Iraq could be worse than Vietnam - and how it might be better
However, even winning may have undesirable long-term consequences. The Afghanistan War against the Soviets raised, motivated and trained a legion of Jihadist volunteers for the Mujahaddin who afterwards went looking for a fight with the West full of confidence and experienced in underground warfare. The insurgent survivors of an allied victory in Iraq may well come looking for vengeance, but more wary of American power.
Since Vietnam the technology of insurgent warfare has advanced tremendously. The Vietcong used an ingenious array of homemade booby traps constructed from bamboo stakes, earthen pits, and sometimes from ordinance stolen or donated by their patrons, but often not far removed from traps that hunters had used since the Stone Age. Today the Islamist terrorists get explosives by the ton from their supporters and a thriving illegal market, and make detonators out of TV and car key remotes. Though they cannot produce the technology themselves, they can exploit it to produce weapons of terrible power. Advancing technology will only make the situation worse, to a degree we can only imagine.
Among those who believe that the West is engaged in a “clash of civilizations” with enemies bent on our destruction, there is honest disagreement about whether Iraq was the appropriate battlefield and whether it was wise to commit huge amounts of our resources in what may ultimately be a futile attempt at nation-building. That argument will be settled quite soon. Either way, what will remain is the growing realization among our people of what our enemies have always known and openly proclaimed; that Iraq is only one campaign in a long war. Nobody on either side of the argument over Iraq is going to like this, which does not make it any the less true.
As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the question is not about whether one is “for” or “against” war, but whether there is a choice. It takes two sides to make peace, but only one to wage war. The question is whether to fight back or to yield, and if the choice is to fight, whether to choose the time and place of battle oneself or to let the enemy do so. For good or ill, the choice was made to fight the enemy in Iraq. Arguing about fighting in Iraq strikes me as similar to arguing whether Calais might have been a better choice to invade occupied Europe than Normandy. Either way, the di has been cast. For now we can only hope it will ultimately prove a strategically good decision, but we will know for sure soon enough.
However, recently a suggestion has been made that could offer a graceful exit - or a mandate to stay for at least a while longer. Since there have now been several successful elections held in Iraq, surely it's time for a referendum on the war for the Iraqi people themselves? Let them vote whether they want the US to stay or go.
I have a further suggestion. Rather than have the Iraqis vote on stay versus go - have them vote on go immediately versus stay for one year, renewable next year. And let it be clearly understood that there will be a limit to the times they can renew our presence.
If the voters decide "get out now", fine. Democracy is served and we've bowed to the will of the Iraqi people. It would certainly take the wind out of the sails of those claiming that the stated goal of spreading democracy is a farce, even if the result is more chaos. It's called "the people's right to be wrong".
If the vote is "stay for another year", the US could take the attitude of "OK, but you really have to get your act together and handle your own problems, we really need to get out of here."
Jihadists would be hard pressed to object to this - though they will of course. How are they going to justify their campaign, with all the attendant misery to ordinary Iraqis, if the people are free to tell the US to leave? Are they going to boycott the election? Attack the polls again? Good! They reveal their own despotic nature to the world and make it hard for the lumpen intelligentsia of the West to stay on board with them and maintain their own credibility.
And folks, whether you support the war or not, it's really important that we not stay for too much longer. Even if, perhaps especially if we win.
After the Second World War, America occupied a devastated Europe, spent huge amounts to rebuild it, and subsidized the defense of Western Europe against the Soviet threat for the next two generations.
Now we have an ally that constantly second-guesses the use of the military power of the US-lead alliance while contributing a miniscule amount to that power. Whose chattering classes complain incessantly about American hegemony while refusing to build a European counterbalance to it. Whose belated attempts to build a strong Union of their own flounder about in seas of red tape, creating immense unworkable federal structures that meet with narrow approval, if that, only because they are - not American.
And why? My guess is, by undertaking their defense on a permanent basis, we took their manhood from them. More accurately, they yielded it to us willingly, and they hate us for it. We don't want to make that mistake again with Eastern Europe and we certainly don't want to make it with Iraq.
I'll have more to say about this later, but in brief, we have to make sure we are making allies - not welfare clients.