Thursday, May 03, 2007

One War or Two?

[posted by Callimachus]

A while ago I suggested historians might look back on the American experience in Iraq and treat it as two wars: The invasion to overthrow Saddam, and the insurgency/ethno-religious shootout that followed. As I recall the subsequent comments thread, some people jumped on this as stupid and perhaps Bush apologetics.

But I would point out historians clump or split their military actions to suit their convenience or perspective. The Peloponnesian War and the Hundred Years War, so-called, were punctuated by generation-long peaces. Did World War II start when Germany invaded Poland, or when Japan invaded China? Why one date and not the other? As for the Iraqi notion, is it that much different than separating into two conflicts, say, the American Civil War from the anti-Reconstruction resistance in the South that finally triumphed in 1877? Or the Spanish-American War from the Philippines insurrection that immediately followed it?

Now, I note with some interest, this notion is bobbing in the hot air as an anti-war trial balloon. (I believe I first encountered it here). I understand that. Reasonable and moderate war opponents see it as a way to frame the exit strategy without embracing "failure" and "losing" and "defeat," words that hold a perverse glamour for their less-well-hinged party-mates. They can say, "We went to war to overthrow Saddam, and we won; then we foolishly tried to shoot the moon by rebuilding Iraq, and that didn't work. So we wised up and came home."

I am sure they realize this gives their reasonable opponents who supported the war a safe back-down option, and that is always a wise component in a diplomatic strategy. I hope they also believe that American military morale matters more than driving your political opponents into oblivion, and that they appreciate the real and chilling global consequences of the U.S. going the way of the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. [For a start, if you don't appreciate it, ask Ali Eteraz].

Trouble is, I don't think it will work. I think the waters of contemporary American political discourse are too poisoned with blood for an old-school gracious back-down. And I think the people who supported, and still support, a free, liberal, and strong Iraq won't fall for it. They may see Reid and Pelosi, should those two sign on to this notion, smile and say, "yes, we won the war. Mission accomplished and all that." But we'll know, behind their backs, their fingers are crossed.