal should be of concern to those of us who live on the other side of the planet. The only reason his regime is America's enemy is because we have deliberately treated him as one; if we weren't entangled in his region's politics, he'd be no more of a threat than any other thug.

This segues naturally into the second argument for war -- that Saddam was allied with our real enemies, the terrorists who attacked us the September before last. But with no serious connections established between Hussein and bin Laden, then or now, the chief question about the war was not whether it would protect U.S. security but whether, by making it more likely that this unlikely duo would form an alliance, it would actually make us more vulnerable. With Saddam out of the picture, the worst-case scenario seems eliminated as well, but that scarcely justifies the policies that made it a possibility in the first place.

The third argument, of course, was that war would liberate the people of Iraq. And indeed, the one positive byproduct of the conflict is that Saddam and his totalitarian state are being torn to the ground. But this only justifies the invasion within the constraining limits of the debate over U.N. resolutions, in which the only options on the table were military conquest or military "containment," i.e.,
lethal sanctions and periodic air raids. The latter policies did not merely drag out the ridiculous where's-the-weapons shuffle. They strangled Iraqi civil society, helping prevent an indigenous resistance from developing. Now, with the country conquered, that makes it all the more difficult to establish a more free system. Except in the Kurdish areas, the popular institutions that should be the heart of the new Iraq have been decimated, not just by Saddam but by his foreign enemies. A dozen years of deprivation will do that to you.

If I was relatively mute on these topics during the fighting, it was because I had so little that was constructive to say. I wanted peace, I wanted security, and I wanted a freer Iraq. War was clearly bad for the first two ends, and was an imperfect path at best to the third; still, once American troops were on the ground, their quick victory seemed like the only route remaining to something roughly akin to those goals. And so I watched civilians die and be maimed, saw honorable American soldiers killed, looked on as hunger and disease seized the "liberated" areas -- and recognized that withdrawal without victory would never happen, and that a drawn-out conflict would only make things worse. The idea that one could support the troops while opposing the war is incoherent to many hawks, but it was literally true for me: I cheered them on as I shuddered at what they had to do, because if they were to bog down I'd only have more reasons to shudder.

But now the war is ending, and the occupation is beginning. As the last Ba'athist resistance is eliminated, we paradoxically enter the time an antiwar movement is needed the most. We need a movement against pushing our battalions into yet more fights, a movement against colonial occupations and corrupt concessions, a movement for disentangling us from every Mideastern struggle except the battle to stop those who would kill American civilians. A movement to withdraw our troops from Saudi Arabia, to quickly allow the Iraqis their long-denied right of self-government, to oppose the neocons' push for global hegemony, and to protect and restore civil liberties. A movement, in other words, that can adapt to a changed situation without ceasing to articulate two of the oldest American causes: peace abroad and liberty at home.

posted by Jesse 11:49 AM
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