Waylaid Dialectic

August 10, 2014

Why I *think* I support what Obama is doing in Iraq

Filed under: Conflict — terence @ 8:38 am

I opposed George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq. And, although I subsequently changed my mind several times, I opposed the invasion of Afghanistan in the beginning. As a teenager I opposed George HW Bush’s Iraq invasion too. My default position on war is against. As a good war movie will show you, war is hell. And it should only ever be a last resort. (This was one of the reasons I opposed the Iraq invasion of 2003. The other two key ones were: because international institutions matter; and the neo-cons clearly did not care an iota about the welfare of Iraqis, and in war motives matter for outcomes).

Yet despite all this, I think I support what Obama is doing now, for very similar reasons to those that led me to supporting the bombing if Libya.

The reason I support the bombing, and other logistical support for the Kurds (and possibly the Iraqi government), isn’t because ISIS/IS are odious (although they obviously are), or because I think they’re some existential threat to the West, or because I think the US is an altruistic defender of freedom in all instances. I support the bombing simply because if ISIS were to spill into Kurdistan humanitarian catastrophe would follow. And such circumstances are, I think, one of the few instances where military intervention is justified. Justified, because it will probably make things less worse. Not necessarily better, but at least less worse – less catastrophic.

I had opposed intervention because, on the basis of this (still excellent, and worth listening to) LSE talk, I’d thought ISIS would be little threat beyond Sunni parts of Iraq. And that even in Sunni Arab Iraq they only held sway because of discontent with the Shia dominated (and more importantly ethnically oriented) government. And that with time their own hatefulness would see them removed in the best available way, by the Sunni Arab populous.

Yet now this prognosis no longer seems right, at least in the country’s north and north east. The risk of ISIS sweeping into parts or all of Kurdish Iraq seems very real, and the potential consequences very bad. And so I think air strikes and logistical support are a good idea.

My support is agonised: air strikes will bring civilian deaths even as they save them, and they are a ridiculously expensive way of saving lives (and more profit to the hateful military industrial complex). And, as Libya shows, intervention does not guarantee a happy ending. But if Gaddafi had been able to sweep over rebel areas things likely would have been worse still. And this is what I hope US involvement can stop in Iraq too.

I’m not sure about any of this — this blog post isn’t a manifesto; it’s me trying to sort my thoughts — but for now, for what it’s worth, this is why I support what Obama is doing.



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