A Bombing Campaign To Win Over Hearts and Minds

I have to respond to David Plotz’s post of yesterday, although I see that a hefty chunk of the Fray has already beaten me to most of my objections. The upshot of David’s argument seems to be that there aren’t any good arguments for going to war, but there is a really bad one: We can level Iraq to rubble, thus fostering economic growth, social contentment, and confidence in the region.

Why would a costly and deadly war—a war not supported by most of our allies—do anything but impoverish both the region and ourselves? Why would it do anything but tarnish the appeal of capitalism and democracy around the world? Even if we could successfully bring about total regime-change in Iraq, who’s to say that the bourgeois semi-democracy of our dreams would replace the status quo? History suggests quite the opposite: a return to feuding clans or the ascendancy of an even crazier dictator. And all this delicious post-Saddam democracy assumes a Bush administration with a taste for (or even a mild interest in) the sort of costly and time-consuming nation-building necessary to establish even a non-Jeffersonian democracy in the region. I’ve not seen even a micron of evidence that the Bush administration is inclined in that direction.

So. Even if we beat the outrageous odds, manage to oust Saddam, and replace him with a Jordanian or Egyptian “I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-a-democracy,” we’d still have not only further polarized and radicalized the Muslim youth David seeks to appease, but we’d have lost any Muslim allies we may have had in the region. To make matters even more combustible, we’d follow up with other wildly unsuccessful trappings of pseudo-capitalist democracies—such as Western-style universities—where affluent, well-educated former capitalists currently go to major in becoming a better terrorist …

Foisting the institutions of democracy onto Arab nations that hate us has fostered only bitterness and resentment, even when we did so passively and peacefully. Why, then, would we possibly win their hearts by doing so with carnage?

Finally, Jeff Goldberg has now posted his own eloquent defense of launching a war, and, his arguments—predicated mostly on his own conversations and firsthand knowledge—are among the most compelling I’ve heard. But this only reinforces the initial point made Mike Kinsley: If there are good reasons for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, why can’t the Bush administration be bothered to share them? Why have we been treated to an undifferentiated babble of half-truths, clichés, and pretexts? These so-called “process” arguments aren’t marginal. They are the only basis we can have for trusting in our leadership. Whether or not we go to war is only half the issue; who takes us there and how is the important half. Lacking firsthand knowledge, Jacob Weisberg is willing to trust Bush’s experts. Lacking firsthand knowledge, I trust Jeff Goldberg. I remain far less certain about trusting an administration that’s done less than nothing to earn it.