On Iraq: I Hate to Say We Told You So, But We Told You So

Iraq is falling apart as I write this, and despite the interventionist hawks who want to blame it on Obama’s weakness and indecision, it’s not Obama’s fault. It’s the fault of a foolish policy from the start. Let’s look back.

In the lead up to the Iraq War, we were assured by neocon hawks that the invasion would be a “cakewalk,” and that we would be welcomed with open arms as liberators. We conservative and libertarian non-interventionists warned that it would not be so easy, because non-interventionists, unlike neocon hawks, are grounded in reality, not ideological fantasy. That is not the way the world works. Most Iraqis were not all that fond of Saddam, especially the non-Sunnis, and would have welcomed him gone, but they predictably weren’t too happy about being invaded by a foreign army and having their infrastructure bombed into the Stone Age and all the “collateral damage” that that entailed.

Those of us on the non-interventionist side also knew that Iraq was never a real country to begin with. It is a bunch of lines drawn on a map as the colonial powers left the area after World War I. It is roughly a Kurdish north, a Sunni middle, and a Shiite south. Saddam was a Sunni and he held this fiction together by being a largely secular strong-arm dictator. He also used Ba’athist ideology to keep down secular tensions. The Sunni minority got a sweet deal out of this. The Shiites and Kurds, not so much.

On a personal note, I had the opportunity to interact with some Iraqi expats prior to the War courtesy of the United States Air Force. The Kurds I interacted with always introduced themselves as Kurds and said they were from Kurdistan which was already, in reality, operating somewhat autonomously.

The most sensible policy once we got ourselves into this mess was to break Iraq up into its natural parts, but there were always some barriers to this. First of all, the Turks, who have their own Kurdish “problem,” did not want to see an independent Kurdistan on their border that their own Kurds would be clamoring to unite with. Second, most of Iraq’s oil is in the Kurdish north and Shiite south, which would have left the Sunnis in the middle with a bunch of sand. A third problem was ideological. Neocons and other internationalists are committed to the ideal of a modern multicultural state, and they see ethnic and sectarian division as hostile to the modern project, which they are.

So in light of the above, we attempted to keep an unnatural alliance together with a complex constitution and wishful thinking. The Iraqi Constitution included recognition of ethnic, religious and linguistic particularism, but also attempted to impose Western universalistic notions of democracy and human rights on a people with no history of such. Non-interventionists knew it wouldn’t work, and predictably it hasn’t.

Once the US military was bogged down in this “cakewalk,” and Americans back home were growing weary of the endeavor, some of us who opposed the project from the start said we just needed to pack up and get out. But we were warned by the hardline hawks that we couldn’t do that because, if we left, the place would collapse into chaos. But of course it would collapse into chaos. That’s what we warned them about from the start. Perhaps, just perhaps, toppling the strong-arm dictator who was holding this mess together wasn’t such a brilliant idea after all.

I recall debating with folks here at Intellectual Conservative (prior to it being hacked and all the content lost) that it didn’t matter how long we stayed in Iraq – and they could never tell me just how long we needed to stay – when we left, sooner or later, the house of cards would collapse, and collapsing it is.

I have long believed that when people say “I hate to say I told you so…” that they really don’t hate to say it. They really relish saying it. But in this case I’m genuinely torn. I wish the experiment in Iraq would have worked or better yet, broken apart seamlessly, because there is going to be a great deal of human suffering associated with its collapse, but I don’t hate pointing out to the neocons that their foolish project in Iraq was based on wildly fanciful assumptions and that we tried to warn them. Recall that we were going to “cakewalk” into Iraq and then establish a pro-Western beachhead in the Middle East from which the dominoes of Syria, Iran, Egypt, etc. would fall leaving a West and Israel friendly Middle East in its wake. Well as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?” In hindsight, it all looks like an almost X-Men level of delusional fantasy.

But what’s worse, is that the neocons never seem to learn from their mistakes. Neocon thinker-in-chief, Robert Kagan, recently made waves by writing a new essay urging more of the same. This would really be comical if so many lives and so much treasure weren’t at stake. If I ever meet Mr. Kagan or any of the other neocon theorists, I won’t have any problem telling them that I told them so.

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