The Corner

Stephen Biddle On Iraq

Riding the train home from today’s NR editorial meeting, I occupied myself reading the March/April Foreign Affairs. The lead-off piece is by Stephen Biddle, titled “Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon.”

The thrust of the piece is that crucial US strategic decisions about Iraq are being made on a false premise: that Iraq 2006 is Vietnam 1970.

R.M. Nixon 1969: “As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.”

G.W. Bush 2004: “As the Iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces can stand down.”

etc. etc. Biddle tries to show that all the underlying dynamics are different, mainly because Vietnam was a “people’s war” driven by ideology (mainly nationalism), whereas Iraq is a communal civil war, of which he says:

“These conflicts do not revolve around ideas, because no pool of uncommitted citizens is waiting to be swayed by ideology. (Albanian Kosovars, Bosnian Muslims, and Rwandan Tutsis knew whose side they were on.) The fight is about group survival…”

Biddle is not altogether downbeat, and thinks the situation might yet be saved, if the admin. re-orients its strategy, using its military and economic muscle to nudge the various groups towards necessary compromise, like a man standing on a seesaw (this is my image, not Biddle’s), constantly shifting his weight from one side to the other to keep the thing level.

“Since no side today can be confident that it would come out on top in a [civil] war, the prospect of losing should be a powerful motivation to compromise.”

The whole piece is of course premised on the meta-strategic notion, which Biddle places as a moral obligation on the US, that we ought to attempt **something** in Iraq, rather than just leave the place to disintegrate. I don’t myself share that premise; but if you do, I think Biddle makes a good case for a change of direction.

The chief obstacle to any such thing as Biddle suggests actually being attempted is, that US policymakers, and GWB especially, have breathed deep of the opium-smoke of multiculturalism, and so believe that the bitter group antagonisms that Biddle identifies as the real causes of Iraqi unrest can be smoothed away with some sweet talk and a couple of PowerPoint presentations.

The multi-culti cult has not finished its work yet. It will wreak much more damage in the world, and to America’s interests, before it expires at last.

In which context, an interesting–I think, telling–factoid from Biddle’s piece:

“The U.S. military does not keep data on the ethnic makeup of the Iraqi forces, [so] the number of Sunnis in these organizations is unknown and the effectiveness of mixed units cannot be established conclusively.”

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

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