Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Not 'defeated'... it is just 'a failure'.

Josh Marshall seems to get it:

I recommend reading Edward Luttwak's oped today in the New York Times.

The argument is simple: The US shouldn't completely withdraw from Iraq but it should 'disengage', by which he means that the US should stop trying to patrol the streets of Iraq, stop trying to quell violence and in so many words let the militias and contending parties fight it out. Eliminating those missions would allow most of the US troops to head home. The rest would relocated to sealed off camps on the periphery of the country or into Iraqi Kurdistan to be on hand if a neighboring country tries to invade or visibly interfere or if there's some big concentration of jihadists we want to attack.

One can agree or disagree with whether or not we should 'disengage' or withdraw entirely. But Luttwak hits on the key point that our current national debate seems to ignore entirely: Namely, that Iraq is in a state of civil war which we our combat forces are not in a position to stop. We cannot stop it. But our presence is dragging it out, arguably making it even more deadly by making it more protracted.

Here is what Luttwak says about what would happen ...

Politically, on the other hand, disengagement should actually reduce the violence. American power has been interposed between Arab Sunnis and Arab Shiites. That has relieved the Shiite majority of responsibility to such an extent that many, notably the leaders of the Mahdi Army, feel free to attack the American and British troops who are busy protecting their co-religionist civilians from Sunni insurgents. For many Arab Sunnis, on the other hand, the United States must be the enemy simply because it upholds the majority of the heretical Shiites.

Were the United States to disengage, both Arab Sunnis and Shiites would have to take responsibility for their own security (as the Kurds have doing been all along). Where these three groups are not naturally separated by geography, they would be forced to find ways to stabilize relations with each other. That would most likely involve violence as well as talks, and some forcing of civilians from their homes. But all this is happening already, and there is no saying which ethno-religious group would be most favored by a reduction of the United States footprint.

This is another example where fairly straightforward and I believe indisputable facts suggest pulling our troops out of the midst of this civil war, not pushing more of them into it. But denial is pushing our national policy in the opposite direction. I think that some key players in the White House realize this. And the surge is either a way to blame 'failure' on the Iraqis or pave a path into Iran. Others, perhaps the president, don't even get this. I don't know.

But getting our policy in order is also being stymied because the political opponents of the war aren't willing to say that, yes, the policy has failed. Not 'defeated'. To be 'defeated' you need to have some other party 'defeat' you. This is just a failure. But whichever it is, that bogey is being used by the White House to scare off the opposition. It's a failure. There's no recovering it. And the unspeakable reality -- truly unspeakable, apparently -- is that it's not that bad. Horrible for the Iraqis. Horrible for the American dead. Terrible for American prestige, power and honor. All that. But not the end of the world. The future of our civilization isn't at stake. And our physical safety isn't at stake. We'll go on. We are not the brave British standing behind Winston Churchill bucking us up with the confidence that "We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender ..." Those aren't the stakes here. Put it in those words and it's almost comical. President Bush wants us to believe that it is because it serves his grandiosity and direct political interests to believe that, to believe that his political interests -- where everything, history, legacy, etc. is on the line -- are the same as ours as a country. They're not.

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