Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Lessons from the War in Iraq (Geocities Rescue)
Before addressing the lessons of Iraq, let us first look at its future. Now that Saddam Hussein has been removed, American and British authorities are endeavoring to undertake nation building in a nation that itself was a product of colonialism. Iraq is an unlikely collection of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, with the Shiites having sympathy for their co-religionists in Iran and the Kurds harboring dreams of nationalism and eventual unification with their fellows in Iraq and Turkey (a NATO ally that rightly fears both Kurdish terrorism and the loss of territory).
Part of the problem is one of scale, as Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Saudi, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel are too small for true viability. Perhaps the solution for both the Iraqis and the Arabs as a whole is a single, multi-state nation on the American model. The ancient Hashemite Dynasty is a unifying symbol for the formation of such a state, which potentially evolves into a constitutional monarchy based in Damascus, its former capital city before French colonialists expelled King Abdullah’s great-grandfather. While pan-Arab nationalism, as well as the eventual unification of Kurdistan may have to wait for another day, asking His Majesty to take the lead in the reorganization of Iraq seems preferable to any solution choreographed from the shores of the Potomac, even if it is designed and implemented by the best that Foggy Bottom has to offer. A satisfactory solution in Iraq brokered by the King, combined with a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, lays the groundwork for eventual peace in the region.
The Decision to Go to War
In December 2002, while much of the nation was in an uproar about whether to go to war in Iraq, I was not really excited one way or another. Unlike many Democrats, or even my fellow Nader voters, I did not use this issue as a surrogate for my feelings about the 2000 election. (As an aside, for Gore to pin his chances on a state where his opponent’s brother is Governor did not show presidential judgment. No Democrat who can’t win Ohio, or his home state, deserves the office).
Many protested that the war was not just. I would disagree, as any dictator who uses chemical weapons against his own people has lost any claim for justice on his behalf. The reception given the liberating American forces bears out the justice of this particular war.
Many thought the evidence of weapons of mass destruction to be flimsy, as recent reports seem to be bearing out. I counter, and echo others in doing so, that given the current climate it was up to Saddam Hussein to cooperate unambiguously in proving they were not there. He did not do so, even in the face of a massive American military buildup on his borders. He had to know that this buildup would be used before the onset of summer desert weather. To expect otherwise did not make sense. It can be called a miscalculation. If so, that miscalculation cost him his government, led to his capture and will likely cost him his life. He depended on international pressure to prevent President Bush from acting. He did not understand his enemy or the real state of international law.
The United Nations and International Law
International law is based entirely on bilateral and multilateral agreements among sovereign states. All agreements are of equal validity, so to determine whether an action is legal in the international sphere, one must look at all of them, not just the United Nations Charter. President Bush challenged the ability of United Nations to respond in Iraq. The U.N. ignored the obvious considerations having to do with desert warfare and the security of the United States, proving itself irrelevant. The UN only does so much because it is not sovereign. Rather, it is an assembly of sovereigns. To be sovereign, its legislature has to be directly elected, or it has to add an elected assembly to supplement the General Assembly. The other barrier to UN effectiveness is the diffusion of executive power. The Office of Secretary General carries much prestige, but no power. The real executive is the Security Council, which is structured to prevent action rather than to act. Without a single executive to provide leadership and implement policy, the UN has no hope of effectiveness. The final strike against it is its inability to raise funds. Currently, it depends on contributions after the model of the defeated Confederate States of America and the government of the United States under the Articles of Confederation. It is nothing more than a paper tiger, as the experience in Iraq has shown. President Bush was correct in his assessment of its effectiveness. He challenged it to greatness in Iraq and it failed.
There is an entire body of international law that is less ambiguous, the military alliances to which the United States is a party. Each of these makes one thing clear, that the United States is the first among equals, with an American in command of all joint operations and the American President in charge of that commander. In short, the reason George Bush can act as though he were king of the world is because for all intents and purposes, he is. The war in Iraq made this clear to much of the world’s population, which is why they protested, especially in Europe. I now address the prospects for the viability of this arrangement.
In the days when the United States was the bulwark against Communist expansion, the position of the United States was necessary, especially after the Second World War when much of Europe and Asia lay in ruin. Since the response of President Truman to Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, America has maintained a wartime footing. Some demobilization was effected after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it was by no means total. In the case of Iraq, the United States military was able to mobilize for war rather quickly because the military was already mobilized.
Is this constant mobilization a good idea? In Iraq and in the minds of everyone in the defense industry, the answer is yes. What about its constitutionality? The Constitution prohibits the existence of a standing army for more than two years. The framers did not believe in a permanent American military presence. This is why the military itself (although not the weapons systems) are only authorized for a year at a time. Technically, the government is in constitutional compliance, although the size of our forces and their planned use are everything the framers did not want.
Defenders of the current regime say that circumstances have changed these past two hundred years, that the founders could not have anticipated the current global situation. These forget that before the revolution the founders were subjects of an empire upon which the sun did not set. With our Middle Eastern presence, this is now true about the American military. Though technology has changed, the mind of man has not. Military force is projected worldwide now for the same reasons it was then, protection of the national political and economic interest.
Our founding fathers knew all too well the advancement of such national interests abroad leads to a diminution of liberty at home. Military and economic might lead to the necessity for secrecy (the enemy of liberty), the existence of nationalism, the promotion of hierarchy and a general lessening of the freedom of expression. The enactment of the Patriot Act is just the latest installment in this drama.
Under the Clinton Administration, the pathology of militarism was played out in the question of gays in the military, with military commanders actively subverting a policy advocated by their own commander-in-chief. By the reckoning of constitutional purists and civil libertarians, such subversion is dangerous at the very least and is an example of why the framers did not desire the establishment of a standing army.
Too often, American foreign policy is used to protect nations for strategic reasons rather than a shared interest in democracy. Nations that seek our protection must share that commitment. Compromising on this implies that our national security establishment does not view these freedoms as sacrosanct and this signal is dangerous.
The international protection of our economic interests must also end. Those economic interests who seek the protection of military might are better advised to promote liberty in the nations in which they operate. If they are successful in doing this they do not need the protection of our state, while if they resist the advancement of liberty they do not merit its protection. Freedom is essential for the operation of private enterprise and private enterprise is essential for the protection of liberty.
The projection of international might is an expense the nation can no longer afford. A budget deficit of almost half a trillion dollars testifies to this fact. (Update, $1.4 Trillion). The United States need no longer protect the entire world. Our republic is not constituted to perform well as an empire. Our ideals stop us from doing it well. A true empire charges tribute and is self-supporting. Ours is bleeding us dry. A well-run empire overtly controls its client states. We covertly subvert some and cow-tow to others, depending upon our economic interests.
The chief lesson of the war in Iraq is that our allies will not long accept American dominance absent the threat provided by the former Soviet Union. It is time for a new model of American power, one based on American ideals of freedom and federalism. All nations who share our commitment can join in a common polity. This new polity shares the cost of a common defense and shares in the decision to undertake both wars of defense and wars of liberation. This enhances the authority of our ideals and our ability to back them up when necessary.