The Corner

Derb,

I know you are trying to be a hard-bitten realist, but you are leaving reality out of your equation.

1) Good luck on ending our dependence of foreign oil. When you’ve managed that, maybe we can no longer care about the Middle East and just right it off as central Africa or some place else strategically unimportant.

2) Once you have in any way signaled our departure, the security and political situation will immediately worsen. The bands that you will strike up won’t matter.

3) We do need Arabs and Muslims to turn against radicalism. That is what ultimately discredits it. And this is happening before our very eyes. Look at those videos the Iraqi government has been creating of the kidnappers, humiliated and exposed as un-Islamic and the very opposite of martyrs. That is invaluable propaganda in the fight for hearts and minds, and they can do it better than we can.

Again, what you are saying is that the struggle between the people in Iraq fighting terrorists and one of al Qaeda’s key allies, Zarqawi, doesn’t matter. You posit this as a fight between essentially benign (as far as it concerns us) order and benign chaos. Nonsense. After your withdrawal with the bands playing you may end up, not with merely region-destabilizing chaos, but with a radical anti-American terrorist-supporting regime. You may say this doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t nuclear-armed. Since when is that the standard? The Taliban wasn’t nuclear-armed.

Also, Iran will be nuclear-armed. A successful Iraq at least provides some chance of undermining the mullahs.

Finally, you are right if you mean that we can’t fine-tune the politics of the Middle East. Absolutely right. But the broad policies matter. If you don’t think that what Bush has done over the last three years in the Middle East has provided the opportunity for something better, you’re looking at this through eyes that are way too jaundiced.

4) Yes, there is a nationalist element to the insurgency. That’s why the elections and training Iraqi forces (granted, a process that hasn’t gone particularly well) are important. Now, we’re going to have an elected Iraqi government supporting the fight against these guys. That matters.

On Israel-Palestine, a solution would have a benign effect on the region by, if nothing else, taking away the excuse the Syrians and other have for their nasty little dictatorships.

5) Of course you are giving up. You may have your own rationale for Iraq in your head, but it is different one that every US official has been enunciating for the last year and a half. Also, you are saying a better Iraq is basically impossible, at least we can’t influence the creation of one. So, you’re giving up. There’s not necessarily any shame in that. Lost causes should be given up. It’s just that this one is now looking less lost than it was five months ago.

On Ferguson, I don’t know if ten years is right. I want to get out as soon as a decent Iraqi government is basically capable of confronting the insurgents and terrorists. Iraq needn’t be Sweden. It will fall short of Western political norms for a long, long time. But it still can be much, much better than what was there before. On one level, you are right. We can’t “manage” Iraqi society–ultimately Iraqi leadership needs to step up and be responsible (that’s actually what Sistani has been doing). But we can provide the broad environment–namely, some security against the return of the Baathists or success of the Zarqawis–that helps tilt the playing field toward success.

Last point–I’m in some sympathy with where you are trying to come from here. Some parts of the world don’t matter to our security. Some societies are going to be more tribal and religious than Westerner’s would like. All true. But things do change. Islam looked different 40 years ago from how it looks today. It can look different again. (Suicide bombing as we know it, for instance, was an tactical/ideological creation of Khomeini–it had a political beginning, it can have a political end.) Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia looked different. Another region of the world, the Middle East, can change too, but we just can’t bug out now.

I’ve enjoyed this exchange! Now, about TBL…

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