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Aristotle said man is a rational animal. A more cynical observer might say he is a rationalizing one. Learning is hard enough on its own, but it is nearly impossible when personal biases cloud out clear thought.
Such is the case with David French, a senior writer at National Review. On the 16th anniversary of the Iraq War last week, French published a defense of that conflict. It isn’t surprising to see why. French himself served in Iraq as a judge advocate general (JAG). He lost friends there.
Admitting that such sacrifices might well have been in vain cannot be easy. But if we fail to confront honestly the failures that led to that war then we do them and future generations an even greater disservice. We must let pretty lies perish and face the plain truth: the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.
French’s defense of the war rests on a weak foundation. He believes, contra John Quincy Adams, that America should go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.
French notes that Saddam Hussein “invaded his neighbors, gassed his people, harbored and supported terrorists, and was responsible for not one but two of the largest conventional military conflicts since World War II—the horrific Iran-Iraq war and Operation Desert Storm.”
French continues, pointing out that Hussein was the “prime supporter” of a Palestinian bombing campaign against Israel and that he “violated the Gulf War cease-fire accords, interfered with weapons inspections, and hid away chemical weapons by the thousands.” French is correct: Saddam was a nasty dictator. But this world is full of such men. Is it really America’s sacred mission to rid the world of meanness?
French says “yes.” In doing so, he ignores the wisdom of America’s Founders.
For them, the American government existed to protect the lives and liberty of “ourselves and our posterity” not of random foreigners around the globe. John Quincy Adams, again, best sums up that older view in his 1821 Independence Day Speech where he states, “[The United States] is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”
Virtually all of the reasons French lists to decry Saddam have to do with violations of other people’s rights. Saddam gassed Kurds, butchered Iranians, and attacked Israelis. But these people are not Americans. They did not consent to our government. It is not right for American elected officials to spend the blood and treasure of their fellow citizens to fight on behalf of foreigners. To do so is to reject the natural rights theory of the American Founding.
The Iraqis did not consent to our rule. Nor did the American people consent to make them our fellow citizens. When French defends the Iraq war he argues for nothing less than American empire. Apparently, the United States must govern the earth for the benefit of our supposed allies, international norms, and the amorphous principles of liberal democracy.
French makes a stab at relating the Iraq conflict to American rights, but his arguments amount to little more than mushy pabulum. He writes that Saddam threatened “vital American interests” and actively sought to kill our fellow citizens.
But what exactly were these interests? Was Saddam going to stage an amphibious landing on our shores? Would we have run out of oil if he conquered Kuwait? And just how many of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis?
If French were simply an old veteran defending his service regardless of facts that would be one thing, but his arguments are a level worse.
French doesn’t just think invading Iraq was a good idea, he thinks we ought to have deposed the Assad family in Syria as well! This is mind-boggling folly. French writes that we should have removed Bashar al-Assad from power because his “nation was caught up in the unrest and ferment of the Arab Spring—a movement that began far from the Iraq War.” This unrest caused Syria to become a “charnel house,” created “a refugee crisis that has helped destabilize Europe,” and began a conflict with ISIS that “inspired a renewed wave of terror in Europe.”
Unbelievably, French blames all this on a lack of American intervention!
He is mistaken. It was Barack Obama who said of the Middle East in May 2011 that “America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region . . .” It was the American, not the Syrian government, that fomented the Arab Spring. And it was the United States that used military force in Libya to bring down Gaddafi, an action that helped open the floodgates of refugees fleeing the crisis that followed. Again in 2011 it was Obama who called for Assad to step down, an action that encouraged the chaotic civil war in Syria. Not only that but he endorsed a secret program to funnel money and weapons to the various rebel groups opposing the Syrian government.
That decision was a disaster. Bashar al-Assad might be a bad man, but ISIS was even worse. The Syrian government never rammed trucks through crowds of European Christmas shoppers. By stoking the Syrian civil war, the United States contributed to the chaos.
By opening their borders to an influx of legal and illegal migrants, the European nations exposed themselves to terrorist violence. French acts as if the Schengen Area and the open borders policies of politicians like Angela Merkel are simply mindless acts of nature, like hurricanes. The refugee crisis did not have to happen. The governments of Europe could have stopped it. Stupid immigration policy, not foreign dictators lie at the root of that disaster.
In the end, French’s endorsement of the Iraq war and intervention amounts to a foolhardy embrace of imperialism. Invading foreign countries to defend other people’s rights leads only to disaster. Starting wars that have no direct connection to our own security is likewise stupid. The Iraq war cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to no avail. A painful but useful lesson . . . if only we’d learn it.
Photo Credit: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images