Is Iraq better?

Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.


It’s an issue that has been the focus of more than one debate in our newsroom, although it’s rarely a debate among Canadians generally. It’s taken as a matter of fact that George W. Bush was a bumbling idiot and the invasion of Iraq was a criminal enterprise.

I supported the invasion.

At the time, I firmly believed there was a moral imperative for Western powers to help oppressed people where it was feasible – yes, I know and knew about Chinese oppression, but that giant country doesn’t fit the criteria of reasonable – and, yes, where it fit with the West’s strategic interests. Iraq qualified.

Hussein didn’t perpetrate 9/11, but Iraq was a state sponsor of terror, offering $25 k to suicide bombers and plotting to assassinate Bush the First.

Hussein gassed his own people and purchased chemical weapons. There was no record I was aware of that all of those stockpiles had been destroyed.

I didn’t think Hussein had an effective nuclear program but had no doubt he would use a nuclear weapon in an act of terror if he ever got his hands on one.

He was absolute dictator of his country, murdering his own people and opposed to any democratic reform. The idea of sovereignty doesn’t apply, in my mind, to dictatorships where an entire population is held hostage by a tyrant.

The UN had passed numerous resolutions that had been ignored by Hussein.

In short, Iraq struck me as a very good candidate for regime change. Not a necessary war, perhaps, but absolutely justifiable. Hussein was an avowed enemy of the U.S. and a murderous monster to his own people.

I also believed W’s motives were principally good. In fact, I still believe his main motive was spreading liberty.

This brings me to an article I came across this morning:

Goldberg’s sources are cherry-picked, of course: torture victims, supporters of Kurdish rights. But it’s an interesting topic. Has the Iraq War achieved some or much of what Bush said it would?

I simply don’t know. I suspect if Iraq was still engulfed in violence and (almost) civil war, we’d hear about it. I think the near silence is a good sign. My guess is things are improving in Iraq. If that country is a moderate, fairly democratic nation a decade from now, was Bush still wrong?

And what about the cases where we didn’t act? We didn’t act in Rwanda, and most of a million people were hacked to death at a speed that rivaled the Holocaust. We haven’t acted in Syria, and many thousands have been murdered, while those who rebel against the Assad regime gradually become more radicalized – an outcome contrary to the interests of the West.

But wait a minute, we did take action in Afghanistan, right? We sent in the troops and tried nation building. Most experts are saying the results were tepid at best; terrific for the individual citizen whose life was mercifully spared from the Taliban’s excesses but ultimately not transformative for the nation. A generation from now, will Afghanistan be any better for the blood and treasure we’ve spent?

As you’ve probably figured out, I don’t think this topic has easy answers. The demonization of Bush is wrong – a cartoonish misrepresentation of his motives and actions. There are valid criticism’s of America’s invasion of Iraq, but the depiction of Bush as a villain is unfair.

What has changed for me, though, is my faith in the power of Western Liberalism to transform foreign societies. I unabashedly profess my belief Western Liberalism is the most modern and advanced form of social development on the planet to date – cultural relativism has a few uses, but only a few – but that doesn’t mean I believe it can be promoted in most circumstances with tanks and guns.

In short, I’m no longer convinced foreign adventurism offers enough of a chance for positive change to make it worth pursuing. Furthermore, I have stopped believing it is within the mandate of governments to take military action beyond their own borders unless it’s absolutely critical to the future of their own nation.

This isn’t an argument for respecting foreign sovereignty. Talking about the sovereignty of Hussein-ruled Iraq and saying we have no right to interfere is like saying police have no right to interfere when a bank robber takes civilians and staff hostage at a bank: “No, no, this is an internal matter, best settled by those in the bank.”


No, my concern is with the rights of the citizens in the nation contemplating intervention. Federal governments have the right to spend blood and treasure defending the homeland, of course, but using society’s resources to wage war only indirectly linked to specific domestic interests gets into murky territory. Even if you believe armed intervention would have been the right action in Rwanda – and there is a case to be made for that – I question now whether it is the role of government to spend taxpayers’ money on such endeavours. Even when armed intervention is the “right thing” to do, unless it clearly protects sovereign territory, there are few circumstances where you could convince me the government has the right to take action.

So, the Iraq invasion may or may not lead to a good outcome, and there are foreign circumstances where armed intervention may or may not lead to a positive resolution. But I have changed. Where before I supported a robust foreign policy that embraced armed reform of brutal regimes, I am now predominantly isolationist, believing change at gunpoint too frequently doesn’t work. The federal government should have no right to embroil us in foreign conflicts over anything but 1) the clearest threats to Canada, or 2) in those circumstances where a very small commitment from us will have an extremely large, positive impact on those we wish to help.


  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page