Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 19, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

AFTER THE WAR....The news on the war front is not good. I suspect that many reluctant hawks like me have held their noses and supported the war because of the possibility that, aside from ridding the world of a dangerous and unstable dictator, we might also make Iraq and eventually the rest of the Middle East into a better place.

But the downsides seem to be piling up. Transatlantic relations are strained almost to breaking, and Donald Rumsfeld has already declared his eagerness to punish allies who don't support us. We're in the process of paying out a $32 billion (or so) bribe to the Turks. We seem to be abandoning the Kurds. The planned "Shock and Awe" bombing of Baghdad sounds dangerously close to being a war crime. Some factions in the Bush administration talk about appropriating Iraqi oil funds as "spoils of war," and the latest word from Washington and London is that we aren't planning to help fund any reconstruction efforts in Iraq and probably aren't going to promote democratic institutions there either. It might upset Saudi Arabia, after all.

Now, let's take it as given that one result of the war will be a relatively swift regime change in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants either captured or killed. As nice as that might be, however, I think there's a bipartisan consensus that there are several other outcomes we would also like to see. For example:

  • Introduction, to at least some extent, of democratic institutions in Iraq.

  • Rapid reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure and introduction of market reforms, food aid, and medical aid.

  • A clear demonstration to the world that Iraq did indeed have the hidden WMDs that we said they had.

  • Continued protection of the Kurds and other ethnic minorities in Iraq.

  • At some level, evidence that Western values introduced in Iraq are starting to make inroads in the rest of the Middle East.

And then there are the possible disasters that a war might bring:

  • A serious uprising of the "Arab street" that ends up promoting increased terrorist activity.

  • Additional wars in the Middle East, whether they involve us or not.

  • Pursuit of WMDs by countries like Iran or Syria, which don't currently have them.

  • A serious attack, possibly nuclear, on Israel.

  • An interruption of the Mideast oil supply, either via embargo or war, that causes a serious recession in the rest of the world.

So I have this question: if you're in favor of war, is anything more than regime change needed for you to consider it a success? And would any of the disasters on the bottom list convince you that it was, in the end, a failure?

For anti-war partisans, the question is the opposite. How many of the items on the top list would have to happen to convince you that the war, in fact, turned out to be a positive development?

To put it more simply, what are the criteria for success? Does moral clarity begin and end with forcibly removing Saddam Hussein from power, or is there more to it?

Kevin Drum 8:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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