October 2, 2003
Opinion/Editorial (page 9)
Not Elsewhere Classified
Can We Get It Right This Time?
It is striking how people invoke human rights violations to argue for contradictory things: for example: Bosnia and Iraq. A recent New York Times article (“At Memorial in Bosnia, Clinton Helps Mourn 7,000,” Lizette Alvarez, September 21, 2003) credits Clinton with being “instrumental in stopping the war” in Bosnia during his presidency but questions whether he should have acted sooner. Compare this notion with the current attitude toward the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime that we have known for over a decade. Hussein presented a problem, but in this case, Bush should have waited longer before acting.
The Weekly Standard recently came out with an article (“Saddam’s al Qaeda Connection,” Stephen F. Hayes, September 1, 2003) defending the Bush administration’s assertion of an Iraq-al Quaeda connection, but for many conservatives, a factor on par with the terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) justifications was the humanitarian motivation. Columnist James Lileks recently wrote a piece in which he expressed his indignation that the same people who accuse America of “coddling” dictators are now upset because we actually deposed one. Admittedly it’s not that simple, what with the sticky questions surrounding such issues as America as the “Policeman of the World,” but there is a certain irony there nonetheless.
For months now, some conservatives have pointed to testimony from Iraqi citizens supporting U.S. action against Saddam. Do I think every single Iraqi supported or currently supports everything America has done regarding Iraq this past year? Of course not. But I am frustrated at how reports on the situation in Iraq seem to present a single narrative of “America is mucking things up” when certainly the situation must be more complex than that.
Many Iraqis were upset that the first Gulf War ended back in 1991 without the removal of Saddam, and their response to the current action has been along the lines of, “What took you so long?” Although some American liberals assert that we should pull out of Iraq as soon as possible, many Iraqis actually fear us leaving too quickly. And really isn’t this what liberals feared prior to action in both Afghanistan and Iraq—that we would just drop a lot of bombs and then get the heck out of there? Regardless of your opinions about America’s right to interfere with another country’s government, certainly now that we have done so we have an obligation to stay and help things get back on track. Back in 1997, Mark Danner wrote a scathing piece in the New York Review of Books pointing out that while George Bush, Sr., could have prevented the conflict in Bosnia from escalating during his tenure, what Clinton did was much more damaging : he promised strong action and never followed through. With all the complaints from the left about what is going wrong in Iraq, would they be satisfied if we pulled out and let the Iraqis fend for themselves?
One columnist said recently that the media is treating Iraq like Disneyland, that only what goes wrong is considered newsworthy. Certainly it is important that mistakes get reported, but Iraq is not Disneyland. Regardless of how well the situation was dealt with, there would be problems. People can argue about whether some of the problems could be avoided and whether or not we are doing a good job on the whole and so on and so forth. The fact remains that there are a lot of good things happening in Iraq, and they should be reported too.
Federal Judge Don Walter who initially, in his own words, “vehemently opposed the war,” recently came back from visiting Iraq and stated: “Despite my initial opposition to the war, I am now convinced, whether we find any weapons of mass destruction or prove Saddam sheltered and financed terrorists, absolutely, we should have overthrown the Baathists, indeed, we should have done it sooner” (http://globalspecops.com/view.html). He goes on to cite numerous humanitarian reasons for his opinion and emphasized that in his experience, the Iraqis have generally been grateful for the American presence. He isn’t the only one to think so. Many returning servicemen are reporting their experiences in such local papers as the Belmont Citizen-Herald and the North Coast Journal, and those stories reiterate the idea that, on the whole, things are getting better in Iraq, and the Iraqis are glad of it.
The Times quotes a survivor at the Bosnia memorial saying, "Clinton could have helped this not to happen. Now it's embarrassing because he has to come here and justify himself." It is interesting that some people are saying the same thing about Bush’s action that they probably said about Clinton’s inaction a decade ago. In ten years, will people look back and say, “We could have helped the Iraqi people sooner; now we have to justify why we didn’t”?
Elizabeth Sweeny is a third-year English major who knows that everything is more complicated than it seems and insists on learning as many of these complexities as possible and pointing this out to anyone who will listen.