Friday, August 05, 2005

No Exit

This article from the Nation is a month old, but it's still worth reading erstwhile liberal hawk David Rieff's review of Larry Diamond's Squandered Victory and David L. Phillips's Losing Iraq.

What strikes me about this article, like so many others from pro-interventionists that I respect, is the almost desperate tone in which it is suggested that if only the immediate postwar in Iraq had been handled differently, then it could have all worked out so much better. I am radically skeptical of this view. Rieff sidles up to this point when he observes that "It is empire that is the ghost at the banquet in Diamond's approach, and it is the problem of imperialism that, although he treats it glancingly, he never quite confronts." A good point... except that Rieff doesn't ever quite confront the point, either.

While some (many) things in postwar Iraq could clearly have been handled better, it's self-serving of pro-interventionist intellectual prejudices (whether of the left or right) to believe that everything has turned out as an unpredictably awful disaster as a result of Bremer and gang's poor decisions. It's self-serving, because it puts the entire blame for the situation on the tactical execution rather than the strategic vision, allowing the strategic vision to remain unquestioned. It also is fundamentally delusional in that it assumes that the people in control, the only people whose decisions mattered, were the Americans in charge. If only we had behaved differently, it could all have been better. That's poppycock. Battle plans never survive contact with the enemy; neither do reconstruction plans.

In fact, what almost no one wants to say out loud, is that we've seen so far in Iraq is actually close to being the best case outcome. Remember: there weren't tens of thousands of deaths at the time of the invasion because of Saddam launching chemical weapons attacks on invading troops or on Israel; a wider regional war hasn't broken out (yet); the incipient civil war remains (just) over the horizon; the Iraqi Kurds haven't (yet) spun up kindred irrendentism across the border in Turkey or Iran by declaring independence; and one could go on.

In an unintentionally ironic sense, therefore, the Bushies and the op-ed page of the WSJ is not wrong when they say that the people who look at Iraq pessimistically are simply defeatists: the situation in Iraq is what 21st century imperial victory looks like. If you don't like what Iraq looks like, it means that you just don't have the stomach for neo-imperialism. Hot kitchens and all that.

The sick thing, of course, is that the Bushies fundamentally lied either to themselves or to the American people (or to both) when they didn't come clean on this point. They were either laughably deluded or Great Liars when they claimed that we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq -- and the liberal interventionists were just as bad. The belief that the situation in Iraq would be anything much better than what we're seeing today was always a farcical claim, as anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of Arab nationalism and post-1950s Global North occupationist strategies could have (and did) tell anyone who wanted to listen.

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