“No one knows how America’s occupation of Iraq will play out. Optimists say this will be like Germany and Japan after World War II. … Pessimists point to Lebanon and Israel’s invasion of 1982.
“Put me down among the pessimists. I think Brer Rabbit just hit the tar baby.” So I wrote, a year ago, as our tanks rolled into Baghdad.
Last week’s Fallujah horror, the separate killing of five U.S. soldiers that same day, and 10 more over the weekend in battles with Shiite radicals, suggests we did indeed hit the tar baby when the 3rd Infantry Division crossed the Line of Demarcation.
Iraq was a war of choice, not a war of necessity. Saddam had no role in 9-11, no ties to al-Qaida, no WMD – the programmed liars of the Iraqi National Congress notwithstanding. We all know it now.
Even Colin Powell is saying the case for war he made to the United Nations was based on bad intelligence and he might have argued differently in the war Cabinet had he known it. Nevertheless, as Dean Rusk used to say, “We are there, and we are committed.”
What Fallujah and the Shiite attacks Sunday tell us is that failure is now an option. We have not pacified the Sunni Triangle. In towns like Fallujah, Americans are at greater risk than Israelis in Gaza. Even before the radical Shiites clashed with our troops in Baghdad, geostrategist Anthony Cordesman was warning that defense officials were telling him, “New combatants are emerging as fast as we kill or capture the old ones.”
But if the Iraqi resistance is recruiting fighters faster than we kill or capture them, and Shiites are joining the resistance, and we are drawing down our troop levels and handing over power to Iraqis, how do we win?
We cannot. Either we accept the possibility of defeat, or adopt the McCain option: more boots on the ground, more divisions in Iraq. In Gen. MacArthur’s words, as he suddenly encountered Chinese troops as he marched to the Yalu, it is “an entirely new war.”
Writing in The National Interest, U.S. diplomat Morris Abramowitz says the United States can yet withdraw without grave damage to its vital interests:
“America’s pre-eminent power position in the world can endure an early withdrawal from Iraq. … Indeed, one can make the case that U.S. forces are so overstretched that a withdrawal might enhance our overall power position and our capacity to do more about Osama bin Laden and other terrorist groups.”
Cordesman believes defeat in Iraq would be an American disaster far greater than Vietnam.
Regardless of whether the United States should have invaded Iraq, the fact is that it did. Its power and prestige are on the line. It also has stakes in the future of allied leaders in Britain, Australia, Italy, Spain, Poland. … Its influence in the Persian Gulf – with some 60 percent of the world’s proven reserves of crude oil – is at risk, as is its strategic position in the rest of the Middle East. If the United States abandons Iraq, it hands Islamic extremists all over the world a decisive victory, and effectively makes Osama bin Laden the victor …
Yet even Cordesman suggests there may be a window out of Iraq, with honor and perhaps without disastrous consequences.
“Must the United States remain in Iraq until it succeeds there? No. If the Iraqis reject U.S. support through their own government or if they engage in civil war, no one will fault the United States for exiting. In every other scenario, however, withdrawal will be a serious defeat.”
But if a regime comes to power that tells us to get out, or Iraq disintegrates in civil war, is not George W. Bush a failed president?
What explanation does he then offer the families who will have lost 1,000 men? What does he tell a nation that plunged $200 billion into Iraq as to why we invaded in the first place? To find WMD that did not exist? To introduce democracy to the Middle East?
Fallujah is not Iraq, Cordesman reminds us. True. It is a hot pocket of hatred for America. It does not represent all Sunnis, who are 20 percent of the population, or the Kurds or Shiites. But if we cannot pacify Fallujah with the best soldiers in the world, how can we expect the pro-American Iraqis to do it after we draw down our forces and depart?
That is why we are probably not leaving for a long, long time. For should we go and should Baghdad fall, as Saigon fell, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld enter the history books beside Johnson, McNamara and Rusk.
Like the man said, we are there and we are committed.