Foreign Policy

Liberators or Invaders?

Two views of American power

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It's war. This weekend's summit in the Azores has made it clear that the United States and its "coalition of the willing" plan to arrange for a "regime change" in Iraq in the very near future. Will American troops be hailed as liberators or resisted as invaders?

The dictionary states that an invader is "someone who enters by force in order to conquer." On the other hand, a liberator is defined as "someone who releases people from captivity or bondage." So are the United States and Britain planning on conquering Iraq or releasing its people from bondage?

The Azores summit declaration states, "The Iraqi people deserve to be lifted from insecurity and tyranny, and freed to determine for themselves the future of their country. We envisage a unified Iraq with its territorial integrity respected. All the Iraqi people—its rich mix of Sunni and Shiite Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and all others—should enjoy freedom, prosperity, and equality in a united country. We will support the Iraqi people's aspirations for a representative government that upholds human rights and the rule of law as cornerstones of democracy."

Of course, some opponents of the impending war would argue that this is just window dressing for a war aimed at plundering Iraq's oil riches. But history suggests that that outcome is unlikely. After World War II, fought against two empires that definitely intended to plunder other countries, the United States and its allies let its former enemies, Germany and Japan, regain their sovereignty and independence.

The history of America's post-World War II military interventions has not been perfectly glorious nor perhaps even always well thought out, but American troops have always gone home. This includes interventions in places like Panama, Grenada, Lebanon, Haiti, Somalia and the Dominican Republic. Even in the 1991 war with Iraq, our troops withdrew to Iraq's previous borders. The United Nations and the European Community found themselves helpless to stop the slaughter of ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslav republics. The wars there stopped only after American military intervention. Doubtless American military forces will one day leave Afghanistan too.

Some commentators argue that the rhetoric of liberation is essentially racist and is being used as a cover to install pro-Western regimes. And in a sense, that view is correct. If the United States and its allies actually succeed in fulfilling the promises of the Azores declaration, e.g,, establishing a "representative government that upholds human rights and the rule of law as cornerstones of democracy," such regimes have proven almost automatically to become "pro-Western." My bet is that if such a regime does in fact come into existence, the Iraqi people will regard the impending war as a war of liberation and not an invasion. But that's a big if.