Iraq Ten Years Later: Some of Us Weren’t Wrong

Ten years ago today, U.S. forces began the “shock and awe” bom­bard­ment on Bagh­dad, the first shots of the sec­ond Iraq War. Pres­i­dent Bush said troops needed to go in to dis­able Sad­dam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruc­tion pro­gram, but as we now know that pro­gram did not exist. Many of us sus­pected as much at the time. The flimsy pieces of evi­dence held up by the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion didn’t pass the smell test but a lot of main­stream reporters went for it and sup­ported the war.

Now those jour­nal­ists are look­ing back. One is Andrew Sul­li­van, most widely known as the for­mer edi­tor of New Repub­lic and now the pub­lisher of the inde­pen­dent online mag­a­zine The Dish. I find his recent “Never For­get That They Were All Wrong” thread pro­foundly frus­trat­ing. I’m glad he’s tak­ing the time to double-guess him­self, but the whole premise of the thread con­tin­ues the dis­mis­sive atti­tude toward activists. Start­ing in 1995 I ran a web­site that acted as a pub­lish­ing plat­form for much of the estab­lished peace move­ment. Yes, we were a col­lec­tion of anti­war activists, but that doesn’t mean we were unable to use logic and apply crit­i­cal think­ing when the offi­cial assur­ances didn’t add up. I wrote weekly posts chal­leng­ing New York Times reporter Judith Miller and the smoke-and-mirror shows of two admin­is­tra­tions over a ten-year period. My essays were occa­sion­ally picked up by the national media—when they needed a coun­ter­point to pro-war editorials—but in gen­eral my pieces and those of the paci­fist groups I pub­lished were dismissed.

When U.S. troops finally did invade Iraq in 2003, they encoun­tered an Iraqi mil­i­tary that was almost com­pletely inca­pac­i­tated by years of U.N. sanc­tions. The much-hyped Repub­li­can Guard had tanks that had too many bro­ken parts to run. Iraq’s nuclear, chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal pro­grams had been shut down over a decade ear­lier. The real les­son that we should take from the Iraq War was that the non­vi­o­lent meth­ods of United Nations sanc­tions had worked. This isn’t a sur­prise for what we might call prag­matic paci­fists. There’s a grow­ing body of research argu­ing that non­vi­o­lent meth­ods are often more effec­tive than armed inter­ven­tions (see for exam­ple, Why Civil Resis­tance Works: The Strate­gic Logic of Non­vi­o­lent Con­flict, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, reviewed in the March Friends Jour­nal (sub­scrip­tion required).

What if the U.S. had acknowl­edge there was no com­pelling evi­dence of WMDs and had sim­ply ratch­eted up the sanc­tions and let Iraq stew for another cou­ple of years? Even­tu­ally a coup or Arab Spring would prob­a­bly have rolled around. Imag­ine it. No insur­gency. No Abu Ghraib. Maybe we’d even have an ally in Bagh­dad. The sit­u­a­tions in places like Tehran, Dam­as­cus, Islam­abad, and Ramal­lah would prob­a­bly be fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent right now. Anti­war activists were right in 2003. Why should jour­nal­ists like Andrew Sul­li­van assume that this was an anomaly?

  • Bofur

    Doubtlesss because of “activ­it­sts” who said that we could tol­er­ate Mus­solini and Hitler and that Stalin was not so bad, and even “pro­gres­sive” and that Mao was a bit rough, sure, but at least Ho Chi Minh was an agrar­ian reformer. And peo­ple still think Cas­tro, after 53 years in power, is a democrat.