The signs are unmistakable that the Bush administration is preparing for a military intervention in Iraq sometime in the first quarter of this year. Living in North Carolina, we would have to be oblivious not to notice when a full-scale military mobilization is underway. While armed forces have been trickling into the Persian Gulf and Central Asian regions for more than a year, deployments really picked up after the start of 2003.
Our companion web site, NorthCarolinaAtWar.com, has linked a number of stories tracking movements from North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, Pope Air Force Base, Camp Lejeune, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, and other facilities. As I am writing this, the Associated Press has picked up a dispatch about some 12,000 Marines and sailors preparing to depart North Carolina for the Gulf theater of operations.
Another indication of impending action is that critics of the war, sensing what is coming, are ramping up their protest activities. On Saturday, Jan. 18, hundreds if not thousands of North Carolinians will reportedly be joining 100,000 or more anti-war protesters in Washington for a rally on the Mall and a march to the Washington Navy Yard. Organizers hope to link their protests to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, pointing to his anti-Vietnam War credentials.
This brings up an interesting question: Is North Carolina, home to many of the nation’s front-line troops in the war on Islamofascism and traditionally a state friendly to the military establishment and presidents named Bush, destined to offer its support for an administration action in Iraq? The national polls are somewhat mixed on where public opinion is today and what might affect it in the future. A Jan. 15 Washington Post story suggested that underlying general support for action against Saddam Hussein may be a host of concerns related to the war’s cost, its long-term affects on the region, and its relationship to the war on terror and the growing standoff with North Korea.
My own view is that North Carolinians, like other Americans, will rally in support behind President Bush should he invade Iraq, conquer and kill or capture the fascists, and begin the process of building a friendlier and more democratic regime in their place. But the length of the intervention will matter. While our state, like most in the southern part of the country, has a particularly strong cultural predisposition to favor forceful resolution of international conflicts – I’d recommend David Hackett Fischer’s classic Albion’s Seed for an historical explanation of why this is so – we do have a broad spectrum of political and ideological views in North Carolina nonetheless.
Some on the right view Bush’s potential actions as representing precisely the Wilsonian “nation-building” nonsense they thought he had properly criticized during his campaign. On the left, a mixture of noble if misguided pacifism and out-and-out loony paranoia seems likely to generate predictable responses but little political influence outside of the Carrboro-to-west-Durham corridor, with small pockets of well-wishers in college communities from Cullowhee and Boone to Greenville.
Among mainstream political groups, I see most conservatives trusting and supporting Bush as long as he appears competent and sketches out a compelling vision for what happens after the initial fighting stops. Most will see military action as a necessary if risky recourse, and hope that building a stable and at least somewhat free society in the heart of the Middle East will have salutary effects in a variety of arenas.
Many liberals will feel conflicted. Saddam Hussein is a grotesque fascist, and in principle they believe that a legitimate use of military force overseas (if not the only one) is the defeat of fascism and its replacement with democracy. On the other hand, they don’t trust Bush and dislike any talk of preempting international diplomacy or overruling the United Nations “inspection” process.
Meanwhile, most moderates and independent voters have a reflexive trust in this president, though only on foreign affairs, and a reflexive hatred of Saddam Hussein. But they will get very nervous if there are urban battles with significant casualties. It is with this group where Bush must demonstrate an ability to lead, to communicate effectively how the action fits in with an overall strategy of thinning the ranks of America’s enemies over time through a combination of overthrowing dangerous dictators, deterring others from becoming dangerous, and spreading free institutions through the largely backward world of modern-day political Islam.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.