During the run-up to war, I remember thinking how horrible the threat of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq seemed, and yet, as you might remember, I was skeptical of how concrete this threat really was.…
But… it’s turned out to be a moot point anyway. We may have gone to war to rid Iraq of WMDs and to stop Saddam from collaborating with Osama, but in a world as complex and changing as ours is, these stated reasons have been replaced by better, post hoc explanations.
We ridded the world of a terrible dictator. Clearly, nobody would rather have Saddam and his ruthless, psychopathic spawn still running the show over there — filling the mass graves with his people-shredders, feeding virgins to Uday. I may be exaggerating a bit here for rhetorical purposes, but the message is accurate in its outlines — Saddam was certainly in the running for the Cruel Despot Hall of Fame.
It’s certainly arguable that the photographed tortures in Abu Ghraib, the more than ten thousand civilians killed and the many battlefield deaths, the ravaging of Iraq and its people — while regrettable when seen isolated from their proper context, are justifiable when seen in the context of service to such a noble goal as this.
And just as we need to stop trying to justify our (possibly mistaken) motivations for going to war in Iraq and adopt instead the undoubtedly beneficial effects as our justification, I’d like to modestly propose that we step back even further.
As Dubya has pointed out again and again, changed everything. It changed our defense posture to one of preemption, altered the threshold of actionable intelligence to the hair-trigger guesswork level, and caused a boiling up of rage in the United States public that was almost blind in its inability to distinguish its enemies by much more than approximate world region (but a grim determination was behind this blindness — do not doubt that).
I doubt America would have had the will or inclination to go to war in Iraq if it hadn’t been for (there was much debate even as it is). We can see now what a tragedy that would have been.
So just as the wisdom of our decision to invade cannot and should not be demonstrated by evaluating the validity of our stated reasons for conducting the invasion, I think it’s worthwhile to entertain this same standard when evaluating itself.
By provoking the United States into attacking and destroying Saddam Hussein’s regime, Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers have done the world a great service. I don’t think they conducted the hijacking with such a noble goal in mind, of course, but as we’ve seen, the verdict of history is all about results, not intentions.
I anticipate that a world that once reacted in horror at the hundreds of innocent civilians killed in the destruction of the World Trade Center will, with the perspective of a few years distance on the War on Terror as a whole, see these sacrificed lives in the same light that other civilian deaths in this war are seen — as the sort of eggs the world needed to break to make the omelet of a free Iraq that is no longer a grave threat to the community of nations.
It will bring some closure, and some satisfaction, when family members of the victims of ask “why did they have to die?” to be able to finally give an honest answer: “in order to rid the world of the terrible dictator Saddam Hussein.”
And George Bush and Osama bin Laden will come to be invoked in the same reverent breath, ultimately considered to have been on the same team all along — working miracles of world-transformation almost without knowing how or why, as if guided by forces of history or the hand of providence.
[O]ne still cannot read the journals of millennium without the feeling that one is revisiting a hopelessly somnambulist relative in a neglected home. I am one of those who believe, uncynically, that Osama bin Laden did us all a service (and holy war a great disservice) by his mad decision to assault the American homeland .
— Christopher Hitchens, “A War to Be Proud Of”
Gotta run… I left an Irish baby in the oven.