November 15, 2006

Iraq War Debate.

Over the last couple of months the debate on Iraq war in the US has quite perceptibly entered an "intellectual closure" stage. The physical state of affairs and the prospects for the future (or the lack thereof) have become noncontroversial, with hardly any substantial disagreement. Thus denied the opportunity to debate the future, the intellectuals have turned to the past. And there seems to have emerged a general trend of theorizing on the reasons and historical circumstances that led America to war. This is to provide a sort of historical summary of this misadventure of American foreign policy and mark the culmination of the intellectual preoccupation with it.

Most of this preoccupation has been with the merits or demerits of the Bush policies of preventive war and democracy building.

There are those who lament the fact that there was never any credible opposition to the concept of preventive war. They point out quite correctly that while this concept may have been championed by the neo-conservatives, on the whole the liberal establishment went along with it. That remains largely true even today. Much of the criticism has only come in the form of complaints about the ineptitude of the conductors of the war. The proponents are merely "irritated with Bush for giving ‘preventive war’ a bad name".

There are those who find fault with the "newly" aggressive streak in American foreign policy. They find both political establishments party to this fondness for muscularity. They urge a return to an ethical conduct of foreign affairs where the aspirations and idiosyncrasies of each nation are taken into account. They find that the aim of building democracy by force is fundamentally contradictory recalling what Eisenhower wrote: “Global war as a defense of freedom: Almost contradiction in terms.”

And of course we have the neoconservatives themselves who after providing much of the intellectual rationale for the war, are now terribly disappointed that the ludicrously inefficient Bush administration brought disrepute to their brainchild.

In my impression this debate is a good example of misrepresenting motives. Rarely, if ever, is it pointed that America went to war primarily because it claimed that 1. Saddam was building nuclear weapons and 2. Iraq had a role in 9/11. Only after it became clear that both these reasons were spurious did it slowly start circulating that the US was desirous of a democratic Iraq or that Iraq presented at least a long term (if not a short term) threat. This historical fact can not be overemphasized.

To be sure there were many individuals who thought war was a good idea as a preventive strategy or as part of democracy building. These individuals naturally ascribed their own motives on the administration. But it has to be remembered that officially professed motives were quite different. Bush administration was in charge of the war, not the multitude of intellectuals who thought their own ideas were being implemented.

Isolated acts do not carry the weight of convictions. Invading Iraq may be a part of a variety of convictions (bringing democracy there, liberating people from a crazy dictator, securing oil fields, securing America etc), but that does not mean that the act of invading Iraq should draw cheers from people holding different convictions. It should draw cheer only from those people who share the conviction of the people who actually started the war and who are in charge of the war.

The approval of Iraq war for any reasons other than those given by the administration (weapons of mass destruction, al-Qaeda link) is logically erroneous.


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