[I wrote this three weeks before the election, and submitted it to our local paper as an op-ed piece. They wouldn't publish it.]
George Bush invaded Iraq for three stated reasons: the existence of weapons of mass destruction; the premise that Iraq harbored terrorists; and Saddam Hussein was a destructive leader who suppressed his own people and destabilized the region.
Based on rational analysis, we had no reason to invade. There were no WMD. Iraq probably did have terrorists within its borders, but Saddam had them under his thumb, and they likely had nothing to do with the 9/11/2001 attacks. Only the last reason was true – and even there, his elimination has not led to any form of stabilization.
But the reason for our failure in Iraq actually runs much deeper. It has more to do with how George Bush views our role in the world.
As the pillars of his reasoning are knocked down, the President has shifted his stance. We had to invade to bring liberty to the Iraqi people. The President is fond of pointing out that freedom is on the march in Iraq. He recently stated in an address to the United Nations:
“Our security is not merely founded in spheres of influence or some balance of power; the security of our world is found in advancing the rights of mankind."
The new reasoning becomes a moral imperative: the United States will bring democracy and a free society to Iraq, and we will use our military to do it.
We have failed in Iraq because of this false assumption.
As a society, we view the United States as a moral beacon to the world. The premise of our very creation was that individual liberty is the essence of freedom. We created a democratic government to protect that liberty. In over two hundred years, we have built a nation and a society that represents the best elements of that premise.
But we distort our message by using our military as the messenger, believing that we can impose our methods upon other societies and they will stick. Such a premise assumes that other cultures will accept our governmental structure unflinchingly.
Other societies, grounded in hundreds of years of their own history, may be in no position to quickly absorb our democratic structures. Today’s Iraq is a chaotic collection of religious and ethnic cultures, many of which do not get along and will fight to retain their power. It is similar to Yugoslavia after the fall of Tito; those disparate cultures were being held together by the authoritarian power of Tito’s regime, and once he was gone, each group went their own way. His Yugoslavia no longer exists.
I am no isolationist, and do not believe that we should never use our military power. But the war on terrorism is not a war between nation-states. Al-Qaeda is not a country with distinct borders and an established government. There is no main street where we can parade our victorious army. This takes a different kind of warfare.
We use the Statue of Liberty as a physical symbol of who we are as a nation: the light of liberty held high for the oppressed peoples to turn to in hope. We malign that message when we turn our moral beacon into a moral sword.