Many people have predicted that the German and, especially, French governments will be greatly discredited after we depose Saddam Hussein — and learn how deeply involved with his regime the Germans and, especially, French were. I agree. I also predict that the war will be, if not a walkover, at least much easier than critics anticipate (Perry DeHavilland predicts the mother of all surrenders); that the scope and horrific nature of Hussein’s atrocities will be revealed to exceed even our worst estimates; and, if I am right on my first two predictions, that George W. Bush’s father, and some of his father’s key advisors, will come out of this looking worse for not having finished the job the first time around.
Salam reports that life for ordinary Iraqis has been worse during the past ten years of anti-regime sanctions than it was prior to the Gulf War. He may be right. You can interpret what he says in a couple of ways:
1) America’s use of force against Iraq in 1991, followed by sanctions, was a bad idea. We harmed innocent Iraqis and made Saddam Hussein into more of a monster than he already was.Leftist elites in Europe and the U.S. tend to believe the first explanation. I believe the second one. I suspect that if the coming war is relatively easy, Bush Sr.’s decision to withdraw prematurely from Iraq in 1991, and our subsequent betrayal of Iraqi Shiites in their post-war uprising (not to mention the 1995 northern rebellion from which Clinton precipitously withdrew support, and perhaps even our double-cross of the Kurds in the 1970s), will come under renewed scrutiny. They should. Policies under which we sometimes allowed allies to twist in the wind may have made some sense under old-style “stability” politics, but they taught opponents of tyrannical regimes that the U.S. can’t be counted on. I think that’s been one of the main reasons for Arab opposition to our imminent attack on Hussein: they haven’t believed that we would go through with it, and consequently they didn’t want to risk Hussein’s revenge if they cooperated with us. If we want these people’s trust (e.g., to facilitate “regime change”), we should follow through on our talk and actions. People who get shafted have long memories. Our elected officials and foreign-policy appointees sometimes act as though they’re off the hook for previous administrations’ actions. They are not.
2) America used inadequate force against Saddam Hussein in 1991. Our subsequent imposition of sanctions was a cop-out, a cheap substitute for additional force that showed Hussein we weren’t serious about stopping him and that he could do whatever he wanted without serious consequence.
The easier the coming war is, the more it will appear that the first President Bush was excessively cautious and lacking in vision. I hope that afterwards we will reevaluate the cynical assumptions by which we overvalued the short-term stability of despotic regimes and discounted the noble dreams of pro-U.S. freedom fighters.