A Response to the Response to the Response…

HW maintains his insistence that “victory” in Iraq is not dependent upon keeping Iraq whole or the emergence of a certain post-war order. Ostensibly, HW is correct. It is not an irrefutable law of nature. Politically I think he is dead wrong. The case for war could not have been made if the rationale was that we are going to invade Iraq, chop it up into ethnic enclaves, and not concern ourselves at all with the nature of the regime that emerges, probably on the heels of a bloodbath, in each independent enclave. It runs contrary to American political instincts and it makes no sense strategically (What guarantee that the Sunni enclave does not become a welcome home for al-Qaeda type elements? What guarantee that the Shiite enclave does not become a mere extension of Tehran’s power? What guarantee that Kurdish independence does not destabilize NATO-ally Turkey?)

The stated aim of the war in Iraq was regime change. Regime change. The concept implies that one regime will be replaced by another regime. In Iraq, one maniacal regime was replaced with a vacuum – by your own description. This is regime overthrow. Even by the impossibly narrow logic my dear friend seems intent on arguing, the war for regime change has been a failure. (Furthermore, when considered in light of how this entire adventure has strengthened the hand of Iran it becomes even more apparent that such narrowly construed war aims holds no strategic water. A policy of regime overthrow – to hell with what comes next – was never close to being on the table, even of President Bush never uttered a word about turning Iraq into the world’s next Jeffersonian democracy.)

HW argues that this limited war effort is precisely what the “anti-war left” was signing on for, at least implicitly, when they called for immediate withdrawal in the aftermath of the Baathist overthrow. It is always a bit dicey to speak of the opinion of the left (though it must be done). To be sure, some on the left held such a position. But the “anti-war left” is a large umbrella that covers a lot of views. For many on the left (responsible left, at least) the calculus changed when the war began. They opposed the invasion, but now that it had come they recognized that it was in the best interest of Iraq that something decent be left behind and that it would immoral, not to mention strategically asinine, to simply pack up and go home, to hell with what takes root on the lawless shores of the Euphrates once you leave.

And though I share HW’s low regard for the humanitarian instincts of most in the so-called West, I do think that coupled with the strategic implications of a festering civil war in the oil heartland of the world, there was not widespread support, even on the left, for leaving (of course, there were a host of proposals for turning over control to the UN, but I am not speaking of these suggestions. Rather, I am strictly referring to the position that the imperative was to get Americans out of Iraq, period.) And he knows it is not serious to compare the responsibilities incumbent on a nation like America and that which can be expected of Ethiopia in the context of their meddling (at the behest of America) in Somalia. It is apples and oranges (not least because Somalia nor Ethiopia is as strategically vital as Iraq and its neighborhood).

I agree that in and of itself democratization was not the primary rationale for the war, but I do hold that it was a key element for many and it was the key element for some (those who based their support more on humanitarian grounds, Paul Wolfowitz, I suspect included). I do not think the various justifications for this war can be so easily segregated. The case was made on a variety of grounds and, as Wolfowitz confided in a famous interview with Vanity Fair, WMD was the one casus belli the most people could agree on. I think it is simplistic to boil this complex adventure down to WMD.

I concede to HW that his analysis of the so-called Shia Crescent is overblown. This may be the case and I claim no particular expertise on the matter. It is certainly true that Shia are vastly outnumbered and that most Sunni regimes can probably do just fine laying down the law if insurgencies take root in their countries. I guess this admission is a sad postscript to the theory that Iraq would in fact be a boon for liberalization and democratization in the region. As Michael Slackman of The New York Times pointed out early in the week, this latest visit by Condi Rice to Egypt was quite a departure from that which came a few months ago. “Ms. Rice, who once lectured Egyptians on the need to respect the rule of law, did not address those domestic concerns. Instead, with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit by her side, she talked about her appreciation for Egypt’s support in the region.”

HW holds that there is no reason for the coalition forces to fight in a war that pits a sectarian Shia government against a Sunni insurgency. I respect this position. It makes a great deal of sense. I may even agree with it. I am simply not sure what to do about going forward. What I have said elsewhere seems to still be true:

The reality is that we can’t make the Iraqis buy into a democratic bargain. (It sounds like a cliche, but it is no less true, we can’t want a decent, quasi-democratic Iraq more than the Iraqis themselves.) And 20,000 troops is not going to change what is in people’s hearts and minds. The corollary to this reality is that we can’t leave Iraq (strategically and morally) and wash our hands of what could be a regionally destabilizing civil war with genocidal implications.

A serious plan for Iraq would focus on how we contain the catastrophe and hold things at a palatable level for the years ahead. Yes, years ahead. If the president’s plan acknowledged the dire reality on the ground, acknowledged the lunacy that 20,000 troops is all that stands between civil war and a Jeffersonian democracy, and acknowledged that the only choices left to make are bad and worse, then my ears would open up. If then – and only then – he made the case that 20,000 troops would help us move toward a long-term strategy of containing the fallout from this debacle I might, might, be amenable to the idea of surge.

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