By lex, on April 7th, 2010
Frank Gaffney thinks that we’re on the brink of squandering an opportunity in Mesopotamia:
Among the objects of the growing violence are individuals who stood for office in the recent parliamentary elections. This amounts to post facto disenfranchisement of the Iraqi voters whose turnout of over 60 percent – in the face of threats by anti-democratic forces that voting would be deemed a capital offense – powerfully testified to their desire to exercise the right enjoyed by no others in the Mideast except Israelis: to have a real say in their government and future.
Sadly, all other things being equal, that popular ambition seems unlikely to be realized. There is an unmistakable vacuum of power being created by President Obama’s determination to withdraw U.S. “combat” forces no matter what, starting with the cities a few months ago and in short order from the rest of the country.
Increasingly, that vacuum is being filled by Iran and its proxies on the one hand and, on the other, insurgent Sunni forces, both those aligned with al Qaeda and those that have, at least until recently, been suppressing the AQI. On what might be called the third hand, Iraqi Kurds are experiencing their own internal problems as well as an increasingly ill-concealed inclination to assert their independence from the rest of the country.
I’ve got objections, if not to Gaffney’s narrative, then at least to his tone. His article seems more of a political polemic targeting the Obama administration more than the national security implications of losing Iraq. Now, I’m all for holding the government’s feet to the fire when appropriate, but while the whole “Who lost X?” game may be emotionally gratifying to partisans, but if the answer is that over 4000 young lives and a trillion US dollars are lost – not to mention the scale of the human tragedy in Iraq – then the answers are “We all did,” and “mostly they did.” Because Iraq from 2003-2007 was on us, but from 2007-2010 it has been on them.
We’ve spent seven years in Iraq, and have shepherded the people through two national elections, thereby avoiding the “one man, one vote, (one time) issue. We’ve built for them a moderately capable national security apparatus, at least by the standards of the region. We’ve helped shape markets, the bureaucracy a free press and other institutions of democracy. If they can’t hold things together as we draw down our forces for re-deployment, then maybe self-government isn’t for them. Maybe they revert to form and allow the power/challenge dialectic to finally thrust the most brutal and paranoid tyrant back atop the mound of skulls after a squalid internal struggle. And that will be the government they deserve.
I once had high hopes for Iraq, then merely hope. I still retain some optimism, although now it is more carefully shaded. Fundamentally this was not merely because I view self-government as a great good thing in itself, but also because – from a purely parochial standpoint – democracies do not willingly make war on each other. Paranoid tyrants – there is no other kind – cannot be counted on not to run with scissors. This matters greatly in a world where nuclear weapons (for example) present only a trivial challenge to a sufficiently industrialized state.
This has been a grand, and expensive experiment in self-rule, not to mention “nation building.” If Iraq goes pear-shaped, the popular media will say that it has been a “failed experiment,” but that’s only because they are not truly acquainted with the scientific method. Experiments do not fail, they either demonstrate whether a theory is provable or not. Ultimately, Iraqi democracy may not be.
That was worth learning if it’s found to be true, and will be worth remembering the next time a tyrant tires of brutalizing his own people and goes abroad in search of newer skulls to crack.
Nation breaking is much cheaper than nation building.