What the Civil Rights Movement Should Have Taught Us About Democracy Building





Mr. McElvaine teaches history at Millsaps College and a writer for the History News Service. His most recent book is Eve's Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History. He is currently at work on a book on the 1960s, "Oh Freedom!"

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At a time when the president of the United States has the nation involved in an open-ended War on Terror, a trial now underway in Mississippi takes us back to a time when state-sponsored terrorism existed in the United States.
 
The trial of Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman focuses attention on an era, only four decades ago, when those employing terror against outside forces they saw as invaders were inside the United States. On the surface, the goal of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964 sounds almost identical to that which President Bush established (after his original professed war aim of seizing weapons of mass destruction vanished) for his war in Iraq: bringing freedom and democracy to a closed society.
 
The 1964 Summer Project might reasonably have been called Operation Mississippi Freedom. Even if the avowed objectives of the outsiders in 1964 and today were similar, the means they employed to try to achieve those ends were radically different. That difference points up the wrong-headedness of the Bush policy in Iraq.
 
The outsiders, joined by many blacks and a few whites in Mississippi, sought to bring freedom and democracy to this state peacefully. The use of military force to improve the situation of African Americans had been tried a century before, in the 1860s. The result was more than a half million people killed. Slavery ended, but freedom and democracy lasted only during the period of military occupation that followed the Civil War. Little more than a decade after the end of that terrible war, the occupying forces were gone, and the undemocratic elements had been restored to their dominance and oppression.
 
In Mississippi in 1964, violence came from the state itself, as well as from terrorist groups and individuals who acted with well-placed confidence that the state would not punish them for their crimes. During that summer there were 65 bombings or burnings of buildings, including 35 churches and numerous homes in this state. McComb, Miss., came to be known that summer as the bombing capital of the world, a dubious distinction that Baghdad now holds. Six civil rights workers in the state were murdered and at least 80 were the victims of beatings, in many cases by the police.
 
Much as the self-professed religious Muslims associated with al-Qaida today do not hesitate to bomb mosques, Mississippi Klansmen bombed churches while claiming to be good Christians. A solemn, determined Spirit of Christian Reverence must be stimulated in all members, Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the Mississippi Klan, declared as he outlined a four-stage plan culminating in extermination.
 
Abuse of black prisoners and white civil rights workers was the norm. At Parchman State Prison Farm, civil rights workers were left naked in 40-degree weather with the windows open and fans blowing on them. They were also force-fed laxatives.
 
Especially striking is the fact that at a time when Mississippi saw itself as the place that held women in the highest esteem, many women in the civil rights movement were severely beaten while in police custody. Fannie Lou Hamer's famous, riveting testimony before the credentials committee at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, for example, recounted the brutal beatings with fists and clubs administered to her and three other women by assailants including a sheriff, a police chief and a state trooper in the jail in Winona, Miss., the previous year.
 
As Americans continue to debate the wisdom and possibilities of success of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we should compare the means and results of the two attempts to achieve analogous results in the American South. The total number of people killed in the nonviolent, nonmilitary struggle to bring freedom and democracy to the South in the 1960s was, by the count of the names inscribed on Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., 40. And the nonviolent effort succeeded, as the belated indictment of Killen -- the latest in a series of Southern atonement trials -- reconfirms.
 
These different outcomes from efforts to spread democracy and freedom through violent and nonviolent means should tell us that we are choosing the wrong methods for promoting these estimable goals. Perhaps only when violence fails will we return to the tactics of the Mississippi freedom movement.
 


This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.


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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Siegler
It is interesting to note that you have nothing to say about the AIPAC/Israeli factor in the US conquest of Iraq.
This is understandable with the increasing cost , in blood and treasure borne solely by the American tax payer, that this factor should be downplayed.
Would you care to elaborate on that factor..I am eager to read what you have to say .


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Siegler
With what you have written above, plus Mr Friedman's,still you have nothing to say about the AIPAC/Israeli role in the US conquest of Iraq!
Is this to mean that the hyper active AIPAC had no official position on the subject; was it pro, con or neutral ? That Perle, Wolfowitz, Freith , Abrams et all had all disassociated from AIPAC?
Did you, or Mr Friedman, ever address what Buchanan had to say on the subject.
If you did could you please direct me where to read it!
Why are you so ,untypically, reticent on the recent developments?
I appreciate that it is now counter productive to remind people of the AIPAC/Israeli stand on the subject; are you disowning it or just hoping that people will not remember?
With Americans falling daily and the financial cost rising exponentially; you can not say now " we have nothing to say"! Can you ?


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Friedman
What you wrote above has nothing to do with my question: where did AIPAC/Israel stand on the US conquest of IRAQ????????
Interest in IRAN does not preclude interest in IRAQ, they are two different countries; please note Q is not the same as N!
Is there something you and Mr Siegler are ashamed of for you to avoid such a simple question!
Your refusal to address this simple question is becoming really suspicious ; is it that have disowned your previous stand and do not want people to remember it!

Is the cost/benefit of declaring your previous stand, particularly re the American people, tilting away from where you hoped it would be ?
Hopefully you would note that the cost, in blood and treasure, is being borne SOLELY by the American people and the benefits are going almost SOLELY to Israel.
Is that why you avoid addressing the question of the AIPAC/Israel role in the US conquest of IRAQ;ending with a Q not an N?
Kindly bear with me and answer my question; either you or Mr Siegler or both will do!


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Not even:"Little more than a decade after the end of that terrible war, the occupying forces were gone, and the undemocratic elements had been restored to their dominance and oppression" could be said of the US conquest of Iraq.
The conquest of the American South by the North had,inter alia and to a certain degree, a genuine desire to free black men and women and establish democracy by the the standards of the day.
That was never the case in or for Iraq.
The American conquest of Iraq, which started with the sanctions, was undertaken for two simple, by neo con /AIPAC standars, basic reasons: the destruction of the Iraqi potential to challenge Israel as the regional super power and for oil.
Sooner than expected the USA will withdraw from Iraq, except for some vast militaty bases , leaving in its wake a deeply weakened and divided country ruled by Al Dawa and associates in covert alliance with the mullas of Iran.
Whether that achieves either or both objectives of the US conquest remains to be seen.


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Friedman
In short you have nothing to say on the AIPAC/Israeli role in the US conquest of IRAQ!
Very strange indeed; you seem to have somthing on almost everything else!
Verging on the suspicious unless and until we hear something from you particularly these recent days with the cost, in American blood and treasure, rising daily!
Is it that you do not care?


N. Friedman - 6/26/2005

Omar,

I do not think that Israel or AIPAC had much, if anything, to do with the war in Iraq. I said that from the beginning. You evidently do not read very carefully.

I repeat: Israel and AIPAC had nothing significant to do with the war in Iraq. That war had to do with Saddam and his regime. Israel and AIPAC were concerned - rightfully concerned - with Iran. And, if you cared about the Palestinian Arabs as much as you hated Israel, you would be concerned about Iran as well.


N. Friedman - 6/26/2005

Omar,

Telling me that Israel benefited from the Iraq war does not tell me anything about Israel's role in the US's - not Israel's - conquest of Iraq. Your alleged fact tells me that Israel received a benefit - assuming your allegation is true, and that is highly questionable -. Perhaps you do not know the difference between benefitting from something and causing something to occur.

I note: The main beneficiary to the Iraq war has been Iran. Iran is now infinitely more secure since it no longer has Saddam to worry about. Now, Iran actually has a role, via Sistani, et al., in Iraq. So, I do not accept your premise. In fact, it is certainly untrue.

Applying your logic to Iran, what was Iran's role in planning the war?

You, evidently, are obsessed with hatred for Israel. Perhaps you should look inside yourself and see the hate that is consuming you.





N. Friedman - 6/25/2005

Omar,

If you have been following the news at all - something I doubt -, you would know that AIPAC and Israel were concerned with Iran. Such has been headline news over and over again.

The reason Israel is concern with Iran is that Iran is run by lunatics. The new group of lunatics are a throwback to the lunatic dynasty that ruled Iran in the 19th and early 20th Century. They were the lunatics who, rather than eat food touched by Jews or Christians, would throw the food out. They were the lunatics who, if touched by Jews or Christians, would declare themselve religiously unclean. They were the lunatics who treated their non-Muslims dhimmis as trash - often worse - and committed serial massacres.

The new group of lunatic throwbacks now threaten to use nuclear weapons against Israel. Evidently, that is ok with you. Perhaps you have forgotten or did not realize that if Iran were to carry out its insane threat - a threat repeated numerous times and printed in Iranian publications -, such will likely kill as many Palestinian Arabs as Israelis, if not more. I gather you would accept 100,000 Palestinian Arab shahids if you can kill a few Israelis. Is that not your point, Omar?


N. Friedman - 6/25/2005

Omar,

If you have been following the news at all - something I doubt -, you would know that AIPAC and Israel were concerned with Iran. Such has been headline news over and over again.

The reason Israel is concern with Iran is that Iran is run by lunatics. The new group of lunatics are a throwback to the lunatic dynasty that ruled Iran in the 19th and early 20th Century. They were the lunatics who, rather than eat food touched by Jews or Christians, would throw the food out. They were the lunatics who, if touched by Jews or Christians, would declare themselve religiously unclean. They were the lunatics who treated their non-Muslims dhimmis as trash - often worse - and committed serial massacres.

The new group of lunatic throwbacks now threaten to use nuclear weapons against Israel. Evidently, that is ok with you. Perhaps you have forgotten or did not realize that if Iran were to carry out its insane threat - a threat repeated numerous times and printed in Iranian publications -, such will likely kill as many Palestinian Arabs as Israelis, if not more. I gather you would accept 100,000 Palestinian Arab shahids if you can kill a few Israelis. Is that not your point, Omar?



Edward Siegler - 6/24/2005

I thought that Mr. Friedman had addressed that issue so I left it alone. I'm not sure what you'd like to hear about this - perhaps that Israel is controlling American foreign policy towards the Middle East and has hustled it into a war against the people of Iraq? I don't know, but those Jews seem to be involved in a whole lot of dark conspiricies. From manipulating the world's banking system to preventing the Arab world from moving forward while conquering more territory, all the while inventing excuses to kill innocent Palestinians, you've got to wonder what those "choosen people" are really up to.

Does that do it for you?


Edward Siegler - 6/23/2005

What's amazing here, Omar, is that you romanticize the American Civil War and then demonize the overthrow of Saddam Hussein all in one breath. America fought the Civil War to preserve the Union, not to free the slaves, althought this was an outcome of the war nonetheless. Abraham Lincoln famously said that if he could preserve the union without freeing the slaves, he would. It's doubtful that many people on either side at the time believed they were fighting primarily to preserve or end the institution of slavery. Not even a neocon would describe the Civil War with the idealism that you have for it.

Your view of Iraq is much more distorted. How could the American "conquest" of Iraq have begun with sanctions (which were given strong international support)when it easily could have taken place before these sanctions went into effect - that is, in 1991 when a large coalition army stood at Iraq's doorstep, encouraged the Iraqi people to revolt, and then did nothing to support what would have been an infinitely smoother regime change than what took place in '03?

You might want to consult with the 80% of Iraq's population that has enthusiastically supported democracy before you conclude that democracy has nothing to do with what's going on there. And if the war is about oil you wouldn't know it from America (and Iraq's) complete inability to exploit this resource - not to mention the existence of near-$60 per barrel oil prices threating the American economy when U.S. troops supposedly "control" the world's second largest reserves of easily extracted oil.

Repeating the line that Iraq has been lost to Iranian Shiite domination, while it is widely accepted in the Sunni Arab world and a key factor motivating the horrific insurgency, marks you as a believer in conspiracy theories and not a serious or objective observer of events in the Middle East.


N. Friedman - 6/22/2005

Omar,

Since the Israelis made clear repeatedly that their concern was Iran, not Iraq, it is rather difficult to imagine that the war in Iraq was fought primarily to assist Israel. And, moreover, you have cause and effect confused. The US may, to some extent, control Israel, not the other way around. Only antisemites think Israel controls US policy.

And, even if Israel were, in fact, a reason for the war, so what? WWII was fought not only for American purposes but to help people in, among other places, Europe. If, in fact, the Iraq war helps Israel end its dispute with the Arab regions, so much the better for all involved. (Oh, I forgot, you do not want peace; you want to destroy Israel rather than reach a settlement. That, frankly, is your insane dream.)

You might find an Israeli who dreams to control the US on behalf of Israel but, given the administration's connection with the oil industry, Israel certainly does not control the US. If, in fact, Israel controlled the US, Israel would have the US deal with the Palestinian Arabs who, after all, are actually fighting with the Israelis.

The US sides with Israel because the US and Israel are both immigrant societies that have established democracies. The US, on the other hand, has some ecomonic connections with the Arab regions but were the oil to run out, the US's concern with the Arab regions would be the same as US concern with the Congo - basically none -. Which is to say, the US shares no values with the Arab regions since the Arab regions do not espouse democracy, are not immigrant societies, are not tolerant to minorities (or even to the majority) and have nothing, other than oil and terrorists, to offer. Which is to say, the connection with the Arabs is one of short-term economics, not a lasting connection.


Edward Siegler - 6/21/2005

One very likely result of a U.S. departure is a massacre of Iraq's Sunni population by enraged Shiites and Kurds. This may well occur even without a U.S. pullout, but the U.S will be blamed for it in either case. Iraq's Shiites are experiencing a growing anger at the Sunnis for the never-ending Sunni driven terrorism. Shiite militia leaders are confident that, barring interference from the U.S., they could end the insurgency in the traditional Middle Eastern way - with great and indiscriminate brutality. This would exterminate many Sunnis, drive even more into exile and cow the rest into submission. It is this reality that is driving many Sunni leaders to seek accomodation with the government. They know that once Shiite anger boils over, they will be held accountable for the terrorism even though these leaders have no control over the insurgency.

The withrawal-of-American-troops-will-end-the-violence nonsense dangerously underestimates just how bad the situation in Iraq could get. Take a look at what happened in South-East Asia after 1975 for a likely preceedent.


Edward Siegler - 6/21/2005

One very likely result of a U.S. departure is a massacre of Iraq's Sunni population by enraged Shiites and Kurds. This may well occur even without a U.S. pullout, but the U.S will be blamed for it in either case. Iraq's Shiites are experiencing a growing anger at the Sunnis for the never-ending Sunni driven terrorism. Shiite militia leaders are confident that, barring interference from the U.S., they could end the insurgency in the traditional Middle Eastern way - with great and indiscriminate brutality. This would exterminate many Sunnis, drive even more into exile and cow the rest into submission. It is this reality that is driving many Sunni leaders to seek accomodation with the government. They know that once Shiite anger boils over, they will be held accountable for the terrorism even though these leaders have no control over the insurgency.

The withrawal-of-American-troops-will-end-the-violence nonsense dangerously underestimates just how bad the situation in Iraq could get. Take a look at what happened in South-East Asia after 1975 for a likely preceedent.


N. Friedman - 6/21/2005

Oscar,

Regarding discussion about withdrawing: I think it depends, at the very least, on what is to be discussed.

If the discussions are to set a date, that tells the insurgents, but most especially the Jihadis, that they win and they will seek to kill as many of us as possible so that it appears we left under fire. That would amount to the Jihadis winning a humongous victory.

If we set out the conditions that must be established, I am not sure that such would be any different for the Jihadis than setting a date. Perhaps the insurgents, depending on our conditions, will quiet down in order to get rid of us so they can thereafter fight the Shi'a. Setting conditions might also deprive the Jihadis of an ally - with the insurgents not desposed to fight us further - so that we might be better positioned to take the Jihadis on. On the other hand, I am not sanguine that we can set conditions which will quiet down the insurgents since we, quite obviously, want them to cooperate with the Shi'a led government.

Two other points:

1. Shi'a rule of Sunnis is to Iraq what Black rule of the US would have been to the US in the 1930's. Which is to say, I do not see much of a settlement with Shi'a rule that outlasts our presence in the region.

2. The idea floated a year or so ago (I believe by Leslie Gelb) to allow Iraq to be divided into three countries seems so much more reasonable than forcing Shi'a rule on unwilling Sunnis. One of the main stumbling blocks is Turkey and Syria which really do not want an independent Kurdistan since both countries have large and not necessarily happy Kurdish regions that could be expected to want to add their homes to Kurdistan.


Edward Siegler - 6/21/2005

Mr. Chamberlain - Machiavelli wrote (I'm paraphrasing here) that if "the prince" achieves victory, then the means used to obtain that victory will be seen as justified. This is in essence what you are saying, and I think it carries a great deal of truth, for better or for worse.

The following article is one of the better ones I've read recently about the Iraq War, and so I feel compelled to reproduce it here:

Whether This War Was Worth It
In Analyzing Iraq, Consider the Effects of Having Done Nothing

By Robert Kagan

Sunday, June 19, 2005; Page B07

Serious scholars still debate whether the Civil War was necessary, never mind the more obvious "wars of choice" such as World War I, the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, the Korean War, wars in Vietnam and Kosovo, and the Persian Gulf War. To a certain brand of American isolationist, even World War II was unnecessary and counterproductive. So there is nothing remarkable about polls showing Americans wondering whether the recent Iraq war was "worth it." It is a great American myth, voiced by John Kerry last year, that

the nation goes to war only when there is no question about the necessity of going to war. There's always a question. Even if the Iraqi insurgency disappeared tomorrow, George Ibrahim al Washington became president of Iraq and every liter of Saddam Hussein's onetime stockpile of chemical and biological weapons suddenly appeared in the desert, his-


torians would still spend

the next century debating whether the war was "worth it."

Wars remain subjects of debate not just because their "necessity" is in doubt but also because their results are mixed. No war has produced unmitigated successes. The Civil War did not completely "free" African Americans, who remained oppressed for another century. World War I destroyed Europe, and helped pave the way for the rise of Hitler and the Soviet Union. World War II defeated Hitler but enslaved half of Europe behind the Iron Curtain and introduced the world to nuclear warfare. The Persian Gulf War drove Hussein out of Kuwait but helped produce the Osama bin Laden we know today. Add to that the millions of innocent lives lost, and the toll of these wars, generally regarded as "successful," is high. Does that mean those wars were not "worth it"? Demanding unmixed results and guarantees against the unintended consequences of war is as unrealistic as demanding absolute confidence in the "necessity" of going to war in the first place.

One simple answer to the problem is not to go to war, ever. But for those not inclined to absolute pacifism, the question of whether a war is worth it has to go beyond such simple categories as "necessity" and whether or not the aftermath of war is an unmitigated success. It requires delving into the messier and hazier calculations that good historians spend careers contemplating.

One problem is that we always know what did happen as a result of war, but we never know what didn't happen. What if we had not gone to war in Europe in 1917, Korea in 1950, or even Vietnam in the 1960s? Would we have rued those decisions not to act as much as we now rue the decision not to drive Hitler out of the Rhineland in 1936? To answer such questions requires predicting, with only the conflicting and incomplete evidence available, what the world would have looked like had we not gone to war. We know what happened as a result of not going to war in 1936. We know, in particular, that British efforts to avoid war in 1936 and then in 1938 at Munich did not prevent war at all but only delayed it. Yet we can only try to guess what might have happened had Imperial Germany been allowed to conquer Europe, or had communist victories in Korea and Vietnam been allowed to stand unchallenged. A few years ago Michael Lind wrote a provocative book titled "Vietnam: The Necessary War," in which he argued that, even knowing what we know now, it was correct for the United States to fight a limited, losing war in Southeast Asia -- to "lose well," as he put it -- rather than allow a quick and easy communist victory.

To assess whether the Iraq war was worth it requires seriously posing the question: What would have happened if the Bush administration had not gone to war in March 2003? That is a missing but essential piece of the current very legitimate debate. We all know what has gone wrong since the Iraq war began, but it is not as if, in the absence of a war, everything would have gone right. Those who want to have this debate cannot simply point to the terrible toll in casualties. They have to address the question of what the alternative to war really would have meant.

There is not much dispute about what kind of leader Saddam Hussein was. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright once compared him to Hitler, and the comparison was apt in a couple of ways. Hussein, as we will soon relearn in excruciating detail, had contempt for human life and no qualms about killing thousands of his own citizens and many thousands more of his neighbors' citizens, about torturing women and children and about using any type of weapon he could buy or manufacture to burn, poison, infect and incinerate political opponents and even entire populations, so long as they were too weak to fight back. This alone placed him in a special class of historical figures, a not irrelevant factor in determining whether his removal, even at the present cost, was worth it. Was it not worth at least some sacrifice to remove such a man from power?


Amore intriguing question is whether a decision not to go to war in 2003 would have produced lasting peace or would only have delayed war until a later date -- as in the 1930s. There is a strong argument to be made that Hussein would have pushed toward confrontation and war at some point, no matter what we did. His Hitler-like megalomania does not seem to be in question. He patiently, brutally pushed his way to power in Iraq, then set about brutally and impatiently making himself the dominant figure in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, using war and the threat of war as his principal tools. In the early 1980s he invaded Iran and fought it to a bloody standstill for the better part of a decade. No sooner had that war ended than he invaded Kuwait. He fancied himself the new Saladin, much as Napoleon and Hitler had fancied themselves the new Caesar.

Many argue that, even if all this is true, Hussein was nevertheless contained through sanctions and no-fly zones and therefore could be deterred. Many advanced this argument before the war, too, even when they believed with as much certainty as the Bush administration that Hussein did have stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. And, indeed, although for most Americans the question of whether the war was "worth it" revolves around the failure to discover the stockpiles that most believed he had, nevertheless the key issue, I believe, remains the same as before that failure: whether Hussein could have been contained.

For another fact not in dispute is that Hussein remained keenly interested in and committed to acquiring weapons of mass destruction, that he maintained secretive weapons programs throughout the 1990s and indeed right up until the day of the invasion, and that he was only waiting for the international community to lose interest or stamina so that he could resume his programs unfettered. This is the well-documented, unrefuted -- and unnoticed -- conclusion of both David Kay and Charles Duelfer. Whether Hussein would have eventually succeeded in acquiring these weapons would have depended on other nations' will and ability to stop him.

That is a question to which we will never have a definitive answer, and yet it is critical to any judgment about the merits of the war. The most sensible argument for the invasion was not that Hussein was about to strike the United States or anyone else with a nuclear bomb. It was that containment could not be preserved indefinitely, that Hussein was repeatedly defying the international community and that his defiance appeared to both the Clinton and Bush administrations to be gradually succeeding. He was driving a wedge between the United States and Britain, on one side, which wanted to maintain sanctions and containment, and France, Russia, and China, on the other, which wanted to drop sanctions and normalize relations with him. The main concern of senior officials in both administrations was that, in the words of then-national security adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger, containment was not "sustainable over the long run." The pattern of the 1990s, "Iraqi defiance, followed by force mobilization on our part, followed by Iraqi capitulation," had left "the international community vulnerable to manipulation by Saddam." The longer the standoff continued, Berger warned in 1998, "the harder it will be to maintain" international support for containing Hussein. Nor did Clinton officials doubt what Hussein would do if and when containment collapsed. As Berger put it, "Saddam's history of aggression, and his recent record of deception and defiance, leave no doubt that he would resume his drive for regional domination if he had the chance." Nor should we assume that, even if the United States and others had remained vigilant, Hussein could have been deterred from doing something to provoke a conflict. Tragic miscalculation was Hussein's specialty, after all, as his invasions of Iran and Kuwait proved.

It is entirely possible, in short, that if the Bush administration had not gone to war in 2003, the United States might have faced a more dangerous and daring Saddam Hussein later on and felt compelled to act. So, in addition to whatever price might have been paid, certainly by the Iraqi people and possibly by Iraq's neighbors, for leaving Saddam in power, we might have wound up going to war anyway. There is the further question of what the entire Middle East would have looked like with a defiant, increasingly liberated Hussein still in power. To quote Berger again, so long as Hussein remained "in power and in confrontation with the world," Iraq would remain "a source of potential conflict in the region," and, perhaps more important, "a source of inspiration for those who equate violence with power and compromise with surrender." Whether historians judge the war favorably will depend heavily on whether post-Hussein Iraq does indeed provide a different sort of inspiration, but, again, the effort to change the direction of the region was surely worth paying some price.

This may be no solace to those who have lost loved ones in this war -- and it certainly does not absolve the Bush administration from the errors that it made before and after the war and continues to make today. But these are the kinds of considerations that ought to be part of any serious debate over whether the war in Iraq was "worth it."

Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes a monthly column for The Post.




Oscar Chamberlain - 6/21/2005

I agree we must continue in Iraq, though I think a discussion of when to withdraw would be salutary.

I also agree that we must look at how we ended up in Iraq. Unfortunately, I don't think that a majority of the American people are capable of separating consideration of how the war began from how it ended.

If, in the end, they perceive victory, then no findings of Bush's dishonesty will have much weight. (For like reason, FDR's involvement of the US in a secret and arguable illegal naval war against Germany in the months before WWII does not detract from FDR's reputation.)

On the other hand, if they perceive defeat, they will tend to see Bush as dishonest (just as today most Americans look back at LBJ and Nixon as dishonest and often do not see just how hard it would have been to say no to that war).


Nathaniel Brian Bates - 6/20/2005

I must agree. The Sunnis may or may not be "racist" in some constructed sense. However, they can be compared to other extreme right anti-democratic movements throughout history. Their "anti-imperialism" is not Progressive. It is reactionary.

Whether the invasion was morally ethical or not, we are now obligated, under God, to do our duty to promote free, liberal and democratic institutions. We cannot withdraw like the North did after the Civil War because that would be abrogating our spiritual duty.

We must also have a full investigation of 9-11, the Downing Street Memo, Halliburton, and the Bush-Hussein-Bin Laden connection. At the same time, we are obligated to finish the job of building civil society in Afghanistan and Iraq. Pulling out would let evil triumph. Then, maybe, we can come home and begin to promote these things in our own country again.


Edward Siegler - 6/20/2005

"Non-violent resistance" is the key to stabilizing Iraq. Give me a fucking break.

The horrific treatment of blacks in the American South was something that had to be ended, just as the horror of Saddam Hussein's regime had to be ended. Injustice on this scale has to be addressed because it effects us all on some level. Beyond this, the parallels between the Civil Rights movement and the Iraq War are nonexistent.

The freedom riders were not the only thing that brought reform to the South. It was the threat of force, backed by the national guard and the attorney general's office, that provided a powerful incentive to change. Similarly, there can be no question that the insurgents in Iraq will not be affected by any form of non-violent resistance. The insurgents are known to torture and kill anyone who so much as looks at them the wrong way. However the article is correct in implying that Iraq's insurgents are similar to the KKK in their fundamentally racist goal, which is to reestablish Sunni rule.

It's nice to think that the emergence of a Gandhi or Martin Luther King-type figure in Iraq could end the violence there, and this certainly could be the case if such a figure emerges from within the Sunni community and gains a wide following. But this analysis forgets that every government is ultimately based on force, and Iraq's government is no exception. Iraq is in need of a strong military and police force to reestablish order and defeat this Sunni attempt regain control (known as the insurgency) that is bleeding the country. Pretending otherwise, and forgetting the role of government coersion in the Civil Rights movement, amounts to a case of wishful thinking.

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