NEW YORK--In last week's column, I marveled in passing that the rightie hawks who started the Iraq War with a myriad of excuses--fictional WMDs, delusions of spreading democracy, phony links to 9/11, Saddam's plot to kill Bush's dad--can't summon up a single compelling reason to keep fighting. They say we have to "finish the job." What job? They won't say.
We can't leave Iraq, Bush says, until we "win." But victory (finding a stash of rusty poison gas canisters from the Iran-Iraq War? setting up a Shiite theocracy? proving that Mohammed Atta was Iraqi?) remains undefined.
Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the hawks still assert that you can't support the troops without supporting their mission. Republican frontrunner John McCain claims that Senate Democrats have "no confidence in both the mission and the troops who are going over there." How bogus. If your friend has a lousy job, he won't fault you for encouraging him to look for another one. Missions can be changed.
I hate this war. It is a pointless, bloody waste. I've been against it since 2001, when the Bushies started floating the idea of "taking out" Saddam despite my firm antiwar stance, I wrote last week that I could come up with more compelling reasons to stay in Iraq than the Republicans' usual lame talking points. Numerous readers wrote to ask me to do just that.
I love academic exercises. What if Hitler had won World War II? What if Bush had won the 2000 election? I still think the Iraq War is unwinnable. Yet with this essay, I've decided to cave in to popular demand as well as a perverse desire to help out career sociopaths Dick Cheney and William Kristol. And so, as requested, here are some real reasons to fight and keep fighting in Iraq, and some strategy suggestions that will never be carried out.
First, the good reason to invade Iraq: penance.
Saddam Hussein was a creation of the United States, armed and financed by the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, which used Iraq to wage a devastating proxy war against the new Islamic republic of Iran during the 1980s. Saddam's torture and murder of thousands of Kurds took place under Reagan-Bush's watch.
International reaction to the March 2003 invasion might have been downright favorable if Bush 43 had said something like this: "We Americans have a shameful history of propping up dictators. That policy is no more. Today we go to Baghdad to remove a tyrant we supported, but Saddam is only the beginning of our responsibility to clean up the messes our CIA has made around the world. After Iraq, our armed forces will remove U.S.-backed autocrats in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakh ... um, I'll post a list on the White House Web site."
Second, the good reason to stay in Iraq: human rights.
If stopping the genocides in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and now the Darfur region of Sudan was the right thing to do, why not in Iraq?
Soldiers and militia irregulars loyal to the U.S.-installed Maliki regime are carrying out genocidal ethnic cleansing against Iraq's Sunni minority. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis have been murdered. Millions have been evicted from their homes at gunpoint, forced to flee for the border with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It is our humanitarian obligation to help them, not least because our war started the bloodletting.
Third, the right way to stay in Iraq: colonialism.
We have 150,000 troops in Iraq. They're stretched so thin that many are now on their third or fourth deployments. There aren't enough of them to control the streets; even the Baghdad airport road is owned by the insurgents. After Bush's "surge," there will be a mere 170,000, still far short of the 400,000 to 500,000 General Eric Shinseki got himself fired as Army chief of staff for daring to suggest would be needed to secure occupied Iraq.
Security is the key to everything: economic recovery, political stability, ending sectarian violence. U.S.-enforced martial law and nighttime curfews can keep death squads and insurgents off the streets, creating the conditions that will eventually encourage investment, a free press and the rise of a modern nation-state. But the killers can only be kept at bay if American forces are present on every single street in every town, 24-7. To pull that off in a country the size of Iraq, Shinseki's estimate is, if anything, too conservative.
Of course, this "flood the zone" strategy would ultimately prove fruitless after the eventual American withdrawal. The religious fanatics and other factions who are driving the disintegration of Iraq would merely wait our departure, then fight anew. So there's only one logical conclusion: don't ever leave.
Forget spreading democracy. If we're serious about dominating the Middle East and maintenance access to its oil and gas, we have to turn Iraq into a permanent colony like Puerto Rico. As the Brits did in their Indian Raj, America ought to encourage ambitious men and women to seek their fortunes in U.S.-occupied Mesopotamia. They should marry the locals and start families and patrol the streets as part of a new national draft.
What's that, you say? Young Americans don't want to move to Iraq? The United States doesn't have the troops to triple or quadruple our current commitment? Americans don't want to pour trillions of dollars into a hellhole where hundreds of billions have already disappeared?
I've felt exactly the same way--since 2001. Which is why I've been against this endeavor from the beginning. America doesn't have the will, or the budget, to do Iraq right.