What is the failure we fear? What is the success we seek?

U.S. Senator Jim DeMint guest-posted yesterday at Powerline, summarizing and endorsing Gen. Petraeus’s view of Iraq. I’m especially struck by this:

He told us that al Qaeda senior leadership considers Iraq the central front in its radical Islamic terror war against the United States. Failure, said Petraeus, “would be an enormous shot of adrenaline in the arm of international jihadists.”

So the main consequence of a U.S. withdrawal is not any concrete harm to ourselves, but the encouragement of our enemies. Having stupidly planted ourselves in Iraq for the chimerical purpose of building a democracy there, we must stay there in order to avoid a symbolic defeat and damage to our image.

Of course the al Qaeda victory would not just be symbolic. A constantly reiterated warning from the administration is that in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal al Qaeda would take over Iraq.

But, as Randall Parker writes at ParaPundit, this is a false alarm:

The foreign fighters who proclaim they are Al Qaeda forces (like replica watches using brand names), being Arab Sunnis, want the Arab Sunnis to regain power and see the Arab Shias as enemies. The Arab Shias are the clear majority of Iraqis and the Arab Sunnis are up against the Arab Shias and the Kurds. The Al Qaeda Sunni threat to continued Shia and Kurdish control is small. The Sunnis are getting steadily purged out of Baghdad, cementing Shia control of the “national” (using the term loosely here) government.

If not al Qaeda and the Sunnis, what then is the threat? Certainly if the U.S. withdrew there would be a resurgence in the sectarian violence that the surge has tamped down, particularly violence against the Sunni minority by the Shi’ite-dominated government, which, in the absence of the U.S., would feel free to manifest its partisan Shi’ite nature. Also, it’s likely that Shi’ite Iran would gain increased influence, perhaps effective hegemony, over Shi’ite majority Iraq. All of which is very different from saying that al Qaeda would take over Iraq.

On the other hand, assuming that at some point we did succeed in reducing violence in Iraq enough to hand the job of maintaining order over to the Iraqis and withdraw our forces, what would happen then? Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government would, of its own accord, move to much closer relations with Shi’ite Iran. Thus the “success” of the Bush policy, the “victory” in Iraq for which all patriotic Americans long, would produce a Shi’ite dominated Iraq in which Iran would be, at the least, very influential. Which is the same thing that we fear from a “failure” and a “defeat” in Iraq.

What am I missing here?

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Mark Jaws writes:

Having initially viewed the war in Iraq as a noble attempt (albeit a long shot) to build a democratic society in the Moslem world, I came relatively late to the Austerian point of view, and now, like you, I see this as a futile effort to teach pigs to fly.

In the course of my work as an evaluator of technologies used for counterterrorism analysts, I have had to read several thousand intelligence and detainee reports on Iraq and have gained insights which most Americans have not been fortunate—or willing—enough to obtain. First, the Iraqi Shiite Arabs are not bosom pals with the Iranians, although they share the same Shiite religion. During the Saddam persecution of Shia, many Iraqi Shia leaders had to flee to Iran, but the ethnic tension between Arab and Persian is evident to this day, and at best, those two groups are allies of convenience, thus making it very difficult for the Iranians to establish some sort of Persian hegemony in Iraq. Second, even if the Iranians managed to install a Shiite puppet regime in Baghdad, if anyone thinks the non al Qaeda Sunni world would sit idly by and allow that to happen, he is crazy. Nearly 40 percent of Iraq is Sunni, consisting of Arabs and Indo-European Kurds, and Iran will never be allowed to rule peacefully. The resulting turmoil in Iraq could very well by Tehran’s quagmire, and may just provide the impetus to destabilize the Islamic government there.

Like you, I am fed up with the neo-conservatives who are so out of touch. And you are so correct in stating that once the common culture goes, than everyone is entitled to his version of the truth. Blacks can think our Jewish ancestors were black, open border advocates can ignore the social and economic costs of Latinization (more on that later), conservative evangelicals can think prayer in schools will halt our social decline, and neocons can pretend the world wants U.S.-style democracy. We are truly becoming a nation of Fantasy Island dwellers.

LA replies:

To sum up Mark Jaws’s points: (1) democratization cannot work; and (2) we do not need to fear Iranian domination of Iraq, as all three main Iraqi factions including the Shi’ites would resist it. I would add that while the Iraqi Shi’ites would resist Iranian dominance, they would also be strong enough to tamp down the Sunni insurgency. U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would thus result in a Shi’ite dominated Iraq which is not dominated by Iran. Isn’t that practically identical to the vision of Iraq that President Bush seeks via U.S. staying-the-course, success, and victory?

Mark Jaws replies:

Well said. The leaders of the Iraqi government view themselves first as Arabs, then as Shiites, and they know they (along with their Arabic neighbors) have much to fear from encroaching Persians. The situation there is similar to America, with Italian-American, Polish-American, and Irish-American Catholics viewing their new Catholic Hispanic neighbors with fear and resentment. Religion is often not the great bridge builder people think it is.

Alan Levine writes:

Cannot agree too strongly with most of what Mark Jaws says. I think one of his assumptions, however, should be qualified, namely, that Arabs will stick together against the threat of Iranian domination. This underestimates the internal factionalism of the Arabs. Their “national” rivalries ( I should think of a better term, but cannot at this moment) tend to insure that some Arab groups will be on the side of any non-Arab outsider. Remember how the Syrians supported Iran, not Iraq, in the war of the 1980s. so did some of the other “outs” among the Arab countries, even though most regarded Iraq as a defender of the Arab world against Persian encroachments.

It is not an accident that the dopes inhabiting these countries were subjected to Turkish rule for four centuries!

That said, I must express my admiration for Mark’s description of the increasing proneness to fantasy of contemporary Americans, including conservatives. I have rarely seen this point put so well.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 18, 2007 06:52 AM | Send

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