the War, Lose the Peace
Bible tells us that pride goeth before the fall. In Iraq,
it cameth right after it.
From the moment that statue of Saddam hit the ground, the
mood around the Rumsfeld campfire has been all high-fives,
I-told-you-sos, and endless smug prattling about how the speedy
fall of Baghdad is proof positive that those who opposed the
invasion of Iraq were dead wrong.
What utter nonsense. In fact, the speedy fall of Baghdad proves
the antiwar movement was dead right.
The whole pretext for our unilateral charge into Iraq was
that the American people were in imminent danger from Saddam
and his mighty war machine. The threat was so clear and present
that we couldn’t even give inspectors searching for weapons
of mass destruction—Hey, remember those?—another 30 days,
as France wanted.
Well, it turns out that, far from being on the verge of destroying
Western civilization, Saddam and his 21st-century Gestapo
couldn’t even muster a half-hearted defense of their own capital.
The hawks’ cakewalk disproves their own dire warnings; they
can’t have it both ways.
The invasion has proved wildly successful in one other regard:
It has unified most of the world—especially the Arab world—against
us. Back in 1991, more than a half-dozen Arab nations were
part of our Desert Storm coalition. Operation Iraqi Freedom’s
“coalition of the willing” had zero. Not even the polygamous
potentates of Kuwait—whose butts we saved last time out and
who were most threatened by whatever threat Iraq still presented—would
join us. And, I’m sorry, but substituting Bulgaria and the
island of Tonga for Egypt and Oman is just not going to cut
it when it comes to winning hearts and minds on the Arab street.
In fact, almost everything about the invasion—from the go-it-alone
build-up to the mayhem the fall of Saddam has unleashed—has
played right into the hands of those intent on demonizing
our country. Islamic extremists must be having a field day
signing up recruits for the holy war they’re preparing to
wage against us. Instead of “Uncle Sam wants you,” their recruiting
posters feature a different kind of patriotic image: an American
soldier ill-advisedly draping the American flag over Saddam’s
The antiwar movement did not oppose the war out of fear that
America was going to lose. It was the Bush administration’s
pathological and frantic obsession with an immediate, damn-the-
consequences invasion that fueled the protests. And please
don’t point to jubilant Iraqis dancing in the streets to validate
the case for “preemptive liberation.” You’d be doing the Baghdad
Bugaloo too if the murderous tyrant who’d been eating off
golden plates while your family starved finally got what was
coming to him. It in no way proves that running roughshod
over international law and pouring Iraqi oil—now brought to
you by the good folks at Halliburton—onto the flames of anti-American
hatred was a good idea. It wasn’t before the war, and it still
isn’t now. The unintended consequences have barely begun to
And the idea that our slamdunk of Saddam actually proves the
White House was right is particularly dangerous because it
encourages the Wolfowitzes and the Perles and the Cheneys
to argue that we should be invading Syria or Iran or North
Korea or Cuba as soon as we catch our breath. They’ve tasted
It’s important to remember that the Arab world has seen a
very different war than we have. They are seeing babies with
limbs blown off, children wailing beside their dead mothers,
Arab journalists killed by American tanks and bombers, holy
men hacked to death and dragged through the streets. They
are seeing American forces leaving behind a wake of destruction,
looting, hunger, humiliation and chaos.
Who’s been handling our war PR, Osama bin Laden? The language
and imagery are all wrong. Having Tom DeLay gush about our
“army of virtue” at the same time we’re blowing up mosques
is definitely not sending the right message to a Muslim world
already suspicious that we’re waging a war on Islam.
Neither is Ari Fleischer’s claim that the administration can’t
do anything to keep Christian missionaries—including those
who have described the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a “demon-
possessed pedophile” and a “terrorist”—from going on a holy
crusade to Baghdad. You think the Arab world might take that
the wrong way? If there is one thing that could bring Sunnis
and Shiites together, it’s the common hatred of evangelical
zealots who denigrate their prophet.
And it doesn’t help to have the American media referring to
Jay Garner, the retired general Don Rumsfeld picked to oversee
the rebuilding of Iraq, as “viceroy.” It reeks of colonial
imperialism. Why not just call him “Head Bwana?” Or “Garner
of Arabia?” I didn’t realize the Supreme Court had handed
Bush a scepter to go along with the Florida recount.
The powerful role that shame and humiliation have played in
shaping world history is considerable, but something the Bush
team seems utterly clueless about. Which is why the antiwar
movement must be stalwart in its refusal to be silenced or
browbeaten by the gloating “I told you so” chorus on the right.
On the contrary, it needs to make sure that the doctrine of
preemptive invasion is forever buried in the sands of Iraq.
Especially as the administration, high on the heady fumes
of Saddam’s ouster, turns its covetous eyes on Syria. I give
it less than a week before someone starts making the case
that President Assad is the next, next Hitler.