I’ve been in and out of Iraq since the end of the war. My viewpoint hasn’t changed much, maybe moved a little further down the spectrum. Before I was pretty sure the war was a mistake, now I know it is.
Prior to the war, or even the election of Bush, I felt that the situation in Iraq and our (I’m an American) policies were in need of a correction. I don’t think sanctions are particularly effective, except when the sanctioned government is answerable to some kind of constituency.
For example, I think that the South African sanctions were effective because the Apartheid government was elected (albeit by an undemocratically selected voting body), so that there was a group of white voters who were inconvenienced, outraged, embarrassed, etc. enough to put pressure on their government for change. I don’t think a dictatorship like Iraq allowed for a sanctioned populace to put the kind of pressure on Saddam to effect change. In fact, I think the sanctions helped entrench Hussein.
I also think there was some validity in the criticism of the UN that it is ineffective and ossified. I’ve worked with (but not for) the UN in Kosovo and Afghanistan and I am not impressed with the UN as an effective body (although I’ve worked with some excellent individuals from the UN).
I also think that France and Russia were in fact pursuing their own national interests in the region by allying themselves with Hussein.
SO, I was prepared to listen to a president say something along the lines of “this situation in Iraq has gone on too long. The UN and the international community need to take a look at how to bring this to a close, some of the members of the Security Council need to look at their support of this despot and if they are unwilling we are going to help them along by assisting some reporters and think tanks with their research.”
I also believed that an international coalition, under the auspices of the UN, would have had the legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people to possibly install a democratizing government in the Middle East and that this new government could be the engine that could fundamentally change our relationship to the region.
I expected that the US would still have to do most of the heavy lifting in the war and reconstruction, but that its mission would have international and Iraqi credibility (indeed, I believed such a mandate was critical).
I think (and thought) that for this approach to be successful, the US would have to reexamine its support of the state of Israel and take several steps to reshape it to hold Israel more accountable with how it pursues self defense.
I assumed that this kind of policy would be a multi-year effort culminating in the second term of a president who had laid the groundwork with the international community in his/her first term.
In short, I was ready for a nuanced, multi-year approach. I even thought that 9/11 could play a role in reshaping the Middle East, not because of any relationship between Iraq and Bin Laden, but because the US would finally have the will to address the larger issues in the region.
I wasn’t prepared for how Bush pursued this rushed, poorly thought-out adventure. I thought at the time it was a mistake and I still do. I guess the only change in my thinking is that last August I thought the situation was maybe salvageable, but now I think the US has created a failed state in the Middle East.
Let me tell you, it is hard to get up and go to work when you feel you are working on a lost cause. It’s not terribly motivating to work hard to get a school built, then have US soldiers kill your contractor and to realize that the thing will probably be looted in another year.
I know a lot of aid workers who refused to come here because of their opposition to the war. To me, that means the Iraqis get doubly fucked, first by the war, then by the high-and-mighty aid workers who are too principled to lend a hand.
I get the sick joy of living the life of the double-martyr. I thought it was a mistake, I came anyway, I was proved right, I get to work on a doomed project, and yet I get the privilege of working with a lot of right wingers who think liberals are traitors while my liberal friends get to look down on me. And oh yeah, every now and again, someone takes a shot at me.
I hope what this post lacked in coherence it made up for in irony.