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Assessing Iraq


Ruel Marc Gerecht’s, “In Iraq, Let’s Fight One War at a Time,”
is not a pretty picture.  In meticulous detail, Gerecht shows how the relation between political factions in Iraq reduce to relations between independent militias.  By the end of the piece, Gerecht is saying we need to ignore Iraq’s elected politicians and disarm the militias (in careful order).  Whatever this is, it is not democracy.  It was clearly a mistake to believe that elections would bring democracy without our first disarming the militias.  Implicitly, Jed Babbin’s tough questions on Iraq strategy reinforce that point.  (HT Glenn Reynolds)  The only way to success in Iraq lies through effective cancellation of the militia-tainted “democracy” we’ve had up to now.

Mario, the other day you said, “all the violence in Baghdad makes it look like we’re losing the war, regardless [of] the pace of reconstruction or political progress.” Yet it strikes me that there is no political progress, only regress.  Baghdad is a Hobbesian anarchy of independent militias (see that Robert Zelnick article, “Iraq: Last Chance.”)  In such an atmosphere, there can be no political stability and no hope for anything other than the dominance of militias.  A troop surge may or may not work at this point, but I don’t see how we save Iraq without one.  The current situation is not one of gradual military-political progress.  It is one of hastening decline toward inevitable disaster if nothing substantially new is done to stop it.

Mario, you say that the “deteriorating security situation in Baghdad is at root not a military problem but a political one.”  Well, that’s true in a sense.  Yet politics, at its root depends on a monopoly of the legitimate means of force.  In Iraq, there is no such monopoly on the national level.  It exists–and then only tentatively–within tiny, local, militia controlled patches.  So the root political problem is also, and simultaneously, a military problem.  We either break the militias in the achingly slow, complicated, and methodical way recommended by Gerecht, or we concede that Iraq has fallen apart.

Again, Mario, I don’t mean to disparage the points that you and the military are making.  You and Babbin make a powerful case that, militarily, the surge may not work, and may even be counterproductive.  On the other hand, I can’t see pretending that, in the absence of a successful surge, there is any prospect of saving the situation.  In this sense, you are right that there is a political root to the problem.  The Iraqi people (many of them, anyway) may not want to be “saved,” as we define that term.  Many Iraqis think communally, and would perhaps like to live in tiny patches of militia-ruled territory.

Yet there are also plenty of Iraqis who are being driven into the arms of radical militias strictly out of fear.  These people would likely prefer an order established by U.S. troops and solidified by a true national compromise.  We don’t exactly know how the balance of political desire among Iraqis works out–and neither likely do they.  It depends on events and is itself shaped by the military situation, although by no means entirely by that.  This also points to the problem of trying to establish a functioning and independent democracy in the absence of prior underlying cultural movement toward the values of a liberal society.

So the bottom line is that we were vastly too optimistic about the prospects for bringing democracy quickly, in the absence of securing full military control and in the absence of deeper cultural change.  This leaves us to choose between a military surge that may not work (ultimately, because Iraqis may not want it to work), or that will succeed only with difficulty, and only because a military victory will itself help to reshape political attitudes on the ground


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