Thursday, April 3, 2008

It Is Time to Leave Iraq

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 na├»ve 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.


Lost Conservative said...

I have the utmost respect for your thoughtful perspectives on virtually everything you write, but I have to disagree on this one. While you're absolutely correct that we don't have a good track record in dealing with the middle east, and botched up post-invasion Iraq, I believe it's do or die in Iraq today. If we don't figure it out this time, and flinch in the face of global terrorism, our grandchildren will be battling the Islamofascists generations from now. We've now been in Iraq longer than we were involved in World War II. To our military's credit, we've dropped the soldier mortality of war by 99% since then. While the lost of even one life is tragic, it's often the cost of freedom and ultimately will be a relatively small price if we can previal.

Alan Caruba said...

I often go back and forth in my mind regarding whether to stay or pull out.

For me, the long history of Arab hostility for each other, the inability to unite in any meaningful way beyond blaming others, accepting victimhood, narrowing everything to family, tribe and sect suggests that the forces let loose in the Middle East will continue for a long time to come and, most importantly, it seems to me unlikely that we can impose or superimpose a Western concept that is workable.

I think this results in the way most Arab nations are essentially monarchies, single party entities, tied to some central figure such as Yassir Arafat, Saddam Hussein, etc.

I think, too, it will be generations before Arabs "connect" to the West in the way they organize themselves and their nations beyond Islam, a 7th century cult that locks them inside a behavior and a thought process that is ancient and brutal. An "honor" code that permits the killing of family members and those deemed to have given insult or done harm. It lays waste to the value of half the population, the women.

There will be terrorism, but I think the West and even the ME rules have mobilized to neutralize it as a threat. The isolation of bin Laden is one example.

I assume, therefore, we shall pull our troops out slowly until what is left behind is essentially a strike force to quell any potential threat.

We will keep enough force, i.e., carrier groups, etc.,in the area to intimidate the Iranian ayatollahs who, for all their bravado, keep control over their people only as a police state. They too will be overthrown in time.

Lost Conservative said...

Again, all excellent, thoughtful point with which I cannot disagree. I believe the third-world status of the majority of muslims can be traced directly to Islam. Anyone objectively analyzing Christian principles and Islamic principles and how they have played out in the lives and countries of their adherents over history can only conclude that one works and one doesn't!

Not that adherents of Christianity have been unerringly true to its principles throughout history, but by and large the underpinnings of western civilization have been well-served their guidance.

It may just be the eternal optimism inherent in our American hertiage that keeps us believing they can embrace democracy and free-enterprise and make it work. But the centuries of inter-tribal fighting and grudge-carrying may be too much for them to overcome. Islam is their largest obstacle to achieving peace and prosperity.