By Alan Caruba
At a point in the Vietnam War when it was dragging on, costing lives, and there was no end in sight, some politician suggested that the United States simply declare victory and leave. In the end, we did leave and it was pretty much a rout.
I was reminded of this with all the back and forth statements being made by Iraq president Maliki and the response of the White House. Maliki wants the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal of troops and the White House made it known that some troops might, indeed, be coming home sooner. There is also the possibility some may be transferred to Afghanistan where things are looking bleak.
Like a lot of people I went from the notion that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a good thing (it was) to the realization that there were too few troops to secure the nation while it came up with something resembling a democratic government. As time went along the U.S. mismanagement of the situation in Iraq became the fodder for dozens of books by observers and participants.
There is a point at which people in an occupied nation, no matter how grateful they may be to be rid of a tyrannical despot, want the foreign troops to go home. After five years, we are well passed that point.
If George W. Bush could declare “mission accomplished” on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, then he can declare victory tomorrow and announce that the troops will be out before the end of 2009. What he also said that day was that “our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.”
With oil selling near $150-a-barrel, my guess is that Iraq has the money to reconstruct itself without another U.S. dollar except for the oil billions we are shipping to the Middle East as it is.
My initial reaction to the White House statement that our troops would begin to come out was that it was a cynical political ploy to help the lackluster McCain campaign, but I think now it was just part of the bargaining going on with the Maliki government.
I have no doubt that the administration wants to leave a hefty contingent of U.S. military permanently billeted in Iraq given the bellicosity of Iran, but I also think the Iraqis and Iranians remember the eight-year war that Saddam waged with Iran and want no part of a similar conflict. They share a very long common border.
The U.S. did for Iran what it could not do for itself by getting rid of Saddam Hussein and this raises the question of just how capable Iran is militarily. Could it invade Iraq or any other nation in the region? Would it do so if it meant risking attacks on its oil fields, its command and control facilities, and, of course, its nuclear facilities?
With the exception of Turkey which had a secular government imposed on it by an enlightened leader and backed up by its military, there has been no true, functioning democracy anywhere in the Middle East.
I am not ignoring Israel when I say this because it is a Western enclave, not a Muslim nation. Lebanon had a democratic government of sorts thanks to an agreement that apportioned key roles to Christians, Muslims, and Druze, but the nation was essentially run by an oligarchy of wealthy families. The influx and growth of its Muslim population has ended that bit of political theatre.
The United States has a window of opportunity to leave without looking like it is running away or has been defeated.
That leaves the mess in Afghanistan, purveyor of 80% of the world’s supply of heroin, and home to tribes that have been competing with one another since the dawn of civilization. If the Afghanis don’t like the Taliban (and they don’t), let them kill them on their own. We can supply the guns and bullets.
Then there’s Pakistan where, if anyone is paying any attention, we have propped up a very unpopular dictator and where a real demand for democracy is being led by that nation’s lawyers and judges.
In the same way previous colonial powers have learned to their regret, the Middle East defies any control imposed by the West. Empires have foundered there. Ships of state have gone aground there.
All is not lost. We have a serious military presence in the Gulf States and a carrier fleet or two that have been there since we guaranteed the security of the Strait of Harmuz back in the 1980s and stopped drilling for oil here at home.
We also have a military that is stretched too thin and is tired from this occupation without end. We are beginning to offer huge benefit packages to retain soldiers. The generals have even begun to turn a blind eye to the homosexuals serving our nation. We need to recruit and re-equip across all of the branches.
Politically, we have voters who will vote for anyone who says he will pull out U.S. troops.
Ultimately, the world cannot take the kind of uncertainty that the Middle East represents. The speculative price of oil is testimony to that.
Left to their own designs, the Arabs (and Persians) will go back to what they know best, dictatorships that use some of their oil income to pacify their population. There is no great demand for democracy in the Middle East. It won’t occur because we want it to.
Iraq has become a distraction. It is time to declare victory in Iraq and come home.