Towards A Good Samaritan World

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

SHOULD WE DISENGAGE?

I wasn't all that pleased about this news:

The U.S. Army expects to keep its troop strength in Iraq at the current
level of about 120,000 for at least two more years, according to the Army's top
operations officer... the Army expects to continue rotating active-duty
units in and out of Iraq in year-long deployments and is looking for ways to dip
even deeper into reserve forces -- even as leaders of the reserves have warned
that the Pentagon could be running out of such units.


So I was pleased to read this column about likely progress in training Iraqi troops.

While I support the struggle of the Iraqi people for democracy against tyranny and terror, at some point we do need to renew the distinction between our cause and their cause-- especially if we want to live up to the promise in Bush's speech, in which case our cause is much bigger than freedom in Iraq.

The courage of young men willing to fight and die for their country is a critically important and non-renewable national resource. The 1000+ soldiers who died in Iraq did not die in vain, as the elections will soon show. (Here's a good summary of the situation in Iraq on the eve of the elections, which highlights what has been achieved.) But they will never again fight for their country. And many others have been exhausted, disillusioned, or wounded so that they can no longer fight. While it's safe to assume that most soldiers become soldiers in order to soldier, and that calling on them to soldier a little bit may increase morale, increase the appeal of the armed forces, inspire courage, and thus expand the resources of that power, my sense is that for American civilization that effect is likely to subside quickly. I think we are already living off our soldiers'-morale capital.

Sometimes you want to do that, of course. Removing Saddam's government was a critical humanitarian mission as well as a welcome strike against the UN's Hobbesian notion of sovereignty.

But the foreign aid case for the Iraq war is weakening. Two years ago the Iraqis were among the neediest people in the world, desperately poor in economic wealth and in freedoms. Now they are much better off in those terms. Why should we be devoting so much money to helping Iraq when other peoples might be able to use the help more?

For the moment I'm willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt here. But after the elections we should begin to articulate what we think our duty in Iraq should be, and where it should end. When can US forces withdraw to bases and just guarantee the peace? When can the Army and the Marines begin looking back on the operation as a whole, appraising their performance, learning the lessons, improving their tactics, technologies and doctrines, so that future regime-change operations (should the need arise) will run more smoothly?

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