Stabbed in the back, eh?
Let me get this straight... We're losing the war in Iraq because of naysayers?
Jeff Goldstein writes:
One of the important points made in this excerpt (the entire piece is available to subscribers only) is that a goodly portion of our success or failure in Iraq has ultimately to do with how we react in terms of either lending our support or leveling our criticisms against the campaign.
And this is (and has been) a crucial component of the war—one that many on the anti-war side are loathe to admit: that their constant naysaying, though it is well within their right to voice, has objectively hurt the war effort, particularly when the criticism incorporates carefully-crafted falsehoods many of the war’s critics know for a fact to be objectively untrue. [**]
From my perspective, there comes a time when, having registered disagreement with the war, the war’s critics (and here I’m not talking about critics of individual strategical or tactical initiatives, but rather those who have been against the effort from the start) simply wait and—if things fail—rush to brag of their prescience and perspicuity. But in the meantime, actively working to undermine the effort by presenting our enemies with a rabidly partisan divided front (one of their chief aims, remember)—whether it be through suggestions that we are in Iraq “illegally”, or that the President “lied” to take us to war, or seemingly hoping, on a daily basis, that the whole thing devolve into a civil war—matters. And not just rhetorically.
Actually, we're losing the war because the noble goal of democratizing Iraq is not attainable by United States military power.
In one sense, Jeff's right. War critics will help end the war. If that's called "underiming", then I'm proud to be an underminer. It's good to undermine excuses for futile carnage.
When Jeff complains about the underminers, he's presupposing that the Iraq democratization project is still achievable--if it ever was. In that case, war supporters should get busy winning the hearts and minds of our own troops 72% of whom support prompt withdrawal, and the majority of the Americans who disapprove of Bush's handling of the war.
When Jeff blames war critics for the Iraq debacle, he's confusing correlation and causation. Many of us opposed the war precisely because we foresaw a disaster. The war didn't go badly because we complained. We complained because we saw that it was going to go badly.
The administration never had a viable plan for "winning" the occupation. On the most charitable view, the Bush team naively assumed the absolute best-case scenario: that almost every single person in Iraq would welcome the American occupiers and peaceably submit to occupation until they embraced a self-sustaining democracy.
The Bush war plan simply didn't take into account the rather predictable consequences of overthrowing a government and sending a society spining into chaos: remnants of the old regime fought on, mutally hostile factions began jockeying for power, old relgious and ethnic tensions came to the fore, and foreign fighters flooded into an Arab country occupied by the United States.
One of the best arguments against toppling Saddam was that we had no reason to expect his successor would be any better, despite what Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi told our guillible leadership.
It should have been clear from the beginning that our job wasn't just to free Iraqis from Saddam Hussein, but to impose a system of government on them. Forcing democracy on people who don't want it is an infintely harder task than facilitating democracy for those who do. It was obvious from the outset that if we unseated Saddam, the United States would either have to force democracy on a substantial segment of the Iraqi population, or accept an undemocratic successor.
There was simply no evidence that the US effort to democratize Iraq was likely to succeed. Obviously, a large absolute number of Iraqis do want democracy, at least as measured by voter turnout. However, it was crazy to ingore the forseeable fact that a subtantial minority of the population would stop at nothing to derail our efforts.
It's ironic that the same thumbsucking bedwetters who fear that Islamic immigration is undermining democracy in the West were so confident that the Iraqi people would readily embrace democracy at home. In one breath they say that Islam and democracy can't coexist, in the next they insist that a democratic Iraq is just around the corner. Critics of the war don't have to show that a democratic Iraq was absolute impossible from the outset, merely that it was so unlikely that the admistration was negligent to invade Iraq given the evidence at hand. In any sane moral calcuculs, you need an overwhelming probabitity of success before you start killing people for the sake of some principle, however important. (In fact, democratizing Iraq was an ad hoc justification for invading Iraq that the administration trotted out after the WMD and al Qaeda excuses had been publicly discredited. I will grant that the hope of establishing an Iraqi democracy might have been good reason for staying in Iraq while that hope was alive.)
This is a battle of wills. Jeff's incorrectly assumes that the will of the insurgents is weaker than our own and that the insurgency has less military endurance than we do. Obviously, the insurgents will never "prevail militarily" if that means kicking the occupiers out by conventional warfare. However, the insurgents can continute to do exactly what they're doing indefinitely. It's pure fantasy to think that if we just hang in there long enough, we'll eventually break them.
At this point the right wing will trot out arguments about how we simply can't give up the struggle because the insurgents are so evil. What started out as a rational calculus has become a crusade for them. The democratization of Iraq was desirable in the abstract becaue it would have improved the lives of the Iraqi people and perhaps improved our security situation. It's now abundantly clear that persuing this failed project is not futhering anyone's welfare or security. We lost and we spread terror in the proccess. If we stay in Iraq, we're just killing our own people to cover for our mistakes.
Jeff is typical of those who supported the war but can't accept that there are some worthy goals the United States can't achieve. Now, he's casting about for someone to blame. He can't accept that the facts have disenchanted Americans. So, he's casting about for traitors and backstabbers to blame for his war. Like a lot of war supporters he's bitter because his side lost the war and the war of ideas.
**Jeff alleges that some war critics are deliberately spreading misinformation to undermine the war. If so, that's terrible. However, it shouldn't be that much of a stretch for him to grant that the vast majority of war critics, like their counterparts on the other side, advocate their position in good faith. Nor should it pain him to admit that most arguments against the war based on a set of facts accepted by both sides. Jeff doesn't provide any evidence that the disputed or bad-faith claims have been especially effective in changing people's mind's about the war. More likely that public opinion is being swayed by the objective evidence of massive violence, mounting casualties, and deteriorating security--not alleged legal sophistry or obscure conspiracy theories. So, absent some further evidence, we can dismiss Jeff's insinuation that the American people have been tricked out of supporting the war. It just doesn't sound like insidious undermining to say that war critics persuaded the public of the merits of their case.