Skip to comments.Machiavelli in Mesopotamia (Hitchens makes the case for "regime change" in Iraq.)
Posted on 11/07/2002 4:26:38 PM PST by xm177e2
Part of the charm of the regime-change argument (from the point of view of its supporters) is that it depends on premises and objectives that cannot, at least by the administration, be publicly avowed. Since Paul Wolfowitz is from the intellectual school of Leo Straussand appears in fictional guise as such in Saul Bellow's novel Ravelsteinone may even suppose that he enjoys this arcane and occluded aspect of the debate. For those lacking a similar gift for hidden meanings, the best way to appreciate the unstated case for war may be to examine the criticisms leveled by its opponents. These criticisms, which rely on supposed inconsistencies and hypocrisies on the pro-war side, are themselves riddled with contradictions.
First, the opponents of war say, why choose Saddam Hussein when there are so many other bad guys? Second (and related), why exempt Saudi Arabia, which has proven ties to al-Qaida? Third, what about Palestine, for which we already bear a responsibility? Fourth, haven't the Republican establishment, from Dick Cheney to Donald Rumsfeld, been the smiling patrons and financiers of Saddam in the past? There are other points, but you know the tune by now.
Accidentally, this liberal critique helps expose the fact that the chief opponents of a "regime change" strategy are in fact conservatives. They consist of the friends of Saudi Arabia and Turkey (who likewise oppose the strategy) and of the periphery, at least, of the Kissinger Associates. And they include, as far as we can tell, the president's father. The jeer about Dubya finishing what Daddy began has, you will notice, subsided lately, as 41's old foreign policy hands have been signing on with the peacemakers.
Taking the points in order, it's fairly easy to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy's bad guy. He's not just bad in himself but the cause of badness in others. While he survives not only are the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples compelled to live in misery and fear (the sheerly moral case for regime-change is unimpeachable on its own), but their neighbors are compelled to live in fear as well.
Howeverand here is the clinching and obvious pointSaddam Hussein is not going to survive. His regime is on the verge of implosion. It has long passed the point of diminishing returns. Like the Ceausescu edifice in Romania, it is a pyramid balanced on its apex (its powerbase a minority of the Sunni minority), and when it falls, all the consequences of a post-Saddam Iraq will be with us anyway. To suggest that these consequencesSunni-Shi'a rivalry, conflict over the boundaries of Kurdistan, possible meddling from Turkey or Iran, vertiginous fluctuations in oil prices and production, social chaosare attributable only to intervention is to be completely blind to the impending reality. The choices are two and only twoto experience these consequences with an American or international presence or to watch them unfold as if they were none of our business. (I respect those who say that the United States should simply withdraw from the Middle East, but I don't respect them for anything but their honesty.)
Once this self-evident point has been appreciated, it becomes a matter of making a virtue of necessity. If an intervention helps rescue Iraq from mere anarchy and revenge, some of the potential virtues are measurable in advance. The recuperation of the Iraqi oil industry represents the end of the Saudi monopoly, and we know that there are many Wolfowitzians who yearn for this but cannot prudently say so in public. The mullahs in Iran hate America more than they hate Saddam, while Iranian public opinionnotice how seldom "the Iranian street" is mentioned by peacenikstakes a much more pro-American view. It's hard to picture the disappearance of the Saddam regime as anything but an encouragement to civil and democratic forces in Tehran, as well as in Bahrain, Qatar, and other gulf states that are experimenting with democracy and women's rights. Turkey will be wary about any increase in Kurdish autonomy (another good cause by the way), but even the Islamists in Turkey are determined to have a closer association with the European Union, and the EU has made it clear that Turkey's own Kurds must be granted more recognition before this can occur. One might hope that no American liberal would want to demand any less.
In Palestine and Jordan the situation is far more fraught, because loathing for the vile Ariel Sharon has often translated into sympathy for Saddam, and because Saddam has been cultivating the Palestinian rejectionists. However, with his demise this support will have literally nowhere to go, and Chairman Yasser Arafat's discredited entourage will have no serious "rejectionist" option left to them, either. This will be the ultimate test of statecraft: Will a realistic Palestinian acceptance of a territorial solution be acknowledged in the form of a dismantling of settlements? By "statecraft" I mean the word literally, since Bush is the first president to have employed the word "state" and "Palestinian" in the same sentence. It is not easy to be optimistic here, but then again there is little to lose, since the so-called "Oslo" process is a proven failure from the viewpoint either of principle or practice.
From conversations I have had on this subject in Washington, I would say that the most fascinating and suggestive conclusion is this: After Sept. 11, several conservative policy-makers decided in effect that there were "root causes" behind the murder-attacks. These "root causes" lay in the political slum that the United States has been running in the region, and in the rotten nexus of client-states from Riyadh to Islamabad. Such causes cannot be publicly admitted, nor can they be addressed all at once. But a slum-clearance program is beginning to form in the political mind.
Iraq is, for fairly obvious reasons, the keystone state here, and it is already at critical mass. Thus it seems to me idle to argue that a proactive policy is necessarily doomed to make more enemies. I have always disliked this argument viscerally, since it suggests that I should meekly avoid the further disapproval of those who hate me quite enough to begin with. Given some intelligence and foresight, however, I believe that an armed assistance to the imminent Iraqi and Kurdish revolutions can not only make some durable friends, it can also give the theocrats and their despotic patrons something to really hate us for.
Hitch never said that.
The actual subtitle of the article was "The case against the case against "Regime Change" in Iraq," this was meant to be an argument against the anti-war critics.
In any case, just because Hitch justifies this intervention on the moral level doesn't mean hawks in Washington are thinking solely on that level. There are plenty of other reasons to go to war, and WMD is one of them.
Pretty good argument for containment rather than proactive intervention.
This is really the only arguement against interfering in Iraq. Given the State Departments miserable handling of the US's "client" states to date, what has changed to make it reasonable to assume that they will do better in the future?
I have no doubt that the US military can get rid of Saddam. I am not so confident that what follows will be any better.
We seem to have a penchant for helping people over there who a few years down the road turn on us, and become our biggest headaches. Compare this to what is happening in Iran where we have been conspiciously absent for the last 20 years?
Don't confuse patriotic opposition to any war against Iraq with the disgusting cliches and typical reactions of the Hate America Left. They have no credibility.
Can't we just simply say we are going to bump off Saddam
because we don't like the way he looks?
That's good enough for me.
And also, it gets tedious and is so juvenile all this pontificating and 'geopolitical' analysis
and predictions about the course of events
that will occur thereafter.
No one can control the consequences of Saddam's removal
any more than they could control the consequences of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's removal
I suspect the bush administration hopes that jacking up the pressure a notch at a time will implode Saddam. Even if we quit now, there are 100,000 Iraqis no longer in prison. Hasn't that been worth the effort?
It goes with the leftist territory (not that there aren't examples of moralistic smugness on the right, but I think they're different in character). [Not a comment on Hitchens or this article, but there's an irony in that the left's moralism ends up being used to justify immoral means and leads ultimately to immoral ends, while the invisible hand of capitalism and its foundation of individual self-interest lead to better lives in a better society.]
Hitchens' position is understandable on a personal level, as well as being consistent with his politics. As he made clear in his final article in The Nation, friends of his were tortured and murdered by Saddam Hussein. Hitchens has described eloquently the brutality of Saddam Hussein's Iraq; Hussein has wrenched his society apart in much the same way Stalin did.
But this is not what pre-emptive action is really about, and it is not what is bringing us to war. Pre-emption is about protecting the rest of the world from Iraq's predation, from weapons of mass destruction and from secret, covert, untraceable attacks.
Hitchens' position is, in fact, the position that I would have expected the left to be taking in general: supporting the war, but ultimately for the wrong reason. It is scandalous that most of the left is simply winking at Saddam Hussein -- whether out of naivete or out of fear, or from misguided short-term political calculations. At least Hitchens doesn't fall into this category.
I do think that Hitchens' analysis is flawed. I'm not convinced that Iraq is the "keystone" here. It is serving more like a foundation, providing support for Islamic terrorists (as well as being dangerous in its own right), and part of the reason for military action is to knock this support out from underneath the terrorists. But that's different from a keystone; Iraq is, unfortunately, likely to be only our next step in a long war.
I also don't quite understand Hitchens' theory of military action just so that we'll be there when Saddam Hussein falls of his own weight. I don't believe that Hussein is about to fall of his own weight, but, if he were, and if regime change were the only goal, we would simply let it happen. The fact is that regime change in and of itself is not the only goal, or even the major goal; the true aim is to prevent covert attacks from his regime or any successor, as well as to undermine Iraq's support for terrorist activity.
No one can control the consequences of Saddam's removal any more than they could control the consequences of Archduke Franz Ferdinand's removal in 1914.
You're right about that, but one must make decisions anyway, based on one's best judgments.