Thursday, November 30, 2006

There's Plenty of Blame to Go Around

In Slate today, Timothy Noah refutes the notion that we should blame the Iraqis for our failure to build a nation there that we can be proud of. I think he sets up a straw man in attacking assertions that it's "their" war, that Iraqis are "ungrateful," or that they are simply "uncivilized." While some may make these claims, in fact, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Obviously, the mistakes of the administration, and the Army, have made the chances of success lower than they might otherwise have been. Those have been well documented by hundreds of experts. I don't want to absolve us of blame, but it's important not to assume the Iraqis are a blank canvas on which we played out our policies; there were many players in this game. Here are some decisions that various groups in Iraq might have reasonably made, resulting in a different outcome in Iraq:
  • Sunnis: Vote in the first election. This might have resulted in a Constitution and governmental structure less stacked against them.
  • Shiites: Don't vote for Muqtada Al-Sadr. More than anyone else, he is responsible for the dynamic changing from a patient Shiite leadership attempting to contain an insurgency into inter-ethnic slaughter.
  • Sunnis: Don't make common cause with Muqtada Al-Sadr. Perhaps if Sunni insurgents had a laid off us a bit while Sadr was causing trouble in April 2004 -- and possibly even given us a bit of political cover -- we might have taken care of him then. Everyone would have been a lot better off.
  • Sunnis: Don't invite Al Qaeda in. Besides really irritating the occupying power, these guys immediately started trying to foment the inter-ethnic struggle that has now begun: a struggle in which the Sunnis are at a distinct disadvantage.
  • Shiites: Rely on the Army rather than the militias. If Shiites control the Army, and the Army is focused on defeating the insurgency, why take the law into your own hands? It's that the Army's freedom of action is restricted, but doing so may have avoided the chaos that is now upon us.



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