The unreality of our Iraq policy—and of the thought process required to defend it

Every time the Bushites speak, the ever-nearing goal of “success” or “victory” or “defeating the enemy” that they promise turns out to be, not something solid and stable, but an uncompleted, and, indeed, never-to-be-completed process.

Consider the following, by Bob McManus, editorial page editor of the New York Post, writing under his own name in the September 11 issue of that paper:

One element in [Petraeus’s] assessment needs special emphasis: “The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources.”

Competition that must be held in check, lest the entire region dissolve into chaos and collapse.

Progress has been made toward that very goal—again, as the general detailed yesterday.

Progress has been made toward the “goal.” And what is the goal? Holding Iraq’s competition in check. Which means, the goal we’re aiming at is not an end of conflict, the goal is not peace, the goal is the act of holding competition in check. Moreover, this competition must be held in check “lest the entire region dissolve into chaos and collapse.” So this is not any old competition to be held in check, like, say, the Heraclitean balancing of interests under the U.S. Constitution; this is a deadly, continuing conflict which if not forcefully contained every single moment will instantly dissolve into mass slaughter and the disintegration of the entire Mideast.

Further, once we arrive at the “goal,” this marvelous goal of holding horrible conflict in check, what will we do then? We will have to keep holding it in check, forever. There is no successful resolution proposed here, but the endless management of something just ready to burst into chaos.

It’s as though you were on a farm, and there was a wolf running loose threatening the livestock, and the farmer told you to grab the wolf by its ears. So you grab the wolf by its ears, and you say to the farmer, “Ok, I’ve got him by the ears, what do I do now?” And the farmer says, “You’ve reached the goal! You just keep holding him by the ears!”

“Uh, but how long”?

“Don’t worry about that! You just keep holding him by the ears! You’re a very successful man!”

As I’ve said a hundred different ways since 2003, under the Bush policy there is not only no end of our Iraq involvement in sight, there is no end of our Iraq involvement that can even be conceived. We must stay there forever, not to accomplish anything positive for our country, but only to keep Iraq—whose sole source of order we destroyed without replacing it by a new order—from exploding into slaughter. An exciting job for an energetic young country, and for spirited young men. How many young men will lose their arms, their legs, their faces, their eyes to this great mission over the next four years, and over the next four years after that?

The two deepest commitments of GW Bush’s presidency have been to democracy for Iraq and to wide open immigration for America. Neither of those policies is for the good of America and its people. Both policies are for the advancement of interests extrinsic or hostile to America and its people. The debate over the amnesty bill was resolved when the American people spoke decisively on their own behalf and against Bush’s anti-American ideology. Though Iraq is a more complicated situation than the immigration bill, since the policy in Iraq is not anti-American but unhelpful and damaging to America, the same principle applies there as well. We will resolve our Iraq dilemma only when we realize that our national good is not to be found in the chimerical goal of reforming Islam, but in the achievable goal of protecting ourselves from Islam.

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Charles N. writes:

Your analysis of the shifting “mission” and the mentality behind it is excellent. I hadn’t thought of his goal as being a process; rather, I thought of it as simply defensively fluid. “Oh, I can’t do what I said I’d do? OK, then I’ll do this other thing and tell you it’s what I meant all along.” But your process analysis is very helpful.

I liked the wolf.

Bush’s “war on terror” was always a process.

Footnote: Note that it’s a war on “terror,” an emotion. It’s not a war on a method of behaving or fighting (terrorism). It’s not a war on the people using terror for their ends (terrorists). This helps Bush’s arguments for his expansive power grab for the executive. If I’m protecting Americans from terror, then I have to make them not feel terrified, so if they learn of all the illegal things I’m doing domestically, they’ll see it for what it is: I’m doing it so Americans will never feel terror. End footnote.

From 9/12/01 on, Bush told us, explicitly and at every opportunity, that we were in a permanent clash with evil, because there was no state to conquer, only individuals to kill. (He even made a half-hearted attempt to fight the war by disarming the enemy. Remember Karen Hughes’s public diplomacy?) This permanent process had several salutary effects for Bush, including the following: One, he remained a war-time president forever, entitled to the deference and respect accorded to commanders-in-chief. Two, every day without an attack on the homeland was not only a relief, it was a success, nay, a victory. Three, prisoners of war are legitimately held for the duration of a war. The best treatment the detainees at Gitmo could demand would be that of prisoners of war, and look, we’re treating them well: we’re going to release them as soon as this permanent war is won.

It seems Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have also lost the distinction between process and result. We’re keeping killers penned up until we can get their neighbors to be able to keep them penned up. Their aim is to be able to end U.S. military and police action by substituting Iraqi military and police action. It’s just stunning that there seems to be no one in power willing to acknowledge that people in what we now call Iraq have hated each other for at least a millennium. Militant Muslims can wait for very long times, and expect to. Not days, weeks or months. They are satisfied if they feel they have furthered their aims, even if fruition is accomplished in years, decades, generations, centuries. Whether ground is held by American (or coalition!!) or Iraqi soldiers, once there is no gun, the civil war and ethnic cleansing will go on. It doesn’t matter whether it’s next month, next year or 100 years from now.

Am I only saying the same thing about process that you did?

LA replies:

This is very good. You’re exactly right in your analysis of our mission:

“We’re keeping killers penned up until we can get their neighbors to be able to keep them penned up.”

And getting there is called “victory.” In reality, what we’re doing is treading water until we can pass the baton (sorry for mixed metaphor).

And yes, I think the “process” analysis can be expanded along the lines of what you have done here.

While your “defensively fluid” analysis is correct in some situations, I think that that implies simple insincerity and opportunism, which I don’t think is the case. It’s more complicated, and that’s where the “process” analysis comes in. They use words to hype themselves into a situation where they can imagine that they are pursuing a “war” which is leading to “success” and “victory.” If they didn’t believe this, they could not go on. (Maybe some of them don’t believe their own arguments and are consciously deceptive, but not most.) So they keep coming up with these “goals” and “benchmarks” (the killing of Saddam’s sons, the capture of Saddam, the handing over of sovereignty, the second battle of Fallujah, the first election, the second election, the forming of a constitution, the forming of a government, the hoped-for readiness of Iraqis forces to handle the job, the hoped-for “reconciliation” of the Iraqi factions, etc.), each one of which is seen as the thing that will mark “success” and “victory,” but each one of which still leaves the fundamental situation unchanged, namely that we have a wolf by the ears, the wolf is still alive, we cannot kill the wolf, and we cannot let go of the wolf. (Or at least we believe we cannot let go.) The passage in McManus’s column that I quoted—that our “goal” is to get into a situation where we are holding murderous, unresolvable conflict in check—conveyed this self-delusory thought process of the Bush supporters more compactly and clearly than it’s ever been done.

Here’s a selection of my writings on Iraq going back to September 2003 where I’m showing that we have no strategy for victory and that to talk of victory is a delusion:

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 13, 2007 02:22 PM | Send

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