Monday, April 30, 2007

After Iraq

[posted by Callimachus]

The phony Congress-White House showdown over military funding will turn out predictably, with political leaders claiming victory and anyone else thoroughly disgusted. But it seems clear now that we don't have the will to continue this war. Whatever the good, hard work being accomplished by our people in the country, there's nothing left here at home but the egos. Whatever the hopes and prospects once were for helping Iraq up on its feet as a strong and functioning democracy, we have broadcast to the world that we are not going to stick around long enough to do it. And no one else wants the job.

The people who ought to have supported and promoted this effort failed. That would include me. The people who worked from the beginning to defeat it won. And they seem to have convinced themselves they have no idea of the hell about to be unleashed.

There's great cred these days in having been "right" about Iraq in 2002, so that, like Woodstock, the number of people who claim to have "been there" on that issue is many times the number who actually were. So let me prepare to be in the next set of "right about Iraq." When we leave, there's going to be a massacre of innocents of medieval proportions and an infusion of life in al Qaida type jihadists that will keep us back on our heels for years.

I see the posters and stickers at the rallies. They're jarringly unreal. "Stop the war?" The real war begins after we leave. "Too many dead?" U.S. casualties over four years amount to a bad afternoon in 1944. The real threat begins after the enemy knows he's chased us out. No port, no off-base tavern, will be safe. "Deaths of innocents?" You've seen nothing yet.

They seem to think, on some unexpressed level, that the American failure they proclaim and support will simply re-set the clock to 2002.

In the limits of my experience, for most of the anti-war crowd this war always has been principally a domestic political issue. Concepts of national sovereignty, international rule of law, anti-imperialism served them as argument window dressing, but not consistently or sincerely (and in fact often in blatant contradiction to other stated goals of such people).

All that seemed to matter in the recent Democratic debates is having been quickest to bail out on the war and having given the most stylin' sack-cloth and ashes speech about it. I've not heard, "Instead of overthrowing Saddam, what would you have done about Iraq?" seriously asked or answered. Not even, "What would you have done differently in the war you voted to begin, and how would it have effected a different outcome." Not even, "What would you have said as CinC to the inevitable anti-war movement and its media-driven rage, even as you effected your winning strategy?"

Once the last U.S. National Guard private has boarded the last flight out of Iraq, as I read these anti-war folks, America will enter a period of national self-mortification, humbled and humiliated, doing penance before a wiser world. They actually seem to think this is a good thing and anticipate it with some pleasure. Remember that "We're Sorry" Web site that popped up after the 2004 election? Like that, but on a global scale, with our new leaders in place of the average sad sacks who posted up their pictures. Expect the next American U.N. ambassador to stand up and deliver a lengthy and formal apology to that august body.

And, as I think a great many people now perceive it, even after the war ends it will continue to function as a domestic issue chiefly: A cage to contain the new leaders' rivals. The memory of it will be like a family story that can be retold at any convenient moment to embarrass and check old stupid dad. "Remember that time you thought it would be a good idea to liberate Iraq? Oh, yes you do. Don't listen to anything he says; he's a fool."

A lot of the one-time rah-rah war supporters are now sullenly silent. [Those who haven't switched sides without changing anything and have become rah-rah war opponents.] They are getting used to the idea of spending the next 20 years in a political -- if not a literal -- cage.

But there's still work that needs to be done, and there's no one but us to try to do it. Prepare for the catastrophe that will come with the defeat our anti-war leaders have invited into the house. Prepare for the new, ugly global realities that these people seem not to realize we'll face, instead of the pacifist utopia they dream.

I can think of many rear-guard fights that must be fought, and future calamities that ought to be anticipated. I know which one I intend to concentrate on: Let's try not to leave our friends behind to burn in the furnace of the enemy's victory celebration. This is where I'm going to choose to devote my energies as the expedition to liberate Iraq implodes. I may write about it here; I may not. Blogging is only one tactic and it might not be the best one.

The last remaining neo-cons must rouse themselves out of the funk of failure and take responsibility for what they own, and for what no one else will do. The Iraqis who took our offer to help them build a better future -- they are our responsibility. Everyone else wants to walk away from them, forget about them, let them disappear into the night of the long knives. They are inconvenient facts about to be ground like hamburger in the anti-imperialist narrative, which will be the story indoctrinated into our children about this war, as it was for me about Vietnam.

The Iraqis who shared our vision of their nation are about to be killed, with their families, and then forgotten. We know this, if no one else does. We care, if no one else does.

Let's work to get them out alive. Even if nobody ever gets credit for it, even if it does nothing to stave off the coming American grovel and the resultant repercussions for what's left that calls itself "the West." Even if it boosts the fortunes of our domestic political rivals by allowing them to have a relatively bloodless victory. Forget them; they will make their own hell. Do what is right. Do what you're responsible for doing.

I am thinking of the Iraqi interpreters who helped us. And the political leaders of secular or minority parties. And the Iraqi women who stood up for their rights. And the communists (I never said you were going to like all these people). The writers, the intellectuals, the doctors. Employees who worked for the allied agencies or contracted companies, down to the last secretary in the pool.

Get them out, with their families. Settle them here, or in some other safe place of their choosing. Australia, perhaps, or Kurdistan. Give them the freedom and security elsewhere that we promised them, and failed to give them, in their homes.

The administration hitherto has been reluctant to open the national doors to Iraqi refugees. That's been understandable. As long as the White House was committed to succeeding in Iraq -- or at least to giving off the public impression of such commitment -- enabling the best and most useful citizens of Iraq to flee the country would have been counter-productive both politically and practically.

That time has passed. And so it's time to change the policy. And it's up to us to start pushing for it. Write to your congressman, and to people in power likely to have the skill and will to effect such changes. And keep writing. Keep calling. Keep up the pressure. Let's get some bills started. If that fails, set up private funds. Work with the people you know in the military, who will know best who over there needs a ride out. Find any allies and work with them; even if they're the loathsome types who likely will hold power here in a few years.

There is some practical virtue, after all, even in neo-isolationist realpolitik or sap-headed transnationalism, of being true to your friends.