I dislike Christopher Hitchens. Really, I do. It’s hard for me to decide whether he was more wrong as a Trotskyite or as a bitter liberal-bashing hawk. I’m going to call it a tie. Anyway, his new Slate piece, “Foolish Myths about Al-Qaida in Iraq,” is a doozy. This should give you the gist:
The facts as we have them are not at all friendly to this view of the situation, whether it be the “hard” view that al-Qaida terrorism is a “resistance” to Western imperialism or the “soft” view that we have only created the monster in Iraq by intervening there.
I hate to point by point a guy like Hitchens, but here I go.
The first thing to notice about [Zarqawi] is that he was in Iraq before we were. The second thing to notice is that he fled to Iraq only because he, and many others like him, had been driven out of Afghanistan. Thus, by the logic of those who say that Afghanistan is the “real” war, he would have been better left as he was. Without the overthrow of the Taliban, he and his collaborators would not have moved to take advantage of the next failed/rogue state. I hope you can spot the simple error of reasoning that is involved in this belief. It also involves the defeatist suggestion—which was very salient in the opposition to the intervention in Afghanistan—that it’s pointless to try to crush such people because “others will spring up in their place.”
There is a pretty obvious point I think Hitchens misses here. Namely, that Saddam-era Iraq was not really ever a good staging ground for major acts of terrorism. If Zarqawi had become too much of a threat to Hussein, he would have been dead. Period. Obviously, Hussein’s propensity for killing people is not really one of his big selling points, but it did have a n undeniable dampening effect on domestic terror.
To say that the attempt to Talibanize Iraq would not be happening at all if coalition forces were not present is to make two unsafe assumptions and one possibly suicidal one.
Maybe I am missing something, but is anyone actually saying that the insurgents would quit if the coalition weren’t there? I haven’t heard that argument in any venue I would consider to be remotely mainstream, and indeed Hitchens fails to cite any examples.
We can not only deny the clones of Bin Ladenism a military victory in Iraq, we can also discredit them in the process and in the eyes (and with the help) of a Muslim people who have seen them up close.
This is where Hitch really drops the ball. He fails to make an important distinction, the same one many prominent war supporters continue to fail to make: a military victory isn’t even half the battle.
We cannot literally kill every insurgent, and if the political process does not make enough progress to stabilize society, eventually the insurgents will come back, and the result will be chaos. We can’t stay forever, nor should we feel obligated to do so. Now, I am no supporter of rapid withdrawal, but on the other hand, I would like to be out of Iraq before say, my still-unborn children reach adulthood. I just don’t think there are any easy answers here, and “stay the course” sure sounds like an easy answer to me.