In response to MM Lee’s Washington Post article on Iraq

By Koh Jie Kai

Once more, Minister Mentor Lee inflicts his wisdom upon the world – this time, telling America that it should not be pulling out of Iraq.

Yet for all you cynics out there, don’t dismiss Mr Lee’s opinion as a vanity stunt. I think the man is trying to get the attention of congressmen and other important people in Washington DC.

He would not be publishing his opinion in the Washington Post, a serious and respectable broadsheet, otherwise.

Mr Lee must be very alarmed by the prospect that Barack Obama will win the presidency over John McCain in coming American presidential elections, (see here) presumably because he believes that Mr Obama will carry out his promise (threat?) to remove American troops from Iraq recklessly, in contrast to Mr McCain, who vows to station troops in Iraq for a hundred years if necessary.

The result, Mr Lee believes, would be disaster, for all the reasons he outlines in his Washington Post article.

And in fact, I actually agree with Mr Lee that a hasty American withdrawal would probably be disastrous, and not just because Iran and other assorted religious fanatics would be emboldened. An American withdrawal – or at least an American withdrawal involving Iraq being carved up by its neighbours into Sunni and Shiite dominated bits, with a Kurdistan on top of it all – would be a recipe for civil war and genocide.

Hardly a far-fetched scenario- as much as the Americans seem to be despised in Iraq, the alternative seems to be worse – one Baghdad resident was quoted this week on the BBC as saying that there would be a massacre if the Americans leave.

And to me, that seems to be the weakness in Mr Obama’s Iraq strategy, likeable though he is. Suppose Mr Obama does become president, but despite all his charm, doesn’t manage to convince the rest of the world to send in the necessary troops to secure Iraq, and finds that Iraqi politicians are determined to carve up the country Yugoslavia-style, and that the neighbours are more interested in staking out their own spheres of influence in the bits of Iraq left over rather than keeping the country stable and together. What then? Would Mr Obama rather pull out American troops than resist this surefire recipe for ethnic cleansing?

One final thing: Mr Lee believes that “taking out Saddam Hussein was the right decision”, but also thinks that “mistakes were subsequently made”. This is an odd thing to say on hindsight, given that no weapons of mass destruction from Saddam’s regime have been found.

Mr Lee probably meant to say that he believes that deposing the Saddam regime was a good decision at the time because it seemed in 2003 that Saddam was possessing weapons of mass destruction; that George Bush went into Iraq with the best of intentions.

Yet I think that there was an element of wishful thinking on Mr Lee’s part as well – that George Bush, supported by his experienced loyalists Cheney and Rumsfeld, couldn’t possibly go into a war based on faulty intelligence and botch up its execution badly; that they couldn’t possibly take Wolfowitz and other Neo-cons too seriously; in other words, that they couldn’t possibly do everything possible to open up a pandora’s box of sectarian hatred. Unfortunately for all of us, they did. And so it came to pass that Mr Lee overestimated the competence of our American allies.

By the way, don’t keep your hopes up on the government admitting that supporting the Iraq war was a bad idea on hindsight anytime soon- I put that question to Dr Ng Eng Hen, Second Minister for Defence, last year at a ministerial forum; he avoided the question and spoke instead on how we were supporting the war on terror.


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