Salam Pax recently wrote an open letter to President Bush published in The Guardian:
I hate to wake you up from that dream you are having, the one in which you are a superhero bringing democracy and freedom to underdeveloped, oppressed countries. But you really need to check things out in one of the countries you have recently bombed to freedom. Georgie, I am kind of worried that things are going a bit bad in Iraq and you don’t seem to care that much. You might want it to appear as if things are going well and sign Iraq off as a job well done, but I am afraid this is not the case.
Listen, habibi, it is not over yet. Let me explain this in simple terms. You have spilled a glass full of tomato juice on an already dirty carpet and now you have to clean up the whole room. Not all of the mess is your fault but you volunteered to clean it up. I bet if someone had explained it to you like that you would have been less hasty going on our Rambo-in-Baghdad trip.
To tell you the truth, I am glad that someone is doing the cleaning up, and thank you for getting rid of that scary guy with the hideous moustache that we had for president. But I have to say that the advertisements you were dropping from your B52s before the bombs fell promised a much more efficient and speedy service.
James Lileks is livid, noting that
[T]here’s a picture on the front page of my local paper today: third Minnesotan killed in Iraq. He died doing what you never had the stones to do: pick up a rifle and face the Ba’athists. You owe him.
Let me explain this in simple terms, habibi. You would have spent the rest of your life under Ba’athist rule. *** What’s certain is that none of your pals would ever have gotten rid of that “scary guy without the hideous moustache” (as if his greatest sin was somehow a fashion faux pas) and the Saddam regime would have prospered into the next generation precisely because of people like you. People who would rather have lived their life in low-level fear than change your situation. I understand; I would have done the same. I’m not brave enough to start a revolution. I wouldn’t have grabbed a gun and charged a palace. I would lived like you. Head down, eyes wary. When the man’s too strong, the manÃ¢€™s too strong. . . .
The rug was soaked before we got there, friend. Cut the clever cafe pose; drop the sneer. That “Rambo” crap is old. Iraq needs grown-ups. Be one.
Matthew Yglesias notes that most of the world’s countries opposed our intervention into Iraq and that Lileks is saying they’re all stupid and/or cowards. His commenters think Lileks should shut up, since Salam was very brave in blogging from Baghdad.
I don’t think that’s what Lileks is saying at all. Can people, even Iraqis, believe that the US should not have gone to war to overthrow Saddam? Sure. But it’s rather unseemly to whine about the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, do nothing to help secure your liberty, and then bitch about how your liberators aren’t moving fast enough. To quote the immortal words of the fictional Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) from “A Few Good Men”:
[M]y existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because, deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand at post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.
Update (1238): Dan Drezner disagrees, making in detail a point also noted by one of Matt’s commenters:
You’re absolutely right — Salam and his buddies would never have taken up arms to overthrow Saddam. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that back in 1991, when President Bush encouraged ordinary Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, the results weren’t so good.
Bush’s call worked perfectly. Seventeen out of eighteen provinces were in open revolt. Hussein was at his weakest. And what did the United States do after our call was answered by the Iraqi common man? Did we help in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein? Nope. We looked the other way while Hussein violated the no-fly zones to put down the Shi’ites, Marsh Arabs, Kurds, etc. We did it for realpolitik reasons, many of which the current administration has rejected. But we did it. Why, on God’s green earth, would anyone ever choose to rise up after that Mongolian cluster-fuck of U.S. foreign policy?
Let me explain this in simple terms, habibi. This was a debt that had to be repaid. Yeah, they owe us for getting rid of Saddam. But we owe them for going back on our word in 1991. As a result, Iraqi’s languished under Hussein’s rule an extra twelve years. That don’t buy a lot of sympathy.
I agree and disagree with this argument. As William Saleten wrote,
Three weeks into the war, Bush observed, “There’s another way for the bloodshed to stop, and that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside, and then comply with the United Nations resolutions.” That was a fact and a suggestion, no less true or wise than an equivalent remark about the Cuban or Serbian people. But it wasn’t a promise.
Still, as I noted in my response to Saletan in March, the uprising created a moral obligation on our part to intervene.