David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

The Real Iraq War Acid Test

As the death toll for the Iraq War continues to climb and President Bush decides to ramp up the U.S. commitment there instead of ramping it down, public support for the war has taken a nosedive in the past year. The latest USA Today/Gallup poll gives Bush a 72% disapproval rating on his handling of Iraq.

Politicians and pollsters are now lining up to declare themselves in essentially two separate camps:

  1. The camp that says we made a mistake going into Iraq
  2. The camp that says we were right to go into Iraq, but have done a poor job of it

George W. Bush in the Mission Accomplished speechWhen we put ourselves into George W. Bush’s (most likely fake) cowboy boots, we generally ask ourselves if we would have made the same decision back then as he did. The alternatives are generally framed as a messy, violent situation where Saddam Hussein remains in power, or a messy, violent situation where Saddam Hussein isn’t in power.

But I think the real acid test on the war is this: would you still have invaded Iraq if the United States had easily and decisively won the conflict?

Let’s pretend that instead of the smoldering ruin we have now, Iraq is now a functioning, albeit dodgy, democracy. Let’s pretend that those looters never tore Baghdad to shreds in the days immediately following the fall of Saddam, and that the radical Islamists never gained any traction with their insurgency. Let’s pretend that, instead of 3,000 U.S. soldiers killed and who knows how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, the total casualty list right now is merely in the hundreds or the low thousands. Knowing all this… if you had the opportunity to jump in a time machine right now, would you still choose to invade Iraq?

The point I’m trying to make is that fair-weather war supporters piss me off. If you’re going to support the war, then support the fucking war and take responsibility for it.

Did you support the invasion of Iraq back before the death toll started to climb, and then change your mind when it was your kid or your friend or your neighbor that lost a leg? Did you support the decision to destabilize the region and send U.S. troops into harm’s way only because you thought we’d kick ass and take names? Did you support the war because you thought it would be easy? What did you think would happen when the tanks started rolling in and the missiles started flying? Did you really buy that line about us being greeted as liberators?

I’m a little worried about attacking straw men here, simply because I don’t know anyone personally who’s made such a turnaround. Almost everyone I’ve had discussions with about the Iraq War opposed it to some degree from the beginning. But these fair-weather war supporters have to be out there. The approval numbers have gone from 76% in April 2003 down to their current 26% today. What could account for these numbers other than people who supported the war because they thought it would be a cakewalk?

News flash: war is hell. It’s always hell. Details at 11.

We the public get a rather distorted picture of war from the coverage we see on TV. We look at the first Persian Gulf War and think that that was pretty easy, only a few hundred casualties, we could deal with that again — forgetting that tens of thousands of Iraqis died, some of them buried alive by Gen. Schwarzkopf’s bulldozers. We look back at the NATO bombing of Kosovo as an altogether successful mission, forgetting the thousands of casualties we incurred there too. (Take that last link with large heaps of salt, seeing as it comes from a website called slobodan-milosevic.org.) And don’t forget that for every death you hear about, there are another five amputees you don’t.

So if you were going to support the Iraq War back in 2003, you should have expected carnage. You should have expected instability. When you’re supporting the decision to go to war, that’s what’s on the table. Any war that doesn’t cause such things is an aberration. Let’s put it in Dungeons & Dragons terms: Going to war is a 1d20 roll, where any result from 2-20 equals massive amounts of painful, painful death, no matter who the winner is.

I’m not claiming that there’s never justification for war. You’ve got your Hitlers and your Napoleons who need pacifying, and sometimes the only way to do it is at the barrel of a gun. I might have been ready to support going after Saddam if I didn’t think he could be contained through nonviolent means.

Just make sure that if you vote for war, you’re ready for the carnage. You’re ready to accept the consequences of losing or winning Pyrrhically. And don’t cry ignorance later when things go sour.

(What did I think before the war? I opposed it from the start, though I admit I once supported the invasion of Afghanistan, which I’m no longer sure I agree with either. But even opposing the war, I still thought we would win it with a minimum of casualties to either side. I say this not to be a self-righteous asshole, but to set the record straight for the inevitable question.)

(Okay, so I do want to be a self-righteous asshole, just a little bit.)

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  1. Kate Elliott on January 11, 2007 at 5:26 pm  Chain link

    I live in fear that they plan to escalate, because W has nothing to lose, and Cheney lives in a world of executive privilege.

  2. Kate Elliott on January 11, 2007 at 5:27 pm  Chain link

    Escalate into Iran, that is. I’m not referring to the so called “surge.”

  3. Wayne B on January 12, 2007 at 10:48 am  Chain link

    War to most people equals movies and video games. In movies and video games wars are necessary, quick, heroic and the good guy wins. There is no messiness to deal with.

    Many people are also still stuck in the WWII mindset. There we went to war to fight someone who needed fighting (he also started it) and WERE greeted as liberators. And then after the war Europe emerged has a haven for democracy and freedom. So why shouldn’t the same thing have happened in Iraq?

    Well for starters those countries had been invaded by an outside force so were liberating them from someone else. Most of our soldiers fighting had ancestors from that area. And before WW2 the US had been all about staying out of other people’s(Europe’s) business (for the most part) so everyone fully expected us to leave when the job was done. Plus Europe had been a democracy and free place before Hitler so it just got better afterwards. It didn’t emerge because of us. (we have democracy and freedom because of Europe as the ideas we stole from our ancestors there).

    So Iraq and Afghanistan were cast in the same light. However, these countries were only invaded by an outside force when we showed up and the majority our the people in the US have no connection to the area and no understanding of the culture or history. Also, for the last 60 years the US has been doing whatever it wants.

    I’ve always been opposed to the war in Iraq. I am pretty sure some of my family (particularly my extended family) are some of the fair weather supporters though I tend to not talk to them about politics as its safer. I kind of support the action in Afghanistan. There was an existing movement already fighting there so we were helping to bring about change, not causing change ourselves. I equate our role in Afghanistan similar to the role of the French in the Revolutionary War. At least during the fighting. The French then stayed out of our way for the most part. Course, our first quasi war was with France so maybe the Afghans will get ticked at our meddling at some pt.

  4. tommyspoon on January 12, 2007 at 3:34 pm  Chain link

    I believe that we were lied into this war: which is reason enough to impeach this son-of-a-bitch. God, I hate these people.

  5. Deborah Edelman-Blank on January 12, 2007 at 4:37 pm  Chain link

    I think the reason there appears to be so many fair-weathered folks is that there has been a systematic decline in the value of intellectual debate and a growth in selling of ideas. People were sold on Bush and sold on the war. Smooth talking has taken the place of respectful discussion and data-driven arguments. Think of what has been sold to us in the last several years… Guantanamo Bay… Secret prisons… Wiretapping phones without a warrant… What happened to the America that protects the rights of everyone equally and is proud of it? What has happened to respectful discourse that does not begin with a specific predetermined conclusion? What happened to critical thinking?

  6. Dan on January 18, 2007 at 9:33 pm  Chain link

    Friendly advice, David. Stick to the science fiction and leave the political discourse to others. I don’t mean this to be insulting–you are obviously an intelligent person with meaningful opinions–it’s because I’ve watched political debate decimate entire online communities. One that I watched first hand. One that had thrived for years and grown to large numbers (and revenue). Now it’s just a shadow. Someplace people pop into once in a blue moon just to see if it’s risen, like a pheonix, from the ashes. It never will.

    Election after election this country splits amazingly almost exactly down the middle. That means that (statistically speaking) your political opinion will piss off half the country, and endear you to the other half. The problem is, that the half that you piss off will be vehement and beligerant and ugly. They’ll eventually make the half that adores you as a political pundit sick of hearing from them and go away.

    Or maybe not.

  7. David Louis Edelman on January 18, 2007 at 10:38 pm  Chain link

    Dan: I think the discourse has gone remarkably well on the blog so far, political and otherwise. I like the fact that people feel comfortable posting long comments, and pretty much everyone’s been polite (although there was some kid on the MySpace post who said everyone had “dix up their bums”).

    Besides which, this being my own personal blog, and I’ve got a pretty thick skin. As long as you’re open-minded and express yourself intelligently, I’m game to hear what you have to say, be it left-wing, right-wing, up-wing, or down-wing.

  8. George Pedrosa on June 30, 2007 at 11:14 am  Chain link

    Don’t listen to him, David. Yours essays about politics are brilliant and a joy to read.

  9. […] the war and President Bush’s ├╝ber-conservative policies. And I say this as someone who opposed the war from the start and who has vocally opposed Bush’s agenda for years now. I’ve still got a John Kerry […]

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