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Abandoning Iraq

By David Warren

Regardless of its final composition, and regardless of other pressing issues or its mandate, the leading item of business for the new U.S. Congress will be Iraq.

It didn't matter who won control of each house -- the fix was already in. Look at the composition of the Baker-Hamilton commission, which the outgoing Congress had already appointed to "find a way out of Iraq" -- a bipartisan commission, representing the foreign-policy opponents of President Bush in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Soon it will formally report.

James Baker, secretary of state under President Bush's father, was the man who, in 1989, secured an American exit from Lebanon by effectively surrendering the country to Assad's Syria. Lee Hamilton, former Democrat chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, joined him in stacking the Commission's study groups with men and women representing the pre-9/11 foreign policy consensus, which could be summarized in the phrase, "stability through disengagement". On the Baker-Hamilton plan, Congress will take the war in Iraq out of President Bush's hands, as Congress took the Vietnam War out of President Nixon's. Iraq will then be delivered into the hands of Iran's ayatollahs.

But we can also expect Nancy Pelosi's victorious Democrats in the new Congress to do everything in their power to recreate the Watergate environment, both for their own electoral prospects in 2008, and "to make an example of" the lame duck currently in the White House. The mainstream media will oblige them, with 24/7 coverage of whatever they allege.

In deposing the regime of Saddam Hussein -- now sentenced to hang with the enthusiastic approval of the overwhelming majority of his countrymen, though Iraq itself is first sentenced to endure a ludicrous appeals process -- the United States accomplished something well within her military means, in a few weeks of "shock and awe".

But in trying to build a secular democracy over the ruin of Saddam's regime, the Americans tried something they had not the stomach for. From the outset, they imposed upon themselves restrictions that would make that fight unwinnable. As in Vietnam, they adopted a purely defensive posture.

So far as President Bush can be blamed, it should be for showing insufficient ruthlessness in a task that could not be accomplished by half-measures. Alternatively, for failing to grasp that America was psychologically unprepared for real war, not only by the memory of Vietnam, but by the grim advance of "liberal" decadence in domestic life over the generation since.

The great American jurisprude, Robert Bork, expressed his foreboding to me four years ago, before Iraq had even been invaded. "It took the New York Times five years of war in Vietnam to turn on President Johnson; but this time they are at the President's throat from day one." As he further noted, the whole approach to the impending and inevitable Iraq war was being skewed by the need to assuage political and diplomatic adversaries.

As Fouad Ajami argues in his new book, The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq, the invasion was so surgical that not even the functionaries of Saddam's regime suffered heavy casualties when he fell. The "Sunni Triangle" -- that patch of the country that had profitably ruled the oil-bearing remainder through decades of Saddam's terror -- in which he murdered Shias, Kurds, and uncooperative fellow-Sunnis by the hundred thousand to maintain his power -- capitulated quickly. How different from the scenes of national devastation that persuaded Germans, and then Japanese, at the end of World War II, to accept American-imposed democracy. For them, resistance was futile. For the Sunnis of Iraq, terrorist violence would be rewarded by the collapse of American will.

Moreover, Germans and Japanese were utterly alone in their smashed countries. They did not have what the Sunnis of Iraq have had: an international cheering section. The huge Sunni Arab world encourages the Sunni minority in Iraq to resist the Western "crusaders".

Germany and Japan had no neighbours like Iran and Syria, destabilizing Iraq by feeding weapons and jihadis into the country. The American and British refusal, from the outset, to make Iran and Syria pay, and pay heavily for their meddling, was noted and thoroughly exploited by the enemy.

To my mind, the Turkish contribution to the disaster, that started with denying the U.S. 4th Infantry Division land access to Iraq from the north, is underestimated. More feet on the ground in Baghdad and to its north, in the first weeks of occupation, could have made a long-term difference. The Turks further precluded the possibility of dealing separately with the Kurds. It was in the occupiers', as well as the Kurdish interest, to detach self-governable Iraqi Kurdistan from the rest of the mess; indeed to split Sunni from Shia territories, and govern them differently. In retrospect, the commitment to a united Iraq was the biggest of many victories of diplomacy over realism.

If Iraq is abandoned, the credibility of America and the West is lost. Iran's hopes of regional hegemony are assured. The Americans will have cut and run after enduring less than one-twentieth of the casualties they suffered in Vietnam; and from a battle more consequential, for it is against an Islamist enemy that is rising, instead of a Communist enemy in decline.

It was a Democrat-controlled Congress that decided to sink free South Vietnam, by cutting off its supplies even of rifle ammunition after the peace treaty signed by Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in 1973. It was Congress that ordered all U.S. bombing halted -- air strikes that could have made mincemeat of the regular North Vietnamese army, marching openly along the South's main highways in 1974. The U.S. never lost the war militarily, and could easily have won it without self-imposed restraints. But the enemy was more ruthless, and the allied will to fight evaporated.

Why did it evaporate? For the same reason then as now. The "alternative America", ruling from its ivory towers in academia, the media, and the entertainment industry, could not understand why anyone should die for any cause at all; could not distinguish between freedom and tyranny; and instinctively sided with any enemy of what they fancifully imagined to be "American imperialism".

My 21st birthday happened to coincide with the final evacuation of Saigon. From my modest experience on the ground in that country, I knew what was coming next. The boat people were no surprise to me. I think that was the day I fully realized, in adult terms, that evil often prevails in this world. So this is nothing new.

The fate that will befall all those millions of courageous Iraqis, showing the dye on their fingers after they had voted -- in defiance of all the terror threats -- will not come as a surprise to me, either. They are being sold out, as the Vietnamese were before them. But the consequences of abandoning Iraq will come home to the United States and the West, in a way Vietnam never touched us.

otiosus@sympatico.ca

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