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imperialism & war

Doves got some things wrong

Since I complained vigorously about this war before it started, it's only fair for me to look back and acknowledge that many of the things that I - along with other doves - worried about didn't happen. So let's look back, examine the record and offer some preliminary accountability...
Nicholas D. Kristof: Doves got some things wrong
April 23, 2003

Weighing up the war

NEW YORK Last September, a gloom-and-doomer columnist warned about Iraq: "If we're going to invade, we need to prepare for a worst-case scenario involving street-to-street fighting."

Ahem. Yes, well, that was my body double while I was on vacation.

Since I complained vigorously about this war before it started, it's only fair for me to look back and acknowledge that many of the things that I - along with other doves - worried about didn't happen. So let's look back, examine the record and offer some preliminary accountability.

Despite my Cassandra columns, Iraq never carried out terrorist attacks in the United States or abroad, it didn't use chemical or biological weapons, and it didn't launch missiles against Israel in hopes of triggering a broader war. Turkey has not invaded northern Iraq to attack the Kurds.

So let me start by tipping my hat to Bush administration planners whose work reduced those risks. For example, one reason Iraq did not attack Israel may have been the special operations forces in the western desert of Iraq, where the launches would have come from. And belated pressure from Washington has kept Turkey out of the war so far.

The most curious aspect of the war was Iraq's failure to use weapons of mass destruction, and neither most doves nor most hawks get credit for predicting that. If the United States somehow blocked Iraq from using them, a deep bow to President George W. Bush. But if Iraq never had any weaponized chemical or biological agents, then Bush has plenty of explaining to do to the children of the Americans, Britons and Iraqis who died in the war.

Bush had described a vast Iraqi weapons program and talked about mobile labs, 500 tons of chemical weapons, 25,000 liters of anthrax and 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin. These weapons were supposedly deployed in the war and controlled by field commands that American forces have long since overrun - so where are they?

It's too early to be sure, but my guess is that doves cried wolf in terms of the risks of upheavals in Pakistan and Jordan. On the whole the Muslim street has not been as scary as America expected. Maybe it's time to retire that bogeyman.

No one got the level of resistance quite right. We doves correctly foresaw that the war would not be a cakewalk, but for all our hand-wringing, there was never prolonged street-to-street fighting in Baghdad.

The ones who really blew it were the superraptors like Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and, to a lesser extent, Paul Wolfowitz, who over the years had suggested, as Perle put it in a Washington Post essay in 1998: "It would be neither wise nor necessary for us to send ground forces into Iraq" because Iraqi exiles could do the job by themselves with American weapons and air cover. Fortunately, General Tommy Franks and Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded more than an Invasion Lite pipedream.

As for the reaction of the Iraqi people, I'd say the doves were more accurate than the hawks. Frankly, the reaction varied hugely. There were some places where, as Vice President Dick Cheney had forecast, American troops were "greeted as liberators." But even in the Shiite south, one feels as much menace as gratitude.

Those who contend that Iraqis hail Americans as liberators should try traveling around Iraq. I grew a mustache to look more like an Iraqi so hostile locals wouldn't throw rocks at my car. (Upon returning to the United States, I shaved my mustache and put on my old face so my family wouldn't throw stones at me.)

The hawks also look increasingly naive in their expectations that Iraq would soon blossom into a pro-American democracy. For now, the figures who inspire mass support in postwar Iraq are Shiite clerics like Ali Sistani (moderate, but tainted by being soft on Saddam Hussein), Muqtada Sadr (radical son of a martyr), and Mohammed Bakr Hakim (Iran's candidate), all of whom criticize the United States.

As in revolutionary Iran, the Shiite network is the major network left in Iraq, and it will help determine the narrative of the war: infidel invasion or friendly liberation. I'm afraid we infidels had better look out.

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