Sometimes when I feel I want to raise my voice against the American folly in Iraq, my zeal is infected with boredom. I get the urge to say that the war in Iraq is worsening the nuclear proliferation problem (Iran and North Korea are speeding up their nuclear programs in part in order to avoid regime change); that there is no proven alliance between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda; that we are inflaming the peoples of the Middle East against us; that we are driving away even our traditional European allies by our highhanded policies; that we are making ourselves less secure, not more. But then I realize that these things are by now obvious, and to state what is obvious is boring. I want to say them not because they are fresh and interesting but because they are not heeded. But if to state the obvious is boring, then to repeat it is the very definition of boredom. The point was impressed on me when I read a quotation in the indispensable website Tomdispatch (www.tomdispatch.com) from President George H.W. Bush’s memoir, A World Transformed, which was written with Brent Scowcroft. Bush was talking about why he did not overthrow Saddam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War:
Trying to eliminate Saddam…would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible…. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq…. there was no viable “exit strategy” we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. And this was written five years ago, by the father of the current President. So much for feeling brilliant for insisting upon such things now.
I’m reminded of my experience as one of those who opposed the war in Vietnam. In the mid-to-late 1960s, we tirelessly pointed out that the war was mainly a nationalist rebellion against foreign occupation, not mainly an advance probe of world Communism; that the issue could only be solved politically, not militarily; that the war was weakening, not strengthening, the United States; that the only solution was to withdraw America troops–and so on and so forth. We considered ourselves brave for saying such things, all of which were rejected by mainstream opinion. And yet at that time, too, the antiwar arguments were obvious, or soon became so. Just how obvious is revealed by Kai Bird’s excellent biography of William and McGeorge Bundy, The Color of Truth. Bird reveals that as assistant secretary of state, William Bundy–widely seen as a Vietnam hawk–confessed in a 1964 paper that “a bad colonial heritage of long standing, totally inadequate preparation for self-government by the colonial power, a colonialist war fought in half-baked fashion and lost, a nationalist movement taken over by Communism ruling in the other half of an ethnically and historically united country, the Communist side inheriting much the better military force and far more than its share of the talent–these are the facts that dog us today.” Bird says that in this sentence Bundy prefigured “just about all the points that I.F. Stone, Bernard Fall or other early critics of the war would make within a year.”