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I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Rejecting American "rejectionist" arguments:
   Stay the Course vs Cut 'n Run

The following is a post of mine at Port McClellan, where measures of Iraqi success are being debated:

The various American "rejectionist" arguments against our involvement in Iraq all seem to orbit round the singular assumption that peace and unity in Iraq is impossible.

Why? Why is this impossible?

Just because Shiites and Sunnis are sometimes, oftentimes, violently contentious sects of the same religion? Just because Arabs and Kurds are ethnically different? These differences do not doom us to failure. Difficult to be sure. But this does not make peace and unity unattainable.

We have been there before. We have prevailed.

The differences between Sunni and Shiite, the differences between Arab and Kurd are no more unmanageable, and the reconciliation between the two no more unthinkable, than the differences between the Tories and the Radicals, or between the Virginians and the New Englanders of our own democracy's birth. This is not a trivial comparison. Eighty years later, those differences still had the potency to ignite a bloody Civil War that nearly tore us asunder, a conflict arguably born in the very pains of our own democracy's birth.

The Iraqis today have not shown any more incompetence towards democracy than we ourselves demonstrated two centuries ago. Democracy and the desire for liberty are not mere Western or Christian values or institutions. We just succeeded first, whether by chance or fate.

So why do some insist birthing Iraqi Democracy stillborn? Do they believe Iraqis are intrinsically incapable of something that we ourselves have demonstrated a supreme capacity for? Do they believe this reasoned capacity of ours was self-evident, and destined to be, during any time of the Founding of the Republic?

American democracy was not preordained to succeed. The centrifugal forces before, during and in the wake of the Revolutionary War also nearly tore us apart. Quaker pacifism. Southern slavery. Boston insurgency. Tory loyalties. And the venal greed and self-absorbed passions of men such as Arnold and Burr. Only the threat of European invasion, particularly British, conspired to unite us as nothing intrinsic to our own nature could. By 1820, a whole generation later, we were beginning to be sufficiently and uniquely American enough to be a country.

Just as the borders in the New World were drawn by cartographers in London, Madrid and Paris, Iraqis are Iraqis by virtue of lines artificially drawn on maps by people living on far distant shores. There is not, yet, that single Iraqi national spirit akin to what we found only a generation after our birth. So how can the Iraqis overcome their differences? How can this democracy survive until the engines of democracy become self-sustaining? And what role can we, should we play?

I see only three possible outcomes; segregation, conflict or cooperation. And only two roles for us; abandon the Iraqis to their own devices, or keep our commitments to peace and freedom.

Splitting the country into three independent countries would resolve the internal difficulties of Iraq, but only by making them external. And by definition, it would certainly not create a single national Iraqi Identity. There is also the larger issue of regional politics. As others have rightly pointed out, once the Kurds have inviolate and sovereign borders, the strong gravitational forces pulling Iranian and Turkish Kurds within the realm of a Greater Kurdistan would be enormous, risking war between the three countries in and around the Zagros Mountains, where the ancient enemies of Mesopotamia lived and raided from. And too close to the one region in the world so vital to our own national strategic interests.

Likewise the Shiites would naturally gravitate toward Shiite Iran, as in fact they already are. While it is difficult to forecast the exact nature of the relationship, it is not a stretch to say that the wealth and power that comes from oil would thus concentrate even more into the hands of the Iranians, reducing the major players in the Middle East power struggle to two, a fundamentalist Shiite Iran and an increasingly fundamentalist Sunni Saudi Arabia. If you think an Iraqi Shiite-Sunni conflict is daunting, contemplate a regional Iranian-Saudi death match.

The third country parceled from Iraq would, of course, form in the Sunni center, Iraq Proper, if you will. It would be a poor and dissolute second cousin of the Middle East, more akin to Lebanon or Palestine than the grandeur that is, or ever was, Iraq. Discontent would run rampant, a discontent that might be subdued if a new Iraq, or modern day Babylon, were forged by consolidating this country with Syria and Jordan, but only marginally at best. And the region has had enough with redrawing lines on a map.

All three of these flashpoints, though, would only exacerbate the War on Terrorism, no less than the condition of the Lebanese and Palestinian people has had in creating a breeding ground for terrorism in the past few decades. So, from a purely American point of view, segregation would not be a viable strategy or outcome.

War, of course, has always been the ultimate arbiter of peace. Cut 'n run and let the opposing sides slug it out and to the victor goes the spoils. Again, if the American objective is to exorcise terrorism from Middle East politics, this is not a solution. And it seems none of the rejectionists are arguing that this would not happen if we leave, now or twenty years from now. By that logic, we can never leave.

It seems to me the only solution is cooperation, aka democracy. To have success, we must do everything in our power to foster, nurture and protect this democracy in Iraq. To do anything else seems to invite the self-fulfilling prophecies of doom.

American presence in Iraq is protecting Iraqi democratic institutions fragile in their infancy, as our own fragility was protected by a vast ocean and continental intrigues that distracted our formidable opponents. Regardless of the forces that conspired to pull us into this fight, we are there now to insulate this democracy from the wolves within and beyond the borders. Despite the rhetoric, we are not there as ravenous invaders.

But, might we fail? Yes. Is it worth risking our reputation on that failure? But what reputation would we have if we did not try? What reputation have we endured in recent history because we have not tried? Remember, al Qaeda explicitly stated one of its reasons for going ahead with the 9/11 attacks was they did not believe we would stand tall.

Is that the reputation we want to defend? A democracy that has not the credibility of its own convictions? Because until 9/11, that was exactly the reputation we had.

John F. Kennedy challenged us nearly fifty years ago to strive to do the things that are difficult. As Iraqis on this day risk life and limb to exercise their new democracy, I say Democracy is worth the struggle, whether for Iraqi or Arab or American.

Maybe we need to start measuring success from an Iraqi point of view.

(TrackBack to OutsidetheBeltway's linkfest)


Anonymous MBMc said...

A fine post, Mr. Cline.

12/15/2005 6:30 PM  

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