Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

William Raspberry: Failure at Any Cost

Okay, that's not the title he chose for his column, but it sums things up pretty well. What do Raspberry and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have in common? They both desperately want America out of Iraq as soon as possible. I doubt Mr. Raspberry likes to dwell on that fact.

"Well, a number of people surveying the wreckage of our Iraq policy think the better option is simply to leave.

Klein acknowledges that we've broken Iraq, but she argues that our continued presence there doesn't fix anything and only makes it worse. We don't need to "own" the country, she says, only acknowledge the breakage, pay for it and leave.

Just leave. It sounds so simple -- so evocative of the advice Vermont Sen. George Aiken offered another president presiding over a quagmire called Vietnam: Just declare victory and go home.

We can argue all day that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant whose defeat and humiliation should evoke no sympathy from us. But he did have a functioning country. There was a government in place. People went to work and to the market and to school in relative safety. Can anyone really believe that the U.S.-spawned anarchy has left the Iraqi people better off? We broke it. Do we have the moral right to walk away with the shards scattered across the floor?"

There's a lot in that small exerpt, but I want to highlight three main points.

1. The "Pottery Barn Rule" is Grotesquely Inappropriate

In Pottery Barn, if you drop something on the floor, what are we talking about? It's a ceramic pot. Regardless of who pays for it, you can sweep the thing up, throw it away, and no one will ever think about it ever again.

Iraq is a nation, implying government, a populace, and an intangible sense of "nationhood." These are not thinks for which you casually write a check, sweep the remains into a trash can, and forget about it. There are Saddam loyalists for whom these wounds will never, ever heal. There are pro-American Iraqis who are inexpressibly happy that the old system was broken, and fear that someone might try to glue it back together.

When Colin Powell used the Pottery Barn rule as a justification for our post-invasion efforts, he was accurately expressing a moral obligation that we had voluntarily assumed. Raspberry carries the analogy too far by suggesting we can just walk away because writing a check doesn't absolve us of that moral responsibility.

2. One Does Not Turn Defeat into Victory Simply by Declaring it So.

The shallow suggestion that we should "declare victory and go home" is so far removed from reality that I'm amazed a literate person could make it. Is there anyone in the world who would consider leaving Iraq as it currently stands a "victory"? True, we had a military victory, and a decisive one at that. And true, it would be a resounding political victory for Bush-haters. But we are fighting a War on Terror. A military victory in Iraq can still translate into defeat in that War. And the political victory for anti-Bush-ites would earn them smugness rights, but a substantially weakened America. The only ones who could declare unambiguous victory would be the insurgents who murder innocent Iraqi civilians, and as they are the enemy, that means defeat for us.

But then again, it seems that liberals believe redefinition can alter reality, so I guess I'm not about to persuade Raspberry on this point.

3. Iraq is By Any Measure Better Now Than it Was Under Hussein

Astoundingly, Raspberry (but he is not alone) claims that at least under Saddam Hussein, things were working. He mentions two things, the markets and "relative safety," and assumes his reading audience is ignorant of Iraqi reality on both points. Under Saddam Hussein, it is true that people went to the markets. But now Saddam is gone, and people are going to the markets. The economy is growing, whether Raspberry knows it or not.

As for "safety," I will grant that I wouldn't want to be in Iraq right now. To be certain, I would also not like to have been in Iraq three years ago. Are things safer? Let the numbers tell the tale. How many Iraqis did Saddam kill? How many have been killed (mostly by non-Iraqi terrorists) since? Does Raspberry seriously want to compare those numbers? Obviously not, because he nowhere mentions the numbers.