November 13, 2006

No Way Out -- But Out

The Perpetually Warmongering True Believers are amazed, outraged and full of damnation directed at Bush, the Iraq Study Group (such as it is), and anyone else at all who would even consider that perhaps the only conceivable way of "stabilizing" Iraq is, among other things, to engage Iran and Syria in regional talks. The True Believers are absolutely certain that if the brutal and brutalizing force we have employed thus far is insufficient, the best solution is a still more brutal campaign of lethal, murderous bombs and bullets. They are as certain of this as they have been certain of everything else over the last five years.

Barbara Tuchman, in The March of Folly:
Like Kennedy, Johnson believed that to lose South Vietnam would be to lose the White House. It would mean a destructive debate, he was later to say, that would "shatter my Presidency, kill my Administration, and damage our democracy." The loss of China, he said, which had led to the rise of Joe McCarthy, was "chickenshit compared with what might happen if we lost Vietnam." Robert Kennedy would be out in front telling everyone that "I was a coward, an unmanly man, a man without a spine." Worse, as soon as United States weakness was perceived by Moscow and Peking, they would move to "expand their control over the vacuum of power we would leave behind us ... and so would begin World War III." He was as sure of this "as nearly as anyone can be certain of anything." No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.
I do not condemn those who suggest talks with Iran and Syria. Far from it: I have been encouraging that precise course for some time -- but for very different reasons. However, with regard to seeking a solution for the Iraq disaster, proceeding in this manner is not very likely to have any substantial success at all -- not now. It might have worked a couple of years ago, but it is probably far too late for that. From the UK Independent:
[I]f Washington's senators, congressmen and policymakers have any sense of responsibility they will divert their attention from matters of domestic advantage, and concentrate on the interests of the Iraqi people.

To grapple with this question it is necessary to recognise the scale of the horror facing Iraq.


Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, warned us that leaving would create "a very real risk of even greater instability and bloodshed than we've already seen". Quite so. But Ms Beckett and all those politicians on both sides of the Atlantic who supported this invasion should acknowledge their responsibility for the terrible choice now facing us.

Some are recommending a third option. Mr Baker, a former secretary of state, has hinted that his report may recommend an appeal to neighbouring Iran to help stabilise the Shia south of the country. He has also suggested that Syria be requested to influence Iraq's Sunni population. This seems the most pragmatic course on offer.

But even this is by no means guaranteed to succeed. The Shia are fighting among themselves, with the Iranian-sponsored Badr Brigade vying for dominance with the followers of the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Iran may find that its influence in the south is limited. On the other hand, Syria and Iran may decide they would like a share of Iraq's oil wealth for themselves, leading to a bloody regional struggle. There would be little the US, or Britain, could do in such a scenario.

The dreadful truth is that, no matter what strategy our leaders now settle upon, the fate of Iraq is slipping inexorably out of their hands.
And that is the "dreadful truth": we have unleashed forces that no one can now control, probably not for years to come. Moreover, we are now, as we have been for several years, an inextricable and significant part of the problem as long as we remain. There is no point whatsoever in our staying, not in the sense that it will improve the situation. But more Americans and Britons will be slaughtered -- just as countless Iraqis are slaughtered every hour of every day.

I actually think it was true almost immediately after the toppling of Saddam that there was no good solution to what we have done by invading Iraq immorally and illegally. I said just that in October of 2003 (see the second half of that entry in particular, where I republished an entry from over three years ago [It's Your Goddamned Mess. You Be "Constructive."]). Yet despite this blindingly obvious fact -- a fact which was clear to some of us before the invasion began, which is why we so strongly opposed it -- our governing class still searches for a miracle to save them. There will be no such miracle, and the chaos and death will continue into the foreseeable future. But they refuse to admit this -- for one unforgivably shabby, despicable reason: they will not admit they were wrong.

Barbara Tuchman again:
Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts. It is epitomized in a historian's statement about Philip II of Spain, the surpassing wooden-head of all sovereigns: "No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence."


For a chief of state, admitting error is almost out of the question. The American misfortune in the Vietnam period was to have had Presidents who lacked the self-confidence for the grand withdrawal. We come back again to Burke: "Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom, and a great Empire and little minds go ill together." The test comes in recognizing when persistence in error has become self-damaging. A prince, says Machiavelli, ought always to be a great asker and a patient hearer of truth about those things of which he has inquired, and he should be angry if he finds that anyone has scruples about telling him the truth. What government needs is great askers.
One searches the political landscape in vain: there is not even one "great asker" to be found, not in the sense of an individual willing to challenge our most basic assumptions.

And so, many more people will be killed and grievously wounded. Many thousands of additional lives will be altered forever. The Middle East, our own nation, and the world are less safe than before this invasion and occupation began. The United States government never had any right to set foot in Iraq. The only practical and moral course is to Get Out Now. As I outlined toward the end of that post, we must make all those reparations we can. For the next several years at least, it is highly questionable whether even a minimally functioning Iraqi government will exist to receive and utilize such reparations. Nonetheless, we must do what we can.

Our policy has been unforgivably, infernally wrong from the moment we chose it. When you unleash a nightmare and a hell on earth, there are no "good" choices. The only honorable, civilized and decent choice is to stop it. As things stand now, we can only stop our part in it, so we must leave.

Leave, within several months at a maximum. Just leave. Anything else is not only insanity, but murderous insanity. Yet, "admitting error is almost out of the question," not only for a chief of state, but for almost the entire governing class. So we won't.

And the murder and the devastation will go on. May God forgive us.

Also related: Give Up the Fatal Contradiction -- and Get Out Now