Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Wednesday, May 12, 2004
So, with the last post in mind, I'm still primarily interested in how to win. I know why we have to win, and the why has gotten more urgent, not less. I also know that we are losing. I want to know how to win - not get out quickly and paper over our mistake, but win. Not because that's the only way to justify our investment so far (that's a sunk cost) but because the costs of failure in Iraq are huge.

Perforce, therefore, I turn to those who promoted this war, and try to separate the wheat from the chaff - those capable of thinking critically from those who are Administration flaks or, worse, have simply gone off their heads. But even those who still seem entirely sane among this war's supporters - Bob Kagan, say - who clearly see how bad things have gotten, can resort only to happy-talk scenarios as a way out. They can trim their optimistism with pessimistic hedges, but it still amounts to happy-talk.

"Democratize faster" is the new mantra. With elections, we're told, "those who continued to commit violence in Iraq would be understood to be attacking not only the United States, but also the elections process, and therefore democracy." Moreover, "American military actions could be seen not just as an effort to suppress rebellious Iraqi movements but as a vital support for the elections process, and for democracy."

I'm sorry, but this sounds to me like desperate fantasy. Look, get this: the guys who are advocating democracy in Iraq are not the guys shooting at us. The guys shooting at us are shooting at us because Iraq has $1 trillion in oil reserves and whoever takes control of the country controls that incredible store of wealth. So what the "democratize faster" strategy assumes at heart is that the advent of elections will cause the great mass of Iraqis spontaneously to rise up and fight the thugs who are trying to drive us out and take over the country.

Does that sound familiar? It should. It's not terribly different from the pre-war "plan" for the post-war period: don't worry, because ordinary Iraqis will be so pleased to be liberated that they'll shower us with garlands of flowers.

The fact is, lots of Iraqis still want us around - among the Shiites and particularly among the Kurds. But we're still fighting a guerilla war against Sadr's Mahdi Army because *he* doesn't want us around. And he's got friends. If there were a democratically-elected regional governor in Basra, would that mean that we wouldn't have to hunt down Sadr and his boys anymore? Or that thousands of Shiite volunteers would join militias to hunt him down for us? I don't think so. I think we'll still be fighting the same war. What does speedy elections get us?

The only way democratization could work is if there were an identifiable, legitimate Iraqi individual or group of individuals around whom the people of Iraq could rally. The neo-cons actually understood this, which is why they wanted so badly to believe that Ahmad Chalabi was that individual. But he isn't. I'm sorry, but he isn't.

And democratization on a piecemeal basis in the absence of a stable constitutional structure would raise some other thorny problems. Example: the new governor of Basra announces that the oil revenues from his region will now be used only for local purposes; nothing will be sent to the central government. What's our response? Remove him from office? Accept his coup and side openly with the Shiite south against the metropolitan center in Baghdad? This is the kind of thing we're going to have to deal with about six hours after the first democratic election in Iraq. Any proposal to democratize faster has to deal with it, but none of the pundits advocating this course have done so, to my knowledge. We're still making it up as we go along.

There are two other arguments for democratization in the piece: that it will help on the international front and that it will force us to deploy more troops. I think the former is wishful thinking. If Germany really wants to help us out in Iraq, they can do so now. I think that even if they wish to do so, they will not do so until after the American election because the political consequences of appearing to knuckle under to the Americans are too grave. After the American election, things might get better, regardless of who wins (if Kerry, because everyone can turn over a new leaf; if Bush, because with four more years the consequences of refusing to do business are far more serious than they are now, so the possibility of cooperation is greater). But you know, this assumes anyone wants to help out. I'm not convinced they do. I'm not convinced anyone on earth wants to stick their hand into the Iraqi thornbush to help us pull ours out, regardless of the diplomatic sweeteners we supply.

As to the second: what, precisely, is the argument here? The same government that would presumably be calling for new elections (i.e., the Bush Administration) is the one that refuses to send more troops. And the main reason we refuse to *send* more troops is that we don't *have* more troops - not in the numbers needed by most estimates. Saying "we should hold elections so that we have no choice but to send more troops" is just a sillier way of saying, "we should send more troops"; the former amount to forcing our own hand, as if we don't know what we ourselves are doing. (No, don't say it. Please.)