Saturday, June 03, 2006

Press Commentators Flailing Around On What To Do About Iraq

A note of desperation, and more than a little pie-in-the-sky thinking, is not so much creeping, actually it is galloping, into Iraq war commentary. Three columns this week can particularly be cited.

First, the New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, who has veered from one side to the other for months on the war, now, in a Friday column headlined, "Insurgency Out, Anarchy In," raises the possibility that the support of the American people for the war will virtually vanish. He implies the American intervention policy may collapse.

Although he still views loss of the war by the Americans as "a global tragedy," he remarks. "President Bush has told us that the question of whether to withdraw from Iraq is one that his successor will have to deal with -- not him. I don't think so. Mr. Bush is not going to have that luxury of passing Iraq along. You see, the insurgency in Iraq is in its 'last throes' -- just like Dick Cheney said. Unfortunately, it's being replaced by anarchy in many neighborhoods -- not democracy. And I don't believe the American people will put up with two and a half more years of babysitting anarchy instead of midwifing democracy."

Pressure may be building on the Administration to change the means of fighting the war, but I don't think there will be any quick decision to get out of Iraq. Even if the Democrats were to come to power, as appears more likely, it seems any leader will hesitate to pull the plug on our intervention. The consequences would be just too dire, the descent of the Middle East into chaos similar to that we see in Somalia. This is not Vietnam, where we could leave without wide ranging strategic losses. This would be a defeat that would change the world power equation sharply and adversely against the United States and other Western countries. So I think the pressure to stay and fight the war, perhaps with greater force, will overwhelm any pressure to quit.

The second column to discuss is the one by Edward N. Luttwak on Friday's L.A. Times Op-Ed page. Entitled, "The Civil War Solution." it has the subheading, "Peace in Iraq will come only after the warring factions battle it out. It's a bloody but effective and time-honored strategy."

Luttwak suggests that American troops be withdrawn from populated areas to desert outposts on the sidelines and let the Kurds become independent and the Sunnis and Shiites battle it out in a civil war until one side wins.

This, I'm afraid to say, strikes me as totally impractical. No Kurdish state could be constructed without Turkish intervention, and a full scale civil war between Sunnis and Shiites would probably spread all over the Middle East, bringing in Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other for starters. This would imperil world oil supplies and ultimately force even more American and Western intervention. I can't quarrel with Luttwak's assessment that there aren't enough American troops committed to win the war as it stands, but I do think the American troops are adequate to prevent any wider Middle Eastern confrontation. Letting things further unravel would be a danger to the world, not only us. In any event, we could not let al-Zarqawi and the Sunni terrorists win, so we'd have to eventually side with the Shiites in such a war, and that would put us at loggerheads with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries in the Middle East. It would simply not be a workable policy.

I hate to give these columnists such bad news, but the fact is, we are stuck there, and resolving it soon could well entail the use of nuclear weapons, which naturally we don't want to employ for a whole host of reasons.

The third column is by Peter Beinart in this week's Time magazine. Beinart, like Friedman, originally supported the war, but now, in hindsight, he thinks it was a mistake, and he advocates a containment policy, such as used by the West against the Russians in the Cold War, to keep the problems from overwhelming us. We would contain the mischief and hope for favorable turns in the future.

But al-Qaeda is not the Russians. It is more like Hitler and the Japanese. It is a violent, expansionist, religious-based ideology, and the lessons of the Cold War probably don't apply. The Russian Communists, despite all their faults, were considerably more civilized than the forces we face now. And the actual threat of the use of atomic, chemical or biological weapons by this enemy against us is considerably greater than it was with the Russians.

So, I don't think Beinart gives us much of a good road map for a new policy. His column amounts to a fantasy. It does not apply to the current situation.

What is the solution? I wish I knew. I'm not going to try to fool anyone into thinking there is a good way out.

Within a few minutes of posting this blog, an anonymous commentator suggested that I admit going into Iraq was a tragic mistake and call a failure a failure. I won't do this. I think we had good reason to intervene in Iraq, and our war there is not a failure unless and until it fails. It hasn't yet.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What to do about Iraq? You might begin by acknowledging honestly that the Bush Administration's decision to create bloody havoc in a country that had no link to 9/ll and no WMD, was a tragic mistake and that our continuing presence there has only made a bad situation worse. Apparently you cannot call a failure a failure.

6/03/2006 10:12 AM  

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