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March 1, 2006
False Notes On Civil War Fears

The New York Times issues a warning about an impending civil war in Iraq that sounds a couple of false notes. Its editorial this morning attempts a historical review of the Iraqis that misses a couple of germane points while it scolds the administration indirectly for causing the problem by toppling Saddam Hussein:

Iraq has moved perilously close to civil war. Everyone who knows anything about the tortured history of that country, cobbled together from disparate parts by British colonial officials less than a century ago, has always dreaded such an outcome.

Fear of civil war stayed the hand of the first President George Bush, when he turned back American troops and left Saddam Hussein in power. It generated much of the opposition to the current President Bush's invasion in 2003. Yet many critics of the invasion, including this page, believed that the dangers from civil war were so dire that American troops, once in, were obliged to remain as long as there was a conceivable route to a just peace.

The only alternative to civil war is, and has always been, a national unity government of Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Unless these mutually suspicious groups can work together, the United States will be faced with the impossible task of trying to create a stable democracy that Iraqis have refused to create for themselves.

The reason that the Bush 41 administration left Saddam in power was because the UN refused to endorse a march on Baghdad in 1991, when the road was open and the Republican Guard had largely been routed. Perhaps Bush 41 had little enthusiasm for rebuilding Iraq to the extent required by a full-scale invasion, but the UN would not allow it in any case. Bush 41 either had to turn his back on the coalition he created for the liberation of Kuwait or bow to its demands. He chose the latter. As history showed in the twelve years of chronic violations of the cease-fire and the UN resolutions demanding accountability for his weapons programs, as well as the mass murders of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens who opposed him in 1991 after the war, that was a bad and costly decision.

What I find so fascinating about the liberal hysteria over the civil war is that they argued specifically to start one instead of invading Iraq in 2003. Let's take a look at the history that the Times forgets. In 1998, Congress and Bill Clinton created a foreign policy explicitly stating that the US goal in Iraq was regime change -- that American policy would be created to remove Saddam Hussein from power. At the time that this policy was formulated and made explicit, lawmakers from both parties made a lot of speeches about how dangerous Saddam was to our interests in particular and the world in general. No one labored under the notion that Saddam had been rendered harmless by UN sanctions, already in full application for over five years at that point.

When George Bush (43) decided to press for military action to remove Saddam from power, he cited this official policy as one of the justifications when he went to Congress in October 2002 for authorization. All of a sudden, people started talking about how sanctions had kept Saddam "in his box" despite plenty of evidence that various countries had routinely violated those sanctions. They also claimed that the entire purpose of the policy was for the US to foment a domestic uprising against the Saddam regime, not for America to take any overt action to end his genocidal rule.

In other words, they wanted Bush to start a civil war in Iraq. And not just a gang war that involved a few sectarian militias taking potshots against each other as we see now, but a full-fledged civil war that involved an unarmed and oppressed people taking on the region's fourth-largest army and a dictator who had used chemical warfare against his own people in the past.

What exactly did they think would be the result of that uprising? Did they imagine that it had any chance of getting off the ground at all, given the betrayal they experienced in 1991 when the West failed to come to their aid when the Shi'a in the south rebelled against Saddam? And even if it did, did the Left not understand that the entire nation would have not come together as a people but would have dissolved into sectarian and ethnic tribalism, having no unifying structures or voluntary processes -- like those provided by open elections and a national assembly?

I agree that civil war in Iraq remains a dangerous potential outcome. Had we left it to the Left in 2002, however, that is exactly what we would have today by their own design. I find their belated concern over the consequences of civil war somewhat disingenuous now.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 1, 2006 6:41 AM

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» Bush Cuts and Runs from bustardblog
The continuing downward spiral of Bush's approval ratings, especially those concerning Iraq, caused the right to advance it's time frame for when they declare that the Mission is Accomplished. (yes, again) I expected it later in the year, and thought [Read More]

Tracked on March 2, 2006 4:16 PM


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