The Corner

Dear Derb

OK, I have my answer. You favor an immediate pull out from Iraq. I was genuinely confused by your recent talk of how this would be a “disaster” and your statement a day or two ago that you favored staying and killing all the jihadis in Iraq. This, as I said of what I mistakenly thought was your other very clear position the other day, has the merit of being a very clear position.

Now, I obviously disagree with you, but I think you make some valid points. You’re right in your post responding to Ramesh that the administration didn’t expect what we’ve gotten in Iraq, and that if everyone knew there were no WMDs and we’d be fighting a bloody insurgency for years, there would have been no congressional authorization. But you have to operate on the information you have at the time, which is always imperfect.

I understand why you would want to topple Saddam and leave, having sent a stern message to the world (and you’re right that we should have killed more enemy at the beginning). But we would have been leaving chaos, civil war, and perhaps another Baathist regime. Now, I know you will say, “So what? They’re Iraqis. I don’t care about Iraqis.”

But this is one your big blind spots. The nature of regimes matters–not just for people living in the countries in question but for those of us who want to see jihadis dead. For instance, there are not so many alive jihadis in Afghanistan as there were four years ago because there is now an anti-jihadi rather than a pro-jihadi government in place there. Getting that government in there and legitimazing it has required fussing around with tribal politics and nation-building and elections and all the rest of it that you think is just for wusses and lawyers.

Unfortunately, our military is not big enough, nor will it ever be big enough, to go all around the world making these big covert raids to kill all jihadis everywhere that you imagine. You need allies (there I go getting all lawyerly again!). We have one in Afghanistan where we didn’t have one before. We may get a stable one in Iraq, one hopes. Even you have to admit a government that wants to kill jiahdis–even if it does it ineffectually–is better than one that wants to shelter them.

A few last things. The pullout after the election idea is so silly. To have expended so much effort to hold an election, then pull-out even before a government was formed–a government that you think would have collapsed in any case–would have been beyond pointless. You also need to stop saying you favor killing all jihadis in Iraq. You don’t in any real sense–in fact, you are happy to give them a safe haven that you will then re-invade at some point (a quick reminder: invasions aren’t snap-of-the-finger affairs).

Finally, your Japan analogies are off. The War on Terror isn’t against one nation state that you can simply destroy. It’s more like a counter-insurgency. That means it is going to be long and drawn out and complicated. Sorry. If you don’t have the patience for it, just avert your eyes. But this is what we’re stuck with. You seemed to have a better understanding of it back in the immediate days after 9/11.

Finally, since killing all the jihadis is pointless if you are just making more jihadis, persuasion as well as coercion has to be part of our fight. That is why it is advisable to make such a big deal of our ideals (democracy, human rights, rule of law, etc.) Because you hope that, in the long run, they will be more attractive to the balance of Muslim opinion than the death cult of the jihadis.

I absolutely understand the impulse to say, “Oh, to heck with it! Can’t we just bomb someone and be done with it?” You are firmly in the Jacksonian tradition in that regard. Alas, it’s going to be much harder than that.

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