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09.19.2005 12:43 | DISPATCHES

Eric Alterman watched the Hitchens Galloway debate and came away feeling sick:

I was disgusted to watch the Hitchens/Galloway debate on CSPAN yesterday. Both are brilliant debaters without much care whether the points they are making are consistent with the known evidence. Galloway is a considerably more offensive individual, and while he's right about much of what he says regarding Iraq, he's right for all the wrong reasons. He is the face of that part of the global left that really does abhor democracy and blames Israel for everything. My old friend Hitchens, on the other hand, still cannot come to grips with the fact that most people who opposed the war a) supported a war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, despite its having been bungled by this administration and b) do not "prefer" that Saddam Hussein remain in power any more than he would prefer that thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis be killed for no earthly reason. One's position on the war is a matter of weighing costs and benefits. Virtually everyone who supported it, and I include many of my close friends in this category, lost sight of this fact and allowed themselves to be taken in by a group of charlatans and ideologues selling what ultimately amounted to strategic snake oil. Pointing out the evil of Saddam is not an argument. Pointing to the results of the war is. On that score, rather than Galloway or Christopher, I think I'll take my side with the British Colonel Tim Collins, who gave a celebrated speech to his troops about their mission to liberate, not conquer, in Iraq, but has since left the army and offered this comment in the Observer yesterday entitled, "This is a mess of our own making." He observes:

What I had not realized was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might. We were to beat the Iraqis. That simple. Everything would come together after that.

The Iraqi army was defeated - it walked away from most fights - but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment. The Baath party was left undisturbed. The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organize the insurrection. A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived.

One cannot help but wonder what it was all about. If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda ever: a sort of large-scale equivalent of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, which in its day filled the ranks of the IRA. If it was an attempt to influence the price of oil, then the motorists who queued last week would hardly be convinced. If freedom and a chance to live a dignified, stable life free from terror was the motive, then I can think of more than 170 families in Iraq last week who would have settled for what they had under Saddam. UK military casualties reached 95 last week. I nightly pray the total never reaches 100.

...It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on. It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice. The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive. This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.


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