As a regular reader over at The Corner, one of the darker pleasures of the past year has been to watch how the regular commentators there have approached the obvious failure of our war policy in Iraq. It seems to me the responses there have divided the Cornerites into three distinct camps.
For the first camp, led by NR editor Rich Lowry, the response has been to argue the Administration's corner more loudly, though peppered with disclaimers like "if the idea here is to [insert highly improbable "secret" policy goal here] this may have the effect of stabilizing Baghdad, an important first step towards...." This ever more desperate posing is an outgrowth of the early years in the war when 85% of conservative commentators dismissed obvious signs of Bush's weakness in war matters by referring to a "secret plan," combined with an appeal to partisanship.
You've read comments like those a million times. This is how they go:Charge
: Well, here we are early in the Afghan campaign and I cannot help but notice that the Taliban's press spokesman is still holding daily press conferences in front of hundreds of reporters and the BBC seems to have no problem finding Mullah Omar. Hmmm, aren't we fighting a war here? Would we have let Goebbels hold a press conference in WWII if we could reach him and take him out? These guys don't look too scared of our military power here.Response
: In an ideal world, I would agree with you, but this isn't an ideal world and we have to deal with the cards we've been dealt. I'm sure the idea here in the White House is to lull the Taliban into believing that we are going to conduct the war "business as usual" and then when their guard is down the President will give the order to wipe them out. And, in any case, the fact is the MSM and the Democrats are poised to pounce on the President if anything goes wrong, so he's fighting to the best of his ability while holding these guys off. Plus, a press conference is no big deal. So what? The real action is elsewhere, probably Special Forces stuff the Administration can't really talk about. There's probably a huge war going on that they can't show us because of secrecy concerns. In the end, Bush is handling it better than Gore ever would have. Is that what you want? You want a President Gore in charge? You think things would be better then? Get real.
This has been going on for four years now, and the pattern shows no real sign of changing, except that has these "secret plan" responses and the always accompanying "do you want the Democrats to win?!?" canard have become even more lame and contrived as Bloody Obvious Objective Realty continues to rear its quite ugly head. Nevertheless, the partisans of the first camp continue to soldier on bravely.
The second camp are the Second Thoughters, led by Jonah Goldberg. These are the Cornerites who supported the war from the beginning but now realize that it is objectively a failure. Thus, they are in favor of publicly saying so. However, goes the *brilliant* analysis, since we are already in theatre in force we have no choice but to see it though, for to do otherwise would be to admit defeat.
I can just hear Patton delivering that speech to the new arrivals. "Boys! Go out there and die for a dreadful mistake! We don't want anyone to think we're soft or anything like that! Our credibility is on the line. So, fight and die and we'll go about our business pretending that everything is just going to turn out fine."
This is such bullshit of such a sublime order that I find myself unable to even write about it for any length of time. So, let's cut to the chase: the third camp.
The third camp are the To Hell With Them Hawks, led by John Derbyshire. This group doesn't give a goddamn about Islamic democracy; they want to win. They know who the enemy is and the only response they have to him is to put him up against a wall and shoot him, preferably in full view of the cameras.
As Derbyshire has stated:
One reason I supported the initial attack, and the destruction of the Saddam regime, was that I hoped it would serve as an example, deliver a psychic shock to the whole region. It would have done, if we'd just rubbled the place then left. As it is, the shock value has all been frittered away. Far from being seen as a nation willing to act resolutely, a nation that knows how to punish our enemies, a nation that can smash one of those ramshackle Mideast despotisms with one blow from our mailed fist, a nation to be feared and respected, we are perceived as a soft and foolish nation, that squanders its victories and permits its mighty military power to be held to standoff by teenagers with homemade bombs--that lets crooks and bandits tie it down, Gulliver-like, with a thousand little threads of blackmail, trickery, lies, and petty violence.
Just ask yourself: Given that Iran is the real looming threat in that region, are we better placed now to deal with that threat than we would have been absent an Iraq war? If we could ask President Ahmadinejad whether he thinks we are better placed, what would his honest answer be?
We are not controlling events in Iraq. Events in Iraq are controlling us. We are the puppet; the street gangs of Baghdad and Basra are the puppet-masters, aided and abetted by an unsavory assortment of confidence men, bazaar traders, scheming clerics, ethnic front men, and Iranian agents. With all our wealth and power and idealism, we have submitted to become the plaything of a rabble, and a Middle Eastern rabble at that. Instead of rubbling, we have ourselves been rabbled. The lazy-minded evangelico-romanticism of George W. Bush, the bureaucratic will to power of Donald Rumsfeld, the avuncular condescension of Dick Cheney, and the reflexive military deference of Colin Powell combined to get us into a situation we never wanted to be in, a situation no self-respecting nation ought to be in, a situation we don't know how to get out of. It's not inconceivable that, with a run of sheer good luck, we might yet escape without too much egg on our faces, but it's not likely. The place we are at is surely not a place anyone in 2003 wanted us to be at--not even Vic Davis Hanson.
And now it seems that good Andy McCarthy, who has been showing signs of actually thinking and drawing the logical conclusions from the evidence available, is showing signs of waking up. Significantly, he puts his finger on the conceptual problem with Bush's war fighting strategy and why victory is made impossible by it. He writes:
Maliki is a disaster. The support for Hezbollah, the kissy-face routine with Ahmadinejad, and the clear illustration that he is being controlled by Sadr-- not the other way around. Not only does he appear to do nothing to help us find our missing soldier, he affirmatively obstructs the effort. And he dares to refer to himself as "the general commander of the armed forces"--as if he (having taken his orders from Sadr) is empowered to give orders to our troops. And even worse for our representatives on the ground over there, he takes this outrageous action right after meeting with our National Security Adviser.
Like a lot of people who supported the Iraq invasion, I believed--and continue to believe--that the mission is to kill and capture terrorists and vanquish their state sponsors, and that Iraq is one phase (the second phase) in a much wider war. Bringing democracy to the Middle East is something I hope can happen someday, but it is a generational transformation and it continues to be nothing but a theory that democracy itself (much less the messy transformation thereto) is an effective weapon against jihadism (which has been shown to thrive in democracies). I don't deny that democratization has been part of Bush's overall Wilsonian policy, but I never thought democratizing Iraq was a policy priority because I never thought it was something that could be accomplished in short order in an Islamic society. Now, it seems to be the policy priority.
This is a long-winded way of saying that many of us who support the war do not care whether Iraq is democratized quickly, and therefore do not see why propping up its current, Iran-friendly government should be driving our policy. (The Bush administration did not seem to think it was too important that the United Arab Emirates is not a democracy.)
If Maliki continues to be the face of what "victory" means, according to the administration, in Iraq, then it is going to be impossible to sustain support for the war. And I say that as a supporter.
Or, put another way, as I wrote months ago:
My understanding of the Bush Doctrine was that we would no longer make a distinction between those who actively supported terror and those who harbored terrorists and that both would henceforth be treated by the U.S. as hostile regimes. Now, we are told, it merely means we hope the Middle East becomes a happier place, given time.
The difference between the two concepts could not be greater and can best be summarized in the relative stance of the United States in each: in the first the United States is pro-active, labeling states as "friendly" and "hostile" and taking action appropriate to each individual case; in the second, the U.S. is reduced to a "reactive" stance in which how we are doing is measured solely by what Mohammed and his wife think about politics, democracy, the role of religion in the state, etc. It seems fairly blindingly obvious to me that we can hope to win in the first sense, while the second gives the very definition of victory over to those who, either through active terrorism or inactive support of terrorism, will never give their consent to a U.S. victory. In short, the rhetorical change has ensured U.S. defeat by defining victory in a manner that makes it next to impossible to achieve.
What is the significance of all this?
Precisely this: That was once a minority tendency in the conservative movement is now gaining more and more adherents, as the reality we face becomes ever more clear. As it dawns on more people that the very method by which we are fighting this war is fatally wrong-headed, those people will begin to demand a change in strategy.
Andy McCarthy has woken up and shows every sign of seeing the right path. And I'm willing to bet there are thousands more out there just like him.
Never stop preparing, never stop writing.
UPDATE: No sooner do I post this, I find that the excellent Ralph Peters has finally acknowledged the truth, in today's USA Today
My disillusionment with our Iraq endeavor began last summer, when I was invited to a high-level discussion with administration officials. I went into the meeting with one firm goal, to convince my hosts that they'd better have Plan B in case Iraq continued to disintegrate. I left the session convinced that the administration still didn't have Plan A, only a blur of meandering policies and blind hopes. After more than three years, it was still "An Evening at the Improv."
Then, last month, as Iraq's prime minister seconded al-Sadr's demand that our troops free a death-squad mastermind they had captured, I knew a fateful page had turned. A week later, al-Maliki forbade additional U.S. military raids in Sadr City, the radical mullah's Baghdad stronghold. On Tuesday, al-Maliki insisted that our troops remove roadblocks set up to help find a kidnapped U.S. soldier. Iraq's prime minister has made his choice. We're not it. It's time to face reality. Only Iraqis can save Iraq now--and they appear intent on destroying it. Apres nous, le deluge.
Iraq could have turned out differently. It didn't. And we must be honest about it. We owe that much to our troops. They don't face the mere forfeiture of a few congressional seats but the loss of their lives. Our military is now being employed for political purposes. It's unworthy of our nation.
Derb responds at the Corner:
One More for the Rubble Faction [John Derbyshire]
Good for Ralph Peters.
And pieces like that are handy for purposes of monitoring the general, overall slide into gloomy-hawkishness about the MME (i.e. Muslim Middle East).
A couple of years ago I-which is to say, a fringe, cranky, not-very-respectable commentator-came under withering fire from all over the place for saying that I had quite enjoyed the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88.
Today a respectable big-newspaper commentator like Ralph Peters can say this: "If the Arab world and Iran embark on an orgy of bloodshed, the harsh truth is that we may be the beneficiaries."
Stick around; soon the president himself will be making positive remarks about MME inhabitants mass-slaughtering each other.
The Islamic Civilization has chosen war and says they prefer jihad to life.
It's well past time we put that conviction to the test, and, each day, the number of people in the West who feel that truth in their bones grows.