The Corner

About Last Night

Columbia University’s Miller Theater played host to an “Iraq Three Years Later” panel last night. Moderated by Joe Klein of Time, the lively discussion featured Noah Feldman of NYU School of Law, Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institution, Andrew Sullivan, and our own Victor Davis Hanson. The panelists were asked to give their current views of the situation in Iraq and also asked to answer the question “Was it worth it?”

Upon entering the theater I was handed a flyer that read “The World Can’t Wait: Drive Out the Bush Regime!” Apparently it is my responsibility to “aim to create a political situation where the Bush regime’s program is repudiated, where Bush himself is driven from office, and where the whole direction he has been taking society is reversed.” You can even meet at St. Paul and St. Andrews Church on the Upper West Side to plan the coup.

See ya there!

All panelists, sans Joe Klein, supported the Iraq war at the start. Now, three years later, their opinions widely vary on the direction the war is going, whether it was worth it, and what we should be doing. Hanson patiently and cogently presented the most optimistic view about the outcome of Iraq stressing the fact that the clumsy execution of a war is nothing new the history of the U.S. Sullivan, as you might imagine, was coming from a different place, even challenging Hanson at one point to denounce the administration and agree to its “astonishing incompetence.” Throughout the night, Sullivan–perhaps playing to the crowd a bit–kept banging the drum for Rumsfeld’s removal. On the other hand, Noah Feldman, a former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority as well as to the Iraqi Governing Council, brought his on-the-ground experience to the conversation and offered a fresh take of what needs to happen in Iraq to avoid civil war. Feldman recalled the frustrating but fascinating experience of trying to advise Iraqis. Thinking that the Iraqi people would be used to orders, seeing as they were controlled for so long by a brutal totalitarian regime, Feldman was often faced with uncompromising “no’s.” Feldman is certain the administration must present the Iraqis with an ultimatum soon: create national unity or else risk U.S. withdrawal.

Was it worth it? Hanson says yes, Pollack says it’s too soon to tell, and Sullivan and Feldman say no. What is the route to take? None of the panelists are in favor of an immediate withdrawal, all agree that to cut and run would be a complete disaster, but none seemed to have the magical answer either.

It was an interesting night and not nearly as hostile as my welcoming-committee suggested.

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