Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Sadr City

John F. Burns’ article in The New York Times on the uprising in Sadr City seems as good as anything I have seen thus far on the issue. Seven U.S. soldiers died in the battle with militia attached to the thirty-one year old ayatollah Moktada al-Sadr. This guy, who is suspected of other killings, should have been arrested last year. That this uprising is not good news is true enough, yet, I don’t think that Burns’ comments in the news story, ("Together, the events in Falluja and the other cities on Sunday appeared likely to shake the American hold on Iraq more than anything since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s government last April 9." And later: "But on Sunday, Mr. Sadr’s veiled threats to stir public disorder erupted into carefully orchestrated violence, with potentially dire implications over the long term for the Americans, and for Iraq.") are justified. That things are rough and, as has been said by all, are likely to get even more difficult before they get better, is true. But why does that led logically to such comments? It takes a certain turn of mind (i.e., one who has been opposed to the liberation of Iraq in the first place), to question the war every time a soldier is killed, or more than a half-dozen killed, or every time something doesn’t go as well as it should under the best of circumstances. I regret this because such a turn of mind--over time--can have a corrosive effect on public opinion. We should stand fast. We have more friends than enemies.

Discussions - 3 Comments

In all seriousness (and, again, as a lone liberal who likes to read your blog):

Do you have a set of criteria under which you could judge whether or not the occupation of Iraq has been a mistake? Or is it just a categorical statement, as in the war was good, and nothing that ever happens can in fact shake that judgment?

I ask this because it seems to me that it necessary to draw some lessons from Vietnam. There was always a categorical reason to support the war in Vietnam ("fighting communism"), but at some point it became clear that the war had been a mistake nonetheless. We had the strategy wrong, or the tactics wrong, or we had alienated Vietnamese opinion, or the south Vietnamese couldn’t sustain legitimacy on their own, or the war wasn’t worth the devastation.

Whatever one thinks about how things are going at this stage of the game (and your discussions here are a useful resource), it seems to me that it would be useful to have a sense of when we might judge that the war had been a mistake so that we don’t fall into the same trap again. Many people who opposed the invasion thought that it was likely that the country would descend into civil war, and that such a situation -- with all of its attendant uncertainties -- is not obviously preferable to the status quo ante. It’s a reasonable position, even if you disagree with it, seems to me.

A quick reply to Brett. You ask: "Do you have a set of criteria under which you could judge whether or not the occupation of Iraq has been a mistake? Or is it just a categorical statement, as in the war was good, and nothing that ever happens can in fact shake that judgment?" It is not a categorical statement, and I don’t have what you call "criteria" by which to judge. Let us say that this is June of 1862, or the Summer of 1942. Now, pose the same questions to Lincoln and Roosevelt. How would they begin to answer you? Would they say the situation is hopeless but not yet bad? Would they say that just because we are not doing well at the moment, we should think that getting into the war was wrong in the first place? Would they try to make whatever necesssary adjustments needed to be made (finding better generals, etc.) to make sure the war would be won?

I do not think that there is a civil war in Iraq, nor do I think there is a coup. Of course, there are no guarantees that there will not be such. But not yet. In short, the purpose of the war--right, Iraqi interest, American interest--demand that we stay with it. What will happen? Will Iraq turn into a simple moderate constitutional regime, a la England? No, but there is certainly a shot at turning it into a kind of moderate regime of, say, Jordan. That would be good for everyone, and it is worth trying! I am also keenly aware that American public opinion becomes the critical element in all this. Opinion turned against the Vietnam war, even when we were winning (vide, Tet offensive); so we had to get out (and look what happened to Vietnam and Cambodia, as a result; not pretty). Opinion may well turn against this occupation (or, war, if you like). But not yet.

Thanks for the response.

Failure in 1862 meant: the successful creation of the confederacy. Failure in 1942 meant: signing a surrender agreement. That’s not so hard to state, and my question is not directed at whether or not a particular situation looks like failure, it’s what would count as failure here. I take it that you agree with me that civil war in Iraq would amount to a U.S. failure in your view? Or is civil war fine if at some point in the future a moderate but less-than-fully-liberal-democratic state emerges in Iraq?

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