TCS Daily

Second Best is No Solution for Iraq

By Jay Currie - May 6, 2004 12:00 AM

"So it is time, perhaps, to stop thinking about the best imaginable outcome, and instead settle for the best possible one, considering the state of world politics and the moral limitations free societies like ours place upon their war-fighting in the age of instant communications. Arab society will not become free and tolerant and self-critical, and much of the Islamic world will remain mired in ignorance and posturing and paranoia for the foreseeable future."
-- Jack Birnbaum, writing in TCS

Jack Birnbaum has looked the Iraqi challenge in the face and blinked. So, according to Robert Kagan writing in the Washington Post, has the Bush Administration,

"All but the most blindly devoted Bush supporters can see that Bush administration officials have no clue about what to do in Iraq tomorrow, much less a month from now. Consider Falluja: One week they're setting deadlines and threatening offensives; the next week they're pulling back. The latest plan, naming one of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard generals to lead the pacification of the city, is the kind of bizarre idea that only desperate people can conjure. The Bush administration is evidently in a panic, and this panic is being conveyed to the American people."

It's time to get some perspective. The issue in Iraq has always been whether or not America had the will to stick out the process of building a democracy in Iraq. That process was never going to be easy. Thirty years of Saddam, the active hostility of Iran and Syria, the belligerence of much of the Arab world and the natural limits of the America when it came to the civil administration of a Muslim country all contributed to the difficulty of creating a genuine democratic alternative.

The terror attacks and bombings mounted by Baathist die hards and jihadis have created significant security concerns in parts of Iraq. Worse, the relentless political correctness that has characterized the American handling of the Falluja and al-Sadr uprisings has tended to encourage a belief American power can be successfully challenged. If I were an Iraqi democrat I would be more than a little dismayed at the American reluctance to use force to crush anti-democratic forces.

The implicit message the Bush administration seems to be sending is one of limits. Limits to American power, limits to American resolve and, most of all, limits as to how far America is prepared to go to actually radically reorder the Middle East.

Steve den Beste takes a tour d'horizon of the implications of a sudden recognition of limits. From Pakistan to Saudi Arabia and all over the Arab Street, a retreat, however disguised, from a commitment to democracy in Iraq will suggest a return to business as usual in the Middle East. While Saddam will still be gone -- a good in itself for the Iraqi people -- the bigger issues the Iraqi action was meant to address will remain unresolved.

Birnbaum goes on,

"From time to time we will have to again step forward and do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves and our children; perhaps it is now time to think about reserving our treasure and the lives of our youth for those future times. That will have to be enough, and there would be nothing even remotely immoral about it."

The point of the Iraq action was to begin to reduce the number of times America would have to step forward. It was to actually create and maintain the conditions in the Middle East in which an alternative to the al-Qaeda and the Wahhabis could begin to grow.

Having expended blood and treasure overthrowing Saddam and quelling the anti-democratic forces in Iraq, settling for second best now would, in fact, be immoral and a strategic blunder of the first order. No one who is a tiny bit familiar with the process of creating a democracy will, for an instant, have thought that a year after the defeat of Saddam, there would be anything like a full democratic state in place in Iraq. That there are the beginnings of one is remarkable. But those beginnings need to be protected from both the enemies within Iraq and nations such as Syria and Iran which are threatening the Iraqi democracy for fear it might spread.

To go from a climate of terror to a civil society is about tens of thousands of small things adding up to a sense of security and freedom. But for those small things to begin to accumulate, the thugs of Falluja and the fat little trouble maker in Najaf need to be taken down. Hard.

If the Bush administration is unwilling to use force then it should indeed get out of Iraq with Spanish efficiency. Which would almost certainly mean a return to barbarism in Iraq and the sure conviction on behalf of the jihadis that they had defeated the United States as convincingly as they defeated the Russians in Afghanistan.

Of all the possible Iraqi outcomes, victory for the jihadis is the worst possible news for America and the West. Every other alternative, including leveling Falluja, would leave the West better off.

Jay Currie is a Galiano writer whose writing can be found here. He recently wrote for TCS about Fallujah, the uprisings and silver linings in Iraq.


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