Thursday, May 26, 2005

Unquestioning Faith In American Will

There's a heart-breaking diary on dKOS this morning (among many heartbreaking posts) from MarkInSanFran, a parent of a soldier in Iraq. Mark's diary is a response to a post by Juan Cole about what is happening in Iraq and what America should do about it:

There really isn't much to argue with in the above analysis. However where Prof. Cole and I part company (I'm sure he will be saddened to hear) is his prescription for the future:

Therefore, I conclude that the United States is stuck in Iraq for the medium term, and perhaps for the long term. The guerrilla war is likely to go on a decade to 15 years. Given the basic facts, of capable, trained and numerous guerrillas, public support for them from Sunnis, access to funding and munitions, increasing civil turmoil, and a relatively small and culturally poorly equipped US military force opposing them, led by a poorly informed and strategically clueless commander-in-chief who has made himself internationally unpopular, there is no near-term solution.

In the long run, say 15 years, the Iraqi Sunnis will probably do as the Lebanese Maronites did, and finally admit that they just cannot remain in control of the country and will have to compromise. That is, if there is still an Iraq at that point.

I contend that his conclusion is not a necessary consequence of his analysis. Yes we (and the Iraqis even more so) are screwed. Yes, we can't beat the guerrillas. No, other countries won't help. Yes, if we left immediately there would be a (continuing) civil war.

But god damn it, I have family fighting over there and even an expert like Juan Cole says that the only good they are doing is to keep a partial lid on the civil war while destroying cities and causing hatred of the US to skyrocket! Is that worth my nephew's life or limb (he's a Marine on his third tour in Iraq)? Is it worth the lives of many thousands more americans and many tens of thousands more Iraqis just so we can keep the civil war battles at a more civil level?

I think not. The US should begin drawing down troops under a plan that will minimize the risks during withdrawal, and we should be completely out within a year. We have no moral reason to stay!

Juan's analysis is good but Mark gets to the heart of the matter: the American people simply won't put up with a 5-15 year effort in Iraq that is anything like what we have seen over the last two years. The approval ratings for this war are already down in the 40s. What does Prof. Cole think they will be in 2-3 years, let alone 15?

Eventually, like in Vietnam, the great middle part of this country will demand that the troops come home and politicians will respond (if for no other reason then doing so will grease their way to power). This is pretty much an inevitability at this point. Ignoring this is folly.

The question is which would produce the better (i.e., least sucky) result for everyone involved? (1) We hang around in Iraq at comparable levels to today for the next 5-15 years, eventually pulling out as the willpower of the American people finally cracks under the inevitable weight of the awfulness of it all (and little prospect that that 5-15 years will have produced anything better than what we have today) or (2), we withdraw within the next 1-2 years, still with some measure of dignity intact and we use what little moral authority we have left to try and reduce the harm from the inevitable civil conflict that will be left in our wake?

Honest analysis of this situation must take into account the willpower of the American people to tolerate a long-term occupation of Iraq. The cheeleaders for this war don't want to discuss it because they don't want to even consider the possibility that that will will break. The critics don't want to discuss it because they don't want to look like they are questioning the strength of the American will.

Meanwhile MarkinSanFran, and so many others like him, sit anxiously at home dreading the sound of the phone ringing in case it might be "The Call". How do we respond to them? How long will they tolerate a failure to answer this question?

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