Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, May 27, 2005

It's interesting that Niall Ferguson (an avowed fan of "empire" and "Angloglobalization") and Juan Cole (smart but perennially hysterical Middle East expert and Bush critic) seem to agree here. To wit, Ferguson writes:

[U]nlike the American enterprise in Iraq today, [the British in 1920] had enough men... [B]ack then the ratio of Iraqis to foreign forces was, at most, 23 to 1. Today it is around 174 to 1... The numbers that matter right now are 174 to 1. That is not only the ratio of Iraqis to American troops. It is starting to look alarmingly like the odds against American success.

Cole writes:

There are simply too few US troops to fight the guerrillas. There are only about 70,000 US fighting troops in Iraq, they don't have that much person-power superiority over the guerrillas. There are only 10,000 US troops for all of Anbar province, a center of the guerrilla movement with a population of 820,000. A high Iraqi official estimated that there are 40,000 active guerrillas and another 80,000 close supporters of them.

Both agree that the US will have to stay in Iraq for ten to fifteen years more to "succeed," whatever that means. But we can't do that because we don't have enough soldiers, and people aren't going to volunteer to fight for us. I suggest that sometime in the near future we cite manpower constraints, pull back to our bases, and get ready to withdraw some troops from Iraq.

During the election, Bush said that we'll fight "until the mission is finished." The mission being... what? We've removed Saddam and held elections. If "the mission" was to bring perfect civil peace to every corner of the country, that was never very likely.

We've got to remember that every war ends in disillusionment. After the Civil War, the South was occupied by carpetbaggers for a few years, then fell under the sway of the Ku Klux Klan and segregation. Within months after World War I, Keynes had written The Economic Consequences of the Peace, foreshadowing the residual bitterness of Germany and the rise of Hitler. And after World War II, a dozen nations of eastern and central Europe were consigned to a Stalinist hell. Going back further, after the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna buried the continent's nascent liberalism beneath a reactionary restoration of monarchies. Did we expect the war in Iraq to be more successful than these past "triumphs"?

[UPDATE: I don't want to be an archair general, by the way. This development is encouraging. Maybe we will decisively defeat the insurgency before manpower constraints force us to pull back. But we shouldn't let heroic rhetoric and high ideals become a trap. And we shouldn't promise the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people more help than we have to give.]


  • I think the goal, here, is to set up a country that won't descend into civil war once we're gone. The reason why lots of people weren't so excited by the idea of Saddam's fall was because they felt civil war, chaos, and insurgent spillover would ensue. If we can leave behind a state that's at least minimally cohesive on the way to becoming functional, then we've done what we came here for. The view from Tal Afar (where I am right now) is pretty decent.

    On the other hand, I'm glad you touch on the matter of our wide-scale burnout. This war has badly hurt our Army and has chewed through a lot of good people. People with families and prospects on the outside have to set their pride in serving against the hardship for their families of seperation, uncertainty, and all the other chaos that a grining deployment schedule throws into everyone's lives.

    By Blogger Nato, at 3:06 PM  

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