Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Where is Iraq right now? We succeeded and we failed. We drove out Saddam and drained his swamp. But we so far have failed to pile up that sand and make it stick together in a strong, stable nation.

Perhaps it can't be done, and it ought never to be forgotten that "Iraq" exists on the maps as a convenience for the British Empire as it was in 1920. But I think it can be done and we ought to keep working at it.

But our main enemies there have succeeded and then failed even more miserably. The various insurgencies have succeeded in breaking the connection of the people to their government, in making the nation ungovernable, in bringing on a moral crisis and thwarting economic growth as well as any sense of personal liberty or dignity. This is classic Maoist strategy, but then they failed to fill the gap, either with their own vanguard of leaders or by educating and steering a popular uprising. They failed so miserably because their juvenile and sadistic leadership cadre had no ability to inspire other people, only to brutalize them.

[Even the other juvenile sadists. Ali Eteraz recently spotted this telling detail: "Half the foreign fighters held by the US at Camp Cropper near Baghdad are Saudis. They are kept in yellow jumpsuits in a separate, windowless compound after they attempted to impose sharia on the other detainees and preached an extreme form of Wahhabist Islam."]

That's why the recent good news from Iraq -- stability, drop in U.S. and civilian deaths, refugees returning (and not getting slaughtered) -- is only a half glass of hope. It's happening on the level of tribes (in the Sunni north) and militias (in the Shi'ite south). Those are not the components of a functioning nation. Despite the calm, there is now no Iraq. There is a government which, whatever its claims to electoral legitimacy, governs nothing, not even itself. And there are a people who have taken back their country, but without the power to unite and guide it.

Now isn't the time to cheer -- or to surrender. It's the time to start over, double down and do it patiently and correctly, realizing Americans can't do this unless Iraqis do it, too.

But I don't think we have it in us. As in 1780, as in 1863, there were many of us willing to go only so far, bear only so much burden, pay only so many taxes, and then walk away.

[What's really disgusting in the immediate term, though, are the people gritting their teeth through this calm spell and silently hoping it ends soon, before they have to tweak their narratives.]

An Iraqi asks:

Frankly, I don't understand why so many mock us for wanting a future for Iraq. Is your hatred for George Bush so great that you prefer to see millions of civilians suffer just to prove him wrong?

It really comes down to this: you are determined to see Iraq become a permanent hellhole because you hate Bush. And we are determined to see Iraq become a success, because we want to live.

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