What Failure Would Look Like

Christopher Hitchens argues that the massacre in Fallujah, far from signaling that we made a grave mistake invading Iraq, proves why it was so necessary.

A few more years of Saddam Hussein, or perhaps the succession of his charming sons Uday and Qusay, and whole swathes of Iraq would have looked like Fallujah. The Baathists, by playing off tribe against tribe, Arab against Kurd and Sunni against Shiite, were preparing the conditions for a Hobbesian state of affairs. Their looting and beggaring of the state and the society–something about which we now possess even more painfully exact information–was having the same effect. A broken and maimed and traumatized Iraq was in our future no matter what.

Obviously, this prospect could never have been faced with equanimity. Iraq is a regional keystone state with vast resources and many common borders. Its implosion would have created a black hole, sucking in rival and neighboring powers, tempting them with opportunist interventions and encouraging them to find ethnic and confessional proxies. And who knows what the death-throes of the regime would have been like? We are entitled, on past experience, to guess. There could have been deliberate conflagrations started in the oilfields. There might have been suicidal lunges into adjacent countries. The place would certainly have become a playground for every kind of nihilist and fundamentalist. The intellectual and professional classes, already gravely attenuated, would have been liquidated entirely.


I debate with the opponents of the Iraq intervention almost every day. I always have the same questions for them, which never seem to get answered. Do you believe that a confrontation with Saddam Hussein’s regime was inevitable or not? Do you believe that a confrontation with an Uday/Qusay regime would have been better? Do you know that Saddam’s envoys were trying to buy a weapons production line off the shelf from North Korea (vide the Kay report) as late as last March? Why do you think Saddam offered “succor” (Mr. Clarke’s word) to the man most wanted in the 1993 bombings in New York? Would you have been in favor of lifting the “no fly zones” over northern and southern Iraq; a 10-year prolongation of the original “Gulf War”? Were you content to have Kurdish and Shiite resistance fighters do all the fighting for us? Do you think that the timing of a confrontation should have been left, as it was in the past, for Baghdad to choose?

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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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Zayphar says:

    Hitchens is certainly the most consistant anti-fascist liberal writer in America. He has been a war hawk on Iraq since 1995.

  2. akim says:

    I wonder how many more people/nations would have supported this war if it was not so terrifically rushed against all tides. I do seem to recall that the outright confrontation with Europe etc did not arise before US gov stamped their foot and announced they had a pre-arranged plan and would not deviate from it, in timeline, circumstances or otherwise.

    Heh. The truth is: US/UK never had any sort of factual case to go to war except what Hitchens details here – a set idea, personal vision, and nothing more. That’s why the whole flop with WMDs, alleged links to Al-Qaeda etc never materialized and never really mattered – before, or after (despite all the heat and hype).

    Bush was so very candid with his joke about WMDs – yeah, look, it never mattered. I wonder how the US and UK public would have responded if it was presented along these lines from the outset: we have no hard case but we have a hard vision. Let’s go.

    I’d love to ask that of Hatchens. How would he have argued for this war if he only had truth to work with?

    Or is the first rule of diplomacy: if you have to lie, do it well? Perhaps.