I honestly don’t know what to believe. The war in Iraq is unwinnable:
Protests were held across the United States. In Los Angeles, where mock coffins were carried, one Iraq veteran said the mood in Congress was changing because of public opposition to the war.
“You are telling that if you are going to represent me, you are going to bring this thing to an end because it is not working. It is over. We lost and it is time to bring the troops home before more of them are killed in an unwinnable, pointless bloodbath. And you are the ones who are going to make that happen,” he said.
I believe that the Sunnis and insurgents are now war weary, and that this is a turnaround point in the campaign to stabilize Iraq.
Al Qaeda will continue the fight long after the Iraqi battlefield becomes inhospitable to their cause, and they will only realize the futility of their endeavor after they are defeated on the wider Middle East battlefield and elsewhere in the world.
As the wider insurgency recedes, the Iraqi state will gain some breathing space to implement the rule of law and dissolve the death squads. A society that sets about rebuilding itself can endure the type of attacks mounted by Al Qaeda, although they are painful.
It’s too early to write off Iraq as long as a majority of the Iraqi people still have hope:
For those eager to write off Iraq as lost, one fact bears remembering. A great many Shiites and Kurds, who together make up 80 percent of the population, will tell you that in spite of all the mistakes the Americans have made here, the single act of removing Saddam Hussein was worth it. And the new American plan, despite all the obstacles, may have a chance to work.
Civil war can only be averted if a political solution is arrived at in Iraq:
The current political plan of President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki in establishing a US-backed coalition that includes the few Shia and Sunni parties that are justifying the occupation and working to divide Iraqi into three separate regions will do nothing other than increase the violence and confirm sectarian divisions.
Iraqi political groups like Al-Fadila party, Al-Sadr movement, the National Dialogue Front, the Reconciliation and Liberation Front, and many other Sunnis, Shias, Kurd, and Turkoman groups can’t see any chance for this Bush-Maliki plan to succeed. Because, unlike our plans, this plan is not based on a political solution that can put Iraqis together in building a non-sectarian government that aims to stabilize Iraq and end any foreign intervention.”
The centrifugal forces of; sect, ethnicity, politics and region continually threaten all these states with disruption and chaos. The answer which that “culture continent” has found for itself over the centuries has been to accept (however grudgingly) the autocratic rule of “strong men.” Brooks and his friends insisted to the “decider” that this tendency was more fiction than reality and that all that was needed to bring about accession of the Middle East to the Modern (democratic) World was a “hard knock.” Well, we knocked and in the process removed all the restraints on the savage rivalries implicit in all Middle Eastern societies.
Do you believe the soldier who fought there, the former INC functionary, the NYT journalist, the Iraqi scholar, or the American soldier-scholar? None of them? All of them? The ones who support your preferred outcome?
My own intuition is that there’s, essentially, no hope of Iraq becoming a liberal democracy worthy of the name at this point and, very likely, never was; that there is no way of our ameliorating the consequences of our withdrawing from Iraq in the state that it’s in now; that redefining our objectives in staying is necessary for it to make any sense at all; and that’s there’s very little constituency here for doing that.
Uncertainty is a central feature of war. The great Prussian scholar of war, Carl von Clausewitz, wrote of it this way:
Lastly, the great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not unfrequently—like the effect of a fog or moonshine—gives to things exaggerated dimensions and an unnatural appearance.
What this feeble light leaves indistinct to the sight, talent must discover, or must be left to chance. It is therefore again talent, or the favour of fortune, on which reliance must be placed, for want of objective knowledge.
The fog can be attenuated with intelligence, illuminated by experience, or parted, briefly, by brilliant action or luck but it can’t be eliminated.
We are a people who are obsessed with numbers. Everything is measured, reduced to numbers, and analyzed. This isn’t new: our Constitution mandated that the country’s population be counted every ten years (to the best of my knowledge the first such mandate). It extends to our government, our work, and even our play. Is any pastime so bound up with numbers as is baseball?
There’s been no end of searches for metrics in understanding the situation in Iraq and you can lay your hands on a metric to prove anything you might happen already to believe. Budgets spent and misspent; elections held and votes counted; the inevitably mounting numbers of dead, reported periodically in science magazines, daily in blogs, and, when some number with magical significance has been reached, by the newspapers.
In the end, as Clausewitz tells us, the search is in vain. The fog is inevitable and impenetrable. Is he also right that the only forces we can rely on are talent and luck? Talent has been in short supply lately or, if present, may go unheeded.