What’s going wrong in Iraq, and how do we fix it? Polls say that almost three quarters of Americans think Iraq is headed the wrong way and are growing impatient at the apparent lack of progress toward the establishment of a functioning democracy. The president has asked former Secretary of State James Baker and former 9-11 Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton to review the Iraq situation and report — after November 7th — ways to change course. The question is not what the Baker Boys will recommend. The question is, are we even asking the right question. The answer to that, as I’ve written before, is that we’re turning ourselves inside out — and possibly turning Congress over to the Dems — trying to answer the wrong question.
The choice, as the Media/Democrat Complex states it, is between a Bush policy of “stay the course” and the Democrats’ alternative. There is no Democrat alternative, of course, other than what Sens. Carl Levin and Barack Obama said yesterday. Levin — who will chair the Senate Armed Services Committee if the Dems seize the Senate — insisted on Fox News Sunday that the Dems don’t want to “cut and run” but want to begin a phased withdrawal immediately. (For “cut and run” read “trim and trot.”) Rising Dem star Sen. Barack Obama, beginning his presidential audition on Meet the Press, insisted that the withdrawal begin before year’s end. (Obama, who the BBC’s Katty Kay said was, “ridiculously good looking”, got the Russert red carpet treatment, backing off his pledge to serve his entire Senate term and saying he’ll revisit that issue after November 7th. We may be looking at a Clinton/Obama ticket.)
What’s going on in Iraq isn’t what we planned or wanted. The militias of various religious groups are achieving anti-democratic armed power. The Maliki government isn’t either powerful enough or committed enough to disarm the militias because some of their leaders, such as Iranian-funded and directed Moqtada al-Sadr, are key Maliki supporters. Rethinking Iraq, within the boundaries of current wisdom, poses bad choices aimed to solve an almost-irrelevant question.
The choices we’re offered are all based on what we need to do within Iraq to win the war there. But the war in Iraq has always been only a part of the global war terrorist nations are waging against us, and that war cannot be won in Iraq, but it can be lost. We’ve been enthralled by the illusion that Iraq is only about Iraq. As I’ve noted before and will again and again, the war for democracy in Iraq is mis-aimed. It matters little to us who governs Iraq as long as they are no threat to America. And to win the war against Islamic fascism requires the defeat and removal of the national regimes that sponsor it. Without national sponsorship, Islamic fascism and the terrorism it uses against us would not be the existential threat it is. Unless and until we win the war against those nations — Iran and Syria chief among them — that threat will continue to grow. Because none of the choices our leaders offer are aimed to defeat the terrorist nations, every one of the alternatives they pose can lead only to defeat.
The choices, the 527 Media tell us, boil down to four alternatives. First: stay the course, whatever that means. Second, partition Iraq. Third, mount a coup to replace Maliki with a “strongman” who can impose order in Iraq. Fourth, withdraw — immediately or within a year — and let the Iraqis fight it out among themselves and their neighbors.
No one from the president on down says we should stay on the current course without changing tactics. But what changes are going to be made? It’s entirely possible that Baker’s report will recommend a phased withdrawal, with the engagement of Iraq’s neighbors Syria and Iran. In effect, that would paper over a strategic defeat for America. We would be withdrawing from Iraq under the cover of whatever temporary peace Syria and Iran might allow us.
Partitioning Iraq is an approach that could earn an A+ in a graduate course at the Kennedy School of Government, but will get an immediate F in the real world. An independent Kurdistan — the presumed northern section — would violate the agreement President Bush made with Turkey before the invasion. The Turks would invade because they believe (with much justification) that an independent Kurdistan would seek to expand into northeastern Turkey. Shia southern Iraq would be swallowed by Iran, and the middle — Sunni Iraq — would become part of Syria or a Syrian satellite terrorist state like Lebanon. Even if Iraq’s neighbors wouldn’t invade or interfere (an assumption that would be hilarious if it weren’t so dangerous), only Kurdistan could possibly survive as an independent state. The other two would lack either the economic resources necessary to survive or the political unity to function, or both.
It’s fascinating to hear media liberals speak somberly about fomenting a coup to install an Iraqi strongman. If they had any knowledge of the region (or of history) they would know that an American-run coup to overthrow Maliki would succeed as well as the coup as the November 1, 1963 coup against Ngo Dinh Diem engineered by John Kennedy. (According to the George Washington University archives, a White House tape captured an October 1963 meeting in which Bobby Kennedy said, “I mean, it’s different from a coup in the Iraq or South American country; we are so intimately involved in this….”). Like partitioning Iraq, a coup would backfire, probably putting someone like Moqtada al-Sadr in charge and certainly ending any effort to establish democracy there.
What’s left? Only, as we’re led to believe, is what Bob Hope was first to say we should do in Vietnam: declare victory and come home. That recipe for defeat will be dressed up in sufficiently elegant diplo-speak, but that’s what we’ll likely get from the Baker Boys. And it will, in all likelihood, be made the media gospel just as the 9-11 Commission’s recommendations were before it. There’s only one problem with it. It’s a concession of defeat.
The president was wrong to declare that our purpose in Iraq was to establish democracy as a force to overcome Islamic fascism. And it’s wrong to say that if we gradually withdraw from Iraq, even if Iraq fails, that the war against Islamic fascism will have been won.
Conservatives, according to Bill Kristol, are saying more and more, “win or come home.” That’s only half right. Conservatives, and every other American who wants to see an end to this war, know that the fate of Iraq isn’t very important. To win this war means removing the regimes in Iran and Syria and telling the rest of the world that they will be next if they sponsor Islamic fascist terrorism. Prosecute the war in a manner designed to win it decisively, or lose it inevitably. Right now we’re doing the latter, and talking about how to do it quicker and at less cost.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 — click here).
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