Thursday, June 07, 2007

Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani

In March of 2006, in response to a Reason Magazine survey of various pundits on the status of the Iraq war, Glenn Reynolds passed along perhaps the most brilliant, penetrating and elaborate strategy for victory ever enunciated:

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?


Now why didn't Rumsfeld think of that? Regardless of Rummy's failures (he was fired ya know), one can only hope that Petraeus has been briefed on the Reynolds Doctrine. If so, we should be wrapping things up any day now.

Reynolds deserves eternal credit for this revelation. We should all be thanking our lucky stars that Hitler wasn't able to unlock the secret of the Reynolds Doctrine earlier (and need I mention that we should all keep this a secret from Osama and the boys). Had the Nazi's uncovered this eternal truth first, it would have made winning the Manhattan Project race a moot point. I can think of only one answer for this good fortune: divine providence.

Speaking of divine intervention, Reynolds' spark of rare genius appeared at least as far back as 2005, as our modern day Clausewitz first started trying to get the attention of our generals and other policymakers who were stubbornly refusing to...well, win.

It's a war. The way to win it is, well, to win it. Deadlines are for people who care more about other things than they do about winning.

No doubt recognizing the responsibility that comes along with being privy to such remarkable insight, Glenn continues to soldier on tirelessly. More recently, he helped found a website dedicated to explaining the nuance of conventional war strategy, counterinsurgency doctrine, and geopolitical power, amongst other topics. Despite the breadth of the subject matter covered, the Grand Strategy developed has been distilled down to its essential elements: We win, they lose. It is as inspiring as it is instructive.

And the Reynolds Doctrine seems to be taking root in some curious places. Here's Eli Lake waxing Reynoldsian:

What if the netleft, that has created the impression that there is a rising plurality that would like to abandon Iraqis to Qaeda, Quds and the Ba'ath, are just a few thousand committed Marxists in their pajamas? What if the Dems have strategically miscalculated? What if their over-compensation is to appease a vocal 1 percent of the electorate that actually draws contempt from the rest of the country?

Leaving aside the fact that opinion poll after opinion poll indicates that the American people are in favor of setting a timetable for withdrawal which directly refutes Lake's thesis of an isolated 1% vanguard driving a wildly unpopular policy (with 99% of the electorate in favor of continuing the occupation), the first part of the statement bears closer reading. Lake suggests that there is a choice: either "abandon" Iraq to continued conflict and violence or....actually, what is the other option? I guess the other option is: Win!!!!

Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to say such a thing, than to show it's likelihood or even possibility. The harsh reality of the situation is that Iraq is currently beset by multiple civil wars, combined with elements of failed statehood - a matrix of conflicts that will likely play out until the various factions are exhausted from the fighting. No one side is powerful enough to dominate the others, yet each believes that it has a good chance to do just that. This is a recipe for a protracted and bloody affair. The conflicts have a self-sustaining animating principle that exists beyond our ability to influence in any constructive way. Even if our intentions were pure, we could not project our will onto the combatants themselves. As James Fearon noted:

In fact, there is a civil war in progress in Iraq, one comparable in important respects to other civil wars that have occurred in postcolonial states with weak political institutions. Those cases suggest that the Bush administration's political objective in Iraq -- creating a stable, peaceful, somewhat democratic regime that can survive the departure of U.S. troops -- is unrealistic. Given this unrealistic political objective, military strategy of any sort is doomed to fail almost regardless of whether the administration goes with the "surge" option, as President George W. Bush has proposed, or shifts toward a pure training mission, as advised by the Iraq Study Group.

Even if an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops reduces violence in Baghdad and so buys time for negotiations on power sharing in the current Iraqi government, there is no good reason to expect that subsequent reductions would not revive the violent power struggle. Civil wars are rarely ended by stable power-sharing agreements. When they are, it typically takes combatants who are not highly factionalized and years of fighting to clarify the balance of power. Neither condition is satisfied by Iraq at present. Factionalism among the Sunnis and the Shiites approaches levels seen in Somalia, and multiple armed groups on both sides appear to believe that they could wrest control of the government if U.S. forces left. Such beliefs will not change quickly while large numbers of U.S. troops remain.

Prolonging a fatally flawed occupation will not substantially change the outcome for the beleaguered Iraqis. The only question now is whether or not we will ask thousands more US soldiers to die and suffer grievous injury in a fruitless occupation that is bleeding our treasury dry and costing us priceless amounts of diplomatic and PR capital - while doing al-Qaeda's work for it.

But Lake doesn't acknowledge this. Instead, he presents the conundrum as a simple, binary choice: either we abandon the Iraqis, or we save the Iraqis. There is not even a nod in the direction of what changes in strategy or tactics need to be made in order to pull off the "salvation," let alone any call to make the sort of commitment that "existential" crises require. Further, he tars a majority of the American people by suggesting that they would "like" to abandon the Iraqis perhaps on a whim, or out of spite or malice. For those opposed to the war, though, this represents a heartbreaking concession to the inevitable - an inescapable outcome set in motion by the invasion itself.

This is not a serious way to discuss such vital policies, rather it is war-fighting by slogan. It is as cheap and easy for its proponents, as the non-existent sacrifices they make to the war effort itself. And this simplistic rhetorical flourish grants the sloganeers a sense of sanctimony because they, unlike the defeatist liberals, are choosing to win.

Because it's really that easy. If we decide that we want to win, we win! At least in Magic America. Somewhere, Glenn Reynolds is wiping away the tears of a proud father.

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