Thursday, October 07, 2004
Like it or not, Iraq is apparently the central issue of the campaign. Sure Kerry might be able to leverage the administration's failures in Iraq into a broader discussion about Bush's deceit & incompetence. But Iraq will be on the minds of a lot of people when the pull the lever.
I wrote on Sept. 16 about the front end of the Iraq issue- whether or not we should have gone in. What I didn't talk about is what we should do now. The healthy debate I think is possible only in a Kerry Administration (boy do I like writing those words) is already underway on a few webpages. I may be premature, but I might as well throw my hat in.
Max Speak thinks that the Kerry approach has been a bit incoherent (he does apologize for agreeing with Bush, but still!). He suggests that the there is little likelihood of securing greater international cooperation even with a new President, that it will be difficult to train any more Iraqi troops or do it faster, and that any Iraqi government we help set up will be extraordinarily unstable.
BTC News, on the other hand, agreeing with Stanley Hoffman, thinks a U.S. withdrawal is inevitable- it is only a question of how disastrous and embarassing it will be. Iraq is likely to disintegrate no matter what we do (at least I think that is what he is saying- please correct me if I'm wrong).
And finally Sherle R. Schwenninger of the Nation Magazine in an extended article points out that Iraq is now a major driving force in the War on Terror because it has synthesized religious fundamentalism and arab nationalism, which was always Al Quaeda's goal. Schwenninger believes that the U.S. must get out of Iraq, and must do so in a way that openly swears off any U.S. hegemony in the region to de-couple these two elements. We need to internationalize not just Iraq but our whole strategy in the middle east.
So where do I stand on all this. I don't just support the Kerry approach out of solidarity- I think his strategy is probably the right one. The U.S., burdened with this strategic disaster, needs to make one more big political and diplomatic effort to stabilize the situation. Creating a true democracy is probably too much to ask for- it was always a pipe dream, and is certainly out of the question now- but we might be able to create a rough stability in the country.
People are right to be skeptical about European assistance. It MAY be possible for Kerry to apply pressure and offer concessions to get them to change their minds, but it will be hard. But I don't think European troops is what is necessary. We need are European resources certainly, but what is truly required are muslim troops. We need to reframe the issue as one of preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq. None of Iraq's neighbors will benefit if there is a) a bloody civil war with the attendant refugee crisis and the possibility of a regional war, or b) the establishment of a Taliban-style regime, which would threaten all the secular regimes in the region.
So I think that in one sense the critics are right- we do need to get out. We just need to make sure someone else goes in. And Schwenninger' suggestion that we need to internationalize middle east is absolutely correct. To do so I think Kerry, as President, would have to openly repudiate the Bush policies and perhaps make a coded apology. But if we don't get any support either from Europe or the Middle East, then a unilateral and embarassing withdrawal is probably inevitable, however tragic.
It is time we remembered that U.S. leadership has always been most popular, most effective, and most noble in the context of building and leading international institutions. Now we have to do that for the middle east. Finally.