Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Yet Another War

At Lee's prodding, I'm participating in the blogswarm against the war in Iraq. I do so with some reluctance. Not because the war is, or ever has been, conscionable. But because I refuse to regard it as anything special. It's simply another of the interminable wars, neither especially bad nor especially justified. I can't stop people from conducting them: they've done it all my life, and they will continue doing it for as long as there are human beings, I expect. Each war is presented as a special case. This enemy is uniquely bad, uniquely dangerous; is responsible for uniquely horrible atrocities, presents a uniquely compelling threat. That's how we're persuaded to fight them. And the people who resist the wars usually accept the terms, merely reversing the polarity: this war, they tell us, is uniquely unjustified, uniquely ruinous. It's not. It's just another run of the mill war.

I argued strenuously against beginning this war. I predicted its course with tolerable accuracy. It would be a walkover, I said. (You remember the leftist journalists, such as Alexander Cockburn, who predicted a ferocious war, with hundreds of thousands of casualties? No? Well, I do. People with no knowledge of military realities, reasoning apparently from some notion of the mystical power of third-world righteousness.)

It would be a walkover, I said, followed by years of increasingly bloody and increasingly unpopular occupation. Eventually we'd just leave, and the various people whom we encouraged to stick their necks out would be slaughtered. The Kurds in particular, who, in a lunatic moment, trusted us again, would be betrayed. Again.

That was quite clear to me. I didn't know whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction: that was anyone's guess. But I knew he didn't have the delivery systems. It really didn't matter whether he had the weapons or not. People have extravagant ideas about how militarily useful such weapons are. I was in great anxiety as our troops approached Baghdad -- I was expecting a chemical or biological attack. Not one that would alter the course of the war, but one which would kill tens of thousands of people. Mercifully, it didn't happen.

So now we're at the stage when we decide the war's no fun anymore, and we're going to take our toys and go home. I agree that the Bush administration has botched the occupation so spectacularly that there's no point in staying, but I hardly feel enthusiastic about leaving. We'll be breaking promises and leaving people in the lurch.

We will leave Iraq. And, within ten or fifteen years, we will be at war somewhere else, making similar unkeepable promises, responding, yet again, to a uniquely wicked enemy who presents a uniquely dangerous threat. Forgive me if I fail to show enthusiastic support or indignant outrage. It's business as usual. Great powers have always acted this way. If your nation doesn't fight colonial wars, dear reader, it's not because of its moral superiority -- it's simply because your nation isn't a great power any more.

I can't stop it, or the grief that's in store for the next crop of young people, or the grief in store for the the next country that becomes too much of a nuisance to Washington. But I can, and I do, refuse to regard it as meaningful. It's neither glorious nor tragic: it's simply the continual muddy misery of human confusion, grinding through another cycle.

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