I am disturbed to see my local paper publish such a poorly thought-out opinion piece as Carl P. Leubsdorf's "Iraq's hard realities apply to Syria, too" in the Monday, April 1, edition. Perhaps that's the tip-off. It was all a spoof for April Fools' Day ... but I don't think so.
Leubsdorf wished to draw lessons from the U.S. experience in Iraq as a way of preventing mistakes in our current engagement with the civil war in Syria. A laudable purpose; unfortunately, his article is shot through with false analogies and misstatements of fact that irreparably damage his arguments.
To begin, he quotes a New York Times article stating that the war in Iraq "was based on faulty intelligence manipulated for ideological reasons. The terrible human and economic costs over the past 10 years show why that must never happen again." Then, without addressing any of the facts in that statement, he quotes unnamed supporters who say the war succeeded in creating a democratic Iraq. This is a completely spurious argument since creating a democratic Iraq was never one of the stated goals of going to war and this is not in any way a contrast to The New York Times statement. Another unfortunate example of "balance" in journalism, perhaps, in which differing claims are presented as equally valid when in fact they are not.
Leubsdorf goes on to assert that the justification for the Iraq War was to create a stable Iraq. At no time was this justification ever presented prior to our starting the war. And even if it were, it is demonstrably true that Iraq is considerably less stable today than it was before the war that we started there.
The Middle East is much less stable today as a result of our destruction of Iraq than it was before we started. We strengthened Iran's hand by taking away their leading enemy that was holding this radical regime in check. We sent hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into Syria and Jordan. We recruited hundreds if not thousands of new al-Qaida recruits by starting a war against a Muslim nation that had done nothing to us, no matter how odious its government was. We spent more than $4 trillion to do this.
He then goes on to say that the broad policy question that arose in Iraq is the degree to which the United States should intervene in foreign conflicts. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was no foreign conflict in Iraq in which we intervened; there was only a conflict that we started. Since this is the point where the author attempts to pivot to the present situation in Syria, the rest of his argument is moot.
The final and in many ways most egregiously bad analogy is in the final paragraph in which the author asserts that the lesson of Iraq, as in Vietnam, is that once a commitment is given to play small role in a foreign conflict, it becomes very hard to prevent that small role from growing.
We started the conflict in Iraq, so the premise of the analogy is dead on arrival — there wasn't some civil war in Iraq or anything like that before we started it. But even if there had been, sending an army to destroy a regime and then rule the country is hardly a "small commitment." Second, the author misses the accurate analogy to draw from Vietnam, which is that wars started under false pretenses (remember the Gulf of Tonkin?) will never go well.
Apparently, Leubsdorf wishes to counsel caution before getting deeply involved in Syria, a stance I agree with. Unfortunately, the analogy he attempts to draw with the Iraq War completely fails to support his point.
Joseph Friedman lives in Ashland.