Tuesday, April 01, 2003
A few observations after a week of war:
First, I continue to be baffled by the way everyone seems to be reporting on the war. It seems obvious to me that the war is going extremely well, and I can't understand how anyone could see it differently. It's also obvious to me that the ground war operations were part of the same decapitation strategy behind the missile strike that opened the war. The reason to get to Baghdad quickly was to make it clear to the Iraqi leadership that an allied victory is inevitable, and induce them to throw Saddam's head over the wall of the city and welcome the invader. It didn't work. Does that mean we shouldn't have tried? Okay, so now we've got to back-fill, bring in more troops, secure our supply lines, pacify places like Basra. Fine. That's Plan B. We're supposed to be up in arms because the military had a Plan B? Or because Plan A didn't work in what, 72 hours? Or because they dared to try a Plan A that was not guaranteed success? I just don't get it.
Second, I don't understand Mickey Kaus's obsessing about what Rumsfeld and Bush are "up to." He seems to think there's something wrong with testing a strategy on the battlefield - in this case, a strategy of blitzkrieg designed to achieve victory quickly with highly focused and powerful but numerically modest application of force. How, precisely, are we supposed to test this strategy if not on the battlefield? And why is it a bad thing if America turns out to be able to wage "transformative" war? I agree that if Rumsfeld's battle plan turned out to be a battlefield disaster, there should be an outcry and his career should end. But where's the disaster? Again: I just don't get it. Similarly, why the paranoid tone in talking about enabling America to sustain a long series of wars. Does Kaus think the war started on September 11 is going to be over quickly? Bush has clearly decided that we won't have achieved victory until (a) radical Islamism is decisively defeated, and (b) nuclear proliferation to rogue states has been permanently prevented. That's a very tall order. That being the case, does Kaus *want* America to be mobilized on a WWII scale right now? Or does it make sense to try to make this conflict as sustainable as possible? Again, I'm not saying there isn't room for debate here about how much force is *necessary* to win; Stanley Kurtz is doing a very good job making the case that the amount of force needed is quite substantial, and requires a much bigger military, maybe even a draft. It's the paranoid tone - what is Bush really up to? - that I don't get. There's no hidden agenda. He's up to trying to win the war.
Third, I remain deeply disappointed with the quality of commentary on the political prospects for Iraq coming from Middle Eastern liberals - the folks we're supposed to be trying to put in power. NRO seems to have about a dozen of them, and not one of them sounds remotely hard-headed enough to merit inclusion in that space. The Weekly Standard is worse, but then again, I expect this sort of thing over there. I think the prospects for democracy in Iraq are quite poor. I don't understand why so much of the neo-con crowd seems to think that raising these questions amounts to defeatism. Someone is going to have to make this country work post-war, and that somebody is going to be us, like it or not. I don't see how we help ourselves by believing our own propaganda.
Here's a good example of what I mean. It seems clear to me that one lesson to take home from the fact that the Republican Guard continues to fight - and hard - after victory seems impossible (and possibly after Saddam's incapacitation) is that they think they are fighting *for* something. It is not plausible that the Iraqi people - if such a thing exists - would fight to the death for Saddam. But the Baath loyalists are basically one clan, bound with ties of blood, and Iraq was their property. It makes sense that they would fight to the death, because defeat would mean destruction for them and their families - not at Saddam's hands but at the hands of rival clans and ethnic groups. We may not be dealing with "a million Mogadishus" but we are dealing with a somewhat analogous situation. Saddam is not a single individual sitting at the top of society by virtue of pure terror. He - like Aidid - is the murderous head of a large clan who rule the rest of the country's clans and peoples with brutal force.
This has significance for thinking about the post-war situation. Because getting the Iraqis to give up their clan identity as a primary organizing principle is probably a pre-condition to democracy. Absent that kind of cultural change, democracy probably becomes a contest for spoils, and Iraq either dissolves into fratricidal war a la Lebanon or Yugoslavia, or succumbs to one or another form of tyranny, or is held together by a large multinational occupation force for a long period. None of these are happy outcomes.
But the Arab and Muslim liberals seems to have almost nothing to say about these sorts of problems. They blithely assert that federalism and democracy will solve everything. They assert that Iraq is uniquely poised for democracy because of its diversity. (Hah!) They claim that democracy is the form of government most compatible with Islam - indeed, the only form compatible with Islam. They proclaim that Iraq will abandon its pan-Arabist racial ideology as soon as Baghdad is taken and will embrace a "civic nationalist" vision not rooted in any one people or ethnic group.
I wish them all well. I dearly pray that some Arab country somewhere will embrace liberal democracy - why not Iraq? But I wish they would occasionally answer the quite cogent criticisms levelled at the plans for instant democratization. And I wish they would stop mouthing plattitudes; I begin to think they believe them. And if they believe them, then the subtext is: we are not responsible for making things work post-war. You, the Americans are. We will mouth plattitudes and assert principles, and if things go badly you must fix it, because letting Iraq fail would mean a failure of these high principles for which the war is (purportedly) being fought. I hate to feel this way, but I do. I want to hear from a tough-minded Arab liberal for a change. It would make me feel a whole lot better.