Thursday, November 02, 2006

Who "Lost" Iraq?

Heather Hurlburt, of Democracy Arsenal, takes on Ralph Peters:

Who "Lost" Iraq?

As much as I cheer every time another prominent cheerleader for the Iraq war leaves the ship, I kind of wish conservative military commentator Ralph Peters had stayed where he was.

Today he fires an impressive and dismaying salvo on the topic in USA TODAY. He describes the invasion as "noble," but incompetently done. But then comes this:

...for all our errors, we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to build a rule-of-law democracy. They preferred to indulge in old hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of corruption. It appears that the cynics were right: Arab societies can't support democracy as we know it. And people get the government they deserve.

For us, Iraq's impending failure is an embarrassment. For the Iraqis — and other Arabs — it's a disaster the dimensions of which they do not yet comprehend. They're gleeful at the prospect of America's humiliation. But it's their tragedy, not ours.

That's not "the soft bigotry of low expectations." That's just bigotry. Does what happened in the American South after the Civil War prove that the South "can't support democracy as we know it?" No. Latin America has a number of rather solid democracies today that looked quite dubious 20 years ago. Israel didn't spring from 1948 a fully-formed democracy, to choose a Middle Eastern example.

What did all those places have that Iraq hasn't had? Years -- decades, in fact -- of relative peace, strong external support and internal cohesion. (Obviously, Israel had less of the first and more of the last.) Institutions that developed internally and indigenously. Functioning economies and national institutions.

Ms. Hurlburt does like this one provocative line of Peters:
"And contrary to the prophets of doom, the United States wouldn't be weakened by our withdrawal, should it come to that. Iraq was never our Vietnam. It's al-Qaeda's Vietnam. They're the ones who can't leave and who can't win."
I can't make complete sense of this Peter's sentiment. Short term, I agree, we wouldn't be weakend immediately after a withdrawal -- our forces would be able to catch a much-needed breath. Longer term, well, I think that's a far tougher case to make. If the nascent civil war goes into full tilt boogie mode and other countries -- Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran -- are drawn into the conflict, then it seems that we won't be able to merely stand on the sidelines. The national security implications, our stalwart posture of defending Israel, economic/petroleum concerns, not to mention a devastating humanitarian crisis as thousands of refugees seek to flee, will compel the United States to rejoin the Iraqi theater. For me, the penultimate question is whether those concerns are best dealt with now or later. And for me, the obvious answer is, painful as it will be, it is better to attempt to fix it now rather than let step aside with a likely deterioration of the situation. Of course, the ultimate question is how to deal with the situation now which minimizes further loss of life be it American or Iraqi.

I was struck by two of the comments at the USA TODAY site where the Peter's column appeared. The first one:

"It is absurd to blame the Iraqis for the mess made by those of you who supported this criminal enterprise of a war based on a 'pack of lies' and a corruption and incompetence that is stunning in its scale and depravity.

Iraq is worse than Vietnam. We had Vietnam in our rear view mirror so all of you should have known better. You let yourselves be swept up in the thrill of propaganda and now perhaps 650,000 or more Iraqis are dead because of it along with more than 2800 US forces...."

And the second one:

"What we are seeing here is two wars. One is the war between insurgents and our forces; it will stop if the insurgents are defeated or if we leave. The other is the war between Shia and Sunni, between this tribe and that tribe.

The second war is purely Iraqi, it is neither our fault nor our responsibility. It would have occurred regardless of whether Saddam had been removed by us, by a random act of nature, or by his own countrymen. Minus the despot, the bloodshed that followed was a certainty, as it was in Yugoslavia after the death of Tito a couple of decades ago. Ultimately the underlying cause of the Middle East's woes is population overshoot of the resource base in a region that is little more than barren desert. There is of course a lesson for us in that point as well..."