In the Arena


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I’ve been reluctant to comment on the latest morbid milestone in Iraq. It is a terrible waste of life, of course. The fallen should be remembered with honor–and with the recognition that these lives were lost in an effort to bring stability to Iraq after the monumentally feckless decision to invade. The deaths should also be put into perspective: they are a tiny fraction of the Iraqi losses…which is why I was reluctant to comment: the 4000, as horrible as the figure is, pales in comparison to the ongoing agony suffered by the people of Iraq.

But I’ve now heard–twice today–first from Fred Kagan, the military theorist and one of the “fathers” of the surge strategy at a briefing at the American Enterprise Institute, and just now on TV, from Pete Hegseth of Vets for Freedom, the latest neoconservative line: The civil war in Iraq is over. Kagan also added–and I agree–that the rejection of Al Qaeda in Iraq by the Sunnis is extremely good news about the dim prospects for the salafi-jihadists throughout the region.

So, if the civil war is over and AQI is defeated, why not bring the troops home now? Uhhh, not so fast, Kagan says…in fact, he doesn’t even want the surge brigades brought home. By this sort of logic, if things get even “better” in Iraq, we should probably send more troops. Then again, permanent bases in Iraq–one of the worst ideas in history, just ask the British, the Romans, the Persians and any other non-Arabs who tried it–is precisely what the neoconservatives want.

The desire for permanent bases in Iraq dishonors the American dead, and ensures that many more will die. This is the real horror of John McCain’s hyperbolic statements about another 100 or 10,000 years in Iraq: he thinks the occupation of Iraq can be like the U.S. occupations of Korea, Japan or Germany–all three ethnically homogenous, non-Islamic countries. He should both read a little history. So should Kagan. But then, if they’d been familiar with the history of Mesopotamia, we probably wouldn’t have invaded in the first place.

A Swampland commenter writes:

It amazes me that someone who was so pro-war in the begining can now wring their hands in pain with the result…

Citations, please. I don’t remember writing anything in favor of this war, and certainly I wrote nothing criticizing those who opposed it. I did say something stupid once on Meet the Press…and I certainly did underestimate the utter stupidity and incompetence of the Bush administration in actually managing it, but that’s all. I am probably guilty of having been a war skeptic rather than a full-throated opponent, but “so pro-war”?..I don’t think so. And furthermore, I don’t see that the witch-hunting of those who actually were pro-war does much good now. What matters, as Barack Obama has said, is “changing the mindset”–the neo-colonial mindset–that got us into the war. That means stopping the notion of a permanent presence in Iraq. And it means–as I’ve been saying for several years now–a prudently managed withdrawal that conveys the unmistakable message to the Iraqis: We are leaving and you’d best get your act together. But, because of the complexities on the ground and the sheer difficulty of a military withdrawal, it should be a withdrawal that proceeds without an inflexible timetable or end date.