The Evolution of War Aims
William Stuntz draws an interesting analogy between the Iraq War and the American Civil War:
In 1861 Abraham Lincoln led what was left of his country to war to restore “the Union as it was,” to use the popular phrase of the time. Free navigation of the Mississippi River, the right to collect customs duties in Southern ports, the status of a pair of coastal forts in South Carolina and Florida–these were the issues over which young American men got down to the business of killing one another that sad summer. […] But there was a much bigger, much better, and above all much nobler dream waiting in the wings: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom” (to use Lincoln’s own words)–that the chains of four million slaves might be shattered forever, that freedom and democracy might prevail against tyranny and aristocracy in a world still full of tyrants and aristocrats.
The loss of hundreds of thousands of American men–a lost generation comparable to the generation of young French, German, and British men lost in Flanders fields a half-century later–for the sake of a few Southern forts and ports would have been a tragedy as great as the senseless killing at the Somme and Passchendaele. World War I was senseless, both because it was fought over territory and because it settled nothing. The Civil War that Lincoln and Jefferson Davis set out to fight would have been no different. If control of America’s rivers had remained the war’s object, then whoever won the day in the early 1860s would have had to defend that object again a generation later, just as World War II saw a generation of British and American men fight for the same territory their fathers won a generation after their fathers won it.
Freedom and democracy, justice and the equality of all men before God and before the law–those causes were very different. Shedding an ocean of blood for them was terribly sad but not tragic: The essence of tragedy is waste, and the blood shed on the Civil War’s battlefields was not wasted. Horrible as its killing fields were, those young men accomplished something profoundly good: Their deaths ensured that (to use Lincoln’s words again) “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That is why the Civil War has gone down in history not as America’s own World War I, but as the war of America’s true “greatest generation,” the generation that preserved freedom and democracy for us and for the rest of humankind.
Like the Civil War, the purpose of the second Iraq War evolved into a broader, nobler one owing to changing circumstances.
Two-and-a-half years ago, our armed forces set out to fight a small war with a small objective. Today we find ourselves in a larger war with a larger and vastly better purpose. It would be one of historyÃ¢€™s sadder ironies were we to turn away because that better purpose is not the one we set out to achieve.
I differ with Stuntz, though, in his assertion that democratization was not part of the original rationale for the war (“had the second Iraq war turned out like the first, as the White House apparently expected”). In an October 2002 speech outlining the rationale for war, President Bush said,
America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. People everywhere prefer freedom to slavery; prosperity to squalor; self-government to the rule of terror and torture. America is a friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children. The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi’a, Sunnis and others will be lifted. The long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin.
Of course, that speech and others leading up to the war offered Saddam the opportunity to remain in power by complying with several demands:
In addition to declaring and destroying all of its weapons of mass destruction, Iraq must end its support for terrorism. It must cease the persecution of its civilian population. It must stop all illicit trade outside the Oil For Food program. It must release or account for all Gulf War personnel, including an American pilot, whose fate is still unknown.
While that was largely rhetorical, since few seriously thought Saddam would capitulate, it’s clear that Iraqi democracy was a goal that we were willing to sacrifice. Once hostilities commenced, however, there was never serious thought given to simply pulling out after toppling Saddam’s regime.
It is true, however, that the Bush team apparently never gave serious thought to the emergence of a serious insurgency and the flood of foreign al Qaeda fighters. But Stuntz argues we should be glad that these happened:
By prolonging the war, Zarqawi and his Baathist allies have drawn thousands of terrorist wannabes into the fight–against both our soldiers and Muslim civilians. When terrorists fight American civilians, as on September 11, they can leverage their own deaths to kill a great many of us. But when terrorists fight American soldiers, the odds tilt towards our side. Equally important, by bringing the fight to a Muslim land, by making that land the central front of the war on Islamic terrorism, the United States has effectively forced Muslim terrorists to kill Muslim civilians. That is why the so-called Arab street is rising–not against us but against the terrorists, as we saw in Jordan after Zarqawi’s disastrous hotel bombing.
Don Sensing agrees and quotes some analysis of his own on the nature of this insurgency from July:
Our enemy is compelling us to retain a larger force in Iraq than we hoped to before we invaded. Our failure to foresee the insurgency was real, but not fatal to achieving our objectives. […] Iraq is proving to be al QaedaÃ¢€™s abbattoir Ã¢€“ even some native-Iraqi Baathist terrorists are fighting against them now. ThereÃ¢€™s no denying that the victory being won over al Qaeda in Iraq is tragically costing many Iraqi lives and the lives and blood of and American troops. Yet for al Qaeda to see the light and give up the fight there would almost certainly ultimately prove more costly to free peoples than for al Qaeda to continue fighting there.
Next week’s elections, while not a finish line, should be a major milestone. Once a permanent Iraqi government is elected–this time with substantial Sunni participation–it will be even clearer that al Qaeda’s fight is with the Iraqi people rather than the Americans. Their ability to achieve their objectives will thereby be much lessened–even if their ability to create casualties continues.