human behavior

Voices of the Times unheard

Posted in American Culture & Politics by humanb on December 11, 2006

It’s a pity that New York Times op-ed columns are now only viewable by subscribers to the Times Select service. Thomas Friedman, Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman and Frank Rich so often write insightful, pithy and persuasive columns, and Nicholas Kristof always turns your attention to matters worthy of it. I wish I could speak as highly of Maureen Dowd, but I think Tim Blair has her number. Friday’s articles were a case in point.

In Set a date and buy some leverage, Friedman almost convinces me, for the sake of the Iraqis (not us), that Coalition withdrawal in 10 months might indeed be the best strategy for achieving relative stability in Iraq in the long term. Of course, this should not represent any significant reduction in Coalition responsibility for supporting Iraq in any number of other ways, and for a very long time.

Let’s play this out. What happens if we set a date to leave? The war in Iraq will get worse, but for how long? Right now our troops are providing a floor under the civil war that allows some parties to behave outrageously or make impossible demands — because they know that we won’t let things spin totally out of control. Would they behave more cautiously if they knew they had to pay retail for their madness?

As for the neighbors, well, right now Iran, Syria and some other Arab states look at Iraq and clearly believe that the controlled chaos there is their friend….because a burning Iraq on Al Jazeera sends a message to their own people: “This is what happens to those who try democracy.”

The minute we leave, chaos in Iraq is not their friend anymore. First of all, if there is a full-fledged civil war, Syria, a largely Sunni country, will have to support the Iraqi Sunnis. Shiite Iran will have to support the Iraqi Shiites. That would mean Iran and Syria, now allies, will be on opposite sides of the Iraqi civil war. That will leave them with the choice of either indirectly fighting each other or working to settle the war.

As long as we’re in Iraq, Iraq implodes, and we absorb a lot of the pain. The minute we leave, Iraq explodes — or at least no one can be sure it won’t — and that is a real threat to the Iraqi factions and neighbors. Even facing that reality might not knock enough sense into them to compromise, but at least then they’ll have their medieval religious war without us.

Like I said, he almost convinced me that withdrawal might be prudent, but it just seems too risky a gamble with the lives of thousands of Iraqis. The Coalition has a terrible track record at anticipating the actions and reactions of those in Iraq who have adopted violence since the invasion. Still, a good read.

An in They told you so, Krugman reminds us that there were some who spoke against going to war with uncanny prescience (or just plain common sense):

Al Gore, September 2002: “I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.”


Howard Dean, February 2003: “I firmly believe that the president is focusing our diplomats, our military, our intelligence agencies, and even our people on the wrong war, at the wrong time…. Iraq is a divided country, with Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms.”


Former President George H. W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft, explaining in 1998 why they didn’t go on to Baghdad in 1991: “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”

There are other voices too – not heeded and not heard.


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