Regrets

A special get-together of a number of Canadian bloggers (especially those who participated in the Blogs Canada Election EGroup) was held today in the afternoon in a North York restaurant. Sadly, I had to send my regrets, as I was occupied with friends and family that day. Dan, Erin and I were in Toronto, but were in and around the downtown.

We paid a visit to the Music Garden, which I hadn't seen in two years. In those two years, YoYo Ma's garden has really come into its own. The foliage has grown up and the pathways feel like real pathways through hefty greenery. It's a great experience and the garden is a popular spot. I'd even go so far as to say that it has singlehandedly saved the western portion of Harbourfront.

I also rewrote two pages of my short story...


Back to Iraq Back From Vacation

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Chris Albritton is Back to Iraq after spending a nice vacation in Beirut.

Nice. Vacation. Beirut.

Doesn't it feel ironic that we could ever consider Beirut to be a nice vacation spot? Mind you, this says less about the situation in Bagdhad than it does about how far Beirut has come back from civil war. And that is certainly a good thing.

Chris also reports that a quiet has returned to Bagdhad. Too early to tell if this is good news or a portent of something, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for good news.


Learning from Iraq

Though it's still early, I'm going to be optimistic and predict that the new government in Iraq will take, that stability will return to the nation, and that the country will take slow, steady steps towards democracy. I base my optimism on Chris Albritton's reports, which suggest that while security is still an issue to average Iraqis, average Iraqis support their new government, and are dedicated to fixing their country on their own terms. It is on these individuals, the silent majority of the nation, that the country will rise and fall, not the insurgents or the carbombers.

So, in the end we now have a country that has been liberated from a brutal dictator, somewhat in charge of its own affairs, and about ready to proceed with its reconstruction. And for this, the Bush Administration can claim a small victory. It looked hairy for a while there, however, so here's hoping that officials within the administration and others elsewhere pick over the last eighteen months with care, and truly assess what went right and what went wrong.

When I look back on the eighteen months, two things that stick out in my mind. The first was the intelligence failures that predicted the discovery of huge stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, little of which actually materialized. The second was the instability that rocked this country and the Bush Administration for the fourteen months following the declaration of the cessation of hostilities. In this I include the revelation of the atrocities in Alu Gharib, which on its own almost negated all of the good the invasion of Iraq was supposed to bring.

The issue of the intelligence failures has been debated elsewhere. In my view, the biggest effect of these has been to thwart the Bush Administration's credibility amongst American allies. While the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found was a surprise even to those who questioned the need to invade, including myself, it highlighted the fact that the Bush Administration pursued the Iraq crisis with invasion very much in its mind, regardless of the opinions of America's allies. The vanished WMDs stripped away all of the reasons for war, save for the plight of the Iraqi people under the Saddam dictatorship (which is emphasized more now than it was in the leadup to invasion). While a black eye for the Bush Administration, this in and of itself has little to do with the long term security of Iraq or of the West. More important is the instability that followed the toppling of Saddam's regime, which almost invalidated the last reason for war: that the Iraqi people would welcome the coalition with open arms.

So, what I hope the Bush Administration takes home from the Iraq experience is this: when you decide to invade a country, do more than just plan military movements. The invasion itself was as precise and as effective as any military campaign could hope to be. Despite initial fears that troops were being bogged down, the rush to Bagdhad was swift and collateral damage was minor. There was no repeat of the massive destruction of oil wells that marked the 1991 Gulf War. Because of this, American troops toppled Saddam and received a significant amount of good will from the Iraqi people. Had they been able to maintain this, Iraq would have been a beacon to the rest of the Middle East, showing others that not only can dictators be toppled, but democratic regimes put in their place can make lives better for the average citizens of those countries, thanks to American help. Such a message would be a considerable blow to the forces of Al Queda seeking to paint the West as morally bankrupt blood enemies of Islam.

One year on, however, and conditions in Iraq hadn't improved. The power is still shut off for many hours each day, and the news from Arab television and Iraqi word-on-the-street is of raids in the night, families held at gunpoint, bombed houses, dead women and children, and horrible abuses of prisoners by coalition soldiers in one of Saddam's worst jails. Now you know and I know that average people, from most coalition soldiers to Americans on the street, wanted none of these things to happen, but such news is still excellent PR for Al Queda and other anti-Western terrorist organizations. The military and the Bush Administration should have made every effort to prevent these things from happening, and its more than likely that the military did try to prevent these things from happening. Why weren't they able to?

There is a good argument that American soldiers in Iraq were overworked, understaffed and stretched too thin and that a lot of this had to do with Donald Rumsfeld's favoured program known as "Transforming". The use of sophisticated technological weapons could reduce the number of soldiers needed to pacify a country, he argued. When other military officials said that half a million American soldiers would be needed to topple Saddam and replace the government afterward, Rumsfeld and his people replied that only 100,000 were required -- and he was right, inasmuch as we were talking about the removal of a dictator and a battered, starved army that was at a fraction of the strength it was in 1991. However, smart bombs and remote controls do not easily maintain a peace once a war is won. They don't rebuild infrastructure and they don't pass out food and water to hungry and thirsty civilians. By understaffing the Iraqi invasion, the Bush Administration helped prolong the period of instability that followed, which likely developed situations where attrocities were allowed to take place, which soured the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, and which granted considerable fodder to the terrorists.

This isn't the only time the Bush Administration has won a war but failed to secure the peace. Afghanistan is also in a shaky position, with warlords controlling most of the country, and a central government left somewhat powerless and isolated in Kabul. Once major combat operations end and the cameras look elsewhere, attention lapses. This is a failure that other western nations including Canada share with the Bush Administration (how much coverage is there in our media about Afghanistan?). We have spoken about the need for long term commitments in the global War on Terror; this is precisely what this commitment is about.

So, if you are going to invade a country, do it right. Commit enough troops to do more than just topple the resident military, but provide stablity in the aftermath. Plan out properly the model of the occupation that is to follow. Commit enough resources to ensure that the infrastructure is rebuilt within six months of your arrival and that enough food and water is provided to all the civilians so that there is never any question of who is better: the occupying forces, or the mauraders that terrorized the civilians before the invasion.

The western nations, including and especially the United States, used to do an excellent job of this during and after the Second World War and in Korea. It is a shame that such common sense approaches have been forgotten in the years since. It almost strikes me as a laziness: an attempt to change the world using as few resources as one can get away with. Worlds don't change that easy.


Where this Knowledge Might Be Applied

In the past couple of months, disturbing news out of the Sudan leads me to believe that military intervention may be required. There is a brutal civil war going on, and government-sponsored militias are deliberately exacerbating drought conditions to attack non-Arab muslims in the western part of the country. Rape and summary executions are other tools being used to whip up a humanitarian crisis that is already affecting over a million people. The phrases "genocide" and "ethnic clensing" are already being used. Some people are calling for a large peacekeeper coalition to help secure the region, push back the militias (using force if necessary) and address the humanitarian crisis; I'd support that.

It may seem hypocritical of me to talk about military intervention in the Sudan after I spent all this time criticizing military intervention in Iraq. However, one thing about the Iraq invasion remains true: the Iraqi people are now free of a brutal dictator. We may not have finished the job we started in 1991 until thirteen years later; we may have failed to back the popular uprisings in the Shiite south and the Kurdish north following the Gulf War; we may have stood idly by while Saddam gassed the Kurds in 1988, but America's response now has freed a people, and while mistakes during the aftermath have left us plenty of reason to fear the future, there is still hope. Our inattention, our standing idly by while poverty, deprevation and dictatorship provides fertile ground on which hatred can grow, makes our world a more dangerous place. If we care, we should intervene. And if we truly care, we will intervene... and do it right.

While the Sudan crisis has received some attention by the media and by government officials in Canada, the U.S. and Britain (including strongly worded statements from Colin Powell), we still seem to be a long way off from intervention. The focus of the Bush Administration in recent weeks appears, in my eyes, to be settling further east, to Iraq's next door neighbour, Iran.

(Sigh!)


Further Reading

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