Hard times for war opponents?

Scott Stephanou

As someone who has been adamantly opposed to our current adventure in Iraq from the beginning, I guess I’m in a little conundrum right now. Last month, the people of Iraq bravely went out to the polls and voted in the face of an insurgency that basically stated, “You vote, you die.” These elections are a major step towards creating a stable, democratic Iraq that could be a bastion for freedom in the Middle East.

Pro-Iraq war advocates must think that we anti-war folks are sulking in defeat right now. The way things are headed in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East must be a vindication of President Bush’s decision to go to war spelling sad times for those who opposed the war.

Well, not so fast. First and foremost, once the decision to go to war was made, it became irrelevant whether or not you were for against the war. Success in Iraq is crucial. In fact, it is so important that it transcends the political stakes we have all invested in the war. It is more important to see Iraq become a successful democracy than for those who have opposed Bush’s policies (such as myself) to see Bush proven wrong. The point is that good news in Iraq should be viewed as good news for all: supporters and opponents alike.

We also have to pause a second before we throw our hands in the air and admit Bush was right all along. The successful elections have not vindicated Bush’s decision to go to war. Let’s not forget the centerpiece of Bush’s argument for going to war: Saddam and his W.M.D.’s. No matter what Bush’s true motive was for going to war, Iraqi freedom was on the back burner when the time came to convince America to march to war. Now that no W.M.D.’s have been found, Iraqi freedom has surfaced as the centerpiece of the war decision. Although liberating Iraqis and transforming the Middle East might have been the goal of the neoconservatives in the Bush administration, it was the fear-mongering of Saddam’s imminent threat that convinced the American people to go to war.

Serious problems arise when you start playing the-ends-justify- the-means-game. War is not just another foreign policy tool. Unlike diplomacy, war has a large human cost. It is morally wrong to just switch the war-rationale in the face of 1,500 dead American soldiers.

It is perfectly legitimate to criticize the way Bush sold the war and has conducted the war. The strength of the insurgency was seriously underestimated (demonstrated by talks of American soldiers being greeted with flowers and the severely insufficient amount of troops placed on the ground following the invasion). Let us not forget the inexplicable arrogance of the Bush administration. Whether it is changing the war rationale, an unwillingness to listen to calls for strengthening troop presence from Congress, a refusal to admit any mistakes in the war’s handling, or Donald Rumsfeld’s assertion that “you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want,” Bush has not helped to win favor with critics. However, despite all of these legitimate criticisms, a free Iraq will be good for the United States, good for the Middle East, and good for the world.

The elections are a significant step in the right direction, but it does not mean that Iraq can’t slip back into the wrong direction. A number of things still need to happen. First, let’s not forget that although the elections went remarkably well, Sunni turnout was minimal. The Sunnis will have to be included in the new Iraqi government. Second, the insurgency has to be dealt with. On Monday, the insurgents executed the deadliest single attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein. This is a force that will not easily go away. If this insurgency is going to be defeated, more Iraqi troops, police, and security need to be trained.

I know that if Iraq does tip back into the wrong direction, I will not be gloating because of my opposition to the war. Not only would it be a blow to the Bush administration, but more importantly, it would be a blow to freedom, democracy, hope for a better Middle East, and hope for a better world. If Iraq does succeed, I guess that I will end up having to give credit where credit is due. And I would much rather be able to give Bush credit for a successful Iraq than have the opportunity to say “I told you so” for a failed state.