old europe wrote:
I'm not ascribing the clash between the western culture and muslim culture to the conflict in Iraq. That would be ridiculous. What we are seeing in Iraq is rather the effect than the cause of that "clash of cultures" (I'm somewhat reluctant to use that expression, though). But that wasn't really what I was talking about.
I was rather talking about the strategy in the "War on Terror". Certainly, islamistic terrorism has become a growing concern over the last couple of years, maybe even decades. From that point of view, the intervention in Afghanistan might be seen as justifiable.
From that same point of view, however, there was nothing to be gained by toppling the Saddam regime. Saddam was fighting against the same odds that the US are now fighting against in Iraq - the geographical position in the middle of Iran, Afghanistan and Syria, the divisions along sect lines amongst the population, the danger fundamentalist terrorism posed to his regime, etc. etc.
Of course a lot of that is hindsight. I was opposed to the Iraq war from the beginning, but had the planning been adequate, had there been enough troops and a real effort to involve the international community, we might at least not be faced with the situation we're seeing today. And that is, according not only to international intelligence services, but also mentioned by the recent National Intelligence Estimate, that Iraq has become a haven and breeding ground for international terrorism.
That is a realistic estimate of the situation and I agree with most of it. Your insights about the basic geographical and political facts that surround Iraq - under Saddam and today - are particularly apt. Indeed I believe it was these that motivated our government to attempt to get rid of Saddam and install a modern government there. The prospect of such a state between Iran and Saudi Arabia was likely very attractive, and some elements of the economic and political history of Iraq suggest that such a transformation is possible. So far it hasn't worked out that way.
I don't agree with you on the point of international cooperation, We faced no prospect of cooperation from the governments of either France or Germany. From the outset, these governments made opposition to the U.S. a fundamental pillar of both their foreign policies and their domestic political strategies. This has left a residue of resentment among many conservatives in this country that I believe will persist.
I agree that key elements of our post invasion strategy were not self-consistent, but I don't accept the standard criticisms of it. For example economy of military force was, in my view, an appropriate principle for us in view of the likely duration of our commitment in Iraq and the lack of support from some of our major "allies". However this was not compatable with our careless dismissal of all the organs of the former government - police, army, etc. We should instead have undertaken to use, direct, and reform these institutions to preserve order and the whatever unifying influence remained of the former state. Certainly such a strategy would have involved risks, but so did the alternative we followed.
Unfortunately history doesn't reveal its alternatives. We know the troubles attendant to our intervention in Iraq, but we don't know their alternatives. After the Gulf War Saddam was no longer able to alone sustain resistance to the combination of domestic Shiite unrest and Iranian external pressures. I believe our government was seriously concerned about an alliance between him and the largely Sunni terrorist movement that had struck the U.S. and which we had toppled in Afghanistan. There was direct evidence of the beginnings of such an alliance then, and we have seen its fruits in the insurgency that developed, even as we were beginning to occupy the country. (This also illustrates the absurdity of the "breeding ground for terrorism" cliche: Iraq had already started down that road before the invasion - as a matter of survival for the regime.)
After some reflection I have concluded that the only reliable alternative to knocking off Saddam's government would be to have left him in control of Kuwait -- no Gulf War. Exhausted after the long conflict with Iran, Saddam took Kuwait to get their economic resources and perhaps to broaden his base of Sunni control. The boundaries of Kuwait, like those of Iraq, are merely the arbitrary creation of the British Empire. This would have been a great misfortune for the Kuwaiti people, but it would likely have left a strong counterweight to Iran in place in that troubled part of the world.