Sunday, October 29, 2006

Oliver Kamm on the Iraq War

By Heraclitus

Oliver Kamm has a very thoughtful post up on the Iraq War. Although by now pretty much everyone agrees that the execution of the war has been a complete disaster, Kamm still wants to defend the original decision to go to war. He thinks the war was still right, and could and should have been waged successfully. The Bush administration, however, failed the Iraqis and their own ostensible goals and principles from the very beginning. Kamm gives a good summary of their most damning blunders in a passage from his book:

To say the Bush Administration has made innumerable errors in its conduct of war and occupation is commonplace but not trivial: it is true and important. But the first error, from which much else has flowed, was to plan for occupation after Saddam’s fall in a fundamentally non-serious manner. Elections were delayed; security was inadequate; the failure to secure Baghdad was a disaster; infrastructure was ignored; abominable tortures were practised at the Abu Ghraib prison, to which there was a shamefully complacent response; and the civilian death toll appears to have been substantially higher than the war’s supporters generally expected.

Part of Kamm's argument rests on an interesting claim he takes from Noah Feldman, a lawyer who worked for the Coalition Authority in Iraq in the early days of the occupation. According to Feldman, the sectarian splintering in Iraq stemmed largely from the fecklessness of the Coalition Authority.

It would be perfectly correct … to blame the invasion for creating a situation in which a pervasive sense of insecurity quickly descended upon Iraqi life, necessitating in short order the formation of protection associations other than the state. In that indirect but nonetheless decisive sense, the Coalition, specifically the United States, played a major role in the rapid emergence of denominational identities in the immediate postwar period. The United States did not invent those identities, nor did it intentionally reify them; but it produced an environment in which it was necessary for Iraqis to invent them. Had there been half a million US troops on the ground, it is highly likely that there would have been little looting, no comparable sense of insecurity, and therefore a reduced need for denominational identities to become as dominant as they quickly did.

This quotation is from Feldman's book What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation-Building. Kamm's post is somewhat long, but highly intelligent, well-informed, and thoughtful, and worth reading in full.

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