Back in December of last year I hosted something I referred to as a blog colloquium, Directions on Iraq. At that time I attempted to recruit contributors who could present practical alternatives other than slogging through for dealing with the situation in Iraq. I received several dozen polite refusals (and a good number of tacit refusals as well), some of which were, I suspect, from folks who absolutely rejected the idea of just sticking it out. I hope I’m not mischaracterizing the consensus view of those who did contribute by saying that they considered the consequences of our simply leaving Iraq as sufficiently bad that it was not an acceptable alternative.
My own views haven’t changed appreciably since then:
I’m not interested in counting political coup or peripheral skirmishes with the press or other bloggers. I am interested in the welfare of my country and that of the people of Iraq. I think it’s clear that events in Iraq are very, very serious and not trending in a positive direction nearly fast enough if at all.
Things look worse now if anything. Despite that, or, possibly, because of that I’m seeing a number of proposals for dealing with the consequences of acknowledging defeat in Iraq, three just today. The first of these I’d like to consider was published in the Washington Post and is by Steven Simon and Ray Tayekh of the Council on Foreign Relations. Would I be exaggerating if I characterized their position as Surely, it can’t get a good deal worse in Iraq than it is now!? Mssrs. Simon and Tayekh downplay the likelihood of unmanageable negative effects and propose a three-pronged approach to preserving U.S. power and position in a post-Iraq Middle East:
- Contain Iran by holding out a package of carrots and sticks. I’ve proposed such a thing myself.
- Tamp down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by nudging both the Israelis and Palestinians to take risks for peace. I have no opinion on this subject and can only point out that administrations over the last 40 years have had little success in resolving the conflict and it’s hard for me to see how that will be improved under the signfiicantly increased stress that the events of the last six years have produced.
- Return to realiism by which I gather they mean a rejection of the idea of democracy promotion in the Middle East and a re-assertion of support for the present authoritarian regimes there.
The second proposal, an op-ed by Andrew Bacevich in the LA Times, suggests that change in the Muslim world will only proceed in its own good time, that timeframe is probably not tolerable by the non-Muslim world, and that the prudent alternative is quarantine:
Yet coexistence should not imply appeasement or passivity. Any plausible strategy will prescribe concrete and sustainable policies designed to contain the virulent strain of radicalism currently flourishing in parts of the Islamic world. The alternative to transformation is not surrender but quarantine.
This strikes me as an elaboration of the Israelis’ Wall strategy for dealing with the Palestinians. I have my doubts as to the practicality and political acceptability of this but I would remiss if I didn’t observe that it would probably be more practical to quarantine ourselves than much of the rest of the world. Dr. Bacevich, too, characterizes his position as realism but I think it’s actually closer in practice to isolationism.
The third proposal is from former Virginia governor and present Republican presidential candidate James Gilmore and it takes the form of an open letter to President Bush. Here’s the core of the letter:
I urge that we define our goals in terms of America’s national interest, and let the people of Iraq take care of their national interests. The United States has a stake in preventing a government from emerging that is expressly hostile to us, such as in a coup inspired by al-Qaeda. The United States has a stake in not permitting the invasion and occupation of Iraq by any of its neighbors. This can be done through a military assistance program and diplomatic initiative. Beyond this, the responsibility for peace and order of the country rests with the Iraqi government, which can make a specific request to the United States for assistance like any other country of the world.
I have a good deal of sympathy with this position. But to it he adds a proposal for an over the horizon force to be used in case of emergency, similar to the proposals of John Murtha, among others. I find this part of his proposal particularly incredible. What, other than re-invading and re-occupying Iraq, can be done by an over the horizon force that can’t be done from 20,000 feet? What would a president ordering such a thing say to the American people?
My fellow Americans,
I was wrong; you were wrong; the people who said that very bad things would happen if we left Iraq were right.
Now, boys, over the top!
I just don’t find it credible. When we leave Iraq, we’re gone and we won’t be back for a generation or more if ever come what may.
Nonetheless I’m glad to see additional points of view being offered and genuinely hope they’ll be given some serious scrutiny. So, discuss away!