November 17, 2003

Success in Iraq?

Posted by shonk at 02:29 AM in War | TrackBack

In the last few days, there have been rumblings that Bush & Co. want to speed up the process of transferring power in Iraq. Now, cynic that I am, I wonder just how complete such a handover would be, but that lies a bit aside from my main point in this post. What I want to explore is, given U.S. forces are currently occupying Iraq and can't stay there forever, what constitutes success in Iraq? And, once that's decided, what's the best way to go about leaving?

Dwelling on the second question first, I'm quite partial to J.P. Zmirak's Divide and Scamper plan, though it hasn't got a chance in hell of actually happening. Specifically,

If we want to leave behind a peaceful, humane government, the best way to do that would be to parcel out the country’s territory along the rough ethnic lines that make it logically not one nation, but three.
Now, this is something I was discussing back in July (no, not online) and I'm sure smarter people were mentioning it even earlier. As Zmirak points out, the concept of "Iraq" was created by British cartographers after World War I and "[t]here’s no more reason to insist on a single Iraq than there is to fight for a unified Bosnia." The best (well, only) argument I've heard for maintaining a single Iraq rather than splitting it up into three pieces derives from a desire to maintain "Iraq's national sovereignty". Which is pretty ironic given that the need for this discussion is a product of the destruction of that national sovereignty. In fact, one could convincingly argue that the artificial nature of Iraq's nationhood was a contributing factor in the fundamental problems that led to its being invaded in the first place, so what good reason is there to maintain this artificial construct?

Zmirak also addresses the idea that withdrawing from Iraq would mean accepting defeat. As he says:

If the U.S. walks away from Iraq, and kicks the Mesopotamian dust from its boots, some parts of the world will sneer at us for weakness—then forget the whole thing, as they forgot our retreat from Lebanon, Somalia, and Vietnam. They’ll remember that we possess the world’s only first-class military, with enough nuclear weapons to incinerate all life on earth. We might just squeak by without that extra airbase in Basra.

Besides, in a real sense, we will still have won. A nation which we’d proclaimed our enemy would lie divided, helpless, and under new regimes, its former leaders deposed and its weapons scattered. Only American ideologues could make of that result a defeat—and only because they have become what they hate, proponents of an eternal "jihad" against non-Western, non-secular regimes, which can only end when the enemy is not only defeated but converted, incorporated into the "Dar-Al-Disney." They must learn to love Uncle Sam. (emphasis added)

To put this into economic terms, the investment in the Iraq invasion is a sunk cost and sunk costs, as any economist would tell you, should have no impact on your decision-making. Obviously, that's an oversimplification, but the point remains the same: no matter how much time/money/effort you've invested in something, you can't let the sentimentality associated with that investment cloud your judgment.

Given that Zmirak is advocating walking away from Iraq ASAP, we come back to the first question (slightly reformulated). As Diana Moon puts it: "What constitutes an objective standard of success or failure in Iraq?" Jim Henley's answer is, perhaps, the best I've heard. Basically, he argues that we could consider the war as having positive results (as differentiated from being wise), when the PATRIOT Act is sunsetted, executive discretion in naming enemy combatants is limited and other civil liberties stop being threatened.

This seemingly has nothing to do with Iraq, but in fact it has everything to do with Iraq. After all, the primary justification for the war was supposed to be that eliminating Saddam would make America safer from terror. As Henley says:

The neolibertarians, most famously Glenn Reynolds, but others too, justified their support for war by saying that we needed to aggressively pursue the enemy (by whatever definition) abroad to avoid panic-induced repression at home. They have spent far more energy the last two years advocating the administration's wars than fighting the administration's internal-security measures. For the war to be a success on their own terms, we need to see a loosening of the controls already in place. ...

When all of the above changes for the better, the libertarian-minded hawks will have at least prima facie justification to claim success.

Unless someone can give me a good argument why Henley is wrong, I will consider the war a success (and might even stop bad-mouthing it, but no promises) if domestic civil-liberties restrictions are loosened to levels noticeably lower than existed prior to March, 2003. Needless to say, I'm not terribly optimistic, but then, I was raised cynical.

(And yes, this post is mostly a rehash of two different posts from the No War Blog. Sue me)