Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Jonah Goldberg writes:

Americans are torn between two irreconcilable positions on the Iraq war. Some want the war to be a success -- variously defined -- and some want the war to be over. Conservatives are basically, but not exclusively, in the "success" camp. Liberals (and those further to the left) are basically, but not exclusively, the "over" party.

I'm one of the ones who wants the war to be over. Before the speech, my views were something like William Odom's:

The military theorist Carl von Clausewitz said that war is always a gamble. President Bush stepped up to the Iraqi poker table in the spring of 2003 and won a couple of big hands. Flush with the cash and a cry that, "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed," he failed to pick up his chips and go home. Instead, he has hung around for the last 3½ years, betting on lousy hands - pairs of twos and threes and numerous inside straights...

[We should] write off the democracy goal as a draw, declare a tactical victory, and withdraw in good order. Of course a terrible mess will be left, but more troops and money can only make it worse, not better. The new strategic aim must be regional stability, not democracy in Iraq. The United States alone cannot achieve it. It will need help. And other countries will not help while we are bogged down in Iraq. They enjoy our pain.

But once they see U.S. forces departing, they will be frightened. The aftermath of our departure will cause them far more pain than it will us. Not only will the countries in the Middle East become more cooperative, but so will the Europeans and others.

Why? Because none of them can lead a global coalition. The Europeans will be asking us to lead, and the others will see it as the least-undesirable alternative.

Precisely how to orchestrate such a coalition to reestablish regional stability will be a challenge, but it will be a new poker game with more favorable odds. The old game has expanded Iran's influence in the region, allowed Al Qaeda to build more cadres and reduced Israel's security. It's time to reshape the game. That means salvaging our strategy, not toying with tactics.

But I was moved by the speech. For one thing, I really admired Bush the man. This will sound corny, but these landmark Bush speeches always make me feel patriotic and proud. I don't know whether history will vindicate his decision not to take the easy way out offered by the Iraq Study Group, but it shows courage. To stand tall in the face of so many slings and arrows of contempt and hatred-- I found it inspiring, almost amazing. I felt the desire to follow; I felt loyalty, support...

However, on balance, I don't favor the new strategy, for one reason:

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

I don't think we can afford to confront both Iran and Syria. The Iraq Study Group wants to negotiate with both. That's self-defeating because it makes us look so weak that we're hardly worth negotiating with. Bush wants to confront both. Why not split the difference: engage Iran, while continuing or escalating the punishment of Syria, both because it deserves it (assassinating Hariri, helping jihadists in Iraq, etc.) and as a warning to Iran? Iran's public is pro-American; its president is not, of course, but after severe losses in local elections last month, Ahmadinejad is notably weakened, and a conservative/reformist camp headed by Rafsanjani is sounding more favorable to opening to the West.

On the military merits, my two informed sources-- Ralph Peters and Belgravia Dispatch-- disagree. Peters thinks "the president's plan deserves a chance," while Greg Djerejian pours scorn on it. But even Peters, and other hawks, figure a medium- to long-term commitment is needed, and the political climate at home is so hostile that I don't think we're capable of that right now.

This is a bit like an American Tet Offensive: we're sappping our own strength to the point where it's dangerous, but the gains might be the just enough to pacify Baghdad just long enough to... to do what? To engage Iran from a position of relative strength, and get a few concessions-- e.g., maybe a cessation of its nuclear push-- in return for diplomatic gains such as a commitment not to overthrow the Islamic Republic and an end to the trade embargo which will empower them within the Middle East. This weakens Iran's incentive to stop us in Iraq, and at the same time strengthens fears of Iranian hegemony in the Arab Middle East, which would make them more inclined to view the US favorably as a needed counter-weight. It would be helpful, too, to push for peace in Israel-Palestine; even if it didn't succeed, it might do some good there, while helping our image in the region a little bit, and weakening the only reason for solidarity between the Arabs and Iran...

I'm a little out of my depth here. These details are pretty speculative. But I think it would take some kind of real diplomatic change for the "surge" to have a good enough chance to achieve peace in Iraq to be worth the risks. In its absence, I can't support the plan, and if the next best option is the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, I guess I'd support that.


  • Haven't been here in a while because of how busy I've been with work, and I see I've missed some very astute commentary. I think we may be in something resembling agreement here.

    And of course, what neither you nor I want to think about goes unmentioned: the horrible immediate aftermath of our exit. Whenever I think about this, I briefly want to advocate doing "whatever it takes", until I realize that there's no way to sell that honestly to the public. Instead we have a fairly feeble half-measure with a tiny (but admittedly real) chance of success offered not by some improvement in overall strategy but by a new tactical commander with a slightly enlarged grab-bag of forces that could at least conceivably turn out to be the completion of the inside straight.

    Not what I want to bet on.

    By Blogger Nato, at 10:26 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home