Exit polls from yesterday suggest that the majority of Americans think that it was either a mistake to enter Iraq in the first place or, upon entering the country, we made colossal blunders and thus should begin our exist sooner than later. Strategies for such an exist plan seem almost non-existent. I have my doubts that such a plan could be forced on this president by the new Congress.
Was this war right? And if so, what do you mean by “right” anyway? I am not sure that we will be able to know the answers to these questions for many, many years, if ever. I have read a number of the most robust critics of this war, as well as the thoughts of some who did, and do, support it. It does seem apparent that since we entered Iraq we have clearly made one mistake after another in dealing with an insurgency that we failed to plan for in the first place. We also made serious mistakes in establishing a government there that still seems to need a lot of help to succeed. The decision this week to allow former low-level Baathists to become involved in the new government strikes me as both timely and correct.
With the conviction of Saddam Hussein last Sunday I do not, however, see how any right thinking person could not rejoice in this verdict, even if they oppose the death penalty on principle. This man was a ruthless killer, by every account. He faced a trial under the oversight of his own people, or least judges from his own people, who found him guilty. Even fierce critics of the war seem to agree that justice was properly served in Saddam’s conviction, except of course for those few people who choose to ignore Saddam’s brutality.
I found Alan Dershowitz’s comments in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal judicious and engaging. In his op-ed titled, “Imperfect, But Fair Enough,” he said, “The verdict and sentence was predictable because the facts were clear and the evidence compelling. A defendant’s obvious guilt does not necessarily make his trial unfair; nor does it necessarily make it fair. Even the most guilty and despicable are entitled to a trial before objective fact-finders . . . .” He gives the trial “a passing grade” and concludes that “Prefect justice is an illusion. Perfect injustice is a reality, as Saddam Hussein proved when he inflicted it on his perceived enemies for so many years.”
Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (2003-04), also wrote of the verdict this week and said of our situation, “We Americans should do everything possible to see that they (the Iraqi government and people) succeed, for failure in Iraq would endanger the lives of every American. And establishing a democratic Iraq, in the heart of a deeply troubled region would be a signal event for all the people of the Middle East.”
It does seem that some Americans actually want us to fail in Iraq. They appear to hate George W. Bush so deeply that they see this as a way to discredit him. The American people do not seem to hate him but they have clearly said that they do not approve of his Iraq policy. Again, I think history will judge these facts differently than the left and the right the day after an election, but why would anyone not want a free and democratic Iraq to succeed?
Last week I read the story of Mithal a-Alusi, a Sunni member of Iraq’s parliament. Mr. a-Alusi has the moral authority to speak on these matters since he has lost two adult sons to death squads in Iraq. His life is threatened daily as well. He was offered exile but chose to stay in Iraq for the future of his country. He believes that it was right for the U.S. to enter Iraq and he wants us to see that the job is completed. He adds, “We didn’t have any kind of hope, and now, even with all our difficulty, we have hope.” Mr. a-Alusi believes that extremists view the murder of civilians as political expression and concludes that if Iraq fails “I will be killed if not today, tomorrow.” He adds, “The point is not me, but children—for a child to be a child, not a killer; for a teenager to be a teenager, not an extremist.” When Congressman Christopher Shays (R-Ct), a friend of a-Alusi, offered to relocate him to the U.S. but he said no to Shays, adding, “My country needs me.”
It is for heroes like this, who dream of a better Iraq for their children, that I believe we cannot simply run away from this difficult struggle. Our national honor, and our pledged word, is still worth something. If we run from this struggle now I doubt that we will have much credibility left with courageous men like Mr. a-Alusi who have already sacrificed so much. We left Vietnam in disgrace and the cost in lives was ultimately incalculable. No, the Asian dominoes did not fall as threatened but the reasons might not be related to our entering or leaving Vietnam, an issue still very much debated. The Iraq war has been compared to Vietnam again and again, and sometimes for good reason. I pray that we do not make the same mistakes that we made there, though it does eem that some of them have already been made. This time the mistakes might cost us far more than the last time. That’s my view at least. I may be wrong but I remain unconvinced by all the other views that I have heard so far.
I want us out of Iraq too. I do think we’ve made huge mistakes, and I want very much to see no more Americans die there. But these are not the only issues in this present struggle. I pray that a bi-partisan approach can be worked out over the coming months but I have my doubts. I am praying for it anyway since peacemaking is a quality all Christians should desire, both personally and internationally. Do you truly pray for peace or do you settle for a state of war based upon your politics alone? The Christian tradition has an answer to that question that seems to go far beyond the rhetoric of many in our day.