Foreign Policy

Iraq Progress Report

Advocates for liberty weigh in after three years

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As the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq approaches, Reason asked a wide range of libertarian, conservative, and freedom-minded journalists and academics to assess the war, the occupation, and how their views have or have not changed.

Unifying the insurgency

W. James Antle III

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

I opposed the Iraq war, though regrettably I did hedge in the month before the invasion.

2. Have you changed your position?

Yes—even as an opponent of the war, I was too trusting of the hawks' arguments concerning weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's propensity for anti-American terrorism. My basic views on the inadvisability of democratic nation-building, however, remain unchanged.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

The only thing unifying the insurgency is the continued American presence. An orderly withdrawal, while no panacea, would cause the insurgency to divide against itself and allow Iraq's ethno-religious factions to chart their own course.

W. James Antle III is a senior writer for The American Conservative.

Scrap the current constitution

Ronald Bailey

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

Yes.

2. Have you changed your position?

Not yet—but the history of the last three years in Iraq has greatly deepened my appreciation of the Federal government's abilty to screw up anything. It might have been different as I outlined in my August 2005 column "Iraq 2007."

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Train sufficient Iraqi forces to secure the country's borders and scrap the current constitution and encourage a transition to a loose confederation of democratically self-governing Sunni, Kurdish and Shi'a regions and then get out. I offered a similar plan in my January 2005 "Free Kurdistan!"

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent.

Let the Shiite Crescent bloom

Tim Cavanaugh

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No, which is not the same as saying I don't believe the United States is engaged in a serious, multi-dimensional struggle against radical Islam, and that intelligent use of violence is an important tool in that fight. (I don't know whether we still need to draw this distinction, but I haven't forgotten being called a traitor and fifth columnist for suggesting the invasion of Iraq was ill-advised.)

2. Have you changed your position?

Somewhat, but like Rhett Butler, I won't join a cause until it's truly lost. The occupation has gone better than any prudent person had a right to expect, and the failure of so many hawks to understand this shows how unserious they were all along. What made the invasion a mistake was not any particular fact on the ground in Iraq, but the three-year, day-by-day demonstration it has given our country's enemies (Iran most notably) of the precise limits of American power and resolve. The lessons our real enemies learn from this will come back to haunt us; that's why some guy way back in the 1900s said something about speaking softly and carrying a big stick.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Let the Shiite Crescent bloom: We've already spent thousands of lives and half a trillion dollars inadvertently nurturing it, so we might at least get the incremental benefit of having a deadly rival to the Salafists who are even more determined than the Shiites to destroy our civilization. (Just so, we should have let the Iranians finish kicking Saddam's ass in the 1980s.) That means accepting the current Mullahfied Iraqi government and leaving it to brutalize the Sunnis at will. This might offend our sense of decency, but if we stay in the country, the same historical forces that drove the British, the Turks, and all other visitors to back the Sunnis over the Shiites will drive us down the same road.

Tim Cavanaugh is Reason's web editor.

Declare victory

Brian Doherty

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No.

2. Have you changed your position?

No.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

With a democratically elected Iraqi government in place and Saddam's (nonexistent) threat of WMDs gone, declare victory and pull out troops with all dispatch.

Brian Doherty is a senior editor of Reason magazine and author of This is Burning Man (Little, Brown).

Consider a division

David Friedman

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No. I thought it was probably a mistake, although I did not have enough information to be certain.

2. Have you changed your position?

I am now more confident it was a mistake.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

The U.S. should leave, if possible in a way that permits the Iraqis to make arrangements that do not result in large numbers of people being killed. That might involve a de jure, or at least de facto, division of the country.

I am not an expert on Iraq, and it is hard to know for certain whose account of the situation to believe. But those are my best guesses.

David Friedman is a professor of law at Santa Clara University and the author of many books, including The Machinery of Freedom: A guide to radical capitalism and the new novel A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq (Plume).

Remember a pressing engagement

Wendy McElroy

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

I opposed the invasion on both principled and practical grounds

2. Have you changed your position?

My opposition has deepened as the war has exceeded my worst fears in duration, blatant economic motives, political incompetence and military brutality.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Get out right now. Declare victory, declare defeat, remember a pressing engagement back home… it doesn't matter what reason is given. Get out immediately.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.net, a weekly columnist for FOX News, and the author of several books on anarchism and on feminism. She maintains a daily blog at www.wendymcelroy.com.

Recruits, inspiration, targets

John Mueller

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

I opposed it, as my 2003 commentary in Reason will indicate. One comment about the link between a war in Iraq and terrorism from that: "it seems likely that an attack will supply them with new recruits, inspire them to even more effort, and provide them with inviting new targets in the foreign military and civilian forces that occupy a defeated, chaotic Iraq."

2. Have you changed your position?

Hardly. The main issue now is whether the war has become the greatest debacle in American foreign policy history or only the second greatest, after Vietnam.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

A considerable number, maybe a vast majority, of the insurgents are fighting because the country has been invaded and occupied. Since the American presence is the cause of their participation in the insurgency, their incentive to fight would accordingly vanish if the United States pulled out. It's an experiment well worth conducting.

John Mueller is a professor of political science at Ohio State University. His most recent book is The Remnants of War. His next, nearing completion, is currently titled, Devils and Duct Tape: Terrorism and the Dynamics of Threat Exaggeration.

No Monday-morning quarterbacking

Charles Murray

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

Yes.

2. Have you changed your position?

No. I'm as critical a Monday-morning quarterback as anyone else, but I think the administration's rationale for invading Iraq was correct, and an American president who had not invaded, given the information he had for making the decision, would have been irresponsible.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Damned if I know.

Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Six months or sooner

William A. Niskanen

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No.

2. Have you changed your position?

No.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Announce that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq within six months of a request from the Iraqi government. Leave earlier if necessary to avoid involvement in an Iraqi civil war.

William A. Niskanen is chairman of the Cato Institute

Fashion a tolerable compromise

Tom G. Palmer

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No, I opposed it. I listened to the case, but I was not convinced by the administration's arguments or evidence.

2. Have you changed your position?

No, I have not, I think it was a mistake. But it is also a mistake that was made and so the question is not only what to have done, but what to do now.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

The US government should be clear that the US will withdraw all of its troops after a reasonable period of time to allow the Iraqi government to fashion a tolerable domestic political compromise among those who are willing to tolerate each other and to defeat enough of the terrorists to give the process some chance of success.

Tom G. Palmer is a senior fellow of the Cato Institute and a founder of the Lamp of Liberty, an Arabic-language libertarian website.

No, no, go

Charles V. Peña

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No.

2. Have you changed your position?

No.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Exit promptly; no later than the end of the year.

Charles V. Peña is a senior fellow at the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and the author of Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.

Maintain a sustainable troop level

Jonathan Rauch

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

On the fence. Leaned in favor but uneasily.

2. Have you changed your position?

Retrospectively, the invasion was a mistake. If I knew then what I know now, I'd have opposed it. But then, if he knew then what we know now, Bush would not have proposed it.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

I'm with Nick Gillespie. Ebbing public support makes the operation unsustainable at current troop levels; pulling out entirely could cause a (heightened) civil war. Little choice but to reduce forces in a phased withdrawal. I think something like 40,000 or 50,000 troops could be sustained indefinitely (at least if there's apparent political progress in Iraq), which buys some time.

Jonathan Rauch is a senior writer for National Journal and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Win

Glenn Reynolds

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

Yes.

2. Have you changed your position?

No. Sanctions were failing and Saddam was a threat, making any other action in the region impossible.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Win.

Glenn Reynolds runs the blog Instapundit and is the author of An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths

Fascists and fascism

Louis Rossetto

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

Yes, both the one that didn't happen in 1991 and the one that did in 2003. But Iraq is not the war, it is a battle. The war is The Long War against Islamic fascism.

2. Have you changed your position?

If anything, I believe even more strongly in actively combating Islamic fascism throughout the Global Village. Everyday is Groundhog Day for the anti-war movement, which is stuck re-protesting Vietnam — while we are confronted by a uniquely 21st century challenge: a networked fascist movement of super-empowered individuals trying to undo 50K years of social evolution. Waiting to get hit by an NBC weapon is not an option. Dhimmitude for me or my children is not peace. Righteous forward defense is a necessity.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

The US should persevere militarily until we defeat the fascists in Iraq, as we did in Afghanistan, as we must everywhere. The US's biggest failure has not been on the battlefield — where we are relentlessly reducing our enemies — but in waging media war against the Islamists and their fellow travelers on the Left, and in rallying the American people, who are confused, and perhaps angered, that once again we are being called upon to save the world.

Louis Rossetto is the founder of Wired magazine

Three-state solution

Jacob Sullum

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No.

2. Have you changed your position?

No.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Get out as quickly as possible without leaving behind utter chaos. The best hope for stability may be to let Iraq split into three countries, or three autonomous sections with a weak central government.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor of Reason and a syndicated columnist.

Retire the Rusmfeld-Cheney gang

Jon Basil Utley

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No, I strongly opposed it. My column "Seven (revised Eight) Lies about Iraq" was a key piece for four years.

2. Have you changed your position?

I did not change. Everything happened as we feared, with all options now being bad.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Retire the Rusmfeld-Cheney Gang and their staffs; those who were wrong mainly now want to justify past mistakes. Use knowledgeable State and Defense Middle East experts to implement a new policy. Work with Europeans for a common front and policy. Renounce permanent military bases in Iraq. Demand dismantlement of settlements on the West Bank and work with peace parties in Israel for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. This would regain for America our lost legitimacy.

Jon Basil Utley, a longtime commentator at Voice of America who writes regularly about foreign policy, is associate publisher of The American Conservative.

A little smugger

Jesse Walker

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No.

2. Have you changed your position?

No, but I've probably gotten a little smugger about it.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Get out in the least damaging manner possible. That will probably entail splitting the country in three.

Managing Editor Jesse Walker is the author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America (NYU Press).

Don't put me in charge

Matt Welch

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No. Nor did I oppose it.

2. Have you changed your position?

Slightly. What kept me from opposing the war outright was:

1) I thought it very likely the Saddam Hussein regime had WMDs, and that the West would never have a mechanism for real weapons inspections without the credible threat of military intervention;
2) I thought there was far more international/legal justification for bombing Iraq than there ever was for bombing Kosovo (an action which, at the time, I supported);
3) Saddam's totalitarian reign was one whose end I would not weep for.

In short, I supported the bluff (though not, of course, the exact way it was made), and then hoped we wouldn't call it. Which isn't very intellectually defensible, but there you go.

What has changed about my position (as opposed to the changes in presumed facts) is that I'm even more worried than I was in spring 2003 (which was a lot) that cranky interventionism (or Jacksonian Wilsonianism, as I don't like to call it), is a terrible approach to foreign policy, because it extends our resources, enlarges the target on our back, feeds into the anti-American pathology that comes when we and only we flex the only Power that matters, and leads to the corruption that inevitably accompanies an expansion of power. Which is to say, the stuff I thought might go bad has gone far worse than I feared.

All that said, I have reserved space in my brain for the possibility that in the long view, this will have turned out to be a daring and revolutionarily pro-demcratic (if hugely flawed) act.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

I have no earthly idea. Maybe the most sensible thing to do is the most radical — separate the warring parties both physically and geographically. That is to say, stop trying to prop up the arguably untenable fiction that a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, post-colonial, mid-FUBAR country can become the 21st century Switzerland, and instead hasten the business of dividing the pie up into three (or whatever) countries. This would probably set a terrible precedent, but it's hard to see how it can be much worse than the one we've established now.

Matt Welch, a former assistant editor of Reason, is assistant editorial page editor at the Los Angeles Times, and propietor of mattwelch.com.

Non-invasive individuals

Robert Anton Wilson

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

No. I loathe invasions and occupations and all violence against non-invasive individuals.

2. Have you changed your position?

Yes. I oppose the invasion even more vehemently, since Bush has used it as an excuse to destroy the last few tattered remnants of the Bill of Rights.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Stop killing people, bring the troops home, and rebuild Katrina damage. (But they never listen to me.)

Robert Anton Wilson is the coauthor of Illuminatus!. His latest book is Email To the Universe.

Buttress, counterbalance, prevent

Michael Young

1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

Yes, I did. Saddam's fall was too appealing a prospect not to.

2. Have you changed your position?

No. I regret that the U.S. mismanaged the aftermath, breaking the momentum to turn Iraq into a stable, acceptably pluralist system. This will have negative repercussions for democracy in the region. But I find that an American withdrawal today would be disastrous for the Iraqis.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

It should maintain its military presence, even if that means modifying it in such a way as to avoid the semblance of military occupation. It should plan to stick around for the long term, regardless of domestic pressures. And it should oversee a genuine, consensual process of national dialogue and stabilization in Iraq, not a self-defeating handing over of power to security forces that are, in reality, cover for sectarian militias. This continued American presence is essential—to buttress democratic forces elsewhere in the region, to counterbalance Iran's growing power, and to prevent the outbeak of civil war in Iraq.

Reason contributing editor Michael Young edits the opinion page of the Beirut Daily Star