In an earlier post, I discussed the “war critics are unpatriotic” meme. Now, there is another argument being made: that critics of the war, should they succeed, will be responsible for the death and misery and will befall the Iraqi people.
The Anchoress — echoed by neo-neocon — writes:
Right now, the insurgents are being vastly encouraged by what they read coming out of the mouths of Democrats and reporters, and even, sadly the Republicans. The message they are being given is: Just be patient. Just hold out a little while, and America will be gone, and you will re-gain control.
If America pulls out without victory – without the Iraqis being capable of defending themselves – then every death from insurgents or terrorists – all over the world – will have to be a death counted upon the heads of those who would not allow a serious War on Terror to continue and succeed, simply because to do so would “reflect too well” on a man they hate.
I myself strongly oppose a pullout before the Iraqis can defend themselves, but I think that the “their blood will be on your heads” argument is a below-the-belt tactic that should be off-limits in civil discourse. True, the Anchoress’s ire is ostensibly directed at those who talk about a quick pullout, but how many war critics are really in that category? Not even many Democrats are backing John Murtha’s 6-month withdrawal timetable; methinks the Anchoress’s broad brush tars all those who talk about the need for an exit strategy, or criticize the conduct of the war in general, or raise too many questions about the way we got into the war.
What’s more, the “blood on your heads” argument is too easily turned around. There is little doubt that at present, the war in Iraq has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis who would have been alive had the war not taken place. Yes, of course other Iraqi lives were saved from the killing machine that was the Hussein regime. But even an author who argues that the invasion, on balance, saved Iraqi lives admits admits that the Hussein regime carried out no mass murders after 1991 (his argument includes the premise that “events might well have been building to another round of mass murder”). Are all these excess deaths on the heads of those who supported the war? Or on the heads of those who trusted this administration with conducting a war it mismanaged?
Furthermore: what if we pull out and leave an Iraqi government securely in place, and then the U.S.-backed government turns into another dictatorship with a killing machine of its own? The Anchoress’s post ends with an interesting observation:
This underreported story is why we cannot leave: 173 Sunnis freed from secret Iraqi torture bunker.
The story she links to is about the fact that U.S. troops recently discovered and freed 173 mostly Sunni Arab men beaten and malnourished in an Iraqi Interior Ministry jail. There is now a call for an investigation of alleged torture. In other words, the U.S.-backed government of Iraq is apparently torturing and terrorizing people. (For more on such allegations several months ago, see this article.) So it seems that now, the goalposts are being moved. Not only do we have to stay in Iraq long enough to ensure that the government we are backing is strong enough to defeat the insurgency; we have to stay long enough to ensure that the government we are backing isn’t torturing and killing people. And how long is that?
If we go down the road of arguing that Americans who take a particular political position are stained with the blood of all those whose deaths may be attributed to that position … well, let’s just say that road has no end in sight. There is, for instance, a good argument to be made that the war in Iraq has diverted resources from Afghanistan, resulting in rampant chaos and bloodshed there. More blood on the heads of Iraq war hawks?
Let me make this clear: I think a lot of people in the anti-war movement are reprehensible. I believe many of them do hate American power, and would have been devastated had the war in Iraq been a success (both for the Americans and for the Iraqis). Many of them fail utterly to recognize the fact that it’s the so-called insurgents (Michael Moore’s “Minutemen”), not the U.S. troops, that are responsible for most civilian deaths in Iraq.
I also agree with The Anchoress when she says that, regardless of whether this was the right war or not, we are there now and we owe it to the people of Iraq to do our best to ensure their safety and freedom. But that is not a reason to delegitimize all criticism of the way the war is being waged (on the grounds that such criticism emboldens the insurgents), or all discussion of an exit strategy.
Furthermore, I take issue (once again) with the indiscriminate attribution of malign motives to war critics. Is The Anchoress really lumping Chuck Hagel and John Murtha together with those who don’t want the war in Iraq to succeed because they hate Bush?
Update: Neo-neocon replies:
But I wanted to clarify something for Cathy (and others) about my own post: I am not talking about war critics in general. I was speaking of one thing only: those critics who want to leave Iraq before it is ready to defend itself. Those critics who want to set a timetable for that pullout. Those critics who, like Tom Hayden, truly do consider the Vietnam abandonment by the US as something of which they are very proud, and who’ve been planning almost from the start to attempt a repeat in Iraq. … My main point is quite a simple one: advocating a pullout–or even a timetable for a pullout–without understanding or recognizing the probable consequences of such action is utterly irresponsible.
I think neo-neocon makes some excellent points here. I agree that we shouldn’t set a withdrawal timetable. But I would add that most people who are advocating a withdrawal (a) are not suggesting a specific timetable, and (b) are not calling for a total abandonment of Iraq. Even John Murtha, for instance, argues that we should be emphasizing political solutions. I believe that he’s wrong and that our military presence is still required; but I still don’t think Murtha’s position can be fairly described as “cut and run.” As John Moulder points out in the comments on neo-neocon’s initial post, the collapse of South Vietnam was brought about not only by the U.S. withdrawal, but by Congress cutting off all funding to South Vietnam. I think it’s important to point out that while quite a few Vietnam war opponents in the early 1970s cheered for a Viet Cong victory, you will not find too many war critics today who would like to see the “insurgency” win.
One more thought. While I think that neo-neocon makes some very strong points, and I do not for a moment suspect her of wanting to demonize dissent on the war, I tend to be wary of arguments along the lines of “I’m not attacking all war critics, only those who criticize the war for partisan reasons/would rather see America lose than see Bush do well/do not consider the consequences of their actions.” The reason is that, in the hands of some people, such disclaimers can become an easy “out” and an excuse for tarring all war critics with a broad brush. (It’s a bit like, “I’m not accusing all affirmative action opponents of racism, only those who are against affirmative action because they secretly hate or despise blacks/because they want a return to white supremacy/because they fail to consider the consequences of going back to nearly lily-white elite universities.”) Clearly, if someone makes irresponsible antiwar statements that include attacking our troops, comparing Bush to Hitler or Saddam Hussein, calling Zarqawi’s insurgents “freedom fighters,” or advocating an immediate pullout with no alternative plan, they should be condemned. What I found troubling about The Anchoress’s statement is that, to me, it definitely came across as a generalized condemnation of all those who are advocating an exit strategy in Iraq.