A LITTLE OVER one month ago Niall Ferguson write a superb article
arguing that victory in Iraq is a matter of numbers and of time. At the same time, he makes an impeccable example on how to do constructive criticism of Bush's administration strategy in Iraq:
"I think that this could still fail." Those words - uttered by a senior American officer in Baghdad last month - probably gave opponents of the war in Iraq a bit of a kick. Judging by the polls, a majority of Americans probably now share that view. According to Gallup, 57 percent of Americans say it was not worth going to war in the first place. Around the same percentage say things are going badly today.
Yet history strongly suggests that an American withdrawal from Iraq in the near future would be a disaster. As another U.S. officer told The New York Times recently: "If we let go of the insurgency ... then this country could fail and go back into civil war and chaos."
People in Lebanon need no reminder that failed American interventions can leave "civil war and chaos" in their wake. But what happened in Beirut in 1983 is part of a pattern going back to Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s, and forward to Haiti in the 1990s. To talk glibly of "finding a way out of Iraq," as if it were just a matter of hailing a cab and heading for Baghdad airport, is to underestimate the danger of a bloody internecine war after the American exit.
Already, a substantial section of the Sunni minority in Iraq is engaged in a campaign of violence designed to prevent a stable majoritarian regime from emerging. The Shiites are preparing to defend their newfound political power by force of arms. Meanwhile, many young Kurds are preparing to fight a war of independence. Indeed, it is not too much to say that civil war in Iraq has already begun, since the majority of people killed in this year's bombings have been Iraqis, not Americans.
Instead of throwing up their hands in an irresponsible fit of despair, Americans need to learn from the past: not just from their other premature departures, but also from earlier victories over insurgencies. For not all insurgencies are successful. Indeed, of all the attempts in the past century by irregular indigenous forces to expel regular foreign forces, around a third have failed.
Read the rest; that's where the real meat is.
UPDATE. Reader Jim Daly emails: "After reading Ferguson's article, I have to favor an immediate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, starting this afternoon.
The conditions Ferguson lists as required for success in Iraq will never, never exist. A time frame of 30 years for the emergence of democracy in Iraq, hundred of thousands of additional American soldiers, these and all the rest of his requirements, if taken literally, are absurd and mean the US has already failed in Iraq; there is no reason to stay there any longer because there is no way we will ever do what Ferguson says is required to win. Seven American Marines were killed today and five more yesterday or Sunday--and for what? A cause that by Ferguson's own assessment must inevitably fail because there is no way, no way, the US can or will do what he says is necessary for success?
We must finally and once and for all time recognize that armed might can accomplish very little in Iraq or anyplace else for that matter where car bombing is the main tool of attack. Once all American military forces are home from Iraq and from the rest of this stinking world, I favor a reduction of the American military power by at least 75% and an American foreign policy of political and military isolationism. Ferguson is right. We have already failed in Iraq. Better to admit the facts, better to come home and stay home and let the new Dark Age begin. I say Dark Age because that is what Ferguson, in another article, predicted would happen if the US pulled out and became isolationist. I prefer isolation and a Dark Age to having American troops in Iraq get killed everyday for a cause that, by Ferguson's own assessment, we cannot possibly win."
Well, what I wrote is that the article was superb because it was reasoned and provided an excellent example of constructive criticism, but that didn't mean I agreed completely with it. In any case, conditions currently in Iraq may be harder than some expected (and easier than most critics anticipated, remember the millions of refugees? the famine, the humanitarian crisis? the whole Arab street on fire?) but Ferguson's case is not for withdrawal, so I believe Jim is stretching the argument a little. We can't expect everything to be perfect, and we have to deal with the cards we have on the table. The alternative (withdrawal and, per Jim's vision, isolationism and Dark Ages) is too terrible even to consider.
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