Monday, November 06, 2006

Victor Davis Hanson's not so long view of the war

Matthew linked this op-ed from Victor Davis Hanson--a writer I normally find pretty intelligent.

Here's VDH:

In the present climate that grew out of the recent conflicts of Gulf War I, Panama, Grenada, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, nearly 3,000 dead is considered proof of abject failure. Once that fact that our losses are judged very differently from the past is recognized, then, everyone is free to adjust to it, ending in the now communis opinio: "We still support our war, but not others' failed occupation."

But if one adopts that position, then it seems to me important to point out why and how mistakes in Iraq — and there were many — differ in nature from the horrific blunders of past successful wars, or are of such a magnitude to nullify the chance of stabilizing the Iraqi democracy.

There is no war in Iraq. Repeat--There is no War in Iraq. There hasn't been for nearly 3 years.

There is a peacekeeping mission post-war. The war was over when Saddam and his army were defeated. Bush said he was not interested in nation-building....and he was right, he isn't, hasn't been ever.

The only reason Hanson can make this lazy argument is because he fails to distinguish between between the War and the Peace. His pov fails because it is based on this flawed premise: namely that we are in a war in Iraq.

The question should not be prove that the mistakes made were of a different quality than in different wars and why those mistakes have cost Iraq from becoming a democracy (and why 3,000 dead is hence "losing") BUT RATHER....

Why those mistakes lead to the loss of peace? Because that is exactly what they did.

My answer to that (better) question:

The largest blunder was Bush's assumption that democracy was essential to Iraq.

Democracy prior to the establishment of market forces and rule of law is only a weapon of ethnic and sectarian division--people bravely voted as conservatives never ceased in reminding us (which is true) but they never focused on who/what they voted for: namely their own interests which were not for a unified secular Iraq.

Bush believed and still does to ths day that Iraq will become a secular stable democracy in Iraq that will aid in the WAR on Terror. That is why Bush refers to it as 1943 waiting for the tide to turn against the Axis (insurgents) and Hanson refers to this as 1863--Bush is then alternatively Lincoln, FDR, Churchill, whoever.

But these are all very poor analogies. If you are going to use a Civil War analogy the current fighting is not 1863 but rather the post-war Reconstruction Era (later 1860-1870s). The North occupied the South, an insurgency in the form of the KKK etc arose and within a decade the North left (after the compromised election of 1876) leaving the insurgents to control their own, reassert their trdaitional culture-religion, suppress minorities, and eventually be the government that the North would make peace with (circa 1900). Leading to the industrialization of the South and its reintergration and now supremacy politically (along with the West) of the Union.

Seen the unemployment numbers in the Sunni heartland recently? The US and Shia Iraqi Army will leave the Sunni heartland at some point--perhaps not for another 5-8 years. But they will. It will be a brutal, backwards place, where hopefully they will not continue to attack into the Shia/Kurdish areas--this could be different than the US Civil War.

Then economic infrastructure will come in and the former "rebels" will have to be dealt with.

The arguments of a Fiasco, Cobra II, etc. are not why we lost the war but why we lost the peace.

Iraq could never have become the democratic vision Bush envisoined. He never dealt with the reality of the tri-partite division, the history of Shia suppression, Kurdish independence, and Sunni dominance trashed. No one wants a unified Iraq with a pluralistic bent. No group has an abiding interest in that.

The best that can be achieved is some mitigated non-disaster. What could have been achieved was a decapitation of Hussein but not the de-Baathification and de-Sunnification of the country. It could have been moved away from its Totlitarian threatening stance to a stable autocracy.

So to Hanson's questions the blunders did not lose the war but the peace.

de Baathification
Abu Ghraib
Having no plan for the Sunnis
Not having enough troops (for the peacekeeping not the invasion).
Having NO PLAN for post-Saddam fall.

Most of all having a ideologically driven notion of how the country must be and what it will become.

Power has devolved to the local level. It did the moment Hussein's statue came down. The "peace" was lost in that moment.

If Iraq does then resemble US Civil War, it becomes neither victory nor by the lights of a Hanson or his liberal opponents. I think of Iraq more as the former Yugoslavia as I see it breaking up--as was bound to happen in a post Cold War world--along ethnic-religious lines. Kurds are the Croats who got off to the fastest start. Shia are Bosnians-Herczgo-Macedon.., second in place, a little more ragged but on the way. Sunni are the Serbs--the losers. But even now there is a strong tendency, seen in the latest election in Serbia, towards moving beyond the war Serbian supremacy model, towards integration, EU, and a future.

Again Vietnam might be the parallel. We "lost" in a humanitarian sense--which Desert Storm 1, Saddam's repression, the 90s Embargo, and Desert Storm 2 and aftermath have all been sadly--but now Vietnam is capitalist. Because of China. The Balkans are pushing towards integration.

So the "victory" in this situation, like Vietnam will not be on the US model of either governance nor economics. Neither will Iraq. It's economic motivator will be Iran. Which is why as with China, Iran is the key player.


At 1:49 PM, Blogger MD said...

Your view that there is no war in Iraq at present is pretty unconvincing. Clearly, Iraq is at present a battleground. Clearly, Iraq at present has people fighting and killing each other. Clearly, a nation is involved, as well as fighters who call for the destruction of that nation. To me, that the Iraq war possesses particulars that differ from a generic definition of "war" in the abstract is not unique to this war; all wars possess their pecular, distinguishing features, or contexts.

I would have thought that you, being the theologian, would not adopt the "war/peace" dichotomy. Rather, I think the two concepts are not related at all. Peace has nothing at all to do with war. That is the fallacy of the left, and has been for pretty much ever. The truth is something more like this: peace is not the absense of war, but the presence of love. One can be at peace while at war, and so can a nation. That the left believes war and peace make a zero-sum game is why the left is not to be taken seriously about war, or for that matter, peace.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


if it is a war it is a civil war at this point. has been since saddam fell.

sen. john warner-staunch republican from VA--said that if the civil war escalates the Senate might have to re-evaluate its passage of war bill because it gave the president authority to enact a war against Saddam not a civil conflict.

there is effectively no central government in Iraq. Bush's plan to stand up an Iraqi army, stand down the US presence, to support a unified Iraq gov't has no legs.

When you have Shia militias fighting other Shia militias in the street....when the US attacks a Shia militia and the Sunnis cheer and when the US attack a SUnni installation and the Shia cheer, not to mention the Sunni insurgency/militia, what war is this?

It's horrific no doubt. but it's neither a traditional uniform army of a nation versus another nor is it (really) one front in some unified War on Terror. A large portion of the Sunni insurgents are secular tribal Baathists who just don't want an occupation or what they see as Iran running their country (through the Shia).

i don't think the peace/war dialectic is a liberal trope. i got it from Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, and George Bush Sr. Not exactly left-wing maniacs. The Powell Doctrine of course is "you break it, you fix it."

Bush's dream of a democratic Iraq, the lack of planning, the ideologically driven choices that were made in terms of selection of diplomats, gov't officials--cost us from being able to stabilize and fix the country after the break. to the degree that that was possible--which is academic at this point but certainly did not have to be as it is now.

I agree that peace isn't the absence of war. Not what I'm saying. I was referencing a lack of security post-Saddam fall, a lack of vision for the post-Saddam situation. Which is why I think Hanson was wrong.

I said peace-keeping as in security, humanitarian reconstruction, stabilization after the fall of the regime. if you don't like the word peace as I used it there then just substitute stabilization, intervention, securing, etc.

Long term peace you're right is the presence of love and most of all the instantiation of justice--from a Jewish/Christian/Islamic perspective. otherwise most "peaces" are temporary respites from the violence and not much else.

but in the short term the best that can usually be hoped for, especially in an arena of conflict is, following Augustine, preventing the slaughter of innocents and total chaos.

Americans can't make the Iraqis love another or move beyond boundaries, history, emnity. what we can do is understand that the US military in its present form can only destroy/knock out enemy regimes and harass non-state actors, it can not establish a political vision on a people who do not want it.

it can along with a Dept. of Reconstruction, systems force, stabilize areas and create space for economic-cultural exchange, safety, and technological improvement.

The US largely failed in that latter mission. call it whatever you want, but I think that element of the conflict is not properly termed the war. but what is more important is that we realize that the lesson is not that we should blame someone for losing:

either Bush
or the Democrats

nor try to retreat to isolationism, but rather build the force we need to do the work that we can do in this century--which requires a realization that we can not impose power throughout the world nor have the capacity to deal with post-war conflict.

as a theologian, this is Augustinian reflectoin. the best governments can do is create non-conflict (if you don't like "peace") and it does so often in profoundly brutal ways. and individuals have to make choices within that space that promote long term, in Christian language, the kindgom. the only realiity of true love, justice, and peace.

but as someone reflecting theologically, that reality is God's and belong's in God's time and is God's to give.

As Oscar Romero said we are just the laborers; God alone is the master Builder.

In the meantime I take Augustine's line that governments can be judged as good or bad but only within the relative fallen sinful world. in other words they generally can only do the least worst thing.

by that standard, there were better "least worsts" in post-Saddam Iraq. Some of which, not all, were because of human arrogance and purposefully ignoring of information and other points of view.


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