Wednesday, January 10, 2007


We Can Win Iraq - But We Don't Want To

We lack the will to win Iraq.

Regular readers should be surprised to learn I believe victory in Iraq can be won. Not only can we win the war, but we can also win the peace. Moreover, the problems we face have more to with our own irresponsibility, stupidity, self-centeredness and lack of resolve than the recent explosion of sectarian violence in that horrible place.

In short, we are unwilling to make the sacrifices needed to win.

Tonight, as I write this, the president is expected to repudiate former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's war policies by announcing a substantial increase in the number of American solders sent to Iraq. He is also expected to announce a jobs program for Iraq.

Mr. Bush remains true to form with too little, too late. But why too little?

In thinking about what it takes to conquer a nation with a dictatorship form of government and install a genuine, functioning democracy, we should look to the successes of the past. We need not look too far, because we can fairly claim success in Germany and Japan.

At the end of the Second World War, Germany lay shattered and broken. The vaunted German military machine which had rolled over the European continent with astonishing speed was smashed; the great arms factories shattered, along with much else. Clearly, they no longer threatened us or our allies.

We could have withdrawn, as we did at the end of WWI, but we did not. Instead, under the brilliant Secretary of State George C. Marshall, we gave Europe $20 billion, a staggering sum in those days. The Marshall plan required the Europeans to work together to decide how to spend the money, which they did. Some thinkers believe the bodies created by the plan eventually evolved into the European Union. (Read more about the plan here.)

We also established many military bases in Europe, and especially Germany. And guess what - we're still there, some sixty years later.

Not that it took them sixty years to establish an effective democracy; that probably took much less time. However, you can bet it took more than four years.

The United States made huge sacrifices for WWII. People at home accepted rationing and wage-price controls, while the nation fielded huge armies in a titanic struggle.

Nowadays, the vast majority of Americans are unaffected by the war. We continue to drive our gas-hogging SUVs, much to the delight of our enemies. We mourn the loss of over 3,000 American lives over the course of the last four years, but really, that's a tiny fraction of the number killed on our highways each year. (42,000, or 168,000 over four years.)

During WWII, everyone bought bonds to finance the war. But this is being financed by the Chinese buying up our debts. We are not even expected to pay higher taxes to support the war, though it appears likely our children and grandchildren will.

Many of the same things principles that applied to Germany also applied to Japan. That nation is the only one in history to have been attacked with nuclear weapons. We're still there, too.

While we're considering the lessons of history, let's think about the big war we lost - Vietnam. We tried to install a democracy there, too. We tried to turn the war over to the local forces there, too. We left, promising the South Vietnamese aid that, as it turned out, the Congress was too stingy to send. President Lyndon Johnson's request for a half-billion dollar aid package was turned down, and Siagon fell two months later.

If we pour enough into Iraq, we can the outcome we want. To win would require genuine sacrifices. Not an increase in troops of ten or twenty percent, but a doubling or tripling of the forces there. The aim would be to disarm the Iraqi people, and to protect the defenseless survivors. We would need to search every shed, every house, every building for weapons on micro-destruction; pistols and rifles, as well as bomb making supplies. We would need to watch and patrol every street in every city, day and night; siezing arms and explosives and arresting people. At the same time, we would need a new Marshall plan. Money could be given to the Iraqis, conditioned on their internal agreement on how to spend it.

Lastly, we would have to recognize we are there to stay. It might be possible to reduce our troop levels after two or three years of intensive pacification, but we would still need a sizable force, more or less permanantly.

This would work. But we do not have the will to make it work.

It would require tremendous sacrifices of the American people. It would require a military draft, and untold billions of dollars, and tax increases. It would take too much.

But too little effort can only worsen the situation. We cannot build a house with just one nail, or a village with a single barrel of nails. Anything we put up will fall back down. In a previous post, I detailed why the "surge"can only worsen the situation.

Perhaps the president will explain tonight why he is ignoring the lessons of history. Perhaps he will put forth a compelling case for his "surge" in troop level. Perhaps he will give us an intellectually honest, rigorous and thorough discourse which will persuade us that our assessements and the assessements of his generals are mistaken.


But don't bet money on it.

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Both of these last two posts are really thought-provoking, Mike.
I totally agree with what you have written even though your "take" on what it would take to win in Iraq presented some new thinking for me. (How quickly we forget the lessons of the past!) Thanks for your continued thoughtful posts.
In the time since I wrote this, the Army has issued a "counterinsurgency manual." Several others, notably the Washington Post, have noted that the math in that manual would require a doubling of the troop numbers presently in Iraq. The president's troop surge looks less like carefully considered strategy and more like grasping at straws.
you are avery thoughtful and interesting person

I appreciate your even handed and intelligent approach

I hope the noonday will be much better than the bloody dawning
of a new day in Iraq and the rest of that region

I think there is reason for some optimism in midst of the immense sadness of the death and destruction being wraught now in Iraq
the sad optimism I feel realtes to the absudity of the religious bloodletting between Sunni's and Shites. Like the Protestant and Catholic wars of several hundred years ago proved to to most of us in the West the futility and the insanity of religious fanaticism, perhaps the Muslim faith will be reformed and transformed in this horrible baptism.

It is terribly sad that it is so very hard it is for hardheaded&hearted humanity to learn the lessons of love, tolerance and forgiveness.

Fortunately our tutor is infinitely patient.
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