Imagine all the people, filling up the square, chanting for freedom, insisting with their lives on the line that the dictator must go. We don’t have to imagine it in Egypt, where the hatred for Hosni Mubarak and the desire for change have brought a sleepy populace to that place no one had predicted, a place where they are willing to risk their lives for a better future. We can watch it live.
When I see the crowds in Liberation Square, I cannot help but think of Baghdad. How different it might be. How different it might have been.
When George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the pretext given was that the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was willing to use them on his own people and his neighbors, or to pass them off to terrorists for use against us or our allies.
In those fearful days, with the smoke from the Twin Towers still fresh in our nostrils, enough people stood by silently to allow the invasion to proceed. (It is worth remembering that a sizable citizens’ movement, here in Syracuse and around the country, opposed the war effort with all its might.)
In the end, even Bush had to concede that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A combination of Bush’s hubris and Hussein’s pride kept the Iraqi dictator from acknowledging what the United Nations inspectors had been telling the world—that the emperor had no clothes.
So in the end, Bush, who clearly came to office intending to depose Saddam Hussein, was forced to find other rationales for his folly. He settled on two themes, which he repeats even today as he goes about peddling his presidential memoir: 1) We got rid of Saddam, and 2) we brought democracy to Iraq.
No disputing the former, but the latter is seriously in doubt, even by Bush’s own standards.
Iraq today is an occupied nation divided in thirds, governed by a pro-Iranian Shiite minority with U.S. backing, with corrupt public institutions and a population still under threat from suicide bombers.
No serious observers claim to know how the situation will evolve once U.S. forces finally withdraw, but it is unstable enough that U.S. military planners expect to keep 50,000 troops in the country even after their “withdrawal” is complete.
Imagine if we really were in the Middle East for the sake of democracy. Imagine if we really did believe that people in the Arab world could choose their own leaders, and their own system of governing. Imagine if we could have held back the dogs of war eight years ago and let the Iraqi people take matters into their own hands.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I have no illusions about the brutality of Saddam’s regime. Reporting from Baghdad in the wake of the first gulf war I saw enough of the work of Saddam’s henchmen to last a lifetime.
It was always the conventional wisdom that the Iraqi people could never rise up against Saddam. If you listened too much to conventional wisdom just a few short weeks ago, you would have believed that what was happening in Tunisia could never happen in Mubarak’s Egypt. Until it did. And it could be happening in Baghdad.
Ironically one of the most sober voices warning us against launching “Operation Iraqi Freedom” in 2003 was Muhammad ElBaradei, who led the International Atomic Energy Agency, and who correctly insisted that inspections and sanctions were working to prevent Saddam from getting nuclear weapons. Nobel Peace Prize winner ElBaradei today finds himself immersed in the crisis in his homeland, and his presence reminds us of how much better off we would be had we listened to him back then.
Instead we’ve suffered the pain of 4,419 of our military killed (including 258 from New York) more than 30,000 wounded, and at least 100,000 Iraqis killed. We’ve had our honor dragged through the mud, pegging the name America to the infamous Abu Ghraib for an entire generation in the Middle East and around the world. And we’ve diminished the power we have to influence events in today’s crisis by our reckless deployment of force eight years ago.
Had we not let Bush invade, we would be living in a different world. If we could only really believe in democracy and the triumph of the people’s will, we could be watching in amazement at a genuine turn toward democracy in an area of the world that sorely needs it.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. Contact him at email@example.com.