The Corner

Clash of Titans

Rich:

Sorry, I was out all day yesterday & am just catching up. Hope your bug has retreated. Some key points from your last post:

[You] Do you favor an immediate pull-out from Iraq? A few weeks ago you wrote, “Withdrawal now would be a disaster.” Is that still your position?

[Me] No. The best time for a pullout would have been after the January election, at which point we could plausibly say: “Well, we’ve done all we can.” The Admin. having decided to go stumbling on through February, March,… after the golden moment had gone, I thought we had a tiger by the tail and ought to hang on to the next milestone — constitution, whatever.

I have changed my mind. Yes, it would be a disaster; but the choice now is between degrees of disaster.

[You] …With some of your super-duper covert raids?

[Me] Easy to scoff, but I don’t see how we are going to win the War on Terror without a great deal of covert activity. In this, at least, I have been perfectly consistent. My first comment on the War on Terror, on 9/11/01, envisioned just such a war:

This is not an easy enemy to confront. This will not be a matter of great troop movements, of trenches and bombs and massed charges. This will be small teams of inconceivably brave men and women, working in strange places, unknown and unacknowledged.”

I wish we had fought more of that kind of war. I wish the pettifogging legalism of our political culture would let us.

[You, in precis] If we pull out of Iraq, they will get a jihadist govt.

Then we should have to go in again.

[Me] It is often the case, in geostrategy as in home remodeling (I speak from the heart, after some weeks of juggling 8×4 panels of sheetrock and buckets of spackling “mud”) that if you don’t do a job of work properly, you have to do it over. That’s why the expression “Gulf War” comes with an ordinal suffix. The solution is to do the job properly. Our point of difference is in the definition of “properly.” Yours is: “A 10-to-15-year, trillion-dollar nation-building enterprise.” Mine is: “Bring Iraq down as far below the nuclear-capability threshold as possible, and put the fear of God into them and their neighbors.” That could have been done in a few weeks. There was no point our maintaining an army in Iraq after that.

[You] Derb is a gloomy pessimist, who doesn’t even want to try to help Iraqis get some kind of rational or semi-rational govt. Think of the benefits if it works!

[Me] The converse of “benefit” is “cost.” I have nothing against a nation-building effort in Iraq, though it is true I estimate its probability of success as vanishingly small. It would be a fine and noble thing to do… if we had nothing else to do. We are, however, in a war, a war to prevent nuclear attacks on our soil, and we have to allocate our resources prudently. Cost-benefit-wise, I can’t see an argument for our current efforts in Iraq. And – it is by now a tired platitude, but still a true one – if we lose a US city to a terrorist nuke next month, or next year, our current obsessions with juggling Iraqi sects, factions, and personalities, and grading Iraqi army units on their battle-worthiness, will suddenly seem utterly pointless. Which, from the point of view of a real War on Terror, they are. As utterly pointless as frisking 80-year-old grandmothers at airports. We are just not doing this right. I am resisting, as best I can, the temptation to think that there is something in our national psyche that prevents us doing it right.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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