The war in Iraq presents our nation with many conundrums. Perhaps the most intractable question is ‘what are the downsides of success?” Of course, success is hard to define. But let’s just say that success has been defined down to standing up a government that can defend itself, provide security, and avoid committing horrendous human rights violations to put down internal dissent.
This version of success ignores the larger neo-con wet dream of a pro-western, pro-Israel Iraqi government that happily hosts numerous U.S. military bases and grants U.S. and British energy companies favorable extraction contracts.
But, it still represents a positive outcome of this tragic invasion, at least for the vast majority of Iraqis that are lucky enough to still be alive.
Because despite some serious downsides of replacing Saddam’s Ba’athist tyranny with a religiously conservative and Iran-friendly Shi’a dominated government, such an outcome would provide the groundwork for a representative government in Iraq. And, if the Iraqi people can put together a government with the legitimacy of a popular vote and they can keep it, it will lead to a better future for everyday Iraqis than any of the conceivable alternatives.
However, the likelihood of this ‘success’ occurring is not particularly good. Part of the obstacle to this success is a real conundrum. The government does not have the ability to provide security for itself, or the Iraqi people, even with American and British help. If they are ever going to be able to accomplish this goal they are going to need some time to get their security services up and running. And that means that Anglo soldiers need to remain in a killing zone for several more years. Yet, our troops not only provide an irritant that undermines the security situation, but if they stay after the December 15 elections and the ratification of the new constitution, their presence will undermine the very legitimacy the elections have the potential of providing.
More than this, there will be a cost of achieving even this limited success. Will turning the lemons of Iraq into a potable lemonade encourage the foreign policy establishment to take more costly risks in the region? Will we fail to learn the lessons of our hubris?
Many people think that it would be best for the Iraqi adventure to end in humiliation for our nation and therefore, for the architects of the invasion. But this mindset ignores the fact that it is the Iraqis that will suffer the most if the country descends into a Hobbesian nightmare and Baghdad comes to resemble 1980’s Beirut.
Other people think the prospects of this limited success are so bleak that it is not worth going any further with the ‘project’. It would be best to leave now, since staying for any period of time is unlikely to stave off disaster for Iraq’s society, and may even exacerbate the problems. The strongest arguments in favor of this view are being made by people like Rep. John Murtha. Essentially, the argument is that we have not made any meaningful progress and our leadership shows no ability to make the types of course corrections that might save the situation. It is very hard to argue with this logic.
I remember the day before the war started a friend of mine told me that whatever the potential upside of invading Iraq, BushCo. would screw it up, and therefore it was immoral to invade. He was right then, and his logic is still valid today as it applies to staying in Iraq.
But, I think we should stay during the period between the elections and the seating of the new parliament. I think it would be disruptive to that fragile process for us to begin talking about an immanent withdrawal. In my opinion, we owe the Iraqis at least a chance to seat this government.
The tricky part is that we should begin leaving en masse as soon as possible after the new government is seated so they can avoid becoming a puppet government that is dependent on us for their security. But, if we do not begin a conversation about a drawdown now, we will not be prepared to leave at the end of the process.
It’s a no-win situation.
Ultimately, the best solution for everyone involved is a change in the American and British governments. A change here would not only lead to new, more realistic, approaches and strategies in Iraq, but it would remove much of the taint of the lies that led to the invasion, the botched plans, and the lack of legitimacy that is attached to the architects of Abu Ghraib and extraordinary rendition. So, I remain convinced that the impeachment of Bush and Cheney and the replacement of Tony Blair represents the best option available to the Anglo powers and for the Iraqi people.
I do not think the best solution is for Iraqi society to fail in the most spectacular way. That might teach us an important lesson, and it might be unavoidable…but I do not want that outcome (for the well-being of Iraqis, if nothing else).
The fact that we are in such a dire situation is all the justification we need to endorse the impeachment of Bush and Cheney.