I said a couple of days ago that no serious political figure on either side of aisle was agitating for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. I also fretted in comments that the Republican leadership of the Senate sending what could only be read as a presidential rebuke on the conduct of the war in Iraq (albeit non-binding) could only lead to a race to the bottom.
The fact that I’m now hitting .500 as a prognosticator is one that I take no pleasure in. John Murtha is a serious man, a respectable member of Congress and a lion of the Democratic Party. He is a distinguished combat veteran and a reliable friend to the troops. He’s no lightweight, neither is he a rabid partisan, nor any week-kneed jelly belly – not with a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. So when he advocates for a quick return of the troops in Iraq, it is incumbent on those of us who support the effort to set aside our knee-jerk reactions and think for a moment about what the man is saying.
Mr. Murtha does have a point: Our troops are a prime target of the insurgency and some of the violence there would certainly subside if our folks came home. The planting of roadside IEDs in particular would probably be vastly reduced – they are meant to disrupt coalition force routes of communication and are one of the primary sources of murder and maiming among our troops, especially since the insurgents, for the most part, avoid stand-up fights.
Or at least, Darwinism being still in effect, the insurgents that are still alive avoid stand-up fights.
There is a nationalist, even patriotic element to the insurgency that is undeniable, even while it is lamentable: The presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil is an unendurable goad to tens of thousands in the Sunni west particularly. Many of these represent the former ruling elite of Iraq, or imagine that they do. Just as the European royalty in centuries past referred to themselves as the countries they led, “Here comes France, in all his proud glory,” so too do the fat men of al Anbar consider themselves to be Iraq, to personify it. It is theirs. The 60% of the population made up of Shia exist for these men as the peasants did in feudal times on the continent: To squat in misery until they are called up, herded in to lines and whipped to the front to provide cannon fodder for wars declared by their betters. The Kurds to the north are seen by them as foreigners to be viewed with deep suspicion, if they weren’t being ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homes, or gassed in the streets.
Because at this moment we need to be very clear: The people responsible for the butchery over there in Iraq, apart from the odd foreign jihadi come looking for his trip to paradise, are the same ones that were responsible for it back in the bad old days.
They’re just doing it from opposition, now.
There are some other things that ought to be made clear as well, as serious men make ultimately unserious proposals: There is no taking it back. We don’t get a do-over. Done is done. I have said before that there were serious and principled, patriotic even, arguments to be made against the war back in the long summer of 2002, the fall and winter. Once the decision was made and the boys stepped over the line of departure though, all of those arguments became moot. From that point on the only choices on the table were victory or defeat. From that point on, you either hoped we won, or hoped we lost.
There is of course a third potentiality: It is possible to be convinced that victory was unachievable in any case, and that we ought to cut our losses as soon as we could and leave the field to the most efficiently brutal cut-throats. In order to believe this to be true, you’d have to believe either that brown people don’t deserve the kind of freedoms that we in the West take for granted, or that perhaps they do, but they’d rather be enslaved than be granted those freedoms by strangers, or that they do but that the cost of gifting freedom to a troubled region is too high for us to bear. Terror is an awful thing, after all – but they can’t get us all.
A person could believe that, I suppose. It would do him no credit, but he could believe it.
(Parenthetically, were you aware that almost 40% of the Iraqi population was under the age of 14? Ten million souls, out of a population of 25 million. Does that put things into sharper perspective when you reflect that 10 million people went to the polls this fall to vote on the constitutional referendum? Sixty-seven percent of the voting age populace turned out to purple their fingers and choose their future in the face of the worst kind of terror in a land that had been, two short years ago, no stranger to oppression and tyranny, and has been, in the intervening period, no stranger to senseless, orgiastic slaughter.
In our 2004 national election, the most sharply contested as a percentage of the voting age populace since 1968, our turnout was almost 61%. This in an environment of perfect security.
We could learn about democracy from these people.)
So we leave, the job undone. What happens next?
Jaafari’s government struggles on a while, trying to accommodate the Sunni west. The hard-won victories on the banks of the Euphrates fade away in memory as the fat men consolidate their power. The mayhem continues in the capital, just to keep the funding lines open from Syria, from Saudi. Just to keep the jihadi’s showing up for more. Just to keep the Shia off-balance.
Tit-for-tat murders escalate as blood feuds replace the throttled rule of law. And as always, in that sad, shattered land, fingers wet to sample the prevailing winds. The Iraqi Army fights, dies, fragments, falls apart and is replaced by local militias. The Sadrists take up arms in the east, the Badr Brigades in the south, the pesh merga in the north and the Saddamite Ba’ath in the west. Everywhere, the knives are sharpened.
Jaafari is assassinated, or removed in a coup, and a “unity government,” a triumvirate of Shia, Kurd and Sunni attempt to stop the bleeding. But in the west, the fat men continue to plot, consolidate and butcher. This is their Iraq. The gutters run red, and at night the sound of gunfire and explosions merely set off the continuous ululation of the widowed, maimed and orphaned.
Another coup takes place against the ineffectual central troika. A Shia general takes his place at the palace and the murdering escalates. The Kurds have had enough and take their leave, bringing Mosul with them and all the oil wealth of the north. The Turks eye a nascent Kurdish homeland uneasily, frowning. They draw their own swords and sharpen them. Forced emigration of Arabs from the north, a reverse “Arabization,” fuels the rage in the center. The philosophical middle ground evaporates, leaving the dialogue to be carried out by the most extreme. Baghdad becomes Beirut. The ones that trusted us die in their tens of thousands, and six thousand miles away we cannot pretend we did not know that this would happen. The remorseless eye of international media feeds all of it into our living rooms and we cannot look away. Some of us will blame it all on the man who sent us in. Others will blame it all on those who called for us to leave. Never having lost a fight in battle, our soldiers will feel betrayed – few of the next generation will wish to follow after them.
And all of this will scarcely matter, because while we hurl recriminations upon each other, they will continue to die in industrial quantities. Eventually the south secedes, aligning itself with Islamic Republic of Iran in order to protect itself from the increasingly desperate depredations of the resource-starved Sunnis. The Saudi’s clutch at their robes and put their own fingers to the air, while the worst of their princes expiate their guilt at all the whoring and drinking they have done across the causeway by sending millions more to Wahhabist madrassas throughout south asia. The streets burn in Kuwait.
At this point, although it seems but small beer compared to the anguished cries of a million souls, gas is $5 per gallon and you are bicycling to work, if you still have a job.
The Syrian Ba’ath recognizes that we are done for another twenty years or so, and organizes more clandestine mayhem in Lebanon. Civil strife, bombings and another coup precede a “request for assistance.” The Syrian army returns to their Lebanese barracks. Those who waved flags for the Cedar Revolution offer up their bodies in resistance, certain that the world will come to their aid this time. They die disabused of that notion. Everyone else takes note: Murder bonds are up, freedom bonds are down. Don’t make eye contact.
Once again the rockets begin to fall to earth in the north of Israel. Once again the Israelis shoot back. The Iranians call our bluff, and the reactors go to work re-processing spent Uranium. The jihadis congratulate themselves on having been proved right: They knew we weren’t up to it. Thus gratified, ranks swelling, they go back to planning new devilry, using the tools and infrastructure of relatively modern Arab state.
Everything falls apart. The center cannot hold.
You think winning is hard? You should see what losing looks like.
Don’t pretend we couldn’t see it coming. Don’t pretend you didn’t have your part in it, one way or the other.
Eyes wide open.