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Piñata diplomacy: Righting our wrongs over Iraq

“We might test judgement by asking, on the issue of Iraq, who best anticipated how events turned out.”

– Michael Ignatieff, in his 2007 essay “Getting Iraq Wrong”

Ask my mom – she’ll tell you I’m terrible at admitting my mistakes: I pout; I throw a temper tantrum. Yet today, I humbly prostrate myself and beg forgiveness for a past error. I trust you shall readily grant me that mercy.

In 2003, I was too young to have formed an opinion on the invasion of Iraq. But as my consciousness ripened, as I saw the mounting death tolls and the Bush administration’s apparent disregard for and disconnect from reality – I concluded that the foreign troop presence in Mesopotamia couldn’t possibly yield any further benefits unless immediately discontinued.

But when I look at Iraq today, I am forced to admit that my previous conclusions were both premature and inaccurate.

This is not to say that the ends necessarily justify the means. Donald Rumsfeld screwed up the means by sending the military in with too few troops; L. Paul Bremer, the American civilian administrator at the beginning of the reconstruction, did the same by disbanding the Iraqi military – everyone screwed up. But the ends – the serious possibility of a democratic stability – do justify the idea that there had to be something done, and imploring Saddam Hussein to, as Obama would say, “unclench his fist,” was never going to work.

Iraq had provincial elections a few weeks ago. There were scattered episodes of violence, a handful of assassinations, sure – but there was certainly not even a semblance of the violence that plagued the Iraqi elections in recent years. Progress has been forged and maintained.

After all the talk of an impending and all-encompassing civil war, which would surely envelop the entire region in a protracted and bloody sectarian conflict; after Joe Biden’s ridiculous plan to partition the country into three separate and sovereign entities; after all the uproar about Bush’s surge – the Iraq War is well on the way to being a success.

Now, we former critics of the war need to ask ourselves: are we to disregard this success? Or shall we remain under the bizarre illusion that this all would have just happened one day, no violence required? How about after Saddam died and was replaced by his two sons, Uday and Qusay, both far more feared and sadistic than their father ever was: would it have happened then? Don’t send me hate mail unless you are willing to answer yes to all of these questions.

Also, I know it’s hard, but we should be able to admit that it was not a war for oil. I even remember posting on my AIM profile the acronym of, “Operation Iraqi Liberation,” as if I had used my super sleuth powers to discover the awful government secret. We were all so sure the oil profit windfalls would go directly toward offsetting the cost of annually replacing Dick Cheney’s pacemaker. But it looks like American companies might not even get those precious post-war oil contracts.

Now, we see a French president visiting Iraq for the first time since the 2003 invasion. “We say to French companies that the time has come to return to Iraq,” Nicolas Sarkozy said during a joint news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. “I came to show France’s willingness to take part in the economic development of Iraq, in the rehabilitation of its infrastructure. Our collaboration has no limits.” This is certainly an important step.

And can’t Michael Ignatieff admit that he was wrong about being wrong about Iraq? Apparently he cannot, and will not. Ignatieff wrote in the same essay quoted above: “Politics is theatre. It is part of the job to pretend to have emotions that you do not actually feel.” Sorry, I suppose it is, after all, too much to expect a politician to be candid. Silly me.

Former war critics will prove themselves complete hacks unless they voluntarily demonstrate the humility and the realism that they, for so long, declared missing in the war’s supporters. I went first; now you.

Thanks to our reading week hiatus, Ricky’s column won’t be back until February 9. Do like the man said and send hate mail to