I have been reading over some of the things I wrote about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, back when it was all happening, twenty years ago. My main point, before the invasion, was (in my words of February 23): “I support enforcement of the UN mandate, but the first step must be to win the support of the international community in the UN security council, and if President Bush can’t do that, how can we expect him not to cock up the war and the reconstruction?”
Seven weeks later, in a note with a shockingly terrible title of War is over (if you want it), I wrote:
Finally, now that we’re wearing the mantle, for crying out loud, let’s live up to it. Let’s give Iraq a damned good infrastructure—all of it—roads, schools, water, libraries, broadband, pony carts and mag-lev. Let the UN (or somebody) keep the books, and let’s show that we’re not draining their resources. In fact, let’s show that we’re draining our resources and handing ’em over. Let’s have a damn Marshall Plan. We’re that rich, and that smart, and that resourceful, and it wouldn’t do us any harm, either. It’s opportunity time, everybody.
By June, I was signing off every post with the tagline Redintegro Iraq—which was a bitter amusement for myself, but did no good. In April of 2004, I wrote:
It seems Your Humble Blogger will need a new tag line. […] I think we did have a chance to redeem the invasion by building a paradise in Iraq. I think we could have taken a bad situation and used American wealth, American enterprise, American knowhow, and American manpower to make the world a better place. We didn’t. We used American guns, and American warplanes, and, it seems, foreign mercenaries, to destroy the possibility of good faith.
I left my tag blank for quite a long time after that.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
I wish I’d had the words then I have now for the Marshall Plan attitude toward Iraq, at the time known as Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Doctrine. No matter how good the government’s intentions (which were not at all good, as manifest, but that’s beside the point), the dynamics of the USA asserting power and (you-break-it-you-)ownership there could only be colonial. Not that there was any real possibility that any of us could have changed the outcome–as the pretexts thinned, it was clear that we were always going to invade, argument and consequences be damned. So, you know, don’t beat yourself up for having had hope for a better world.
(This is a bitter anniversary in our family, and I hope I’ve managed not to misdirect that onto you here. If so, I apologize.)
I agree (certainly in retrospect) that the Marshall Plan I was envisioning would have been colonial and unjust—which is (certainly in retrospect) another good reason not to have invaded in the first place. I still maintain that after invading, the more responsible choice remaining was to have spent that money and rebuilt the place, even at the cost of having to decolonialize afterward… It would have been even better, of course, had we found a way to make reparations for the invasion without colonizing, but I couldn’t even imagine the possibility of that happening at the time, and honestly still can’t.
This also speaks to something underlying the invasion that I did recognize at the end, which is that our invasion plans were being unhealthily influenced by Christian supremacy in the military, which would certainly alienate the people whose support we were counting on (and alienate the rest of the Muslim world, as well). The administration—and our country generally, I’m afraid—were simply incapable of conceiving that the people of Iraq were capable of self-determination and self-governance. And so we limited our options to destruction, colonization… or not invading in the first place.