Thursday, September 6, 2007

Brooks on Iraq

David Brooks has a must read column about Iraq, even if I do detest its ending. He notes the change in US strategy from using the surge to give Iraqi politicians time to make compromises to using it to help local tribes establish themselves as the locus of law and order. And relates an incident which goes far in illustrating just what a mess this war has become.

"In one scene, a Sunni tribal leader has been captured by the National Police, who are about to hand him over to the Mahdi Army to be murdered. He manages to call the Americans on his cellphone, who launch a rescue mission. After a tense standoff, he’s freed and can go back to stabilizing his town.

In other words, as Gordon notes, a former Sunni insurgent and enemy of the U.S. ends up calling the Americans so he can be liberated from America’s supposed allies."

Tis is of course an indictment of the utter incompetence of the Bush administration in managing the war, traceable to the liquidation of all experienced civil servants, including the army, and their anathematization for petty reasons of politics and PR. Rajiv Chandrasekeran's work on this is great reading though I should mention it is the only book length treatment of the subject I have read. These are reasons to detest Bush. They do not stand as arguments in favor of ending the war or the strategic benefits of withdrawal. Christopher Hitchens recently said that the surge should be supported even if it is not succeeding, and incurred some vitriolic criticism from Andrew Sullivan who asked "so are we to support a policy regardless of its effect?" No not, regardless of its effect, we should support it because of its goal. Anyone who recognizes the necessity of preventing the collapse of Iraqi society into sectarian anarchy, and the loss of a geopolitically central state to the forces of militant (though is there any other kind?) religious fanaticism, would not be hard pressed to find reasons to support the entire effort of which the surge is integral. Sullivan of course wishes to withdraw from Iraq and a reading of his blogs on the subject reveal a disconcerting comfort with the prospect of a sectarian bloodbath.

The encouraging part is that we have found a more effective way of moving toward peace in Iraq, if an imperfect peace founded on tribal thuggery. This may be all we can hope for and if so it will prove how tone deaf to culture was and is the neoconservative belief that democracy can be started in a country without correlative traditions and institutions. As Brooks notes:

"The surge was intended to bolster the “modern” — meaning nonsectarian and nontribal — institutions in the country.

But the surge is failing, at least politically, because there are practically no nonsectarian institutions, and there are few nonsectarian leaders to create them. Security gains have not led to political gains."

Possibly, and I have oft wondered if a more lasting and in the long run beneficial solution for Iraq is a dictator in the vein of Pinochet who would genuinely help the country rather than run it as an oil financed fiefdom. For the neocons' this is unpalatable and likewise for the American people who would not tolerate a view of themselves as exporters of autocracy. I myself cannot fully reconcile supporting the creation of a regime I myself would not tolerate. A facile "ends justifies the means" logic is barely serviceable.

He ends with a paragraph that makes me wince on grounds of stylistic preferences:

The key questions now are: Can U.S. troops help Iraqi locals take control of their own neighborhoods? Is it worth more American lives to help them do so? And, if so, how?

Yes, David, I happen to be reading your column and the august newspaper that publishes it to answer those very questions. I don't expect your column to lay them to rest but I don't need to be patronizingly reminded of them.

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