Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ripple Effects

The "Iraq War As Failure" meme has been around for some time now, since the beginning in fact. The latest installment comes to us from BBC world affairs editor John Simpson.

Regime change brings the unexpected

Before the war in Iraq, Mr. Simpson interviewed one of the chief architects of the regime change strategy, who had very high hopes regarding the outcome.
The ripple effects would affect the entire region, he said. Authoritarian governments would crumble and be replaced by democracies.

"It happened in Eastern Europe," said my interviewee - "why not in the Mid-East?"
Apparently, the results have been disappointing.
Nowadays, those in Washington who urged President Bush to invade Iraq are heavily on the defensive.

This particular man won't speak publicly about the subject any more, even to defend it.
Mr. Simpson then recalls how it seemed to him at one time that this "ripple effect" might actually be occurring.
Earlier this year I remembered him when it seemed as though there might, after all, be a ripple effect from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Big demonstrations in Lebanon demanded the withdrawal of Syria's occupation forces, and they duly left.

Now Syria's own government looks insecure, as the accusations of its involvement in the murder campaign in Lebanon grow stronger.

Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are at least going through the motions of having freer elections.
However, this sequence of events does not measure up to the expected "ripple effect".
But none of this is anything remotely like the Middle Eastern equivalent of Eastern Europe's 1989.
It is at this point that Mr. Simpson begins a litany of things gone wrong in Iraq. But first, several objections must be raised to his line of argument thus far.

Objection #1: Of what importance is the unfulfilled expection of an unnamed member of the Bush Administration? Are we to conclude that failure to fulfill such high expections invalidates the merit of the undertaking? If so, then the spirit of Abraham Lincoln must answer for failing to win the US Civil War in an afternoon. There should have never been a second Bull Run.

Objection #2: What is wrong with that which has been accomplished thus far? Doesn't this represent significant progress in the last several years? And what about other accomplishments such as Libya giving up a previously unknown WMD program, Saudi success in dismantling Al Qaeda, or the declining popularity of the jihadists? Or does Mr. Simpson suggest the Middle East would be further along the road to democracy had the US not removed Saddam?

Object #3: How do we know such a "ripple effect" won't eventually occur? Mr. Simpson seems to suggest that the fall of Eastern European Communism just came out of the blue. True, it did take the West by surprise, but it was not an event without a cause. The fall of Communism was the culmination of a decades-long struggle between the East and the West during the Cold War. By the standard that Mr. Simspon sets, the "ripple effect" of collapsing Communism should have occurred right after breaking the Berlin Blockade and repelling North Korean aggression, instead of decades later.

Mr. Simpson then goes on to remind us how the US invasion of Iraq has inflammed Muslim opinion against the US, leading to greater violence.
Opinion throughout the Muslim world is still deeply offended by the way the Americans and British marched into Iraq without serious international support.
As if there were no Muslims with ill feelings toward the US prior to the Iraqi invasion.
What has rippled out instead has been radical Islamic violence.
As if there was no radical Islamic violence prior to the Iraqi invasion.
Jordan has suffered from it and so, to a lesser extent, has Syria.
What suffering has Syria endured, other than what it has received at the hands of the US for collaborating with the jihadists?
At some stage the battle-hardened veterans of Ramadi and Falluja will move elsewhere, just as they did from Afghanistan and Chechnya.
At what stage exactly do these "veterans" move on? Will they leave when their jihad has been won, or when they realize the futility of their fight and seek easier targets? Those who left Afghanistan did so, not as victors seeking ever greater victories, but as vanquished seeking to escape utter destruction. And I don't think the jihad is going too well in Chechnya, either. Such will be the fate of the "veterans" of Ramadi and Falluja. Those still alive, that is.

And by the way, this whole argument about Iraq being a terrorist training ground is a red herring anyways. No matter where we fight the terrorists, the survivors will gain operational experience that they will attempt to pass on to other jihadists.
Now there are many more of them, and they have greater popular support.
How exactly does he know that there are more of them? Also, has he not read the recent polls that show support for terrorism in the Middle East is declining? Is Mr. Simpson not aware of the large demonstrations against the terrorists in Jordan, the same terrorists that perpetrated the violence he mentions above?

Next we read how Iran has benefited from the US invasion.
Iran, increasingly radical, now knows that the United States lacks both the military strength and the political will to attack it.
So how does he know this, and how does he know that Iran knows this?
And the new, democratic, predominantly Shia Iraq has become its closest ally.
This is merely a presumption at this point. After all, wasn't the "ripple effect" merely a presumption, too? And how can so much of the discourse about Iran revolve around the assumption that Iran will influence Iraq, giving little thought to the possibility of Iraq influencing Iran?

Fortunately, it's not all bad in Iraq, as an Iraqi Shia relates.
The best moment of his life, he says, was when he saw Saddam walking into court to stand trial for the crimes of his regime.
But like so many other media reports on Iraq, no tidbit of good news goes unrebutted.
Yet he is certainly not pro-American. "Their soldiers treat us like inferior beings, they shoot at our cars, they scream at us, and then they kill us because we don't understand what they say."
I don't suppose Mr. Simpson has ever seen an act of kindness by a US soldier. And I would imagine that he's never met an Iraqi that looked favorably upon the US. But in the end, it all doesn't really matter anymore.
Already, Iraqi politicians seem to feel that the US is increasingly irrelevant.
Assuming that this correctly characterizes the attitude of Iraqi politicians, is this such a bad thing? Aren't we there to help them get back on their feet, to make their own destiny? Isn't that what freedom is all about?

Update
I wonder what Mr. Simpson's reaction will be to this?
(hat tip: Mudville Gazette)

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