Equal Time

On Sunday, the New York Times published a long editorial, The Road Home, declaring the US effort in Iraq an utter failure, and insisting that we withdraw forthwith. Many agree. Of course, many of those who agree do so more from a visceral loathing of this administration and distrust of government in general, an inchoate pacifism and aversion to military action of any sort, or a view of the US as a swaggering bully with no moral standing, than from a sophisticated understanding of the labyrinthine historical, political, diplomatic, cultural, religious, strategic and tactical complexities of this extraordinarily difficult engagement. But, that said, complementary prejudices animate many of those on the other side, and there are certainly many sophisticated observers who do indeed share, in whole or in part, the pessimistic position taken by the Times.

The opposing viewpoint is expressed with succinctness and clarity by Victor Davis Hanson, who responds to the Times editorial, point by point, here.

Regardless of your opinion as to whether the action in Iraq was justified in the first place (I am of the opinion, along with Tom Friedman and others, that it was, but that the postwar management was catastrophically bungled), this is an agonizing and crucial debate; we stand now at a major historical crossroads. Whatever your current view of the way forward — and reasonable people may differ — Hanson’s essay is worthwhile reading.

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  1. Jesse Kaplan says

    It’s easy to speculate Iraq could have been better handled, and perhaps endowing the “effort” with altruistic motives makes it easier still.
    The Communist containment justification of Vietnam made more sense and provided clearer goals and benchmarks, though, and the civil war was already there for us to get sucked into under that premise; whether as an altruistic endeavour to relieve Iraqis of the Hussein family or as fighting Islamic terrorism before it reaches our shores, the military takeover of Iraq makes little sense, to me, and North Korea and Iran, or the Israeli bombing of Iraq, show this is not how one deals with WMDs, and certainly not without greater world support than we had in Iraq.
    I found neither point of view, above, novel or interesting. I have no solution to offer, now, for Iraq. I do suggest a broader perspective than the recent facts and minutiae dwelt on above. I note that, no matter how you slice & dice it, the US “effort” in Iraq looks a lot more like an imperialistic grab of territory than Vietnam did, and this is just kind of a “brute fact.” I do not say this because I harbor paranoid beliefs about hidden US agendas. There was something of a power vacuum in Vietnam, but it never really looked as though we were trying to do more than influence which way it fell out, for reasons everyone could understand, even if they did not agree; in Iraq, we created a power vacuum and simultaneously presented ourselves as possessing the essential qualities of virtuous resolution.
    Perhaps I should end this with the last paragraph, but my point really is that there are more metaphysical dangers in these weak/strong nation situations than either exigent, or casual moral, analysis seem to yield (if I am not being too obscure).

    Posted July 14, 2007 at 1:59 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Jess, and thanks as always for commenting.

    We have discussed at length our divergent views about the wisdom and moral justification of the invasion itself. But the focus of this post, however, and of the essays that inspired it, is the question of what we ought to do now; a question you touch on, above, only to say “I have no solution to offer, now, for Iraq. I do suggest a broader perspective than the recent facts and minutiae dwelt on above.

    But, looking forward from here, some course of action must be chosen; and if we are not prepared to form our own opinions — and I hardly feel qualified myself, and am glad that I am not the one tasked with the responsibility — then we must concede any standing to rebuke, in retrospect, those who are going to have to decide, for the hard choices we ourselves declined to make in prospect.

    Whom shall we trust as qualified to steer our course, or at least to provide sage and informed advice? One obvious person is David Petraeus, who is scheduled to report in September. The advice of various others who have mounted the soapbox, from Cindy Sheehan to Sean Hannity, is arguably less credentialed.

    Posted July 14, 2007 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  3. Jess Kaplan says

    I think there may have been a little more on offer going to the jumping-off point than you think, though it was implicit, not explicit.

    We shouldn’t have taken over the country. None of our motives were, or are, entirely consistent with doing so, nor is it “American,” nor is it what big, powerful nation-states should be doing in the 21st century. I don’t want to rain on your own motivations, but I get the feeling your speculative separation from what actually happened begins some time after the statue of Saddam came down and Bush did his victory lap on that carrier off the coast of San Diego.

    I would go along with Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn doctrine and you, now — it won’t be easy giving back this country we should never have taken in the first place; but I think where to start is acknowledging that we really did conquer a country, it was a mistake, it wasn’t the right way to accomplish any of our purposes. Of course, personally, I think an overall national repudiation of Bush would greatly help this process. And I don’t think acting like it was a noble effort that he botched helps any.

    Posted July 14, 2007 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Well, as I said above, we have already elaborated at length our differing opinions on whether we should have invaded Iraq; I think it was a politically and morally justifiable decision, and others, including you, don’t. I have defended my view to the point of exhaustion, and unlike you, grow weary of hashing it over again and again, ad infinitum. Regardless of who is right — which I am perfectly happy at this point to leave to the judgment of history — we did it, it’s done; we must move forward. As I stressed above, the point of this post was not to reawaken this hoary old argument, or to provide another utterly unnecessary occasion for vitriolic recrimination, but to look at what we ought to do now.

    No one, of course, disputes that we actually did conquer Iraq. Anyway, whether or not the citizens and elected representatives of the US mount a “national repudiation” of Bush, as you recommend (for what audience, exactly? surely not for our Islamic foes, who would be delighted and encouraged — and don’t forget that Congress did in fact vote to give him the authority to begin military operations), and regardless of how I or others “act” regarding its being a noble, but botched effort, the question under examination here is a much more clamant and practical one, namely whether to stay and press on, or to leave.

    Posted July 14, 2007 at 6:16 pm | Permalink
  5. My suggestion would be to ask for a referendum asking Iraqis if we should stay or go. If they want us to leave — as I suspect they would, in overwhelming numbers — then it would be the height of arrogance to remain there in the face of their expressed opposition. If we believe in democracy, then we ought to use it (in its purest form). If, however, they ask us to remain, then I believe that we have a moral responsibility to stay there for some defined period of time to fix that which we have broken.

    Posted July 16, 2007 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    That’s certainly a reasonable suggestion, Peter, and I wonder why it hasn’t been more broadly discussed.

    Posted July 16, 2007 at 7:07 pm | Permalink