Thursday, October 26, 2006

Jonah and the Wail

[posted by Callimachus]

This one is sure to be talked-about. Jonah Goldberg at NRO says "The Iraq war was a mistake." For some reason, that's supposed to be a bombshell admission that changes everything.

I never get that. "[T]he Iraq war was a mistake by the most obvious criteria: If we had known then what we know now, we would never have gone to war with Iraq in 2003." Well, that's some bombshell, isn't it? Maybe I just don't think of it all in terms of red light/green light, mistake/not mistake.

Maybe Jimmy Cater was right and fighting the American Revolution instead of waiting for a peaceful evolution of separation was a mistake. Maybe not standing up to the Soviets in Hungary in 1956 was a mistake. Maybe standing up to them in 1950 in Korea was, too. Maybe not letting the Southern states separate in peace in 1861 was a mistake. Maybe putting a man on the Moon instead of investing in a space station was a mistake.

Maybe the alternatives would have been worse.

In my life, maybe not going to law school was a mistake. Maybe going into journalism instead of teaching was a mistake. Doesn't keep me awake at night. Here I am. The question that matters is, where from here?

Other than that, and I don't know if it's a quibble or a chasm, I think Goldberg makes some sense here:

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction is a side issue. The WMD fiasco was a global intelligence failure, but calling Saddam Hussein’s bluff after 9/11 was the right thing to do. Washington’s more important intelligence failure lay in underestimating what would be required to rebuild and restore post-Hussein Iraq. The White House did not anticipate a low-intensity civil war in Iraq, never planned for it and would not have deemed it in the U.S. interest to pay this high a price in prestige, treasure and, of course, lives.

According to the goofy parameters of the current debate, I’m now supposed to call for withdrawing from Iraq. If it was a mistake to go in, we should get out, some argue. But this is unpersuasive. A doctor will warn that if you see a man stabbed in the chest, you shouldn’t rush to pull the knife out. We are in Iraq for good reasons and for reasons that were well-intentioned but wrong. But we are there.

Those who say that it’s not the central front in the war on terror are in a worse state of denial than they think Bush is in. Of course it’s the central front in the war on terror. That it has become so is a valid criticism of Bush, but it’s also strong reason for seeing our Iraqi intervention through. If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened.

Bush’s critics claim that democracy promotion was an afterthought, a convenient rebranding of a war gone sour. I think that’s unfair, but even if true, it wouldn’t mean liberty isn’t at stake. It wouldn’t mean that promoting a liberal society in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world wouldn’t be in our interest and consistent with our ideals. In war, you sometimes end up having to defend ground you wouldn’t have chosen with perfect knowledge beforehand. That’s us in Iraq.

"According to the conventional script," he writes, "if I’m not saying 'bug out' of Iraq, I’m supposed to say 'stay the course.' " He rightly finds this manichaean duality ridiculous. He has a potential third option at his fingertips: "I think we should ask the Iraqis to vote on whether U.S. troops should stay."

Intriguing, but I'm not sure it doesn't set dangerous precedents. I'm not such a fan of the tyranny of King Numbers. What if it's 52-to-48? How do you hold a fair election that accurately samples public opinion when one result of the election is "the majority gets to slaughter the minority?" What if all the Kurds say "stay" and all the Shi'ites say "go?"

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