Would you rather be hanged or shot?

I find myself growing more and more discouraged about the situation in Iraq and the Middle East, generally. I thought the invasion of Iraq was an error back in March of 2003 and, while I believe that liberal democracy and modernization is the only real solution to the problems of the region, the means selected were unlikely to obtain a favorable result. Being pessimistic by nature I’m skeptical that enough modernization can happen quickly enough in the region without substantial carnage to avoid even greater carnage.

My discouragement has moved me to leave a few comments on other blogs somewhat less temperate and balanced than the level I try to maintain. In particular I’ve been a little harsh about Democratic leaders who have apparently convinced themselves of the wisdom of withdrawing our forces from Iraq. I’ll try to return to the degree of sang-froid I try to maintain.

I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of their concern about the lives and health of our troops in Iraq but I believe that, just because it was unwise to invade Iraq it does not mean it is wise to leave Iraq with the current level of disorder. If our only concern were the lives and health of our soldiers and the cost of maintaining them in Iraq, it would, indeed, be prudent to leave.

But we have lots of other interests in the region and, while I don’t know that we can secure them by staying in Iraq, I’m convinced that we cannot secure them by leaving.

In an interview broadcast yesterday on ABC’s This Week King Abdullah of Jordan reinforced my opinion with his concern that there may soon be three civil wars going on concurrently in the Middle East: in Iraq, in Lebanon, and in the Palestinian territories.

The details of the report from the Iraq Study Group that are coming to light don’t do a great deal to assuage my concerns. While the report does not, apparently, call for a schedule for withdrawal I think that will be castigated as a whitewash by those who favor such a schedule. And, as I’ve suggested before, while I have no problem with face-to-face negotiations with the Syrians and Iranians it’s hard for me to see how anything they might be willing to accept in trade for taking the pressure off Iraq will remotely be worth the exchange.

The problem as I see it is that all of the American politicians have been viewing the situation in the Middle East through the prism of their own political experience. President Bush sees a universal yearning for liberal democracy. The Democratic leaders see an Iraqi government that’s just too stubborn to make the necessary concessions.

I think the problems are far more structural than that and, in particular, the present Iraqi government—composed of creatures of the militias—is innately incapable of bringing those very militias to heel.

7 comments… add one
  • It’s hard to maintain sang froid when you believe that the country you love is in a trap, and that good men have died for nothing, and that the people — on all sides — who are charged with solving this problem are grasping at straws and playing to the cheap seats.

    I have the sinking feeling that the United States has reached a historic tipping point and is sliding into decline. I don’t recall feeling quite that way at any other time in my life. I don’t recall ever looking at a foreign policy situation where the stakes are so high and absolutely every alternative looks awful.

    We’re going to need to think long and hard about the next person we choose to occupy the White House. He or she is going to need to perform miracles.

  • I sometimes cheer myself up by thinking that we just have more information about what’s going on than ever before and that we’ll weather this storm, too.

  • Things have been worse. In the late 1960s, we had the Vietnam war, our cities were burning, and our leaders were being assassinated — all at the same time. Now that was really bad — worse than now by a long shot.

  • kreiz Link

    I was going to say something similar, Marc, but figured that M. Tak’s counter would be that Vietnam was inconsequential for our long-term foreign policy. He’d be right about that, but Vietnam’s imprint on our collective memory is far worse than Iraq’s.

  • Marc:

    Kreiz is right, I would say that. And one other thing which is that by 1969 I felt we had a clear and beneficial path to follow: get out of Vietnam. I could look ahead and believe “if we do this, things will improve.” That’s what I don’t see now. I don’t see the path to an improvement.

    Of course we had nuclear war to consider, (not a small consideration) but I always believed that the Communist system was doomed to fail, that it would collapse of its own internal contradictions.

    I’d add that even the race riots had the virtue of deriving from a positive development: civil rights. Not saying the 60’s were exactly a party . . .

  • Abdullah probably fears that the current intellectual argument that this is indeed a world war between Shiites and Sunnis will gain credence and support within Jordan itself and drag it unwillingly into sectarian conflict – opening the floodgates for Palestinian terrorists to perpetuate not just a Black September but a Black Year, or Decade. You get the idea.

    That explains why he is quick to point out the localised natures of conflict: of THREE separate civil wars instead of a global struggle for religious domination within Islam.

    Abdullah hoped al-Maliki would have ideas for Bush on how to be “inclusive” in bringing together different groups in Iraq.

    “And they need to do it now, because, obviously, as we’re seeing, things are beginning to spiral out of control … there needs to be some very strong action taken on the ground there today,” he said.

    Abdullah expects Maliki to do a Black September in Iraq. Not a chance.

    Scapegoating the US while ignoring the core problem that is Iran only serves to cover Abdullah’s behind, but the king himself doesn’t realise by drawing the cloak of delusion over himself and Jordanians, he’s not going to see what’s coming when Iran decides to work on Jordan and Egypt. By work, I don’t mean diplomatically.

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