News, Views And Events To Start The Day: The Morning Report.
March 10, 2010
Washington’s Cult of Narcissism and Iraq
By Tom Engelhardt
Hubris? We’re bigger than that!
We’ve now been at war with, or in, Iraq for almost 20 years, and intermittently at war in Afghanistan for 30 years. Think of it as nearly half a century of experience, all bad. And what is it that Washington seems to have concluded? In Afghanistan, where one disaster after another has occurred, that we Americans can finally do more of the same, somewhat differently calibrated, and so much better. In Iraq, where we had, it seemed, decided that enough was enough and we should simply depart, the calls from a familiar crew for us to stay are growing louder by the week.
The Iraqis, so the argument goes, need us. After all, who would leave them alone, trusting them not to do what they’ve done best in recent years: cut one another’s throats?
Modesty in Washington? Humility? The ability to draw new lessons from long-term experience? None of the above is evidently appropriate for “the indispensable nation,” as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once called the United States, and to whose leaders she attributed the ability to “see further into the future.” None of the above is part of the American arsenal, not when Washington’s weapon of choice, repeatedly consigned to the scrapheap of history and repeatedly rescued, remains a deep conviction that nothing is going to go anything but truly, deeply, madly badly without us, even if, as in Iraq, things have for years gone truly, deeply, madly badly with us.
An expanding crew of Washington-based opiners are now calling for the Obama administration to alter its plans, negotiated in the last months of the Bush administration, for the departure of all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. They seem to have taken Albright’s belief in American foresight -- even prophesy -- to heart and so are basing their arguments on their ability to divine the future.
The problem, it seems, is that, whatever may be happening in the present, Iraq’s future prospects are terrifying, making leaving, if not inconceivable, then as massively irresponsible (as former Washington Post correspondent and bestselling author Tom Ricks wrote recently in a New York Times op-ed) as invading in the first place. Without the U.S. military on hand, we’re told, the Iraqis will almost certainly deep-six democracy, while devolving into major civil violence and ethnic bloodletting, possibly of the sort that convulsed their country in 2005-2006 when, by the way, the U.S. military was present in force.
The various partial winners of Iraq’s much delayed March 7th election will, we were assured beforehand, jockey for power for months trying to cobble together a functioning national government. During that period, violence, it's said, will surely escalate, potentially endangering the marginal gains made thanks to the U.S. military “surge” of 2007. The possibilities remain endless and, according to these doomsayers, none of them are encouraging: Shiite militias could use our withdrawal to stage a violence-filled comeback. Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs is likely to increase and violently so, while al-Qaeda-in-Iraq could move into any post-election power void with its own destructive agenda.
There’s reason to worry, especially since the lessons of both Iraq and Afghanistan are clear: it takes years after a war has been launched for the U.S. military to develop tactics that lead to stasis. (“Victory” is a word that has gone out of fashion.)
Here, then, are three modest suggestions for recalibrating the American way of war. All are based on a simple principle -- “preventive war planning” -- and are focused on getting the next war right before it begins, not decades after it’s launched.