In his excellent book In Defence of War, Oxford theologian Nigel Biggar ends his treatise on Just War Theory with a detailed and incisive chapter on the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Biggar gives a thorough examination of the lead-up to the war, maintaining that, in spite of all the errors made, and all the voices of dissent, that Tony Blair and George Bush were justified in toppling the Saddam Hussein dictatorship.
The atrocities committed by Hussein alone seem to warrant a just cause, but in addition Biggar details the other considerations that led to war: the viable threat, if not reality, of Saddam’s possession of WMD, the 10-year long history of Iraq violating UN sanctions, and evidence for Iraq’s communication with Al-Qaida and its allowance of Al-Qaida to operate freely within its borders. There is much more that could be said about the justification for the Iraq war, and it is my hope that more people would read Biggar’s work on this.
While I did not serve in Iraq (I only saw the beautiful Hindu Kush of Afghanistan), I have many friends who did. I also know soldiers, who for various reasons, believe that Iraq was either totally unjustified, or a totally botched campaign. Thus, there are many soldiers and veterans out there, who are distressed that they spent so much time, energy and blood in a place like Iraq. Others, for various reasons, may feel they lost their comrades “for no reason.” I think this is doubly tragic. There were good reasons to go to Iraq, the 400-500 thousand victims of Saddam’s regime perhaps the most jarring one of them.
That said, however, huge errors in judgment were made, especially in the post-Saddam reconstruction. Biggar outlines the sort of Western arrogance on display at the highest levels in thinking that the aftermath of regime change would sort of fall into place like dominoes:
“In addition to Enlightenment over-optimism, correlative impatience with human demoralization, excessive managerialist confidence in remaking the world, and a resultant refusal to heed expert advice or bad news, a further set of flaws in the planning and execution of post-invasion operations were military…When the US army invaded Iraq in 2003, it was committed to a short, blitzkrieg-style warfare, and it was quite unready to shoulder the responsibility for restoring peace, which was unexpectedly thrust on it after the invasion.” (Biggar, 304)
This “Enlightenment over-optimism” of the Iraqi reconstruction team failed to take into account “human frailty,” its plans were “vitiated…by naive optimism…and inconvenient counsel,” and there was an “unwise disdain for regional and local expertise, and consequent imprudence” (Biggar, 305). Thus, while the cause of the war was probably legitimate and morally just, there was a hubris that followed regime change that led to not only military losses but a kind of moral failure.
There are two questions that come to my mind when I consider, on one hand, the rather noble desires of the Blair and Bush administrations to eliminate Saddam’s tyrannical regime, yet on the other hand the kind of unsophisticated brashness of those in charge of the reconstruction in thinking that Western values could be so easily established in a place like Iraq.
The two questions I have to ask myself are: 1) how could anyone, especially anyone in a place of high authority, think that democracy and the desire for the sort of personal, individualized freedom enjoyed in the West could be instilled in a country that has been predominantly Muslim since the 8th century?, and 2) Why did the liberal press in the US and UK, along with many political leaders on the left, exploit that naivety in such a way as to make such exaggerated and, honestly, downright despicable critiques of Bush in particular, and the reason for war in general?
In other words, how could conservative leaders fail so badly in understanding the Iraqi-Muslim culture they were justifiably invading, thereby failing US troops through their inability to put together a deep and comprehensive analysis of post-Saddam cultural conditions? The very conditions that led to a drawn-out insurgency (the de-Baathification of Iraqi security forces, for example, was one of these strategic flops).
Further, and I think far more egregious, how could liberals be either so ignorant or so politically power-driven as to come up with a “fake” narrative that spun the entire war effort as nothing but a viciously immoral, imperialistic power-play? A war for soil and oil, but nothing more.
My friends who fought in Iraq fought for a just cause. I have no doubt of it. They did not fight to secure Iraqi soil or oil for imperialistic gain. That lie needs to be exposed anew for every generation. But, conservative political and military leaders also failed by not properly planning for how democracy and western-style freedom would, or would not, take hold in a Muslim culture, a culture embedded in very different foundational principles than a Christian one. Conservative leaders failed the troops in allowing them to think that Iraq should look similar to the US once Saddam was gone, that Iraqis should have some kind of internal change of heart simply because we got rid of their Baathist oppressors.
I know people who feel the war was “meaningless” because they did not see this kind of change in the “hearts and minds” of Iraqis. Our own cultural arrogance fabricated a sort of grand story for Iraq that soldiers on the ground thought they should see unfold before them. That was not a lie, but it was an error.
In my opinion, however, the more immoral were the leftist media and liberal politicians, to include all of their popular-level, hysterical supporters, who lied about the justice of the cause for the invasion of Iraq. The Iraq invasion was a just and a moral endeavor, even if that justice and that morality was hard to discern. And, in the Left’s political and social lies, in their spinning of tales through the use of popular slogans like “Bush lied and soldiers died” or “No blood for oil,” the media at that time (and still today) dishonored and continues to dishonor those who either did die in Iraq, or who saw their friends die there. Bush did not lie, he erred. That is a difference that matters; one should not obscure that fact for the sake of political gain. Iraq was not about oil, it was about eliminating a tyrant and avoiding a potential, global threat. That much is true. Soldiers who fought there should know they were there for right reasons, even if things were done wrongly.