A Bright, Shining Truth on Iraq

It is time to move forward in Iraq by moving out.

The Iraq equivalent of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam has now occurred. And it is ongoing. American military casualties are skyrocketing, as are casualties in the Iraqi military and among Iraqi civilians. The U.S. Army clearly cannot pacify Baghdad, Anbar Province is now largely under the control of Iraqi insurgents and fundamentalists, and Shi‘a militias grow ever more powerful and independent of Iraqi government control. If Pascal was correct that clarity of thought is the sine qua non for effective human action, it is surely past time for some lucid thinking to begin to be applied to Iraq.

Iraq has now become, in the words of the partially declassified National Intelligence Estimate, a "cause celebre" for terrorists and a graduate school for a new and proliferating generation of international jihadists. Nevertheless, far too many members of the American policy community still seem to believe that the situation in Iraq can and indeed somehow must be saved by American military action.

Recently, there has been substantial media commentary on Senator Joseph R. Biden's advocacy of something he calls "federalism plus" in Iraq, a concept he amplified in the September/October issue of The National Interest. But federalism is a Western political concept that has little or no contemporary resonance in Iraq or in most of the wider Islamic world. Quite unlike centuries past, decentralization today is understood by Muslims as one more Western technique to fragment an Islamic world that already feels itself divided and supine at the feet of a crusading or imperial United States. Nationalism in the Arab East remains powerful, despite the fact that it now carries an Islamic rather than a secular banner. Any American attempt to foster federalism in Iraq, whether "plus" or "minus," would probably be understood by Muslims as simply a new refrain on a very old tune. There is now little probability that any American initiative can pull a viable federalist rabbit out of the Iraqi political hat.

The good news is that an increasing number of Americans seems to understand that the urgent need of the hour is the restabilization of the Middle East. That is precisely the objective that should be sought. Rooted in the precepts of realism, and cognizant of the larger realities of the Arab and Islamic worlds, restabilization remains a viable alternative to current policy in Iraq and elsewhere. But for how much longer?  The clock ticks toward midnight with every passing day.

Despite supposedly being weakened, the revolutionary utopianism of neoconservativism remains the lubricant for much of contemporary American foreign policy. This is so despite the fact that the results of that utopian thinking, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, are now clear for all to see. How long does one have to beat a donkey until it learns?

The time is now to make very clear that one major reason for the tragedy in Iraq was the desire of such neoconservatives as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith to remove Iraq from the geostrategic chessboard of Arab states which perhaps might develop some future ability to militarily checkmate Israel. And this is true despite Mr. Wolfowitz's occasional mild expressions of concern for the welfare of Palestinians under the Israeli occupation. Like so much else, neoconservative policies have only empowered Hizballah and Iran, which are or may shortly become far greater threats to Israel than Iraq ever was. Truly, neoconservatives succeeded in summoning evil spirits from the vasty deep. When the neoconservatives called, these malign spirits indeed did come to them. But, in Iraq and elsewhere, they also came to each and every one of us. Such spirits are likely to haunt us all down long years of the future.

The way forward requires the swallowing of some bitter medicine. The first and most unpleasant of those medicines is to recognize that the United States can no longer square the political and military circle in Iraq, if it ever could. It is time to move forward in Iraq by moving out.

The American war in Iraq is lost. And it is lost beyond recall. Unlike what Senator Biden has written and many still believe, the Iraqi army today is not "much more capable than it was just a year ago, thanks to an increasingly effective U.S.-led training effort." In fact, the Iraqi military, as well as the Iraqi police force, are riddled with insurgent and Islamist spies, provocateurs and double agents. The Shi‘a Mahdi Army has today perhaps become as powerful as the "national" army. Morale in the Iraqi army is low, desertions are rampant and operational proficiency remains dubious at best. Now, the Iraqi army appears unlikely ever to become a truly effective and independent military force.

The U.S. military is aware of this sad reality, as are Osama bin Laden, Sunni and Shi‘a Iraqis and most of the rest of the world. The authors of the most recent NIE are also cognizant of this, but for policy reasons seem unable to say so. Clearly, the NIE's call to "stay the course" in Iraq is quite at variance with the hard evidence it presents. Unfortunately, the media commentariat in the United States, as well as most American politicians, are unwilling to state that the emperor has no clothes. This is a grave disservice to the national interests of the United States.

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