The McGill Report
10.8.2003

A Chance to Show Wisdom in Iraq

Rochester, MN -- Is Iraq simply a God-awful mess? Or is it a providential challenge to America to engage with the wide world more wisely? Is it a chance to test and to learn the true nature of our deepest national ideals?

These questions came up in an e-mail exchange I've been having recently with three close friends -- a lawyer in Rochester named Rick, a lawyer in Minneapolis named Louis, and a doctor in St. Paul named Chris. We started our online debates about the war several months before "shock and awe." Two of us (Rick and I) argued, though without great enthusiasm, in favor of the war; and two of us (Louis and Chris) strongly opposed it.

The latest round of debate began last week when Chris sent the group an essay by Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun outraged by the war in Iraq and by America's projection of military power around the globe. "We are swaggering around the world like a blind giant, flailing in all directions while the rest of the world watches in horror or in ridicule," she wrote. In rebuttal, I sent the group a recent Gallup poll showing that two-thirds of Baghdad residents believe that removing Saddam was worth the hardships and sacrifices of the war. In addition, almost 70 percent of Iraqis polled throughout the country said they believed their lives would be better in five years as a result of the American invasion.

Winning the Peace

Louis was deeply unimpressed. "I don't find solace in that article," he wrote, "other than a confirmation that Saddam Hussein was not very popular among the Iraqi people. The question on my mind is whether the United States has advanced its global interests or national security through the invasion and the ongoing occupation of Iraq.

"I am still terribly concerned that the Bush administration's pre-emptive moves have greatly harmed our ability to mobilize a global coalition for the next, more serious crisis." Rick and I had supported the war on the grounds that Saddam was a clear danger to his people and to the world. Now, Rick acknowledged that having won the war, America was doing poorly at winning the peace.

"What I find interesting is that despite the importance of the Iraq campaign, Bush does not call upon Americans to sacrifice for a common goal," Rick wrote. "He is just pandering to the public as usual with tax cuts. But isn't that just a sign of the times? Does any Democrat do better? Yet, are we willing to sacrifice?" This was too much for Chris. "Is this war now about sacrifice?" he snapped. "I thought it was about weapons of mass destruction. No, wait, killing terrorists. No, wait, freeing people from tyrants. Well, something GOOD will come from all this sacrifice for sure. Maybe a good movie!"

Poor Judgment

My main contribution was admitting that I had accepted an "ends justifies the means" logic in supporting the war, and was having second thoughts. I had never believed that WMDs were the President's main concern. Instead I believed (and still do) that freeing the United States of its dependence on Saudi Arabia for oil and for air fields was the war's major goal.

Now my Faustian bargain was coming due. "The government that took us into Iraq on false pretenses can take us out on false pretenses too," I wrote, to my own dismay. "Where is the post-war plan to democratize Iraq? Where is the topflight team of professionals, diplomats, Arab-speakers, foreign-aid workers, and civil administration experts that was all the time waiting in the wings to implement Phase Two, which is to help democratize Iraq?"

Rick, more than any of us, has cut the president some slack. The administration "has shown poor judgment to the max," he wrote in one e-mail. "But Bush truly believed that Saddam was dangerous to America and the world. So I don't feel misled by a lie."

"The Bush administration is committed to a democratic Iraq," Rick added. "They know how important that goal is. They were just na•ve about how to accomplish it. Can they catch up?" In our e-mail debates, the four of us are asking ourselves the same questions that Rick asked of the President: Were we na•ve? Are we now committed? Can we catch up?

Copyright @ 2003 The McGill Report