Thursday, October 18, 2007

Knock me over with a feather

I'm on record as favoring rapid withdrawal from Iraq, and I maintain that position, but I'm a pretty cheap date when it comes to good news coming from there. I've followed that whole debacle from the beginning with almost my full attention. After all, I was there for 6 months, and I have a pretty good grasp of both the military and military history. As they say, the best lack all conviction; all that I know is that I don't know.

However, I do have the sneaking suspicion that all sides are wrong:
  • The hawks are wrong: the consequences of withdrawal are not that great for the United States.
  • The moderates are wrong: leaving "just enough troops to lose" is not a good strategy.
  • The doves are wrong: the war is not "lost." I'd like to talk about that today.
In spite of all the mismanagement (at all levels), etc., I'm always conscious of the possibility of pulling a pyrrhic victory out of this mess. What does that mean? Just that Iraq turns out to be a decent country, for an absolutely unreasonable cost. Maybe there are free and fair elections, although formation of genuine liberal-democratic institutions are probably out of reach.

The general consensus seems to be forming that by purely military measures, the war is going pretty well relative to the recent past. General Petraeus has produced our first halfway decent counterinsurgency strategy, violence is declining, and Al Qaeda is not doing so hot (haven't heard about a big car bomb in a while, have you?)

But none of that really matters if the politics collapses. Skeptics point to the total lack of progress at the national level, and project that forward. But political progress isn't linear, or even monotonic (math term). I have no idea what might be possible in the next few months, or years.

What's more promising is the apparent emergence of a group of post-Saddam leaders at the community level, as represented by the various Awakening fronts. Real democracy comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. In our haste to get out of there, one of our many cardinal sins was to get this backwards.

I'm curious to see what the next Iraqi election (knock on wood) will produce. It seems like the extremist parties have lost credibility; I think we might be pleasantly surprised by the result, if it's allowed to happen.

Whether that outcome is worth another 300 American lives and $300 billion or so is not at all clear to me. But I wish everyone in this debate wasn't so damn sure of themselves.



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