Monday, November 19, 2007

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Before the Iraq war, some antiwar advocates polemically argued that we were the ones who gave Saddam Hussein his weapons in the first place. Though it's not exactly clear why that train of thought should determine whether or not we invade Iraq, it obviously was intended to be a moral rebuke to America.

In any case it isn't so, here's a useful link. We supplied very few of Saddam's armaments, and those that we did were supposed to be a counterweight against the regime of the Ayatollahs in Iran who were fighting against Iraq at the time. You don't hear very much about this any more. Saddam has had his date with the hangman and frankly nobody misses him very much, so as practical matter it's not that big a deal. But, it is indicative of several important things.

It's been a theory, prominently but not exclusively of the paleolibertarians, that we can solve our Middle East problems if we just take the ball and go home. Mostly, this is insinuated rather than directly argued, and the above is a good clue why. We are never told what level of disengagement by America is supposed to work. Those disposed to oppose America are not especially fastidious. We are blamed for the things we are doing, but the things we did ages ago, things we only thought of, things the British did in the '20s, or in the above case, things we did very little of.

Most importantly, the hatreds and the rivalries in the Middle East are part of the cultural fabric there, and are substantially not created by us. In this particular case, Saddam Hussein was going to get his weapons from anyone who would sell them to him. This is why, even if we'd left Iraq a year ago and the violence there stayed at its grotesque nadir, it's still not our fault. This isn't to deny that the stubbornness and smugness of the Administration, and the state of denial in important quarters of the American Right, were not serious mistakes, mistakes that we're still paying for today. Nonetheless, they are not the real cause of our problems.

The biggest problem we have, is that almost all the major players there are immediately and opportunisticly willing to resort to violence to achieve their political ends. One very important upside to winning the Iraq war is that we can show to the players there, ourselves, and anyone else who's watching, that it doesn't have to be that way. Something else is actually possible, smack dab in the middle of the Middle East, at the end of the Persian Gulf. Thus there is another way for the actors there to achieve their political ends. Who knows, some of them may even try it.

It is the realist thesis that we have to rely on the powers that be, Saddam Hussein, Assads, the Saudi princes, etc. to keep a lid on the violence in the areas they have control over and quarantine it away from us. And truth be told, on many occasions we may have to do exactly that. But that should always be a tactical decision and never a strategic one. First of all, we have to rely on the control that those rulers have over their societies which may not be sufficient for us (and are probably maintained with very brutal methods). Second, it's not clear why these rulers, who have clawed their way up the greasy pole, should be looking to do favors for us. In some cases, like Osama, that's obviously a nonstarter since his raison d'etre is to commit acts of violence against us.

Ultimately, with the advance of globalization and technology, we live in the same world as the Middle East. At the end of the rainbow, their world is our world. To a substantial degree, we can insulate ourselves against the problems there. But, if we have no hope of those problems actually being resolved, we're just living on borrowed time.

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