12 June 2014
Back to Iraq?
In the U.S., each party blames the other's president for the current crisis in Iraq, but it's hard to see why either Bush or Obama should be blamed for the al-Maliki government's obvious incompetence. The leadership in that unhappy country seems incapable of actually governing or even defending itself from a relative handful of motivated jihadis. If they can't hold power without a perpetual American military presence they should not have power. Will the jihadis be worse? From an international perspective, probably -- but a takeover by Sunni extremists would be a major blow to perceived Iranian aspirations to regional hegemony, and don't we want to deny them that hegemony? Victory by "ISIS" in Iraq would also put more pressure on the Assad dictatorship in Syria, and don't we usually consider that a good thing? But won't it be a humanitarian disaster -- isn't their offensive a disaster already? Probably, but what else is new? That may sound harsh, but this is not a time for illusions. Nothing short of imperial conquest on a totalitarian scale will pacify Iraq and no outside force is going to do that. It should not be up to us again. Those who criticize Obama's withdrawal should be asked whether they're willing to assume permanent rule over Iraq, but the American people have already made clear that they're unwilling to pay the price in lives or money. We should not need to occupy Iraq or even bomb it to keep Iraqis from attacking us, and we should give up trying to keep Middle Eastern Muslims from hating us. If ISIS wants the country badly enough, or at least more than al-Maliki does, they'll get it. At that point, Americans can make it understood that if Iraq attacks an ally, it'll be destroyed, and that if terrorism against the U.S. can be traced to Iraq, it'll be destroyed. We may as well play to our strengths; we do destruction far better than reconstruction. That's how Saddam Hussein should have been deterred a decade ago, but American fanatics had grown convinced, or tried to convince the rest of us, that his very existence was a threat to us all. The blithe assumption that civil society would fill the void after Saddam's fall was Bush's great error. Whatever Obama does now, if he treats the establishment of civil society in Iraq as a strategic goal he'll make the same mistake. It seems like an argument can be made that the conditions of our time make dictatorship the only viable option in some places -- no matter how much it'd suck for people who have every moral right to challenge or criticize their rulers but would have to accept all the risks of doing so. That isn't fatalism, and it isn't bigotry. It could be that the sort of civil society we consider the foundation of liberal democracy can't develop in a "liberal" global economy except by chance, and in the absence of civil society you lack the vested interests with a stake in limiting government through constitutions, checks and balances, etc. Give up the dream of global civil society, no matter how painful it may be to do so, and you'll probably see geopolitics more clearly. It appears that the State Department failed badly by missing the rapid rise of ISIS within Iraq and getting caught by surprise by this week's offensive, but aren't we entitled to some indifference to that nation's fate by now? To those who scream NO! I ask whether our real problem is here rather than Iraq. No nation should be so important to us as Iraq seems to be, and no change in a nation's government, whatever the means, so intolerable that we should risk lives to prevent it. It might be different if we had a real world government that could enforce global standards of governance and human rights through the efforts of all nations, but we don't -- and whose fault is that?