Monday, January 31, 2005

He must hate freedom

Tim Cavanaugh of Reason magazine argues that the war in Iraq was not vindicated by Sunday's apparently successful election, but he notes that it's an argument most war opponents are ill-prepared to make.

I sympathize with these naysayers, mainly because I too believe the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea and is not made worthwhile by a day's worth of soul-stirring images of happy voters. But I wonder why the skeptics weren't better prepared, since it has been clear for many months that some sort of election was looming, and it was only logical that war supporters would seize on the very fact of a vote to declare a Midway-style tide-turning victory against their ideological opponents. Perhaps my fellow skeptics have been too drunk on the steady stream of bad news coming from Iraq in the past year, but they should have seen this coming.

The hawks have been winning the argument over the rightness of the Iraq war all along. They won it, obviously and most decisively, in 2003, when the invasion took place right on schedule, according to the hawks' very precise specifications. But they will also win the ultimate argument over whether it was all worth it—a much more important argument because that's the one America will look to during the perfunctory debate that precedes our next military intervention. The hawks won't win that argument because the results will be so clearly good (if anything, the results in Iraq have been and will continue to be ambiguous), but because, as my colleague Brian Doherty has shown,
time is always on the side of the hawks. The groundwork for validating the Iraq war is already well in place, and in a few years the case will be embarrassingly easy to make: That wasn't so bad, was it—a few thousand dead to subdue a land mass larger than Vietnam? And since, on balance, things will always be better in the future than they were now, any improvements can easily be attributed to the war itself. Look, the argument will go, Qaddafi only tried to assassinate one Saudi official this year: Clearly, he got the message of the Iraq war. The editor of an opposition paper in Damascus has been released from prison: The regime must be feeling the pressure of the newly free Iraq. Saudi Arabia says it may review its policy on punitive amputations: Good thing we didn't listen to the Blame America First crowd back in 2003.

Which isn't to say we shouldn't celebrate the good news coming from Iraq, because if you want bad things to happen there merely so your side can prevail in an argument, then you must not care for your country, or the cause of peace. But if things do turn out right, it won't be because of good policy. Sometimes, as they say, it is better to be lucky than good.


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