Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Iraq Effect

Johns Hopkins Professor Fouad Ajami takes stock of the war in Iraq and its larger effects in the war on terror as he ponders why anyone would think that anything from 2003 is relevant to the question of what we should do in the reality of 2008?

This from Faoud Ajami in todays WSJ:

Of all that has been written about the play of things in Iraq, nothing that I have seen approximates the truth of what our ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, recently said of this war: "In the end, how we leave and what we leave behind will be more important than how we came."

It is odd, then, that critics have launched a new attack on the origins of the war at precisely the time a new order in Iraq is taking hold. But American liberal opinion is obsessive today. . . .

Mr. McClellan wades into the deep question of whether this war was a war of "necessity" or a war of "choice." He does so in the sixth year of the war, at a time when many have forgotten what was thought and said before its onset. The nation was gripped by legitimate concern over gathering dangers in the aftermath of 9/11. Kabul and the war against the Taliban had not sufficed, for those were Arabs who struck America on 9/11. A war of deterrence had to be waged against Arab radicalism, and Saddam Hussein had drawn the short straw. He had not ducked, he had not scurried for cover. He openly mocked America's grief, taunted its power.

We don't need to overwork the stereotype that Arabs understand and respond to the logic of force, but this is a region sensitive to the wind, and to the will of outside powers. Before America struck into Iraq, a mere 18 months after 9/11, there had been glee in the Arab world, a sense that America had gotten its comeuppance. There were regimes hunkering down, feigning friendship with America while aiding and abetting the forces of terror.

Liberal opinion in America and Europe may have scoffed when President Bush drew a strict moral line between order and radicalism – he even inserted into the political vocabulary the unfashionable notion of evil – but this sort of clarity is in the nature of things in that Greater Middle East. It is in categories of good and evil that men and women in those lands describe their world. The unyielding campaign waged by this president made a deep impression on them.

Nowadays, we hear many who have never had a kind word to say about the Iraq War pronounce on the retreat of the jihadists. It is as though the Islamists had gone back to their texts and returned with second thoughts about their violent utopia. It is as though the financiers and the "charities" that aided the terror had reconsidered their loyalties and opted out of that sly, cynical trade. Nothing could be further from the truth. If Islamism is on the ropes, if the regimes in the saddle in key Arab states now show greater resolve in taking on the forces of radicalism, no small credit ought to be given to this American project in Iraq.

We should give the "theorists" of terror their due and read them with some discernment. To a man, they have told us that they have been bloodied in Iraq, that they have been surprised by the stoicism of the Americans, by the staying power of the Bush administration.

There is no way of convincing a certain segment of opinion that there are indeed wars of "necessity." A case can always be made that an aggressor ought to be given what he seeks, that the costs of war are prohibitively high when measured against the murky ways of peace and of daily life.

. . . In the narrow sense of command and power, this war in Iraq is Mr. Bush's war. But it is an evasion of responsibility to leave this war at his doorstep. This was a war fought with congressional authorization, with the warrant of popular acceptance, and the sanction of United Nations resolutions which called for Iraq's disarmament. It is the political good fortune (in the world of Democratic Party activists) that Sen. Barack Obama was spared the burden of a vote in the United States Senate to authorize the war. By his telling, he would have us believe that he would have cast a vote against it. But there is no sure way of knowing whether he would have stood up to the wind.

With the luxury of hindsight, the critics of the war now depict the arguments made for it as a case of manipulation and deceit. This is odd and misplaced: The claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were to prove incorrect, but they were made in good faith.

It is also obtuse and willful to depict in dark colors the effort made to "sell" the war. Wars can't be waged in stealth, and making the moral case for them is an obligation incumbent on the leaders who launch them. If anything, there were stretches of time, and critical turning points, when the administration abdicated the fight for public opinion.

Nor is there anything unprecedented, or particularly dishonest, about the way the rationale for the war shifted when the hunt for weapons of mass destruction had run aground. True, the goal of a democratic Iraq – and the broader agenda of the war as a spearhead of "reform" in Arab and Muslim lands – emerged a year or so after the onset of the war. But the aims of practically every war always shift with the course of combat, and with historical circumstances. Need we recall that the abolition of slavery had not been an "original" war aim, and that the Emancipation Proclamation was, by Lincoln's own admission, a product of circumstances? A war for the Union had become a victory for abolitionism.

America had not been prepared for nation-building in Iraq; we had not known Iraq and Iraqis or understood the depth of Iraq's breakdown. But there was nothing so startling or unusual about the connection George W. Bush made between American security and the "reform" of the Arab condition. As America's pact with the Arab autocrats had hatched a monster, it was logical and prudent to look for a new way.

. . . It is not easy to tell people of threats and dangers they have been spared. The war put on notice regimes and conspirators who had harbored dark thoughts about America and who, in the course of the 1990s, were led to believe that terrible deeds against America would go unpunished. A different lesson was taught in Iraq. Nowadays, the burden of the war, in blood and treasure, is easy to see, while the gains, subtle and real, are harder to demonstrate. Last month, American casualties in Iraq were at their lowest since 2003. The Sunnis also have broken with al Qaeda, and the Shiite-led government has taken the war to the Mahdi Army: Is it any wonder that the critics have returned to the origins of the war?

Five months from now, the American public will vote on this war, in the most dramatic and definitive of ways. There will be people who heed Ambassador Crocker's admonition. And there will be others keen on retelling how we made our way to Iraq.

Read the entire article.


DrKrbyLuv said...

Clearly, Iraq was a war of choice, not necessity. Now that we know it was a mistake to invade, we are left with the dilemma of getting out while saving face and avoiding havoc.

Now the good news...there is a growing sentiment in Iraq to get us out by the end of the year. After they throw us out, I hope America realizes that the 4,000 lives and close to $1 trillion dollars has been completely wasted.

GW said...

I concur it was a war of choice. As to it being a mistake, I think that is quite arguable and that no definitive pronouncement can be made for about two decades. In any event, that is an issue solely for history professors and, regardless of how one feels on it, logically should not color the question of what to do now. It also sidesteps the fact that our defeat of al Qaeda inside of Iraq coupled with the Anbar Awakening is having a devastating effect on al Qaeda and terrorism world wide.

As to the "good news," what you site is, in essence, Iranian propaganda. The vast majority of Iraqis do not want to see the U.S. leave. The vocal component of those who want the U.S. out come almost wholly out of the Sadrist camp. The Sunnis want us their for decades and the Kurds seem quite willing to consider statehood. I am joking on that last, but not by all that much.

If you want to consider a quick exit from Iraq, I would urge you to put aside any thought of 2003 and ponder both the effect on Iraq, Iran, the larger Middle East and our strategic concerns there. If you can argue from that standpoint, your argument will have much greater validity.

DrKrbyLuv said...

Thanks for your comments GW, you made some good points in your post that deserve a response:

GW said: “I concur it [Iraq] was a war of choice. As to it being a mistake, I think that is quite arguable and that no definitive pronouncement can be made for about two decades.”

I think we can pronounce that it was a mistake to circumvent the Constitution in that it effectively removed all intended safeguards and checks. Clearly, the Constitution stipulates that the Congress alone has the authority to declare war. Congress was complicit in breaching the Constitution when they yielded their most important charge and authority to Bush.

Bush wanted to avoid the national debate and vetting process that would have taken place in Congress. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was made in spite of the fact that we lacked the solid evidence and imminent danger to warrant a just and legal war. The Constitution is designed to avoid having an unwitting, emotional or corrupt President from pulling the war trigger.

GW said: “If you want to consider a quick exit from Iraq, I would urge you to put aside any thought of 2003 and ponder both the effect on Iraq, Iran, the larger Middle East and our strategic concerns there. If you can argue from that standpoint, your argument will have much greater validity.”

I agree we should not be too hasty in leaving Iraq. But, I don’t think an open ended commitment serves our interests. Iraq’s destiny should be placed in Iraqi hands as soon as possible. In the meantime, they should be paying all costs incurred.