Day By Day

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Badger on the Iraq Narrative

Badgers Forward, written by an officer currently deployed in Iraq, observes that the American public seems to view the current conflict with two distinct narratives in mind. This is not an original take, but he expresses it well and has some interesting things to say.

One is the WWII comparison. In this narrative 9/11, like Pearl Harbor in 1941, woke up a sleeping nation to the fact that we were, and had for several years had been, at war with Islamic radicals. It changed everything.

So long as the Jihadis only struck targets far from our shores, the American public was willing to ignore the threat they posed, but after 9/11 we could no longer afford such indifference. Although Saddam Hussein did not have an active relationship with al Qaeda, he had negotiated with them and had supported other radicals. We could not ignore the possibility that an active, cooperative relationship would soon develop. This perception of threat was heightened by the belief that Saddam controlled WMDs and might provide them to Islamic radicals. So, just as we went to war against the Axis powers in 1941, we responded to 9/11 with war against the real and emerging threats in the Middle East.

As Capt. Badger puts it, the two main points of this narrative are:

[After 9/11] we could no longer gamble that Hussein and his regime would not work with the Al Qaeda networks.

In the World War II narrative, if September 11 is Pearl Harbor, Al Qeada is the Japanese and Hussein is Hitler; Ba'athist Iraq is Nazi Germany.

As Badger notes this is a compelling, but problematic, lens through which to view the current conflict. Neither Iraq nor al Qaeda is equivalent to Nazi Germany and the metrics applied to judge the effectiveness of combat in WWII are inappropriate when applied to the current conflict. He writes:

[T]he differences between fighting a nation-state and a transnational threat like Islamofascism, between maneuver warfare and asymmetrical warfare so big that once I get past the initial similarities the [narrative’s] lack of depth is readily apparent.

The alternative narrative, adopted by opponents of the war, is based in their perception of the Vietnamese conflict as a futile, illegitimate and unjust war. Badger writes:

For those who subscribe to this narrative, the War in Iraq and the war in Vietnam, there are nefarious ends. Profits, personal power, revenge. This narrative also minimizes the threat communism posed and the threat radical Islam poses today.

The problem, though, is that the Vietnam comparison, while psychologically and ideologically satisfying to many on the left, is ultimately nonsensical. Without any compelling evidence to support their allegations war critics ascribe completely irrational motives to American leaders. As Badger points out:

If the real goal was to make money for certain moneyed and powerful interests there would have been many ways to do in a more low-key way. If the United States had unilaterally declared Hussein to be in compliance with all UN resolutions and welcomed him back into the family nations, there was money to be made hand over fist.

To believe this narrative you have to assume that the American leadership is comprised of malignant madmen and imbeciles. That so many people on the left are willing to make such an assumption says more about their dissociation with reality than it does about those they attack.

What is more, Badger notes, given the stated goals of our opponents – the establishment of a worldwide Caliphate – it is dangerous to minimize or ignore the threat they pose.

He concludes by urging us to abandon both narratives, to look at the current conflict with new eyes, and to develop a new narrative based in facts as known, rather than in the outdated memories of conflicts long past.

It’s a nice, thought-provoking piece. I would have added the Cold War as another problematic point of comparison, but as it is it is quite good. Read the whole thing here.