Friday, July 28, 2006

We're All Defeatists Now

Billmon very rightly gives David Frum the business for now recognizing the Fiasco in Iraq due to internal opposition and external support for insurgents, both factors Frum, Perle and others sought to dismiss prior to the invasion.

But there was another aspect of Frum's NRO post that bears further attention.

To take back the capital from the militias that now terrorize it will take thousands, not hundreds, of American plus tens of thousands of Iraqis. No sector in Iraq can spare the loss of so many forces (our current troubles in Anbar date back to the decision in 2004 to shift troops from Anbar to the siege of Fallujah - when they returned, they discovered that every pro-US informant and ally in the province had been murdered, usually horribly and publicly). So a real plan for success in Baghdad will have to be built upon additional troops from out of area, potentially raising US troop levels back up to the 150,000 or so of late 2005.

Manifestly, neither the administration nor the Congress will contemplate such a move.


Averting such a fate means fighting to win Baghdad. But if the president decides against such a fight - either because it would be too bloody or too politically costly or even because he doubts that the US can ultimately succeed - then we need a backup plan.


This is not, as some American commentators argue, because the Iraqis refuse to fight for their country. Thousands of brave Iraqis, civil and military, have laid down their lives fighting or working for a secure and democratic Iraq. But Iraq has powerful enemies, inside and out. To date, the US has fought only a limited war against those enemies. Iran understands that the war in Iraq is a regional war. Syria understands it too. Only the US has tried to pretend that the war zone stops at the international border.


As I said, we may need a backup plan.


It's a second best. First best is to win. But that will take more commitment than the administration was prepared to offer yesterday. If we forfeit the best outcome, and refuse to plan for * second best *, we stand in very grave danger of ending up with the worst.

The gist of Frum's column is that the U.S. has not committed to go all out, to wage war unleashed. Since the U.S., both its president and worst of all, its feckless masses, have no stomach for real war, we'll have to settle for second best; Frum is posing as the conservative of conscience making for posterity's purpose a statement asserting we're only losing because of the great lack of Will. Of course this "fighting the war with one arm tied behind our backs" refrain on the part of conservatives isn't unique or new. You can find much of the same talk in Ralph Peters' and Shelby Steele's laments about not sufficiently exterminating the enemy.

And in a sense I think these conservatives are right, at least about one thing that's gone ignored in the neo-con utopian nightmare these last few years: war is messy, nasty business and should only be fought if one is willing to commit genocide, sparing neither man, woman, child, aged or animal. There's another type of war, a war of very specific, limited aims, and likewise conducted with brute, efficient and terrifying force--the type of war believed in by former Secretary Powell and most other realists.

But the neo-con vision and the Bush presumption was that neither type of war was needed in Iraq and neither paradigm accurately reflected American ability and Iraqi hopes for liberation. The war would be short, successful and received gladly by the country's oppressed masses. Collateral damage would be minimal. And in the war's early days, there was much to support this expectation.

But the ethnic and religious fissures that many critics of the war warned about prior to the invasion soon came to the fore, as did a predictable lawlessness and chaos as the American forces, lacking anything like a post-war plan, failed to secure the peace.

With three years of escalating violence and instability, some conservatives are falling back on the argument that if we had only really sacked the country and completely destroyed it would the war have been successfull, seemingly forgetting the liberating aspirations war was supposed to bring for the country's inhabitants. Some of these conservatives are cranky now either because they think America is being dishonored by the quagmire or because they want to move onto other, better wars.

Of course, other conservatives, as I've suggested, might not be at all displeased by the course of events in Iraq. Just the birth pang of a new Middle East, just the sort of creative chaos needed to ensure American hegemony.

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