Skip to main content

The Iraq that could have been

One of the things that most depresses me now about the Iraq War was that, regardless of how things turn out in the future, it seems pretty likely that Saddam would have been toppled by some kind of home-grown revolt in the Arab Spring; or if that didn't work, then we could have given the rebel movement the kind of support that seems to have worked in Libya.

I was against the Libyan intervention for two big reasons. First, I was afraid that we'd get sucked into another ground war in a Middle Eastern country (see the "regime change ratchet"). Second, there was no authorization from Congress, and pretty much no debate beforehand. The President seems to have, now, an almost completely free hand in foreign affairs, and I think that sets dangerous precedents. For reasons laid out in The Origins of Political Order, dictatorships tend to fail because they have trouble surviving crappy leaders. As it turns out, Obama is a straight killing machine who is too cunning to get sucked into that kind of morass, but there's no guarantee that the next guy will be so ruthlessly effective. In fact, it's a given there will be a lunatic sooner or later with the GOP the way it is. In any case, I'm glad that, in this particular instance, it wasn't a complete disaster for everyone involved.

Moreover, though it was probably mostly luck, the actual support methods we used in Libya seemed to work fairly well. Obviously Libya is still in a precarious position, and it would not surprise me at all if it collapsed into civil war, and I think the smart money is on it remaining a corrupt petro-state for the foreseeable future. But as far as the actual tactics we used to support the rebels, I have to say I was surprised at their effectiveness.

Indulge me in a quick historical counterfactual. So it's 2002, and the Iraq vote fails narrowly in the Senate. Big controversy, but ultimately the war isn't started. Saddam hangs on throughout the Aughts, but he's broke and inspectors keep him from developing nerve gas or other biological weapons. Fast forward to 2010, and revolution is sweeping the Middle East. Saddam is already one of the most weak and isolated dictators in the region, and galloping rebellion breaks out in Iraq with broad Shia support, but based in Kurdistan. Fighting is intense, but with Saddam's large stock of conventional weapons a stalemate looks imminent. Now Obama (lets say with the support of Congress) and the UK, and with somewhat reluctant support from France and the rest of Europe, push through a UN resolution authorizing military intervention. We support the rebels with strategic bombing and supplies, and ultimately the tide is turned in about a month. It turns out that casualties are about 50,000 on both sides.

After a quick power struggle, an interim government emerges. They secure the streets, more or less. They don't dismiss the army. They get oil pumping and set a date for elections. Sanctions are lifted. Chinese and Russian investment money pours in. A government is elected. They're moderate Islamists, corrupt, somewhat brutal, but things look quite a bit better than they did under Saddam. Sunnis howl at their loss of power, but stay put for the time being. Iraq remains a bit of a basketcase.

But Iraq's sizable middle class remains. Fifty thousand is a lot less than 650,000. The war, and the political struggle to determine who is going to take power, is over quick. There is no years-long grinding insurgency. Economic growth, based mainly around oil but way better than a total collapse, returns. There aren't 4.7 million refugees. For a time, the US is stupendously popular in Iraq, and though that quickly fades, our reputation in the Islamic world is considerably improved for much longer.

Man, George Bush really was an idiot for the ages.

Again, I think the long-term trend toward total lack of restraint on the executive branch when it comes to war is extremely troubling. I'm just thinking, given that lousy premise, what could have been.


Popular posts from this blog

Why Did Reality Winner Leak to the Intercept?

So Reality Winner, former NSA contractor, is in federal prison for leaking classified information — for five years and three months, the longest sentence of any whistleblower in history. She gave documents on how Russia had attempted to hack vendors of election machinery and software to The Intercept , which completely bungled basic security procedures (according to a recent New York Times piece from Ben Smith, the main fault lay with Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito ), leading to her capture within hours. Winner recently contracted COVID-19 in prison, and is reportedly suffering some lingering aftereffects. Glenn Greenwald has been furiously denying that he had anything at all to do with the Winner clusterfuck, and I recently got in an argument with him about it on Twitter. I read a New York story about Winner, which clearly implies that she was listening to the Intercepted podcast of March 22, 2017 , where Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill expressed skepticism about Russia actually b

Varanus albigularis albigularis

That is the Latin name for the white-throated monitor lizard , a large reptile native to southern Africa that can grow up to two meters long (see pictures of one at the Oakland Zoo here ). In Setswana, it's called a "gopane." I saw one of these in my village yesterday on the way back from my run. Some kids from school found it in the riverbed and tortured it to death, stabbing out its eyes, cutting off its tail, and gutting it which finally killed it. It seemed to be a female as there were a bunch of round white things I can only imagine were eggs amongst the guts. I only arrived after it was already dead, but they described what had happened with much hilarity and re-enactment. When I asked why they killed it, they said it was because it would eat their chickens and eggs, which is probably true, and because it sucks blood from people, which is completely ridiculous. It might bite a person, but not unless threatened. It seems roughly the same as killing wolves tha

The Conversational Downsides of Twitter's Structure

Over the past couple years, as I've had a steady writing job and ascended from "utter nobody" to "D-list pundit," I find it harder and harder to have discussions online. Twitter is the only social network I like and where I talk to people the most, but as your number of followers increases, the user experience becomes steadily more hostile to conversation. Here's my theory as to why this happens. First is Twitter's powerful tendency to create cliques and groupthink. Back in forum and blog comment section days, people would more often hang out in places where a certain interest or baseline understanding could be assumed. (Now, there were often epic fights, cliques, and gratuitous cruelty on forums too, particularly the joke or insult variety, but in my experience it was also much easier to just have a reasonable conversation.) On Twitter, people rather naturally form those same communities of like interest, but are trapped in the same space with differe