Shawcross on Iraq...
A incredibly inciteful opinion piece by William Shawcross, author of Sideshow (one of the best books on Cambodia), who remains a supporter of the decision to remove Saddam Hussein.
That long view seems to me to be the one that has to be applied to Iraq. I still believe the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was the correct thing to do — and it was something only the United States could have done. For all the horrors that extremist Sunnis and Shias are inflicting on each other today, the US rid the world of the Pol Pot of the Middle East. So long as the vile Saddam family regime remained in power there was no hope of progress in the region. There is still hope — if we do not abandon the Iraqi people.
In Indo-China the majority of Western journalists (including myself) believed that the war could not or should not be won. Similarly today, for too many pundits hatred (and it really is that) of Bush and Blair dominates perceptions. Armchair editorialists love to dismiss the US effort in terms of Abu Ghraib or Haditha. They were not typical moments. Evidence of the courage and commitment of ordinary US soldiers is inadequately covered by many papers, as is the courage of millions of ordinary Iraqis.
There are encouraging signs — the Iraqi military is becoming ever more competent; Sunni tribal leaders seem increasingly angry with al-Qaeda brutalities; parliament is discussing contentious legislation on dividing oil and gas revenues fairly between different parts of the country; the dinar is still strong, indicating confidence; most Iraqis still seem to desire a united country.
Of course huge mistakes have been made. We should lament and criticise them but not dismiss the underlying effort. President Bush’s new strategy (and probably his last throw) is to “surge” thousands of US troops into Baghdad. Rather than abusing him we should all be hoping that it is not too little too late.
The consequences of an American defeat in Iraq would be even worse than in IndoChina. As the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Musab al-Zarqawi, said before he was killed by a US air strike: “The shedding of Muslim blood is allowed in order to disrupt the greater evil of disrupting jihad.”
If Iraq collapses, such nihilist killing will spread far wider. As in Cambodia, bloody mass murder is the only alternative to what the US-led coalition is trying to achieve. Thanks to the sacrifice of young American and British soldiers, and to the courage of millions of ordinary Iraqis, the country can still have a better future — if we remain committed. Remember 1975.