Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Shifting Sands And The Iraq Syndrome

George Bush hasn't even been inaugurated yet, and the incipient rumblings that began when Bob Novak floated a trial balloon in September about the Bush administration pulling out of Iraq in 2005 have grown to a proverbial roar. Novak's allegations led one incredulous right-of-center blogger to proclaim:

I have grave doubts about the accuracy of Novak's story....[But if true] What a massive, breathtaking and morally defunct abdication of American leadership that would be! I would have to hold my head in deep shame for having supported this Administration's Iraq war. Say it ain't so!?!
The latest contribution to the cascading avalanche of disengagement endorsements came from the notoriously hawkish, and pro-Iraq war, think tank Stratfor (via Andrew Sullivan). Sullivan excerpts from the report which is only available via subscription:
The issue facing the Bush administration is simple. It can continue to fight the war as it has, hoping that a miracle will bring successes in 2005 that didn't happen in 2004. Alternatively, it can accept the reality that the guerrilla force is now self-sustaining and sufficiently large not to flicker out and face the fact that a U.S. conventional force of less than 150,000 is not likely to suppress the guerrillas. More to the point, it can recognize these facts: 1. The United States cannot re-engineer Iraq because the guerrillas will infiltrate every institution it creates. 2. That the United States by itself lacks the intelligence capabilities to fight an effective counterinsurgency. 3. That exposing U.S. forces to security responsibilities in this environment generates casualties without bringing the United States closer to the goal. 4. That the strain on the U.S. force is undermining its ability to react to opportunities and threats in the rest of the region. And that, therefore, this phase of the Iraq campaign must be halted as soon as possible.
That is strong language to say the least. This appraisal comes on the heels of a spate of pessimistic reports from Bush administration allies, as well as an attempt to begin spinning withdrawal as victory. Novak got the jump on the crowd with this bit:

This messy new Iraq is viewed by Bush officials as vastly preferable to Saddam's police state, threatening its neighbors and the West. In private, some officials believe the mistake was not in toppling Saddam but in staying there for nation building after the dictator was deposed.
Pundits like Charles Krauthammer have attempted to redefine success along similar lines, arguing that civil war in Iraq could be a useful tool. Others have begun to extol the virtues of splitting Iraq up into manageable mini-states along ethnic lines. Reuel Marc Gerecht even went as far as to suggest that Sunni and Shiite fundamentalists may hold the key to democratization in the Middle East. I expect we will be hearing other such rationales about how withdrawal equals success in some form or another.

These rationalizations ignore the very real possibility that
counter-terrorism experts have warned about: Iraq becoming a haven for jihadists. A "messy" Iraq, or one engulfed in Civil War, will mean the existence of a failed state in the center of the Persian Gulf. What was, before the invasion, a nation with no connection to al-Qaeda and relatively no connection to fundamentalism, will become an ideal spawning ground and base of operations for al-Qaeda like terrorist organizations. The danger that Iraq was held out to be in the run-up to the invasion would become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Don't misunderstand me, I think that we should do everything in our power to try to hold Iraq together, including maintaining a military presence in Iraq in order to try to insure some modicum of stability and stave off a slide into sectarian violence. I think that a peaceful, democratic, and stable Iraq is in America's best interest, and the interest of most progressive nations and movements. The alternative, a failed state, is horrific. I have even attempted to offer some
advice on how to best achieve this vis-a-vis the elections to be held later this month.

Nevertheless, I am struck by the apparent incongruity of the claims of many Bush supporters, and the reality that would ensue if Novak is right. Remember, the big fear amongst many conservatives was that Kerry, if elected, would "cut and run" from Iraq, abandoning the noble mission of democratization and the hapless Iraqi people. Somehow, this was conflated with the left's treasonous abandonment of the Vietnamese people (regardless of Nixon's involvement in the matter). This meme was hammered away at repeatedly by the media and punditry alike. Americans were warned, through accusation and insinuation, of Kerry's nefarious intentions.

What would those concerns mean in the face of a Bush administration withdrawal? Would the war's supporters hang their heads in shame? Maybe it is a fait accompli, as the Stratfor people argue, and the Bush administration has no choice but to begin the process of withdrawal. Maybe the only other path is the adoption of the "
Salvador option" which could be worse than withdrawal, or too morally bankrupt to adopt.

At least in this regard, I am thankful that Kerry lost the election. If the US must pull out of Iraq in defeat and ignominy, let it be the Bush administration's legacy alone, because they are the rightful owners. Like McNamara was the father of the "Vietnam Syndrome," Rumsfeld's bequest would be the Iraq Syndrome. In some bizarre sense I am relieved by the fact that there will not be a liberal scapegoat in the White House to be held accountable for this failure in policy, if that is what the Iraq invasion turns out to be. I'm not sure how long it would take the Democrats, if ever, to live down the stigma attached to the party if President Kerry had to make such a decision. Maybe he would realize the strategic blow this would deal his compatriots and thus be inclined to remain in Iraq past the point of no return, in turn causing more harm. This is part of what I meant when I said back in August that
if Bush wins, he loses. Let's hope it never comes to that.

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