How to Win in Iraq--and How to Lose

The title is not mine, but that of an article from Commentary; an interesting magazine with a long history of reasoned discourse. Unfortunately, they tossed that all aside to come out with the curve that supports the current "surge" in Iraq. While there are some nice historical parallels included herein, the piece is one of a kind with the current illusionary thinking that we can still "win" in Iraq, as though there were not a major geopolitical blunder currently underway but as though it was merely just a slow start that had us behind at halftime and that we could still pull this one out by putting in the replacement players.


Below is my attempt to elucidate the editors; let's see how much of this - if any - makes it into the letters column.

Dear Editor:
Re - How to win in Iraq-and how to lose.
Accepting all of the premises within this article as fact - that it was political defeats at home that led to military defeats for both the US and France in our respective misadventures in Vietnam and Algeria - there seems to be a strangely myopic obfuscation of the outcomes above, which in turn precludes sight of other, better potential outcomes in Iraq.
Who cares that France was forced to leave Algeria? By what right did they have to be there in the first place? How was the second half of the 20th century on up to today diminished because France was not still the colonial master of Algeria?
Who cares that the US was forced to leave and the "country" of South Vietnam was removed from the political map of the world? By what right did the US have to be in Southeast Asia? What "threat" did a communist Vietnam make against the US and when did that threat cease to exist - if it ever did?
Above lies the thinnest thread, by which you might be able to pull yourselves out of the modern day morass of Iraq. There was no threat to France from Algeria in the 1950s; just a reduction in their own mythical self-importance as a colonial empire. There was no threat to the US from Vietnam in the 1960s; merely a theoretical, invisible cold war against the USSR that we chose to wage in other lands for our own reasons (or was it China we were fighting in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia?). Similarly - there was no threat to the US in 2003 from Iraq. There was indeed a hypothetical one from a former ally gone rogue - but Saddam Hussein was effectively contained by the conditions of the cease fire to the Gulf War of 1991. This is now established as fact evident to all by the lack of his ownership or control of any weapons that might enable him to threaten any nation anywhere in the world. If there is one fact that this sad endeavor has proved beyond doubt it is this: Saddam was a paper tiger.
Now - there are those who wish to validate this mistaken effort by claiming that as we have "broken" Iraq, we own it and therefore we cannot leave until it is whole. While I absolutely stand against the notion that people who have made so monumental a mistake are somehow capable of righting the ship (does not the clear incompetence of starting a war against a non-existent threat lay bare the notion that an even more difficult maneuver is even probable of success), to remove Iraq from any historical context and just say, "well, we are here now" is foolish in the extreme.
Yes - there are jihadists or terrorists or whatever term we might choose to anoint upon their heads, present in Iraq. These folks are our stated enemies and there is no question about that. Unfortunately for us, we cannot identify them and separate them from the environment in which they have taken root. Our knowledge of the cultures and ethnicities of this nation so far removed from our own is limited - at best. The good news is: we do not have to separate the jihadists - the Iraqis will do that themselves.
Yes - the removal of Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party brethren has dethroned the Sunni Arab minority and left them to the devices of those they used to torment: Shia Arabs and Sunni Kurds. So while I might hate to be a Sunni Arab in Iraq today, their fate is sealed and has been from the moment the US tanks first crossed the border from Kuwait (or as I like to think of it - the 37th province). The only case we should be making today is to encourage our new Kurdish and Shia allies to be wary in their reprisal attempts, as it is still a large world and their vindictiveness will be on display for everyone to see. Currently they feel free to go about settling old scores in the most violent manner possible as the repercussions will not fall upon them, but on the United States - the only remaining superpower. When you have cover like that, who among us would not seek to exploit it?
But should the US and our allies withdraw, those who seek to settle up accounts will be clearly visible and they will not be able to act with impunity. Will the Turks stand by while the Kurds acclaim the birth of a new nation? Will the Saudis, Syrians and Jordanians continue to assume the influx of their Arab brothers - driven from home by pogroms? No, they will not.
The Iraqis must reconcile as to not do so spells doom for their nation; they will be torn apart by their neighbors as surely as jackals swarming over a fallen wildebeest. And whom does a dismembered Iraq favor? The jihadists? Once the US leaves, their presence becomes as visible as a sore thumb - where will they be able to hide? Who will give them shelter? Ipso facto, the jihadists will no longer have tall grass within which to hide and they will not be able to make Iraq their home any longer, as the locals will drive out them as surely as a body repels a foreign invader.
I beseech you; use whatever leverage you might have with anyone who has the ear of this administration and ask them to seek the swiftest retreat possible from the land of Iraq. Removing our presence from the stage will highlight the remaining actors and cause them to seek a new strategy. This is the only way to truly end the madness.

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