Two wildly divergent views on Iraq
Even as President Bush and the outgoing Donald Rumsfeld seem to agree that the situation in Iraq could benefit from "fresh eyes," I have recently read two wildly divergent views on what the U.S. should be doing in Iraq from here forward. Both are thought-provoking arguments:
"Doubling Down in Iraq" (at the Weekly Standard, via Instapundit) argues for renewed dedication to topple our weaker enemies' hopes and will to fight, as Abraham Lincoln displayed to the Confederates in 1964:
Make sure the other side knows that our capacity to give and take punishment immeasurably exceeds their capacity to absorb and inflict it.
The difficulties the Army has experienced in Iraq are due, in large measure, to the fact that the Defense Department forgot this historical lesson. Donald Rumsfeld tried to run a businesslike war. But warfare is not business; it is not fought at the margin. By striving to do just enough to win, we have done too little. The right strategy is to do too much.
(But practically speaking, try telling that to the Democrats in Congress....)
Meanwhile, Hugh Fitzgerald at JihadWatch has a unique proposal for America winning the larger global war against Islamic jihadists by immediately pulling the U.S. out of Iraq and letting the warring Muslim factions there kill each other off:
And as the American squandering of resources -- men, money, materiel -- is replaced almost overnight by a situation in which the squandering of resources is that of Muslim states and peoples whose money, men, and materiel are now being used up, the shrill voices expressing delight over "the defeat of America" will grow fainter....
...and as the unstated American goal becomes, it is clear, no longer that messianic foolishness about making Muslim states happy and prosperous, but rather working to exploit the natural fissures -- ethnic and sectarian that are most obvious in, though hardly limited to, Iraq -- all sense of triumph over America, of having defeated America, will fade....
The spectacle of internecine warfare not only promises to divide and demoralize the Camp of Islam. No, it will also serve as a Demonstration Project to Infidels. Let them see how, without well-meaning Infidels to bring aid of all kinds and to keep the peace and to prevent one side or the other from behaving with their wonted barbarity (just read the reports of the corpses found murdered by Shi'a or Sunni militias or insurgents or irregulars or, for that matter, by members of regular army and police units), Muslims treat each other....
Who do you think is right? Do you think an American withdrawal will be a victory for Islam, or do you think an American withdrawal will not only conserve our reserves, preserve or halt the degradation in the quality of our armed forces just in time, and help to divide and demoralize the camp of Islam and Jihad?
Read the comments, too, which bring up related issues and regional and political concerns.
I admit there is something persuasive (perhaps the comfort of wishful thinking) about this realpolitik argument, even though I doubt any such Demonstration Project will ever get through the thick skulls of many infidels, who have managed to ignore many previous global demonstration projects. Yet I don't know enough about the dynamics of the Middle East to say if pulling out of Iraq for those reasons (or any reasons, before the country is "stablized" and "free") would be a net good thing or a dreadful mistake.
I fear the ramifications for the future if we reneg yet again on our pledges to help the Iraqi people attain self-determination (as the Shia Muslims and Kurds of Iraq were double-crossed by Bush I after the Gulf War). I do know the Muslims of Iraq are not monolithic nor even neatly divided by sects into all bad guys vs. bad guys. I would hate to see the Iraqis who have welcomed their American liberators and worked so hard and risked so much alongside us to be abandoned to anarchy and sectarian violence by jihadist mobs. Fitzgerald advocates a cold, calculated, strategic proposal that would doom our allies inside Iraq. (As well as "prove" Osama bin Laden's case that America is "weak," thereby encouraging more jihadis to attack, plus making the anti-war far left extremely happy.)
But if indeed we are in a war, how many American lives do we owe Iraq in general and our friends there specifically before the equation turns unfruitful for our own country? This is the crux of the problem, and perhaps unknowable.
Previously, I have believed (along with many of our troops and the nation's conservatives) that our fighting in Iraq is in our self-interest because the war against murdreous jihad is taken there, instead of inside our own country's borders. Is this a valid or a mistaken belief? Certainly free societies are better off and less inclined to wage war on their neighbors or around the globe, as President Bush has said. But is our war in Iraq to help make possible a free society going to succeed, and is it really draining a swamp or not? I had thought so but certainly it is never the wrong time for an evaluation by fresh eyes.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the recent election is that we can now have a real public discussion about our goals and our actual success in Iraq (too bad we couldn't have had it earlier). Regardless of who is to blame for the slow progress and setbacks, can we now find ways for us to do better in Iraq?
Thinking back to Lincoln: How many American lives did we owe the black slaves to free them? A lot, it turned out. Lincoln felt the horrible loss of American lives in our Civil War, but he led by focusing on victory, because the implications of defeat would be too dreadful to bear. We were not just fighting for the freedom of slaves, but also for principles of union and the survival of the United States, just as we are fighting for principles and our nation's survival in Iraq. We are fighting for what we believe to be our self-interest in many ways, along with that of the Iraqis. How are we to weigh what that is worth?
Are we doing it right? Are we doing it as intelligently as possible, as wholeheartedly as possible? Are we doing it for reasons that are true? Should we continue to do it, redouble our efforts? Should we define a victory as leaving a stable, democractically elected government behind, even if it is based on Islamic law (that will necessarily subject women and others to second-class status)?
Cathy Young at Reason Magazine Online mentions Hugh Fitzgerald and JihadWatch as she tries to sort out some of our American views on Islam ("When Does Criticism of Islam Devolve into Bigotry?")
And Ralph Peters at U.S.A. Today writes a very defeatist editorial saying we have already lost in Iraq and says, as Fitzgerald advocates, that we should pull out.
All I can say for sure right now is that I think we do need all the "fresh eyes" and smart people of good will--educated, bright, informed, and interested above all in the best welfare of our country--from all areas, contributing to the best solutions we can get. I hope the Bush administration is placing enough emphasis on that, and on winning this war. I hope the newly elected Democrats will drop their partisanship, get serious, and step up to the plate for the overall good of our country. I hope all of our leaders will do what it takes to follow the wisest course for the love of our country first, for our troops secondly, and, thirdly, for the sake of the peaceloving, freedom-seeking Iraqis.
A majority of the provinces in Iraq are stable. And I for one have not forgotten and never will forget those lines of Iraqis queueing to vote in the face of threatened violence, and holding up their purple fingers. If America stands for anything, she should be proud to stand for and with them. As they should be proud to stand with America.
I, too, would like to see an Iraqi referendum on whether they want American troops in their country to stay or go. I think most Amercans would like to know the results of that election.
Bonus: The view of our elections by a long-time Iraqi blogger and friend of democracy.
UPDATE: I'm not the only one thinking about these lines. At least I'm in good company.