Sunday, March 19, 2006

The lessons of Iraq

Today marks the third anniversary of the Iraq war. The war was always opposed by libertarians, as well as a smattering of Real Politicos (Buckley, Buchanan, Bob Novak, Scowcroft, George Will), but you have to know where to look to find criticism of the war effort from the right.

By contrast, the liberal media has supplied a platform for left-wing critics of the war.

It has been a grueling three years with, as of yet, no end in sight. Of course, wars are generally grueling affairs.

We need to be clear on what a loss in Iraq would really mean. To liberals, failure in Iraq would represent a vindication of their diplomatic alternative. It would discredit the idea of a military answer to the war against global jihad.

The short-term objective in Iraq was to depose Saddam and disarm the country. That, however, was only a means to a long-term objective.

Bush was never banking on a military solution to the threat of global jihad. Military intervention was intended to be a temporary ground-clearing exercise. The idea was to democratize Iraq and use the Iraqi domino to democratize the remainder of the Mideast, on the theory that the root-cause of militant Islam was political and economic rather than religious or ethnic.

Bush was assuming that democracy enjoys universal appeal. If it can work here, it can work anywhere.

Suppose his vision is flawed. What’s the alternative?

If the political solution is a bust, then the alternative is not a non-violent solution. To the contrary, if the political solution is a bust, then the only solution is a military solution.

If we can’t reason with Muslims, if we are unable to even get “moderate” Muslims to stand up for themselves, even when we stand behind them, then the solution is more war, not less.

If we fail in Iraq, it is only because we chose to wage a war of liberation rather than a war of destruction. American has the military might to win any war of destruction. The only thing that constrains us is conscience, and not a lack of firepower. It has always been within our power to subdue the Iraqis by brute force.

Now, some may say that Iraq was never a threat. Perhaps. Perhaps it was the wrong front in the right war.

But what about Iran or Syria? What if “moderate” leaders of countries like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia are overthrown or assassinated?

Diplomacy only works if it’s backed up by a credible threat of force. This is why we’ve been spinning our wheels with Iran and North Korea.

If the Neocons are wrong, the answer is not to work with the UN, but to be even more belligerent and downright ruthless.

It’s difficult at this vantage-point to assess the magnitude of the threat. We’re in a world of competing hypotheticals and corresponding war-games. It could be that the threat is overblown. 9/11 may have been their best shot.

Or it could be that they’ll get lucky. America is a wide-open, target rich environment. There are so many ways to do so much harm.

There are many, here and abroad, hoping that Bush will fail and take down the GOP in his wake.

But if Bush fails, the future is darker rather than brighter.

If the Democrats stage a comeback, they will lower the guard, allowing the terrorists to reposition and preposition themselves for a more dire attack.

If you destroy the American economy, you destroy the world economy. One big win by the jihadis and everyone loses.

If the GOP remains in power, while Iraq goes up in flames, it will need to abandon the optimism of the neocon strategy for a far more cynical, scorched-earth policy. Slash-and-burn the enemy before it returns the favor.

Preemption will be the norm rather than the exception. That’s the worst-case scenario, made more probable by our defeat in Iraq, should that come to pass.


  1. The Iraq situation is certainly a messy situation--I've thought that we actually need to handle it more strongly than we do, and we may have to go the way that you suggest, eventually.

    It's funny that you should bring this up since last night our community group bible study was just finishing up the beatitudes (study was by John Stott). The one we studied was "blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matt. 5:9) We talked about the difference between resolving conflict and being merely conciliatory or practicing appeasement.

    Making peace and keeping peace are two different things--they've been doing the latter in the Middle East for centuries, but the underlying conflict has never been resolved (and in my opinion, will not be until the Lord returns).

    Good post.

  2. Steve > Bush was assuming that democracy enjoys universal appeal. If it can work here, it can work anywhere.

    Suppose his vision is flawed. What’s the alternative?

    An excellent and penetrating question. I wish more people had asked it, much earlier than three years into the engagement.

    Perhaps it is overly pessimistic to me but the whole thing looks more like an attempt to strengthen American presence and influence in an oil-rich region, hmmm, in advance of China's rapidly expanding energy needs.