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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

 
What Will We Have Wrought?

Matt Yglesias makes a good case for withdrawal of US troops upon the inveiling of Iraq's new constitution.

Far better to take advantage of the forthcoming promulgation of a new constitution for Iraq and then schedule a withdrawal on our own terms. Such a withdrawal would be pegged not to an "arbitrary timetable" but to the perfectly objective one governing Iraq's political process.

This would not only provide us peace with honor but also with the best chance for securing a decent outcome in Iraq. Setting an end date would allay Iraqi fears of an indefinite occupation and allow us to secure more cooperation in the short term, give moderate Sunnis the opportunity they need to join the political process and separate themselves from the jihadists, and focus the minds of Iraq's political elites on the urgent need to resolve the issues underlying sectarian tensions. Defeating every last insurgent in Iraq is not a realistic goal. But fortunately for us, neither is the insurgency's goal of renewed Sunni hegemony a realistic one. A clear plan to bring the troops home would allow us to begin focusing on the kind of support for the new regime -- political, diplomatic, financial, logistical, and intelligence -- that can be provided over the long term, and that would allow a wise Iraqi government to eventually stabilize the entire country. Meanwhile, we can work on rebuilding our armed forces and reconfiguring them for the 21st-century security landscape.


I agree that withdrawal is probably the best solution at this point and it is logical to tag it to a milestone political moment. Our presence seems to be perpetuating the insurgency rather than quelling it. But, I really wonder whether the outcome will be as benign as Matt suggests.

It seems to me that even if we reject the cynical Realpolitik that says the country needed a strongman in order to survive, certainly we screwed things up so badly that we've allowed the conditions for protracted civil war to foment quite nicely. Perhaps there never would have been a better time, but I still cannot help but wonder at the logic that said we should use the moment of al Qaeda's greatest PR victory to engage in a dicey game of chicken in the mid-east --- at huge expense, without global support.

It still stuns me that the starry-eyed neocons thought we were so all powerful that we could simply flip a switch and the world would be changed. The timing was right for domestic political purposes but it couldn't have been worse for strategic purposes. Keeping Saddam in place for a short while, until the smoke cleared at least, would have allowed us to get a much better lay of the land post 9/11 and perhaps make some realistic decisions.

But, all that is spilled milk now and we find ourselves at a point where we are thinking seriously of leaving Iraq in a chaos we have created and I would be interested in what are the realistic scenarios among the experts for a post withdrawal Iraq. It is unlikely that I would change my mind about the correctness of our doing so, but I would like to be prepared for what may follow. I have a feeling I know the answer and it makes me sick to my stomach.

In this regard I have been meaning to mention that shameful column by David Ignatius from last week called Iraq Can Survive This in which he makes the increasingly common rightist argument that someday things will probably work out in Iraq so everything we did will have been right in retrospect:

Pessimists increasingly argue that Iraq may be going the way of Lebanon in the 1970s. I hope that isn't so, and that Iraq avoids civil war. But people should realize that even Lebanonization wouldn't be the end of the story. The Lebanese turned to sectarian militias when their army and police couldn't provide security. But through more than 15 years of civil war, Lebanon continued to have a president, a prime minister, a parliament and an army. The country was on ice, in effect, while the sectarian battles raged. The national identity survived, and it came roaring back this spring in the Cedar Revolution that drove out Syrian troops.


Similar logic would have one believe that because Czechoslovakia is now a thriving democracy, the invasion of Hitler in 1938 was all for the best. And hey what's 30 years of human suffering? Eventually things will probably get better --- as long as the "national identity" survives. Dear God.

This argument reveals something very fundamental about the way that the war hawks see this as a game of Risk rather than a catastrophic upheaval in which actual human beings are being killed and maimed and in which the everyday lives of those who live on that piece of land are affected in the most consequential ways possible. Who but the most arrogant, spoiled,pampered, elitist American could write such a thing? Perhaps David Ignatius should have a talk with Peter Daou, who actually lived in that lucky land of Lebanon during the civil war and occupation while "the country" was on ice. Unfortunately, the humans who lived there had some more immediate problems:

I spent my youth in Beirut during the height of Lebanon's civil war, and I fought the Syrian presence in Lebanon long before the "Cedar Revolution." I watched young boys give their lives and mothers cradle their dying children in blood-soaked arms. I've seen more bloodshed, war, and violence, and shot more guns than most of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists combined. I wouldn't presume to question the strength or dignity of a stranger, and I pity those who blithely push the right=strong, left=weak rhetoric. It says far more about their inadequacies than it does about the target of their scorn.


Ignatius's logic is becoming more prevalent among war supporters as we see that our lame attempt at neocon nation building (which was based, as are all their "plans" upon idealistic fantasies and crossing their fingers)has failed. Therefore, they are now going to take the "long view" in which victory will be prematurely hailed because as one Bush supporter puts it: "All that matters in the long run is the liberalization Bush and Blair have unleashed."

Neat trick, isn't it? Any progress in the future can be attributed to Bush and Blair's foresight, no matter how long it takes or how much blood is spilled in the meantime. Indeed, George W. Bush, magical figure that he is, must, therefore, be responsible for the fact that:

...there was not a single liberal democracy with universal suffrage in the world in 1900, but ... today 120 (62.5%) of the world's 192 nations are such democracies.


Still, I wonder how a bloody civil war in a huge country in the mid-east, at a time of rising Islamic extremism and peak oil can be sold as being for the Iraqis' own good --- and ours? Assuming that we withdraw (because we really have no choice, as Matt Yglesias writes, and because we are actually exacerbating the problem with our presence) what are the realistic ramifications of Iraq descending into sectarian violence as seems to have already begun? What will we have wrought with this misbegotten invasion for the next decade or three --- until everything comes out in the wash and we can permanently give George Bush credit for having invented human progress, that is?



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