LIBERALS ARE FOOLS to hang their hopes on Iraq’s missing weapons of mass destruction. While clearly the warmongering Bush administration lied about WMDs in the run-up to the war, exaggerating Iraqi capabilities, it is extremely unwise to pin your hopes on a negative. The Iraqis certainly had such weapons (and used them) and may have stashed the remnants somewhere: a backyard, a bunker, a neighboring country, or all of the above. Odds are, eventually, we’ll find at least something that can fall under the ridiculously general WMD label, and possibly much more. For most Americans, the WMD question is just nit-picking: We kicked Saddam’s ass (wherever it may be), so there.
The mistake in making such a big deal about WMDs is that it sets the bar way too low for the Bushies to wiggle out of the mess they’ve made. Not all of us war critics based our opposition on WMDs: There were so many other reasons, including a new imperial security policy that shreds any moral authority we might have had as the benevolent Alpha of the international community. The best case against the war isn’t the lies that were told getting us into itand WMDs might have been the least of the liesbut the slow, grinding, negative consequences that will result from this misadventure in pre-emptive war, including the ballooning financial burden on American taxpayers and the growing human toll the war is taking. Americans might not care about official lies, but they do care about taxes and body bags. This is where criticism should be focused.
Let’s not let Bush & co. off the hook if they happen to find a test tube of bacteria. This war was never about WMDs; it’s about proactively reshaping the world to meet our political and economic demands. Many war opponents and proponents would agree on this point.
IMMEDIATELY AFTER the fall of Baghdad, some of us received oodles of I-told- you-so e-mails about how we war critics who worried about the first rough weeks should apologize and admit defeat. Some of us who raised the specter of a “quagmire” were mocked for having any doubt that the Iraqi people would unconditionally welcome our presence. Maybe not with flowers, as we were told, but with gratitude that would show itself more openly when it was safe to do so. The resistance U.S. forces encountered were merely pockets of Saddam fanatics, many forced to resist upon threat of death, we were told.
But quagmires take a while to develop. Those war criticsand some supporters who warned that things in Iraq would not be as simple as they seemed are proving to be correct. Even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who earlier characterized Iraqi resistance as a few malcontents”dead-enders,” he called themhas had to admit that the situation on the ground is more complex than that. As fighting continues, as armed resistance mounts, Rumsfeld now says that there is not one kind of resistance in Iraq but at least five kinds. Rumsfeld says they are “looters, criminals, remnants of the Baathist regime, foreign terrorists who came in to assist . . . , and those influenced by Iran.” And that’s just for starters. Add tribal, ethnic, and political divisions, plus Iraqis who are angry and suffering in the wake of the war, and you have a chaotic, violent, postwar landscape in which U.S. forces are required to be “peacekeepers” in the aftermath of a war where they are the invading force, and thus prime targets of disaffection.
IS IT A GUERRILLA WAR? Rumsfeld says no, because the resistance is not organized. Yet it does seem coordinated. Either we are seeing signs of a broad revolt, or we’re facing Rumsfeld’s many-headed hydra. Either way, it’s not good news. Rumsfeld broadly calls it terrorism, but is it terrorism when resistance targets an armed, invading military force? By defining Iraq as merely one battle in the global terror war, Rumsfeld is free to define any opponent as a “terrorist,” no matter what his cause or tactic. Such mushy definitions are part and parcel of quagmires.
But don’t say the Q-word in front of Rummy. He gets even testier than usual with members of the press who ask him about “quagmires.” In response to a reporter’s question last week, he said, “There are so many cartoons where people, press people, are saying, ‘Is it Vietnam yet?’ hoping it is and wondering if it is. And it isn’t. It’s a different time. It’s a different era. It’s a different place.”
Yes, it is different. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to the similarities. We are fighting a nonwar war against a guerrilla enemy from another culture in a far-off land as a hedge against aggressions elsewhere in the region and the world. Our troops are facing significant resistance from a minority of the populace that is hard to identify or corral. Our man in Baghdad is reportedly calling for another 50,000 troops to keep things under control. We have no exit strategy, the mounting costs appear astronomical, and the American people have been lied to consistently about the necessity and conditions of the war. Those who question the policy are smeared by the administrationnote how Rumsfeld said the press is “hoping” for a quagmire.
Yes, Rummy, it’s a wonder the Vietnam question ever comes up.