We had a print-magazine deadline this week, so I’m just coming in at the tail end of some things here, especially the odd bedfellow’s alliance of Derb and Ted Kennedy on Iraq. Derb is absolutely right that there are many places in the world that have zero effect on U.S. security. And he is right to recoil from a global crusade for American-style democracy (not that that is in the offing, despite the Second Inaugural address). But there are a couple of ways he goes wrong.
1) The Middle East matters to us strategically, and basically every American president since World War II has realized that. It’s not central Africa. The total collapse of Iraq into chaos could destabilize the region in ways that would effect us negatively, whether its a disruption of oil markets or a radical takeover of Saudi Arabia or some other nightmare.
2) Pulling out would send a signal of weakness. I take it that Derb supported the Iraq invasion partly to send a message–”don’t screw with us.” A pullout now would send the opposite message–”bleed us and we run, no matter how often we say we won’t.” Witness what happened when the Israelis pulled out from Southern Lebanon. The militants spun it as a great military victory, the Palestinians sensed weakness, and an intense terrorist war was launched against Israel as a result. If pulling out precipitously from Somalia emboldened Islamic militants against us, this surely would embolden them even more.
3) Making a better Middle East matters in two big ways. The first is that al Qaeda represents a global insurgency against the United States. You don’t beat insurgencies solely by military means (as Derb acknowledges with his roaches analogy). You win by starving them of political support among their base. We need Arabs and Muslims to turn decisively against radicalism. We need more Allawis and fewer Zarqawis. Therefore the fight in Iraq is crucially important. A Zarqawi win would increase the prestige and political support for radicals (more roaches in the apartment). And if a decent, reforming government is established in Iraq, it could send a gust of reform across the region. If the Saudis, for instance, catch a whiff of modernity and stop funding radical education around the globe, that too would affect our interests (our apartment would look even better). Lastly, Gilles Kepel argues persuasively in Jihad: The Trial of Political Islam that Islamic-oriented parties are always more responsible in countries with an element of democracy (Jordan, Turkey) and where they have a stake in governing and the success of their country. Reform around the Arab world could therefore help moderate Islam, another very important thing.
4) The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is by no means the root of all our problems in the Middle East and of the radicals’ hatred of the US. But it doesn’t help. All things considered, a solution would be better for us than the alternative. The discrediting of radicalism through its defeat in Iraq makes a solution more likely.
5) Finally, we’re making real progress in Iraq. What a terrible time to give up! A nascent, if obviously imperfect, democracy may be taking hold. Ayatollah Sistani is not Khomeini, in fact his model of governance appears to be a rejection of the Iranian one. That’s why a successful Iraq might undermine the ideological standings of the mullahs in Iran–yet another thing in which we have a security interest.
So, in short, we need to stick it out, and thank God for the bravery and sacrifice of American GIs.