Journalists, like generals, have learnt lessons from the last war. Eight years ago, too many pundits bought the party line and proclaimed that the fall of Saddam Hussein would bring peace, prosperity, and democracy to Iraq. Having been proven so wrong, they do not wish to make the same mistake twice. So our airwaves crackle with fears that sectarian conflict could ensue in Libya, as in Iraq, or anarchy as in Somalia, and we in the west might miss the good old days of Muammar Gaddafi.
I think this is a misreading of Iraqi history and much too pessimistic. First, it ignores the devastating effect of twelve years of sanctions on Iraqi society and economy. Not only was infrastructure broken both in the cities and in the oil fields, but so was the spirit of the people. Sanctions, which did little to damage Saddam’s family, eviscerated the once proud Iraqi middle class. Had the Americans taken Baghdad during the first Gulf war, we might have seen a prettier picture. Iraq in 2003 was a much more damaged country than it was in 1991 or than Libya is today.
The invasion and occupation of Iraq may have been ill-advised and illegal but worse, it was incompetent. Hubris, a focus on domestic American politics, and blind ideological fervour made a dangerous situation catastrophic. If the Iraqi army had not been disbanded, and if the entire membership of the Ba’ath Party had not been excluded from power and influence, the insurgency would have lacked both fuel and spark.