Iraq is A War to Be Proud Of

Although it is a week old, I somehow missed Christopher Hitchens’ piece–in the Weekly Standard, no less–articulating reasons that, despite its flaws, the operation underway in Iraq is “A War to Be Proud Of.”

LET ME BEGIN WITH A simple sentence that, even as I write it, appears less than Swiftian in the modesty of its proposal: “Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad.”

I could undertake to defend that statement against any member of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, and I know in advance that none of them could challenge it, let alone negate it. Before March 2003, Abu Ghraib was an abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp. Now, and not without reason, it is an international byword for Yankee imperialism and sadism. Yet the improvement is still, unarguably, the difference between night and day. How is it possible that the advocates of a post-Saddam Iraq have been placed on the defensive in this manner? And where should one begin?


For anyone with eyes to see, there was only one other state that combined the latent and the blatant definitions of both “rogue” and “failed.” This state–Saddam’s ruined and tortured and collapsing Iraq–had also met all the conditions under which a country may be deemed to have sacrificed its own legal sovereignty. To recapitulate: It had invaded its neighbors, committed genocide on its own soil, harbored and nurtured international thugs and killers, and flouted every provision of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United Nations, in this crisis, faced with regular insult to its own resolutions and its own character, had managed to set up a system of sanctions-based mutual corruption. In May 2003, had things gone on as they had been going, Saddam Hussein would have been due to fill Iraq’s slot as chair of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. Meanwhile, every species of gangster from the hero of the Achille Lauro hijacking to Abu Musab al Zarqawi was finding hospitality under Saddam’s crumbling roof.

One might have thought, therefore, that Bush and Blair’s decision to put an end at last to this intolerable state of affairs would be hailed, not just as a belated vindication of long-ignored U.N. resolutions but as some corrective to the decade of shame and inaction that had just passed in Bosnia and Rwanda. But such is not the case. An apparent consensus exists, among millions of people in Europe and America, that the whole operation for the demilitarization of Iraq, and the salvage of its traumatized society, was at best a false pretense and at worst an unprovoked aggression. How can this possibly be?


“You said there were WMDs in Iraq and that Saddam had friends in al Qaeda. . . . Blah, blah, pants on fire.” I have had many opportunities to tire of this mantra. It takes ten seconds to intone the said mantra. It would take me, on my most eloquent C-SPAN day, at the very least five minutes to say that Abdul Rahman Yasin, who mixed the chemicals for the World Trade Center attack in 1993, subsequently sought and found refuge in Baghdad; that Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, Saddam’s senior physicist, was able to lead American soldiers to nuclear centrifuge parts and a blueprint for a complete centrifuge (the crown jewel of nuclear physics) buried on the orders of Qusay Hussein; that Saddam’s agents were in Damascus as late as February 2003, negotiating to purchase missiles off the shelf from North Korea; or that Rolf Ekeus, the great Swedish socialist who founded the inspection process in Iraq after 1991, has told me for the record that he was offered a $2 million bribe in a face-to-face meeting with Tariq Aziz. And these eye-catching examples would by no means exhaust my repertoire, or empty my quiver. Yes, it must be admitted that Bush and Blair made a hash of a good case, largely because they preferred to scare people rather than enlighten them or reason with them. Still, the only real strategy of deception has come from those who believe, or pretend, that Saddam Hussein was no problem.


[B]ureaucratic chaos and unease has cornered the president into his current fallback upon platitude and hollowness. It has also induced him to give hostages to fortune. The claim that if we fight fundamentalism “over there” we won’t have to confront it “over here” is not just a standing invitation for disproof by the next suicide-maniac in London or Chicago, but a coded appeal to provincial and isolationist opinion in the United States. Surely the elementary lesson of the grim anniversary that will shortly be upon us is that American civilians are as near to the front line as American soldiers.

It is exactly this point that makes nonsense of the sob-sister tripe pumped out by the Cindy Sheehan circus and its surrogates. But in reply, why bother to call a struggle “global” if you then try to localize it? Just say plainly that we shall fight them everywhere they show themselves, and fight them on principle as well as in practice, and get ready to warn people that Nigeria is very probably the next target of the jihadists. The peaceniks love to ask: When and where will it all end? The answer is easy: It will end with the surrender or defeat of one of the contending parties. Should I add that I am certain which party that ought to be? Defeat is just about imaginable, though the mathematics and the algebra tell heavily against the holy warriors. Surrender to such a foe, after only four years of combat, is not even worthy of consideration.


We need not argue about the failures and the mistakes and even the crimes, because these in some ways argue themselves. But a positive accounting could be offered without braggartry, and would include:

(1) The overthrow of Talibanism and Baathism, and the exposure of many highly suggestive links between the two elements of this Hitler-Stalin pact. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who moved from Afghanistan to Iraq before the coalition intervention, has even gone to the trouble of naming his organization al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

(2) The subsequent capitulation of Qaddafi’s Libya in point of weapons of mass destruction–a capitulation that was offered not to Kofi Annan or the E.U. but to Blair and Bush.

(3) The consequent unmasking of the A.Q. Khan network for the illicit transfer of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.

(4) The agreement by the United Nations that its own reform is necessary and overdue, and the unmasking of a quasi-criminal network within its elite.

(5) The craven admission by President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder, when confronted with irrefutable evidence of cheating and concealment, respecting solemn treaties, on the part of Iran, that not even this will alter their commitment to neutralism. (One had already suspected as much in the Iraqi case.)

(6) The ability to certify Iraq as actually disarmed, rather than accept the word of a psychopathic autocrat.

(7) The immense gains made by the largest stateless minority in the region–the Kurds–and the spread of this example to other states.

(8) The related encouragement of democratic and civil society movements in Egypt, Syria, and most notably Lebanon, which has regained a version of its autonomy.

(9) The violent and ignominious death of thousands of bin Ladenist infiltrators into Iraq and Afghanistan, and the real prospect of greatly enlarging this number.

(10) The training and hardening of many thousands of American servicemen and women in a battle against the forces of nihilism and absolutism, which training and hardening will surely be of great use in future combat.

It would be admirable if the president could manage to make such a presentation. It would also be welcome if he and his deputies adopted a clear attitude toward the war within the war: in other words, stated plainly, that the secular and pluralist forces within Afghan and Iraqi society, while they are not our clients, can in no circumstance be allowed to wonder which outcome we favor.

The great point about Blair’s 1999 speech was that it asserted the obvious. Coexistence with aggressive regimes or expansionist, theocratic, and totalitarian ideologies is not in fact possible. One should welcome this conclusion for the additional reason that such coexistence is not desirable, either. If the great effort to remake Iraq as a demilitarized federal and secular democracy should fail or be defeated, I shall lose sleep for the rest of my life in reproaching myself for doing too little. But at least I shall have the comfort of not having offered, so far as I can recall, any word or deed that contributed to a defeat.

Even as lengthy as the excerpt above is, the portions left behind are well worth reading. Hitchens is right, though, that the Administration needs to do a better job articulating the above. Even aside from issues of bureaucratic politics, however, Hitchens hits on the answer in passing: The anti-war side can make its points with bumper sticker mantras, the pro-war side requires several paragraphs. That’s a huge disadvantage when the primary venue for debate is television, a medium where twenty seconds is an eternity.

The other side has the advantage, too, that its points are easy to remember. Only someone who carries a notebook around with them–or has a steel trap mind that can keep track of all these points, as Hitchens does but neither Bush nor most of us have–can readily refute the “No WMD” – “Bush lied, people died,” – “Halliburton!” – “Abu Ghraib torture!” mantras.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Must be pretty slow day when you are quoting Hitchens?

  2. ken says:

    At the end of the day, when all is said and done, the truth of the matter is that Bush did indeed lie.

    The conservatives war on Iraq is illegal, it is immoral, it is typical.

  3. Bg Satkins says:

    anyone that can spin the Iraq of today into a better place than the Iraq of saddam is one sick individual.
    He probably took propaganda lessons from Karl Rove and Bush.
    By the way – where is osama bin laden?

  4. DC Loser says:

    It’s really sad to see the decline of Hitchens’ mental prowess these past three years. He’s wedded all of his credibility to the liberation of Iraq. Despite all his good intentions, he cannot in any way say the end of Saddam was bad even if the results were unintended. He’s become a one issue writer.

  5. spencer says:

    Why don’t you throw in a cure to cancer as well.

    I do not understand why you think the growth of the al Zarqawi organization in Iraq is a good thing. Looks to me like a highly undesirable outcome.

    2. Libya was a good,

    OK, we exposed the Khan network, but we have not followed through and I see no evidence we have an
    effective program to prevent it from happening again.
    So this is a so what issue.

    4. UN reform has essentially nothing to do with Iraq — this is claiming a cure for cancer.

    5. You have to be kidding — i have not seen them make craven admission of anything — , remember, we were the ones proved wrong on WMD, They were right.

    6. Whoopee — so what, what difference does it make,so now we can end the sanctions programs and the no fly zone, right.

    7. Kurds may still end up as an independent state supporting independence movements of Kurds inside Turkey . this is not a settled question and could still end up being a major negative.

    8. Maybe, but like the Kurds issue this is still a major uncertaintly that is far from settled. This could still end up being a major negative.

    9. Offset by giving them real life training they then take to Europe and the US.

    10. Offset by massively overstreaching the military. The army has been massively weakended.
    and the admin is not providing the funding needed to rebuild it. this is the first time in US history that the army is weaker two years into a war then at the start of the war.

    this listing is claiming victory in many areas where the outcome is not clear. this has been the problem from day one. How many times have you and the administration claimed we just passed a turning point only to be proved wrong. there is still an extremely high probability that we get a civil war and the spliting of Iraq into 3 countires — one allied with Iran against Saudia Arabia; one allied with Syria; and one supporting a war in Turkey.

    This is a great example of what is wrong with our efforts in Iraq — over optimism and assuming everything will work out and then having no plans of what to do when it does not work as originally hoped.

  6. Jack Ehrlich says:

    The previous 5 comments were accounted for in Hitchens piece. What Christopher left out was that not only did Saddam have the means, he had the material to create a nuclear weapon. Iraq had 500 tons of yellow cake uranium and 1 and 1 half tons of enriched uranium. He also had the high grade explosive necessary for a nuclear trigger. Saddam could and would have had an atomic bomb within a year of the lifting of the sanctions. I wonder if the Neville Chamberlains of the world well ever understand that appeasement is not the answer to brutal dictators.

  7. anjin-san says:

    Now Bush is cozying up to Qaddafi. Hmmm reminds me of when Saddam was Rumsfeld’s pal. He is Funny how this crowd is so comfortable with slimeballs…

  8. anjin-san says:


    Tell me do you buy any products at Wal-Mart that are made in the sweatshops/slave labor camps of the brutal dictators of China?

  9. DC Loser says:

    Gee Jack, and where are all of that yellowcake and enriched uranium? Where are all the centrifuges?

  10. ken says:

    Jack, a lie by any other name is still a lie.

    Hitchens can call it whatever he wants but the truth is out there. Bush lied.

  11. Dee Cee Looser says:

    Yes, what great success we’re seeing in Iraq. Like this

  12. Tom W says:

    Hitchens becomes less interesting with each passing day. Juan Cole demolished his ’10 points’ in Salon. His article can be read here after watching a 15 second commercial