The Therapy Sessions
Thursday, September 25, 2003
In order to expose the general incoherence of the left, I would like to contrast two visions of Iraq, what it was and what it is becoming:
Iraq in 1998 was at odds with the world, and it was waging an undeclared war against the US. The last terms of the Gulf War ceasefire - no "No Fly" zones set up to protect the Kurds and Shiites from Saddam - were being regularly challenged by Saddam's weapons. He had set up a bounty for the first Iraqi to shoot down a US or British fighter. At the UN, Russia and France were arguing that these minorities no longer needed protection; Saddam, they said, was a changed man. Both countries were arguing that Iraq needed an expanded "Oil for Food" program, a corrupt program run largely by the French and the Russians that is still unable to account for billions in Iraqi oil revenue.
Saddam had kicked out UN arms inspectors (a clear violation of the ceasefire terms AND a dozen UN resolutions) after they accused Saddam of importing sophisticated air filtration equipment (with no peaceful purpose other than biological weapons manufacture) and thousands of liters of biological growth media. Iraq admitted that it purchased these, refused to hand them over, and failed to account for several tons of chemical weapons that it declared in 1992.
Saddam had begun a highly publicized campaign to support violence against Israel, and eventually he would be paying the families of suicide bombers $20,000 each after a "mission." He took the food provided by the "Oil for Food" program and denied it to large regions of the country, causing starvation and the deaths of 4,000 Iraqi children a month, according to the UN (This was used by Osama Bin Laden as one of the justifications for his jihad). Everyone was dependent on Saddam for his family's food, so loyalty was a matter of survival.
Iraq's GDP decreased by 75% while Saddam built a dozen huge palaces. And every family lived in fear that a loose word from a child might land them all in prison. The prisons were packed with political prisoners, most of whom disappeared after ghastly tortures (and today fill mass graves). Saddam's police were everywhere, and so was his image. 300,000 people were slaughtered by Saddam's men, and another 750,000 died in his pointless wars.
Iraq in 2008 is a lively place - there are occasional bombings, but the Iraqi people are largely tired of war and they don't support them. Iraqi police blame them on outside forces like Al Qaeda, and they are chasing these groups down.
Baghdad has, since the invasion, continued to maintain the freest press in the Arab world, a lively marketplace of ideas where one can find a paper from Al Qaeda next to an Israeli paper. There are no political prisoners in Iraq, and people are allowed to say what they wish, as long as they don't incite violence. As such, the city is a magnet for the Arab region, drawing students and activists from the around the Arab world who want to study and speak out freely. Several other Arab nations complain that "radicals" in Iraq are inciting their own activists, and a few countries (Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia) have enacted some modest democratic reforms (elected parliaments) as a safety valve for their restive populations.
The Americans are on several bases throughout the country, and there is so grumbling among some Iraqis that they should go home, but there is a cautious gratitude toward the soldiers who freed them from Saddam, and they worry their government isn't stable enough to endure without at least some American steel. The CPA started two big programs before it turned over power: one was popular and one was unpopular. A taxation system was set up (either a consumption tax, a VAT tax or a true income tax) and Iraqis uniformly hated it. It caused several large protests. But the pain of this program was offset by the national oil trust - a program modeled on Alaska's oil trust - that gave each Iraqi over eighteen a share of Iraqi oil revenue. (It did something that was deeply unpopular with the conservative Islamists: it gave women money too, and they, these Iraqis argue, are spending it unwisely: on dresses and other frills (but they also spend on their children)). This process has started a public debate over whether Iraq should be bound by OPEC's production quotas: most Iraqis don't like the other Arab states who cooperated with Saddam, and they feel that the quotas discriminate against Iraq. They want more money.
Baghdad has become something of a travel destination for wealthy Arabs: they don't like the "Iraqi experiment," but they are like farm boys seeing New York for the first time. They find the freedom invigorating, and they like to drink alcohol and go to clubs. They are snobby to regular Iraqis, and many Iraqis resent them.
Relations with Israel are not warm, but no one here wants to go to war. They have a relationship with Israel that is a little warmer than Jordan's, and the leaders of Iraq have, on occasion, met with leaders of Israel to discuss issues of mutual interest.
Some believe that Iraq's leaders are American puppets. But others complain that there are too many with sectarian or religious ties (accusing someone of being a Baathist is the worst insult). Some want to expel the Americans, and some Americans complain that many Iraqis are ungrateful.
The economy is better than it has been in a while, but there has been no "economic miracle." The private sector is growing, and Iraq is the only Arab country that lets people freely open businesses. As a result, Iraq is one of the few places in the Arab world that makes things for export. But they are small items and not worth much, and the jobs making them are not all that well paying, but some people - particularly women - like these jobs because they are easier than field labor (and they are indoors). There are complaints about fewer government jobs. But Iraq largely feeds itself and farmers no longer have to sell their food to the government (at artificially low prices). They are profiting, and they are expanding their fields. Unlike most of the world, in Iraq there is money to be made in farming.
There are complaints that Iraq is becoming secularized and that children don't respect old traditions like they used to. Most youths are more interested in music and each other. There is a sense that Iraq is changing in ways that many older Iraqis are uncomfortable with, but there is near universal loathing of Saddam Hussein.
In America, the idiot left is still trying to decide whether Iraq was better under Saddam: they don't feel that Iraqis are mature enough to handle freedom. They hype oipinion polls showing that one third of Iraqis think their country is headed in the wrong direction, and they believe that these are the smart Iraqis who are not being misled by a conspiratorial media campaign.
In 2008, I imagine the US will have lost a thousand or so soldiers, and spent about 250 billion dollars.
But if this vision of Iraq becomes reality, would the war have been worth it? Yes or No? Jay, Joel, Mike or Tim?