Conventionally Ignorant
The same old simplicities about Iraq.


Victor Davis Hanson

Washington is an echo chamber. One pundit, one senator, one reporter proclaim a snazzy “truth” and almost immediately it reverberates as gospel. Conventional wisdom about Iraq is rarely questioned. A notion seems to find validity not on its logic or through empirical evidence, but simply by the degree to which it is repeated and felt to resonate.

Take the following often repeated statements.

“There is no military solution to Iraq.

Well, obviously it is true in the sense that in this postmodern age we were not going to see another Curtis LeMay flatten a Fallujah or Ramadi.

But the miraculous political achievement of postwar Japan or Europe was the dividend of a military solution: the destruction of wartime fascism and the prevention of its reemergence by vigilant military policing.

Likewise, there will only be peace in a constitutional Iraq when citizens believe that they can safely participate in government, express themselves somewhat freely, prosper economically, and feel safe from internal and external threats.

In order to do this, an army and a national police force that purport to prevent thugs, militias, and terrorists from killing those with whom they disagree, are required. In war-torn Iraq, such forces will only emerge as confident and capable when they know that the U.S. is stronger than their enemies, and can offer them a window of security to train and strengthen.

So a political solution is only possible if there is security — and security is only likely if someone first kills, defeats, or routs the enemy. True, the promise of political equity and stability is a carrot that eases the military’s task by winning hearts and minds to enlist in the requisite armed effort. But at some point early in the process, some very brave souls in the U.S. Marine Corps and Army have had to wade into the swamp of the seventh century to stop frightening killers from plying their craft against the weak and helpless.

“We haven’t tried regional diplomacy.”

This is another red herring. Regional players all had interests in Iraq. The problem was that they were never quite our own.

So before talking, they first wanted to try their hand at mischief and advantage, and only later, when and if forced, would resort to diplomacy. Iran wanted to create a Shiite buffer state; the Gulf monarchies and Jordan to ensure that Sunni insurgents won and thereby to remind their own dissident minorities to respect the status quo; Turkey to thwart an independent Kurdistan; and Syria to do anything that caused the United States trouble.

In 2003, and again in 2007, these regional powers wanted to talk with the United States since they had a hunch we were winning — and thus they might be able to find advantage from, or were terrified of, the local power broker. But in 2004-6 we were perceived as mired in Iraq, weak, and not worth the verbiage.

Then again, as the volatile battlefield changed once more, suddenly we had some renewed clout with the Saudis to cut off the money to Sunni extremists; likewise with the Jordanians and Syrians to monitor their borders with Iraq; and similarly with the Iranians to reduce their shipments of weapons into Iraq. If there is a shred of truth in the latest National Intelligence Estimate which alleges that Iran ceased its nuclear bomb program in 2003, it was not because of some miraculous “diplomacy,” but only because of the fear that the mullahs (cf. the contemporary about-face of Libya’s Col. Gaddafi) might end up like the recently deposed Saddam Hussein.