Realism and Iraq

Victor David Hanson takes on critics of the surge in his latest article for NRO:

Just as journalists, generals, and politicians rush to get into print another tell-all, I-know-the-answers book about the “disaster” in Iraq, so too in the 1990s the mini-Middle East publishing industry used to be devoted to equally furious attacks on realism, neo-isolation, and cynicism of Republicans and conservatives for an array of sins — sacrificing the Kurds and Shiites, not supporting Democratic reformers abroad, leaving Saddam in power, failing to prod Gulf sheikdoms to liberalize, cynically prodding on the Iran-Iraq war, etc.

What is lost, then, in the present pre-election hysteria and the repositioning on Iraq, is that there were never any good American choices in the Middle East. The present ones in Iraq and Afghanistan came about only from 9/11 and a general consensus that the failures of the past had led to that mass murder — and thus a new course of action was needed to replace both the liberal appeasement and conservative realism that had worked in the interest of bin Ladenism.

This is very true of course. They only strategy that has not been used yet (recently) is isolationism. The problem for the US is that it cannot just withdraw from the Middle East (too many financial interests) and that doing so would backfire as well.

Hanson goes on to write:

Our present policy, however poorly managed in postbellum Iraq, arose as a reaction both to the do-nothingism of past administrations, which, by general consensus, had emboldened al Qaeda to up its ante on 9/11, and the decades of amoral realism that propped up thugs and dictators who ruined their societies but blamed the ensuing mess on Americans and Jews.

After 9/11, we did not, as alleged, invade countries serially, but removed only two fascistic governments, the worst in the Middle East — both with a record of supporting enemies of the United States, and both of whom we had bombed or sent missiles against in the very recent past…

If both governments can be stabilized even at this late date, the landscape in the Middle East from Lebanon to the West Bank will be much improved; if not, much worse. For those who wish to give up the struggle in Iraq, go home, and stay clear of the Middle East, a final question: What would Mr. Assad in Syria, al Qaeda in Iraq, President Ahmadinejad in Iran, or Hamas and Hezbollah wish us to do — and why?
It would be nice to go back to our pre-9/11 past, just as in a bloody 1944 the calm of 1937 looked to many of the starry-eyed far preferable, just as in the midst of the nuclear stand-off of 1962 we lamented the loss of the old “friendly” Russia and China of 1945.

But while our ancestors engaged in the same despair, the same blame-gaming that we so enjoy, they at least were not stupid enough to lose those far more deadly and dangerous wars. We can win like they did as well, but only if we face the future with confidence, and not pine for the return of a mythical past that never was.

Of course there is one problem: what if you believe that the war is lost in so far that Iraq will not become a stable democracy for quite some years to come (say 10)? Of course, we must than also ask what withdrawal would accomplish.

As I see it, realism is needed right now. The middle way is the best option right now. Total withdrawal will result in genocide. Leaving 150,000 troops in Iraq is impossible and will not accomplish much… The US can only hope to limit the damage.

And yes, for that, we need realists. The idealists had their chance, lets get realists in to clean up the mess.

I would – once again – like to thank all of you for treating me with great respect here. I greatly, greatly appreciate it; it has been – and still is – a pleasure to post here and to read your comments. It almost makes me want to force Pamela to stay away from blogging a couple of months longer than she originally planned.

Truly: it is a blessing for me to post here.

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5 Responses to Realism and Iraq

  1. Darrell Prows says:

    As I see it, the statement “Total withdrawal will result in genocide” forms the foundation of your position. I guess a major reason for my disagreeing with you is I can come up with no instance where a genocide ever resulted when both sides were fully armed and completely prepared to fight to the death. A more believeable result would be some from of ethnic cleansing and partition, and this unfortunate outcome seems to have been preordained from the date that Bush was sworn into office.

    I think that a more likely outcome is something similar to what happened to Afghanistan after the Soviets went home. A situation like that would present a long term management challenge, but managing it from afar has many advantages over trying to manage it locally. And nothing about it qualified as a genocide.

  2. Michaelvdg says:

    Darrell, perhaps my words were a bit uncarefully chosen in that regard. I meant, of course, many, many, many deaths, more so than we have seen yet.

    On the other hand, I would not rule out true genocide: I think that the Shiites are much stronger and if they can do whatever it is they want to… things will get very ugly for sunnis.

  3. Ginny Cotts says:


    It is likely that some form of genocide will take place. This was one of the cautions in opening the box to begin with.

    However the total withdrawal option is really more of a GOP disinformation concept than a true proposal by anyone.

    The general plan is to redeploy the troops so they are not in the frontlines, and allows an increase in the numbers that can be brought home. Redeployment can be in country or in region. Out of the day to day fighting and plenty close enough to be redeployed to an area that is getting out of control, to back up the Iraqi army.

    None of this will change the fact that many many more will die. If American soldiers are out of the mix, the Iraqis should be more willing to start working on alternatives to violence to resolve their problems. Especially if America would put as much into diplomatic effort as it has in military.

    It has been a pleasure to have you here. Thanks for taking Pamela up on the request. I can’t immagine she would have any problem letting you continue to post here when she is ‘back’, as your time and inclination allow.

  4. Michael

    Great post. This struck me as what is needed: “get realists in to clean up the mess.” Exactly. I’m not sure at this point if we had idealists running the show or idealogues. Regardless it’s time to change course.

    And as for you P.S… The good news I have to go up the coast sometime in mid-July for 3 days for freshman orientation with my daughter and I WILL not be taking my laptop. I’m happy to take as much time as possible away this summer, so keep on posting… we’re all enjoying having you here.

  5. Darrell Prows says:

    Perhaps the one book that struck me the most in my life was reading in high school about the final resistance of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto (“The Wall”). The Nazis had more trouble with the final handful of Jews, because they finally got weapons armed and were convinced that death awaited them either way, than with almost all of the other millions of people sent to the camps put together.

    I also followed pretty closely the civil war in the seventies and eighties between the Christians and Musilms in Beirut. Finally there was the battle that Reagan had Saddam Hussein fight year after year against Iran, which in numbers resembles the relative strength between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq. Never underestimate the ability of armed and determined people to engage in effective self defense.

    But, really, I’m not sure that things in Iraq will be any bloodier than in Viet Nam when foreign forces final left those people to their own devices. I believe that Viet Nam is in the same place today that it would have been if we had left them alone in 1960, our tried to hang on until 1990. They’re the same and we would have been worse off to remain even another day.