By Alan Caruba
Sometime last year I wrote a commentary to the effect that it was time for the U.S. occupation of Iraq to end. Since I am mostly read by those of a conservative point of view, I heard back from many who were convinced that the U.S. had to remain and who thought I had completely misread the situation.
Even at this distance, however, it was no feat of intellectual brilliance to know that, while the initial invasion was a success, the entire aftermath has been a demonstration of what not to do after deposing a dictator.
I recall, right after Baghdad fell, scenes of widespread looting in the city with American troops standing by because there were too few to police the situation. The failure to impose martial law on the city and make it stick was the first hint that any occupation was going to prove more difficult than anyone suspected.
What followed was a succession of blunders of staggering stupidity. It became apparent the United States had invaded a nation without knowing anything about it.
Since those days I have read many books about the situation there. I would recommend Ali A. Allawi’s “The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace”, John Agresto’s “Mugged by Reality: The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions”, Charles H. Ferguson’s “No End in Sight: Iraq’s Descent into Chaos”, and a brilliant overview of America’s decades of troubles in the region, Lawrence Freedman’s “A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East” to be published in May.
History teaches that the United States has been to the Middle East on many occasions since the end of World War Two. We went as a peacekeeper during the civil war in Lebanon. Several presidents have proven to be hopelessly naïve brokers trying to get the Palestinians to cease being the world’s oldest and largest group of refugees.
Our two invasions of Iraq were swift textbook victories, a triumph of technology and finely trained warriors. What followed after got ugly only because the Middle East defies the logic of Western culture. Arabs operate in a different emotional landscape. Books have been written to explain the differences, but I suspect that no one in the Pentagon had read any of them.
After 9/11, the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA had to scramble to find anyone in their ranks that could read Arabic!
Every time we put troops in the field we have suffered what the majority of Americans have considered too many casualties. To put it another way, losing anyone on the battlefield was pretty much too much. Americans prefer live heroes. Since the debacle of Vietnam, our taste for battle has diminished to a point where just bombing the hell out of the enemy is considered sufficient.
I resisted calling for withdrawal because my conservative instincts kept hoping that Iraqis would somehow magically learn how to get along with one another and find a reason to build a nation that did not need a dictator to run it.
Five years into the occupation it pains me to say that both Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton are right to call for an expeditious withdrawal. Sen. McCain’s metaphorical “hundred years” of occupation is just terribly wrong. If we know anything, it is that the United States no longer does occupations well.
In the final run-up to the November election, I hope Sen. McCain will find a way to tilt away from staying the course. The “course” has been a sadistic carnival funhouse filled with improvised explosives and snipers.