Iraq—Three Years Later

[1] As a prognosticator, I’d guess I have about a 50-50 track record in life. Looking back over what I published in JLE in December of 2002 as the Bush Administration beat the drums of war, though, I think I can claim to have nailed this one. I concluded my essay: “In this light the real fault of the present administration is its unwillingness to date to count the cost and summon the American people to the burden of duty in what will undoubtedly be a painful, long term and very expensive engagement. If it comes to war, American troops will occupy Iraq for the foreseeable future. Israel will have to be required to do justice to the national aspirations of the Palestinians. Islamic nations, even if not especially ‘friendly’ ones, will have to be pressed toward democratic reform (including affirmation of the free exercise of religion). These will be the real costs of waging a just war against Saddam Hussein. The easy part will be the military victory; the next twenty years will be something far more demanding.”

[2] So the bad news three years later is simply this: however badly botched by the Bush Administration, the justice or injustice of the American engagement in Iraq still hangs in the balance.

[3] It has been badly botched. From reckless disregard of truth and consequences in the WMD propaganda for selling a war that should have been justified on other and better grounds to the shameful disgrace of Abu Ghraib to the nutty occupation policy of the doctrinaire, technology-can-replace-foot soldiers, clone-of-McNamara Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, the cost in life and limb and treasure has been far more than it should have been. In Joe Lieberman’s words: “This administration has succeeded in making a just war look bad.”

[4] Partisan critics of the Administration are quick to point all this out but are themselves deeply divided between the centrist wing, which knows that we must stay until the mission succeeds, and the isolationist wing, which wants out now. In either case, they are loath to acknowledge any success in Iraq lest the bungling Bushies reap political reward. But what is at stake in Iraq now is far too great ethically to be calculated upon such merely partisan considerations.

[5] Three democratic elections in the past year are a success. To be sure, with the Hamas victory in the Palestine territories, we are reminded that democracy is not the coming of the Kingdom, that a democracy can be as bad as its people (a thought that crossed not a few minds in the U.S.A. in November 2004). What democracy is, in terms of Christian realism, is the trajectory of popular sovereignty and responsibility. There is an inevitable lag here (consider U.S. history!).

[6] The vile device rampant in the public discourse of the Islamic world of scape-goating outsiders-Zionists, Wall Street, colonial oppressors from decades past-is itself the product of the lack of political self-government. Predictably its overcoming will lag behind the introduction of popular sovereignty. It will only be overcome by the experience of real responsibility. That is why “the easy part was the military victory; the next twenty years will be something far more demanding.”

Paul R. Hinlicky

Paul R. Hinlicky is the Tise Professor of Lutheran Studies at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.