I’m one of the small minority of Canadians who thought invading Iraq was a good idea. But if I’d had to write a one-liner as to why, it would have been something along the lines of “to stop the torture and brutality in the Baghdad hellholes.” Well, so much for that.

Since I wrote a lot about Iraq back when the war was getting going, I wanted to go there again; hey, maybe five of the eleven people who were reading me back then care. By the way, I have a special attachment to the region as a result of having lived in Lebanon between the ages of seven and eighteen. Secondly, I wanted to invest a couple of paragraphs’ worth of ranting about a recent New York Times piece that went badly off the rails. If you might care about that, you can jump there and skip my feelings on the war.

Why I Was OK With the War · Politically, I’m not far from the middle of the Canadian mainstream, which is pretty liberal by American standards. So, like most Canadians, I’ve raised my eyes at more than a few of the Bush administration’s moves (uh, slashing taxes retrogressively while you’re launching a war?). But having said that, there seemed one obviously good and one plausibly good reason to go take out Saddam. The obvious one was, well, Saddam; one of modern history’s better examples of unmitigated evil. In the vernacular: a bad guy, better dead. So taking him down is clearly a real service to humanity; and what’s the point of building the biggest military that history has ever seen if you can’t use it to do humanity a service, now and again?

The plausible reason is the argument, advanced most coherently by Tom Friedman, that it’s in the American national interest to go and destroy a random Middle East tyrant to educate the rest that it’s not necessarily safe to oppress your people, export violence, and blame it all on the Great Satan. The people who say Iraq was a distraction from chasing Osama might well be wrong; getting Iraq going as a prosperous, modern, democratic country would probably be the best possible come-back against Osama’s medievalist arguments, which will survive the man anyway.

This does not for a moment mean that I bought into the original goofy sales pitch about how we had to invade Iraq because Saddam and his WMDs were dangerous to us. That was transparently a foolish idea back before the war (maybe not as much as today) and I don’t hate to say “I told you so” here and here and especially here.

The right reason to invade Iraq was because Saddam was weak and it was cheap to take him out. If we could get Kim Jong Il and Bob Mugabe at acceptable cost I’d be in favor of those ones too.

Getting over the disgust at all the stupid WMD lies isn’t easy when the occupation is such a shambles. The smart journalists are painting a convincing picture of a bunch of intellectual lightweights who never let annoying realities get in the way of their ideological vision, who didn’t realise that you need enough boots on the ground to keep the peace, and to provide some internal checks and balances. Because in any group of people, a small proportion are going to be sadistic psychopaths, and a small proportion of a hundred thousand plus, absent management integrity, gets you to where we are now.

The Times Jumps the Shark · This recent New York Times piece got me mad enough to provoke this essay. It’s a lengthy cri de coeur about those poor soldiers on the scene at Abu Ghraib, understaffed, undertrained, overworked. Excuse me? They’re torturers! They’re sick out-of-control sadistic animals. Can we have a sense of proportion here?

Sgt. First Class Paul Shaffer, 35: “We were hit with so much so fast, I don't think we were prepared.” Right, but don’t torture people.

Scott McKenzie, 38, of Clearwater, Pa., a sergeant first class: “We never learned how to deal with a riot, what to do when we were being assaulted.” Here’s a hint: Don’t torture people.

Shaffer: “On my compound, we were doing 16-hour days. It was a very high-stress environment.” That’s tough, but: Don’t torture people.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, a business consultant: “I know that the interrogation, the interrogators, were under tremendous pressure.” Pressure is bad, but: Don’t torture people.

“Isolated and without amenities like gyms and barbershops that were available to other troops in Iraq, morale in the 320th plummeted.” Sounds pretty severe, but: Don’t torture people.

Colonel Phillabaum: “I have suffered shame and humiliation for doing the best job that anyone could have done given the resources I had to work with.” Want to avoid shame and humiliation? Don’t torture people.

But the worst, the most offensive thing, was the article’s title: In Abuse, a Portrayal of Ill-Prepared, Overwhelmed G.I.'s. Wrong. This is a portrayal of bestial brutality, and being ill-prepared is no fucking excuse.

Hope? · What’s done is done. Hope is not yet extinct for a good outcome in Iraq; for a functioning government that’s not too undemocratic and not too sectarian and not too corrupt; something better than most other Arabs have to put up with.

And whatever happens, Iraq is President Bush’s problem between now and the end of the year; he’s got my sincere best wishes. I’ve got American friends who loathe George and are going to be seriously bent out of shape if he gets re-elected. Sorry guys, I’m still rooting for Dubya to somehow pull it out of the fire in Iraq, even though that (in combination with a bouncing economy) would make four more years a pretty sure bet.


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May 08, 2004
· The World (114 fragments)
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