Our Three Options in Iraq

News Abroad

Mr. Polk is a former Member of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Council, responsible for the Middle East. He was Professor of History at the University of Chicago and Founding-Director of its Center for Middle Eastern Studies. His latest book, Understanding Iraq, will be published in March 2005. He is now the Senior Director of the W.P. Carey Foundation. Click here for his website: www.williampolk.com.

Official inquiries have verified what independent observers have long said: the invasion of Iraq was not justified; a small, remote and poor country, Iraq posed no threat to the United States. As in the Tonkin Gulf issue during the Vietnam war, the Congress and public were misled. Those of us who said so from the beginning are tempted now to say "I told you so" but that indulgence doesn't lead anywhere. When I was the member of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East, I had the duty not to lament past mistakes but to identify what could be done to pick up the pieces where they then lay. With the elections behind us and the Bush administration in office for the next four years, an intelligent choice among current options in Iraq becomes even more urgent. Now as a private citizen, I ask what can be done with the current reality?

Iraq is in a terrible condition, its society has been torn apart, scores of thousands have been killed and even more wounded, its infrastructure has been shattered, dreadful hatreds have been generated. Today, there are no good options -- only better or worse -- alternatives. Three appear possible:

Illustration by Joshua Brown. Click to see his series, Life During Wartime The first option has been called "staying the course." In practice that means continued fighting. France “stayed the course” in Algeria in the 1950s as America did in Vietnam in the 1960s and as the Israelis are now doing in occupied Palestine. It has never worked anywhere. In Algeria, the French employed over three times as many troops, nearly half a million, to fight roughly the same number of insurgents as America is now fighting in Iraq. They lost. America had half a million soldiers in Vietnam and gave up. After forty years of warfare against the Palestinians, the Israelis have achieved neither peace nor security.

Wars of national “self-determination,” to use President Woodrow Wilson’s evocative phrase, can last for generations or even centuries. Britain tried to beat down (or even exterminate) the Irish for nearly 900 years, from shortly after the Eleventh century Norman invasion until 1921; the French fought the Algerians from 1831 until 1962; both Imperial and Communist Russia have been fighting the Chechens since about 1731. Putin’s Russia is still at it. There was no light at the end of those “tunnels.”

At best, “staying the course” in Iraq can be only a temporary measure as eventually America will have to leave. But during the period it stays, say the next five years, my guess is that another 30 or 40 thousand Iraqis will die or be killed while the U.S. armed forces will lose perhaps 5,000 dead and 20,000 seriously wounded. The monetary cost will be hundreds of billions. Consider what the figures mean. Americans were horrified when about 3,300 people were killed in the attack by al-Qaida terrorists on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Iraq has already (at the time of this writing) lost about 100,000 during the American invasion and occupation. In absolute terms that means that virtually every Iraqi has a parent, child, spouse, cousin, friend, colleague or neighbor – or perhaps all of these -- among the dead. More than half of the dead were women and children. In relative terms, this figure equates in the very much larger American society to a loss of over a million people.

It is not only the actual casualties that count. What wars of “national liberation” have taught us is that they brutalize the participants who survive. Inevitably such wars are vicious. Both sides commit atrocities. In their campaigns to drive away those they regard as their oppressors, terrorists/freedom fighters seek to make their opponents conclude that staying is unacceptably expensive and, since they do not have the means to fight conventional wars, they often pick targets that will produce dramatic and painful results. Irish, Jewish, Vietnamese, Tamil, Chechen, Basque and others blew up hotels, cinemas, bus stations and/or apartment houses. The more spectacular, the better for their campaigns. So, the Irgun blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946; the IRA a Brighton (England) hotel in 1984; an Iraqi group the UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. Chechens blew up an apartment house in Moscow in 2003 while a Palestinian group blew up an Israeli frequented hotel in Taba (in Egypt) in 2004.

Faced with such challenges, the occupying power often reacts with massive attacks aimed at terrorists but inevitably also killing many civilians. To get information from those it manages to capture, it also frequently engages in torture. Torture did not begin at the Abu Ghuraib prison; it is endemic in guerrilla warfare. Two phrases from the Franco-Algerian war of the 1950s-1960s tell it all and ring true today: “torture is to guerrilla war what the machine gun was to trench warfare in the First World War” and “torture is the cancer of democracy.” Guerrilla warfare and counter insurgency inexorably corrupt the very causes for which soldiers and insurgents fight. Almost worse, even in exhausted “defeat” for the one and heady “victory” for the other, they leave behind a chaos that spawns warlords, gangsters and thugs as is today so evident in Chechnya and Afghanistan. After half a century, Algeria has still not recovered from the trauma of its war of liberation against France. The longer the war in Iraq continues the more it will resemble the statement the Roman historian Tacitus attributed to the contemporary guerrilla leader of the Britons. The Romans, he said, “create a desolation and call it peace.”

The second option is "Vietnamization." In Vietnam, America inherited from the French both a government and a large army. What was needed, the Nixon administration proclaimed, was to train the army, equip it and then turn the war over to it. True, the army did not fight well nor did the government rule well, but they existed. In Iraq, America inherited neither a government nor an army. It is trying to create both. Not surprisingly, the results are disappointing. Most Iraqis regard the government as an American puppet. And the idea that America can fashion a local militia to accomplish what its powerful army cannot do is not policy but fantasy. It is true that in the days of their Iraqi empire, the British used such a force – composed of an ethnic minority, the Assyrians. But the British wisely used them only as auxiliaries to their army and air force. The Iraqi “Interim Government” has similarly used Kurds as auxiliaries to American forces. An Iraqi army is unlikely to fight insurgents with whom soldiers sympathize and among whom they have relatives. The best America might gain from this option is a fig leaf to hide defeat; the worst, in a rapid collapse, would be humiliating evacuation, as in Vietnam.

The third option is to choose to get out rather than being forced. Time is a wasting asset; the longer the choice is put off, the harder it will be to make. The steps required to implement this policy need not be dramatic, but the process needs to be affirmed and made unambiguous. The initial steps could be merely verbal. America would have first to declare unequivocally that it will give up its lock on the Iraqi economy, will cease to spend Iraqi revenues as it chooses and will allow Iraqi oil production to be governed by market forces rather than by an American monopoly. If President Bush could be as courageous as General Charles de Gaulle was in Algeria when he admitted that the Algerian insurgency had “won” and called for a “peace of the braves,” fighting would quickly die down in Iraq as it did in Algeria and in all other guerrilla wars. Then, and only then, could elections be meaningful. In this period, Iraq would need a police force but not an army. A UN multinational peacekeeping force would be easier, cheaper and safer than creating an Iraqi army which in the past destroyed moves toward civil society and probably would do so again, probably indeed paving the way for the “ghost” of Saddam Husain.
A variety of "service" functions would then have to be organized. Given a chance, Iraq could do them mostly by itself. It would soon again become a rich country and has a talented, well-educated population. Step by step, health care, clean water, sewage, roads, bridges, pipelines, electric grids, housing, etc. could be mainly provided by the Iraqis themselves, as they were in the past. When I visited Baghdad in February 2003 on the eve of the invasion, the Iraqis with whom I talked were proud that they had rebuilt the Tigris bridge that had been destroyed in the 1991 war. They can surely do so again.

In its own best interest, the Iraq government would empower the Iraq National Iraq Oil Company (NIOC) to award concessions by bid to a variety of international companies, each of which and NIOC would sell oil on the world market. Contracts for reconstruction paid for by Iraqi money would be awarded under bidding, as they traditionally were, but to prevent excessive corruption perhaps initially supervised by the World Bank. Where other countries supplied aid, they could be given preferential treatment in the award of contracts as is common practice elsewhere. The World Bank would follow its regular procedures on its loans. Abrogating current American policies that work against the recovery of Iraqi industry and commerce would spur development since any reasonably intelligent and self-interested government would emphasize getting Iraqi enterprises back into operation and employing Iraqi workers. That process could be speeded up through international loans, commercial agreements and protective measures so that unemployment, now at socially catastrophic levels, would be diminished. Neighborhood participation in running social affairs and providing security are old traditions in Iraqi society and allowing or favoring their reinvigoration would promote the excellent side effect of grass roots political representation. As fighting dies down, reasonable security is achieved and popular institutions revive, the one million Iraqis now living abroad will be encouraged to return home. In the aggregate they are intelligent, highly trained, and well motivated and can make major contributions in all phases of Iraqi life.

In such a program, inevitably, there will be set-backs and shortfalls, but they can be partly filled by international organizations. The steps will not be easy; Iraqis will disagree over timing, personnel and rewards while giving the process a chance will require American political courage. But, and this is the crucial matter, any other course of action would be far worse for both America and Iraq. The safety and health of American society as well as Iraqi society requires that this policy be implemented intelligently, determinedly and soon.

© William R. Polk, November 5, 2004.

This article first ran on Juan Cole's blog and is reprinted with the permission of both Mr. Cole and Mr. Polk.

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


1. I have certainly not "always" even if indeed ever "objected" to the notion that "today's Democrats" have not been offering a "viable alternative". On that we are in agreement.That does not mean that there were not important differences between Kerry and Bush. The world would like different had Junior Bush's Iraq war been the sort of swift multinational victory his father achieved and which Kerry (now, though not then) tacitly endorses.

2. "How can 59 million be so dumb ?" asked one UK headline, which might give pause to any adoption of Rovian bull about "axis of evil" applying to the US and UK. Of course with that huge number of votes, almost as big as the number who did not vote at all, it is difficult to find fault with your view that America deserves four more years of President Cheney (let's at least recognize the power hierarchy if we are going to be dialectically correct). But does the world therefore also deserve him ? As Richard Dawkin recently said on NPR (a further exception to what we might better call it the Pretzel-Poodle-Axis): the U.S. presidential election result is a "disaster for the world." Of course, if your "the bigger the disaster the bigger the ultimate revolution" kind of thinking pans out, he will have been proven wrong, but it is a gamble - the German communists in the 1930s, for example, certainly did not find history on their side when they made that kind of bet. So far, I regret to note, the Democrats do not seem to be learning the sorts of lessons you appear to hope they might learn.

3. Your Iraq partition theory is interesting, and not necessarily implausible, but you offer zero evidence to support it beyond dubious historical parallels. Before leaping to assume what you would like to prove, you might first ponder the alternative scenarios. The notion that Cheney-Bush have any consistent or historically sensible global long-term plan is a very difficult one to reach based on their zig-zagging track record of incompetence, deception, self-delusion, hypocrisy and blundering to-date.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I will read your comment when you remove the rabid and moronic Europhobia from it and repost. Note meanwhile that Tony Blair's Britain is in the EU.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Obviously what you or I might like the U.S. to do in Iraq is much more academic now than it already was three weeks ago. For what it may be worth, I like both your suggestions (apologize, give financial aid - grants to education, family planning, reconstruction, not loans), but they hardly add up to an alternative.

Without a workable strategy for attaining credible and lasting security, stability, and a least a modicum of legitimacy and human rights (a plan which neither the Bush Administration nor its leading political critics show any signs of developing), Iraq is heading towards becoming a bigger, nastier and more dangerous Talibanic Afghanistan. There were no easy solutions even before March, 2003, now there are only (though still important) choices between relative degrees of disaster. Ultimately, I don't see any way around striking some kind of deal with the theocratic Sunni and Shia leaders. Bush's bull about bringing democracy -through high tech weaponry and collateral damage- will never work unless he stands up and convinces the U.S. public to sacrifice much more than his hedonistic "tax cut" for the rest of most of our lives, in order to have sufficient resources to devote the next half century slowing turning Iraq into some remote cousin of post '45 Japan. While global warming, the Islamic demographic time-bomb and a dozen other coming disasters blindside us. And, of course, Bush would have to very soon dump most of the top-level incompetent team he is currently elevating in order to grant maneuvering room for a latter-day MacArthur. In other words, some counterfactual snowballs in hell are not even worth fantasizing about.

Long story short, we are utterly screwed, and had better apply your sensible ideas about humility and accountability and constructive generosity in some other arena, and place them in more competent and less compromised hands, where they have a ghost of a chance of accomplishing something. Certainly the new Democratic minority leader designate Reid, who spinelessly endorsed the October 11, 2002 blank check that made the current Iraq debacle possible, looks unlikely to be a successful advocate for a pro-active alternative to the Cheney-Bush Administration's failing chickenhawk fake imperialism.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"Getting out" looks unlikely for the next four years. It only became the
"war for freedom and democracy", by the way, after it turned out there were no weapons to disarm Saddam of, except huge stockpiles of conventional munitions which the nameless "terrorists" were allowed to help themselves to. From time to time it will be a war for some other "purpose" (maybe some weird desert fly that goes extinct), otherwise it generally will be the "war on terrorism" (= the war to re-elect Republicans) for a long time to come, especially since this is basically what Al Qaeda was hoping for. Rove now has to "spin" for the "history books" instead of for the swing states, but that is his job.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I agree, except that Bush would probably put himself on a plane crashing into a building before he would ever admit to having made a mistake on Iraq. At least not before leaving office. Thus a lot of stuff will hit the fan over the next four years before the first opportunity for your (otherwise very recommendable) "first step" is likely to arise.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

This is too simplistic. "Staying the course" HAS sometimes worked,when the course was realistic (Black Hills of Dakota in the 1870s, South Africa, Phillipines in the early 1900s). There are many other options in Iraq today the three predictable ones listed here, involving various deals with Sunni, Shia, Kurds, and neighboring regimes, from Iran to Jordan to Turkey etc. It is probably true that there is nothing even close to a good option anywhere in sight, and it is certainly true that the range of even remotely tolerable alternatives has been drastically shrinking month by month thanks to the bungling incompetence of the arrogant chickenhawks who created this mess in order to have war as a campaign issue.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/28/2004

Don't worry this country never pays his debts to the enemies when it doesn't need to on some much more important reasons for it than just feeling of guilt and
international law. E.g., it never paid for the disastrous destructions and loss of human life in South-Asia.
The only thing this nation will pay for (and again - just partially) is the cost of waging the wars against the countries that have no capability to cause the number of
US casualties, which might provoke sufficiently large-scale, strong anti-war resistance inside the US to threaten to oust its political leaders. Maenwhile, the latter have already made projections on the amount of oily profits for the US financial elite the Iraq war will eventually bring.

Marijonas Vilkelis - 11/25/2004

Just remember that since the war was immoral and illegal in the first place, America must be charged for the damage and the atrocities it has committed. The longer it stays, the more generations it will be paying it's debt.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/25/2004

You are absolutely right: the American intellectual and religious thought, and elitarian mass-media has traditionally presented the dogmatic, Hollywood-like, though easy to grasp view on the world at large, as the perpertual struggle of Good vs Evil.
Eventually, this view has become firmly implanted into
the minds of the great American majority as undeniable postulate.
We, i.e. Good Guys just can't do any wrong, and even if
we obviously did something like that, we must have been forced to do it, we must have had no reasonable chance of acting otherwise.
In the particular case of Iraq, I predict that Bush & Co.
will never give up, mo matter what kind of positive and successful politically/ideological spin they and obedient to them mass-media might concoct for the withdrawl.
The rationale behind my prediction is very briefly the following:
a) the main reason the USA moved in there was (despite all ideological and moral BS we have been fed with) globally- strategical, not political, personal, or
b) the situation in the world so far is largely
different from the Vietnam-era situation, when the countries of South-Eastern Asia had, though, insufficient and indirect, but considerable military and political support from Soviets and China. Now, the US faces no such
challenges, the negative murmur coming from France, notwithstanding.
c) in order for the ruling economic and political US elite to maintain its grasp on power and profits this country's populus must be assured that American nation is challenged by some evil and deadly force, helping the
folks to forget about the need of social-economic changes, thus concentrating on complete solidarity with the societal managers.

Sudha Shenoy - 11/24/2004

In the minds of the American voting public, the situation in Iraq is crystal-clear: Us (the Good Guys) vs. Them (the Bad Guys.)This public have no conceptual framework within which to grasp the complex realities of the situation. President Bush & his advisors - if they ever choose to leave - will have to present withdrawal as victory: it doesn't matter what. And the continuing turmoil afterwards (if anyone bothers to take notice) will be quite simple to grasp: the Bad Guys just couldn't learn.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/22/2004


What you call "bull" (US-UK 'Axis of Evil') would have been bull, if deduced from just one historical episode, i.e. Iraq case, as you apparently see my argument.
(No wonder you keep on pounding this "hot" Iraq case.)
However, if we apply the logic of principles of international relations traditionally applied by the very moderate Democrats, you seem to support, to the adversarial countries' (like former USSR, China, etc.)
foreign policies in analogous situations to this country
and its loyal allies, we CANNOT help
noticing a definite PATTERN of "resolving" the problems.
And then the ugly "bull" of voluntary interpretations and "dubious" parallels will gradually, but unmistakenly transforms into the beautiful butterfly of a THEORY, with the very firm historical basis.
All other optional interpretations, with less severe conclusions (as much as an impartial observer, being the US citizen wants them to get validated), unfortunately get
eliminated by the objective historical reasoning.
You see, I came from the exact sciences (math and physics)
and materialism. Therefore I have to reject any arguments not being sufficiently supported by empirical data, regardless of how patriotic, plausible and hedonistic they are.
But, as I repeatedly emphasized in my past comments, American historians and international observers has a
faulty (but quite logical considering their socio-economo-partisan standards) tradition to interpret history and policies of the ruling elites by hugely exaggerating
the influence of personal or partisan characteristics of the political leaders, while hugely underestimating the role of historical socio-economic and cultural tendencies dominating throughout masses of people, that actually cut those individuals into the leaders they become.
(This is not to say that personality doesn't matter, sometimes - a lot.)
E.g., one cannot give any objective analysis to the birth and evolvement of Nazi regime by reference to the personality and views of Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, their personal evilish nature without detailed and deep analysis of German economic and social history, culture and the international situation in the world, in general, and in Europe, in particular over the corresponding historical period.
The same way one cannot blame personalities and views of Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Co. for all mistakes (and crimes) they committed. The entire socio-economic and cultural atmosphere and long American history of exporting "democracy and freedom" through violence just MUST be appreciated. Those politicans just appealed to
to the good old strategy that in one form or another was
predominant throughout the history of the US, at the least modern, imperialistic history, as everyone more or less familiar with it can easily realize.
Again, to no degree the latter references degrade your
sharp critique of Bushists; on the contrary they provide
essential historical fundamentals for that critique to becoming analytically and socially meaningful, unbiased and non-personal.
That is the task of real historicans and objective, non-ideological observers.
Partisan history, that many on this boards seem to pursue, is not much more than a gossip history at the cup of tea.

N. Friedman - 11/20/2004


I have no Europhobia. I do have substantial concerns about European policy, about the failure of Europe to integrate minorities and about European Antisemitism.

N. Friedman - 11/20/2004


On your point No. 2:

I am not a believer in apocalyptic visions regarding the next four years under Bush II. Likely, there will be good along with the bad.

You will note that one reason why Europeans, more than others, object to Bush II is that Europeans - as is most especially the case with the French - have entered into an informal alliance of sort with some of the Arab regimes which resulted in viewing many world problems from a pan-Muslim perspective. As has been reported, the alliance traces back to the 1960's and early 1970's. As a result of that alliance, which the Europeans thought would give them hegemony of the Arabs, there have been latent consequences. One of those consequences has been that European institutions/opinion makers (e.g. universities, economic organizations, newspapers, etc.) have come to be dominated by Arab leaning people who, in turn, have pushed the view that West Asian and South Asian and Central Asian world problems should be seen primarily with a Muslim perspective.

Another latent result is that Europe agreed to take in large number of Muslims to live in Europe. However, Europe made no effort to integrate these people into European society. Instead, the Europeans pushed the notion of multiculturalism. As has been pointed out by Bernard-Henri Lévy, multiculturalism is racism and it is felt by the immigrants as being racist. Which is to say, these cultures are told that they should keep their separate identities but, given that European countries are, in fact, open only to those adopting European ways and, more specifically, the identity of the specific country, the immigrants are left out of things.

The end result of this is that Europeans are under threat from the immigrants (e.g. in the Netherlands), have intellectual push to do what the Arab/Muslim countries demand (i.e. due to the institutional adoption of the Muslim world view) and have economic incentive to adopt the Arab/Muslim world view as well.

For this reason, any policy - short of acquiescence in the European view - directed to changing anything regarding the way the Muslim/Arab world does business is a threat to Europe.

On the other hand, the Europeans also need the US in that the US remains the world's dominant country and no country in Europe or Europe as a whole is likely to rival the US in the forseeable future. Hence the tension as the Europeans, with the Muslim/Arab allies hope to re-direct US policy in a way that no US president is going to accept post-9/11.

Which is to say, while Bush is a disaster, no US president is likely to be very popular with the world and most especially with the Europeans.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/19/2004


It looks like that exactly what will happen: Iraq being partitioned into a three-part federation, however, not because it "must" be, as you put it, but according to the great strategic design of the US-UK "Axis of Evil".
About a year ago I mentioned this as a specific component of the design in question, since it has been a pattern
of the imperialistic/colonialistic intervention throughout its history.
Just a glance on the 20th century world's map gives one a clear idea on the issue. West Germany - East Germany (by USSR-USA), North Korea - South Korea (by USSR-USA), North Vietnam - South Vietnam (by USSR-USA),
India - Bangladesh (by UK, directly and by proxy), partitioning of Kongo (by Western Europe and USA), Israeli-Palestinian-Arab archi-problem meant to emerge from the very start by conniving Brits, Kuwait - the servant, ahistorical qausi-state formation, created by Brits again, to affirm permanent Western presense in the region, China - Taiwan (primarily by USSR and USA), China - Hong-Kong (UK - again), catastrophic in its major consequences partitioning of the Soviet Union, truly deadly - of Yugoslavia (the last two - are the cases
of multilateral blame), etc.
Now, the Iraq's time has come...
Who said that strategic planners in Bush's and Blair's administration didn't have a plan in Iraq? They did!
Not already mentioning the "pacification" of the Iraq's population by joined Axis forces, which had to be relegated ASAP to the Iraqi army and police, well-trained to terrorize the "insurgents": read the opponents of the newly-bought pro-Western regime.
And why not? It worked so miraclously well all over Central and South America, hundreds of thousands of murdered being just an ideological nuisance.

Given another five years Saddam Hussein will be revered there as the best and most democratic leader in Iraq's history and all his "transgressions" will seem kid's stuff.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/18/2004


Don't want to trouble your still sour post-election wounds, but despite of being as anti-Bush as it gets, I predicted about a year before the last elections that Bush would win and win decisively.
Now, when my prediction unfortunately realized I can explain a couple of main reasons why I was so sure, if anyone willing to listen.
The main reason was that as it has been noted long ago, every nation deserves its rulers.
And since the majority of this nation despite some initial hesitation and even protests ultimately approved aggression in Iraq ("support the troops"), despite all international and internal condemnation, it should have proved beyond any reasonable doubt to any objective observer that Americans deserved Bush the Lesser.
The second reason that you have always objected to was
the realization that today's Democrats are unable to offer
any essentially different and viable solution to practically any aspect of foreign and internal policy.
The mainstream of Democratic party lost, not completely, but in a great measure, (and deservedly so) the trust and respect of its major constituency - middle and especially working class, the constituency that Democrats used to do a lot for.
If Democrats wanted the way out (and not only in Iraq) for this country they should have turmed independent, at least temporarily, and voted for Nader or Green Party candidate.
I think that Kerry's victory would not serve well to this nation, since then it would not have realized how stupid
it was to vote for Dubya even in 2000. But it might get a good history lesson in the course of his second term; however, considering the brilliant information spin skills
of American mainstream media and politicians it might not happen to this nation for another 20-30 years.

Ben H. Severance - 11/17/2004


There are times when your adjective filled commentary irks me, and then there are times when I can only laugh in agreement. Anyway, I agree that some kind of security and stability is needed, and as the pitiful Colin Powell once said, "if you break it, you bought it." But I think it's time the Bush administration realized that the January elections can only result in an Al-Sistani dominated Shiitte victory and the quasi-theocracy that such a majority will invariably impose. If Bush rejects this or postpones the election thereby leaving his stooge Allawi in charge, then I think we'll see a return of the Mahdi Army writ large, only this time the insurgency will have the legitimacy of having played the game but been double-crossed by the "liberator."

In the end, I think Iraq must be partitioned into a three-part federation, for there is no basis for unity. At the very least, the U.S. should withdraw to strong garrisons in Kuwait and Kurdistan (the one happy chapter in this debacle) and leave the Sunni-Shiite center to wage its probably inevitable civil war of religious self-determination. Perhaps the U.S. can conduct air strikes as necessary to keep such a conflict from spilling beyond Iraq, or maybe the U.N. will finally intervene, U.S. insults notwithstanding. Regardless, the U.S. cannot pacify the country (the creation of a reliable Iraqi constabulary is much too little and much too late) and it certainly cannot democratize it. In any event, admitting that the invasion was a big mistake is the first step toward getting this nation's two parties and the international community working together to resolve the whole mess.


Arnold Shcherban - 11/17/2004

Still, it looks like it's better to get out after dozens of thousands victims than millions.
And one can be sure: in 10 years of continuing occupation there will be millions Iraqis killed over this war for "freedom and democracy".

Ben H. Severance - 11/17/2004


You need to qualify the examples you cite of successful "staying the course" campaigns. In all three the occupying power resorted to total war measures against the civilian populations. Indian villages were either burned down or the the tribes forcibly resettled on reservations. Afrikaner families were relocated to concentration camps. And entire Filipino villages were wiped out, often through starvation. Yes, these "staying the course" campaigns worked, but I'd rather the U.S. not think about this option with regards to Iraq (and I know you are not advocating this approach either).

Personally, I like the idea of the U.S. confessing its errors and apologizing for its destruction, and then speedily replacing its military strength with generous financial loans. In the words of PM Gladstone in his dealings with Ireland, "Kill them with kindness."