Consequences of Losing the Iraq War

Christopher Hitchens has a piece in Slate whose headline asks the awkward but provocative question, “Losing the Iraq War – Can the left really want us to?

Thankfully, the piece actually does not actually try to make the case that anyone but the lunatic fringe wants us to lose, but rather argues that, regardless of whether one thought intervention was a good thing, winning is essential.

There is a sort of unspoken feeling, underlying the entire debate on the war, that if you favored it or favor it, you stress the good news, and if you opposed or oppose it you stress the bad. I do not find myself on either side of this false dichotomy. I think that those who supported regime change should confront the idea of defeat, and what it would mean for Iraq and America and the world, every day. It is a combat defined very much by the nature of the enemy, which one might think was so obviously and palpably evil that the very thought of its victory would make any decent person shudder. It is, moreover, a critical front in a much wider struggle against a vicious and totalitarian ideology.

It never seemed to me that there was any alternative to confronting the reality of Iraq, which was already on the verge of implosion and might, if left to rot and crash, have become to the region what the Congo is to Central Africa: a vortex of chaos and misery that would draw in opportunistic interventions from Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Bad as Iraq may look now, it is nothing to what it would have become without the steadying influence of coalition forces. None of the many blunders in postwar planning make any essential difference to that conclusion. Indeed, by drawing attention to the ruined condition of the Iraqi society and its infrastructure, they serve to reinforce the point.

How can so many people watch this as if they were spectators, handicapping and rating the successes and failures from some imagined position of neutrality? Do they suppose that a defeat in Iraq would be a defeat only for the Bush administration? The United States is awash in human rights groups, feminist organizations, ecological foundations, and committees for the rights of minorities. How come there is not a huge voluntary effort to help and to publicize the efforts to find the hundreds of thousands of “missing” Iraqis, to support Iraqi women’s battle against fundamentalists, to assist in the recuperation of the marsh Arab wetlands, and to underwrite the struggle of the Kurds, the largest stateless people in the Middle East? Is Abu Ghraib really the only subject that interests our humanitarians?

An interesting question, indeed. The opening sentence from the excerpt above seems to be the answer. Because the run-up to the war and then the war itself was part and parcel of the 2004 election campaign, this conflict has been seen by many (on both the Left and the Right) as a domestic political game rather than as a key part of U.S. national security policy.

Coincidentally, Victor Davis Hanson has a piece in NRO whose subtitle asks, “Why do we keep fighting each other over Iraq?

Most paleocons did not support either the attack on Afghanistan or Iraq — and did not in the sincere belief it was not in the interest of the United States. From the Right they believed both were a waste of precious American resources overseas, and would only prompt another dangerous increase in the powers of the federal government here at home. Their worry was not so much in the use of violence against radical Islamicists, but rather the cost to the United States, both in the short-term in lives and treasure, and the long-term implications of “imperialism†on the fabric of the republic.

Many agreed on the Left that Afghanistan and especially Iraq were bad ideas. Their much different complaint was no so much it weakened American interests here or abroad (otherwise they would support the war), but that America is by nature suspect in its use of power and oppresses third-world poor abroad. The lexicon of left-wing anti-Americanism is multifaceted: colonialist, hegemonic, imperialist, racist, or capitalist. Take your pick: We were attacking indigenous peoples either for profit (e.g, Halliburton, the mythical Afghanistan pipeline, the transnational oil companies, private contractors, etc.), or out of racism and ethnocentric chauvinism.

He goes on to identify several other groups and their motivations for supporting, not supporting, or being on the fence about the war. It’s a useful synopsis.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Middle East, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    Wow. Three and a half hours and still no howling moonbats. Have they been deprived of their computer privileges today? Did someone sneak a plastic knife into the institution?

  2. resistor says:

    From the modern Nostradamus

    Giving Peace a Chance
    The war critics were right—not in the way they expected.
    By Christopher Hitchens
    Posted Wednesday, April 9, 2003, at 1:10 PM PT

    So it turns out that all the slogans of the anti-war movement were right after all. And their demands were just. “No War on Iraq,” they said —and there wasn’t a war on Iraq. Indeed, there was barely a “war” at all.

  3. Unfortunately the lunatic fringe does want us to lose. Fortunately, they are only the lunatic fringe.

  4. anjin-san says:

    Who are the “many” on the left who opposed action in Afghanistan? I campaigned for Howard Dean and I did not meet many of them. The attempt to link opposition to the war in Iraq to almost non-existant opposition to going after terrorists in Afghanistan is almost as lame of a bait & switch as the rebranding of the war in Iraq. (Its all about WMD, oh wait, no, its all about democracy).

    Sadly, many lap us this “if you disagree with us, you must be a terrorist sym” crap.

  5. RA says:

    “The war going badly”!? Compaired to what ?!

    We have setup two Democracies 3 times faster than Japan and Germany. The Afghanis kicked the Russian’s a**. We succeeded. We have suffered 3.2% the casualties we had in Vietnam.

    This war is going better than any war we ever fought.

    The only way you can complain is if you are compairing it to a cartoon war where no one dies and nobody is inconvenienced.

    All this complaining is evidence why left-wing, American hating Democrats cannot be trusted with foreign policy.

  6. Robert says:

    The only way you can complain is if you are compairing it to a cartoon war where no one dies and nobody is inconvenienced.

    And the inconvenience to the average American is what again?

    Isn’t it those that support this war that don’t want any inconvenience for Americans?

    When will they allow Americans to see the flag-draped caskets of our soldiers coming back to America?
    C’mon, its only 3.2% of the casualties we saw in Viet Nam!!

    Where are the scrap metal drives?

    Just maybe, it’s those that support this war that don’t want America to be inconvenienced.

  7. wavemaker says:

    Robert — perhaps those that support the war honor the dead upon their return instead of sensationalize them.

  8. Marcia L. Neil says:

    um, actually the title should read, ‘Conse-quences of starting the war in Iraq’ which proves that modern wars are population-control schemes. The audacity and sheer heinousness of an inter-pretation of the acronymn SUNY to be, instead, the name of the ‘Sunnis’ in Iraq, must rank as the worst example of telephone call-demand methodologistics that has yet to be instigated.

  9. Anderson says:

    “Most paleocons” didn’t support the Afghan war? Huh? Who are these “paleocons”?

    Hanson, like so many others on left & right, cheerfully pulls this stuff out of his ass.

    Mark me down for one moonbat who thinks we were, if anything, too slow to land in Afghanistan, and who thinks that had we not been conducting that war with an eye to Iraq, we might very well have come out with Osama’s head on a stick.

    See this ObWi post & link for some heartbreaking stuff on Rumsfeld’s mismanagement of one Afghan op.