In the Arena

Iraq in a Nutshell

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This is an excellent piece in the NY Times today about the tensions between the Sunni tribes recently recruited into the Iraqi police force and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Army. And it raises the central moral question of the war:

Does anyone doubt that these Sunnis and Shiites would be battling each other full-tilt if we weren’t there to referee? (A subsidiary question: Does anyone doubt that Muqtada Sadr will rule in Baghdad, and the south, when we pull our troops from there?)

Now, there are two morally legitimate answers to this question:

1. it’s their country and none of our business, so we should leave.

2. We broke it, we have a moral responsibility to the Iraqis to referee this fight and seek a “soft landing.”

And then there’s the realpolitik answer:

3. We should only stay if it’s likely that this war will become a regional struggle. Otherwise, we should be pulling out of Iraq, recalibrating our involvement in the region to respond to the changing threat matrix–file under Pakistan, Afghanistan–and allowing our armed forces to recover from their criminally stupid use by the Bush Administration.

You can believe, as I do, that this war was the worst foreign policy mistake ever made by an American President and still favor any of these answers. I tend to think a regional war can be avoided, so I’m in favor of 3. But this isn’t easy…and the free-range sliming of those who honestly take any of these positions is several notches too simplistic for my taste. Anyone who questions those who stand with position 2 isn’t thinking hard enough about the internecine carnage that is sure to follow. And anyone–say, Joe Lieberman or Lindsey Graham–who says those who take position 1 are counseling “Defeat” and “Surrender” doesn’t understand (a) this war and (b) what being an American is all about.