The NYT asks, can Iraq be partitioned, like Bosnia was in the 1990s? Then, it answers, not a chance. It’s actually a really interesting article. Partition is sort of in vogue among liberal circles and this article basically says “pffft.” I have my doubts myself… it’s not like seperating India and Pakistan led to a fluorishing of peace.
I think people fail to realize that Sunni and Shiite lived together quite peacefully during Saddam’s reign of terror. The populations are still pretty intermixed and the battle lines unclear. A lasting effect of the war in Iraq is Shiites fleeing Sunni-majority areas and Sunnis fleeing Shiite-majority areas when previously they had no reason to do so. When we took out Saddam–an admirable intention, if misguided–we created a power vacuum that everybody and their dog tried to fill. I’m not saying it’s our fault it happened, but you have to admit, it’s pretty %&(@! stupid we didn’t know it would. (Actually, my fear was that somebody just as bad would take his place; once again, liberal pre-war worst-case scenarios look like pipe dreams compared to what actually happened.)
It fascinates me, though… I remember reading somewhere that Iraqis, by and large, prefer life in this chaotic hellhole then life under Saddam. I think people who stand up for strongmen, for Japanese internment during World War II, or slavery in its day fail (and failed) to realize that there’s an incredibly start difference between being free and not being free, so stark that being free and in constant mortal danger outclasses living in totalitarian security.
The argument about whether or not we should stay in Iraq always boils down to that we need to fix the mess that we created, and I abhor that argument. If we’re going to come even close to that goal we need to admit that we’re never going to make Iraq the way it was, and honestly, I wouldn’t want to. We cannot undo our mistakes. Economists say you should never take “sunk costs” into account in your decisions, because money that’s spent is spent and you’ll never get it back. Similarly, we need to stop looking to the past on Iraq and stop pretending that we can turn this mess into a paradise overnight. (And on the other end, we should stop easy-way-out talks of of a clean partition or, worse, installing a new strongman in Saddam’s place.)
I think we should get out. In fact, it surprises me that we haven’t already. We cannot keep pouring American lives into a civil war we cannot control. And yet, perhaps we could have a presence, under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi government. However, any status as “peacekeeping forces” is undermined if we represent ourselves and only ourselves.
Once we give up the ghost of “fixing” Iraq or undoing our mistake, we need to get to the harder task of curbing the very worst of the violence in Iraq. We need to recognize that the country is not going to get better overnight and that we are not going to be able to fix our mistake. We have to do what we can, but stop pretending that we can do anything. And if we have to leave, if that would be the best thing for Iraqi peace and development, then we need to leave. I find the argument that Iraq would descend into civil war if we pulled out disingenuous because Iraq has already descended into civil war and America’s presence has not brought anything resembling peace or stability, and I hardly think the general’s report in September will make one iota of difference in that. There’s only so much we can do when Sunni and Shiite factions stubbornly refuse to cooperate and instead turn to killing each other. The war in Iraq was based on the false premise that we can march in and fix a country overnight, and we need to excise that notion from our heads if we are to move ahead.
I think conservatives and liberals both err in thinking that there’s an easy solution. Well, except for this: do what we can. No more, no less. We need to stop harboring illusions about what we can do. We owe a huge debt to Iraq, no doubt, for screwing it up so royally. However, it makes no sense to stay and make it worse… some would say we’re making progress, but I would remind them that Vietnam was characterized by winning battles and losing the war. Terrorism is more like a plague, a virus, and it attacks from all sides… there’s no way to describe, in conventional military terms, a war against an enemy all around you. It’s a war we cannot win, and a war we must pull out of. Whatever our responsibilities and moral obligations, we cannot change the fact that American power is finite. I think we would all sleep a little easier at night if we could know that America is out of Iraq and blood from the civil war is squarely on the factions’ own hands. It’s our job as a country of diligence and respectability to intervene when we can make a difference… I suspect Iraq is not a case like this. We stumbled into the conditions for this civil war and I hardly think we can get our way out. Getting rid of Saddam, excising the Ba’ath party from government and firing the Iraqi army was supposed to usher in a new era of peace and democracy (ha! ha!). I’m not sure exactly what we should do at this point… I’d say we should help the Iraqi government if I felt it had a lick of legitimacy. That said, it is a democratic government and leaders are best chosen by ballots, not bullets. So, if we help the Iraqi government we need to do so with a heretofore unseen humility recognizing that this is not our country and there is only so much we can do.
It’s frustrating because America was founded from the ashes of war, and though the French helped us out it’s not like they invaded America, bombed Jamestown, killed the colonial leaders and ordered a Constitutional Convention. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to create a lasting democracy, but I’m not a “loyal Bushie,” so what do I know? Anyway… I know from my own experience that if you try to do more than you know you can you only hurt yourself. So, I hope we learn our limitations and stop trying to fix the world in a day… even if it means having to accept our own, deadly mistakes. The only easy way out of Iraq is to admit we screwed up, and leave.