Ten years after the invasion of Iraq by the American led coalition the air is still full of condemnation and recrimination. Much of it is far too simplistic. A piece in today’s Washington Post, combining as it does both heart and head, is much more nuanced than any of the other assessments, for or against, which I have read. This article, by a participant and undoubted victim of the war and its aftermath, reflects the perplexity which must assail anyone trying to unravel the complex tragedy that is Iraq, past and present.
When people ask me, he wrote, “Was the war worth it?,” I am often unsure how to respond. The world is a better place without a tyrant like Saddam Hussein. But poor U.S. post-invasion planning helped unleash sectarian furies that will plague not just Iraq but the broader Middle East for decades. I think a better question is “What should the United States do now?” My answer is that the venture into Iraq must not result in American detachment from the region. American ideals and aims are too noble for isolationism. The United States must learn from its errors and use its unequaled power to positively shape the world, helping to prevent future conflicts rather than sparking them.
Was it worth it to me? I can’t deny that my wife and child are healthy or that there is limitless opportunity for me in the United States. But is that worth losing my friends, family and country? Never.
Is it not true to say that the turmoil of this entire region, stretching from the borders of India and Pakistan to the Mediterranean coast, presents a problem for mankind which is well beyond the limits of what the powers of the rest of the world can either understand or cope with by either war or diplomacy? Leave them to their own devices is the explicit or implicit consensus which now prevails.
Is this a just consensus? As the Syrian conflagration inexorably climbs towards the sum total – and perhaps greater – of human misery and suffering endured by Iraq following the West’s intervention to remove its dictator, can we say “better that way”? We say, “we do not know how to solve their problem. Let us not even think of trying”.
The ingredients of the Syrian conflict bear many similarities to those which prevailed in Iraq. They were not adequately understood before the Iraq intervention took place and the consequences of that lack of understanding made that venture into a truly horrendous misadventure. Now they are better understood and the consequence of our better understanding is moral paralysis and “a plague on both your houses”.
No one can yet dare say how Iraq will turn out. But is there not at least a hope that some foundations have been laid on which an eventual peaceful coexistence may be established – a coexistence held in place by the free choice of a free people and not by a tyranny as heretofore? Furthermore, does it not seem that if the fall of Sadam had not come in the manner in which it did, it would inevitably have come in the way that the fall of the Baathist regime in Syria will surely come – after who knows how much bloodshed? Had this been the fate of Iraq then, with its more clearly defined historic enmities, its body count would have far exceeded that which it suffered when it had an external force holding the the factions at bay in however flawed a manner.
The mystery of the evils with which this region of the world presents us tests us to what appear to be the limits of our imaginative powers. But can we therefore, without guilt, succumb to the “bystander” effect and just walk on by? Or do we, all else failing, make a practical judgment on the principles of justice and take up arms to vindicate those suffering injustice? Can it be that there is no escape from condemnation? Here, surely, is a formula for true tragedy.