March 27, 2006
Hey, Zhou Enlai Is In Vogue!
Recall Zhou Enlai's near unsurpassed quip? Queried by Henry Kissinger on the consequences of the French Revolution, he is said to have replied: "It's too early to say". Well, I'm a little late to the party, but this memorable utterance came to mind as I read Donald Rumsfeld's op-ed in the Washington Post last weekend.
Check out this snippet:
The terrorists seem to recognize that they are losing in Iraq. I believe that history will show that to be the case.
Fair enough. But let's put things in proper perspective, shall we? The war in Iraq, important as it is, is not a massive historical pivot point on par with the French Revolution. When the regicide occurred amidst the Jacobinian fervor, the world literally moved from the pre-modern to the modern era--with the pre-ordained system of aristocratic privileges born of heriditary status torn asunder forever. Much like trying to game the moment we moved from the modern to the post-modern (was it the horrific massive killing fields of the 'lost generation' of World War I? Or was it the most supremely cruel irony presented by the sign that hung above Auschwitz: "Arbeit Macht Frei" or "Labor Will Make You Free", that moved us into cynical post-modernity?), these are enormously complex questions that will occupy historians for decades if not centuries more.
But Iraq, much like the war in Vietnam, say, I believe is less complex to analyze. Things, at this juncture, could probably go down a few main paths. Iraq could, as the talking points have it, have looked into the proverbial "abyss" after the Golden Shrine bombing and, if a cohesive government can take root, and an Army loyal to the central state grows in power, somehow cobble together an imperfect, unitary democracy in the coming years. Alternately, perhaps, a de facto loose confederation could (relatively peacefully) arise, albeit with some nevertheless significant ethnic cleansing in major cities and mixed population areas. Or, alas, a full-blown civil war could erupt, a la Lebanon, with Baghdad and other major population centers enduring agony for years, and large-scale ethnic cleansing occurring in significant swaths of the country. There are variations and degrees to all these scenarios, of course. For instance, more direct foreign intervention by neighbors is likelier if full-blown civil war erupts.
But this much is clear, Iraq will either inch towards relatively democratic stability, and perhaps the region will, over the years, carve out more political space lessening the allure of radical jihadism and proving a strategic triumph, in hindsight, for the U.S. Or, it won't, and we'll have a cluster-eff of significant proportions, and after the parties exhaust themselves killing each other, some vaguely authoritarian government will likely arise, and life will go on, albeit not for the thousands who died because of the grossly ill-fated adventure.
But here's the point. Unlike the French Revolution, we're going to have a pretty good sense about all this in the next 2-5 years, if not sooner. Much like Vietnam, when the North Vietnamese swooped into Saigon, a victory of, say, radicalized, revanchist Shi'a (more Sadr than Sistani), with Turkish-Kurdish tension and Sunni-Shi'a bloodbaths, well, this would prove a major defeat for the United States on a strategic and moral level. Or, alternately, as I said, sustainable Iraqi governance structures and forces will, just somehow, turn the corner and move Iraq towards unitary stability.
So, no, history isn't made on blog pages or the daily front pages of the New York Times. But Rummy, even though he's a good 73 years old, can rest assured he'll still be around when the first major historical retrospective/verdict is written on this Iraq War. And, not least given his piss-poor stewardship of it, the narrative is likely not going to look too good.
A final point. Rumsfeld also writes, in his rather underwhelming op-ed:
Consider that if we retreat now, there is every reason to believe Saddamists and terrorists will fill the vacuum -- and the free world might not have the will to face them again. Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis. [emphasis added]
I dealt with the Hitler hyperbole in a previous post. But "postwar Iraq"!?! Speaking of historical judgment, anyone who thinks Iraq is in a post-war stage (I'm not speaking of blogospheric buffoons who declared the Iraq War over sometime around March of '03, but serious policymakers, or what passes as such these days) is really smoking something funky, eh? Sounds like Happy Days in the E-Ring, and Pass the Pipe! Too bad there is a war raging in the field, with Americans and Iraqis dying daily. But no less an estimable personage than our Secretary of Defense thinks we are in a post-war phase! On this score, read Kagan/Kristol too.
Iraq is at a critical turning point, and U.S. forces are essential to helping the Iraqis get past it. Reducing the U.S. presence in the near future makes no sense, and constantly talking about reducing our forces is counterproductive and enervating. If U.S. force levels are (at least) kept steady while reliable Iraqi forces continue to increase--and the U.S. Army and Marines continue to join with the Iraqis in aggressively fighting the insurgents--the overall level of force that can be brought to bear against the insurgency, and in support of a political process that can hold the country together, will increase. And victory will then be achievable.
Mssrs. Kagan and Kristol are right to be concerned, of course. If our Secretary of Defense thinks we are in a "post-war" stage, why not scale back the troops? Game over, no? Mission Accomplished (again)! And History marches nobly forth, but for the querulous nay-sayers, bloggers, and other defeatist pansies who don't get the Long War is going OK, but for the cheap carping from those who have become but dreary chroniclers of the low-grade ethnic cleansing underway in the very capital of the country that we must secure if we mean to create a stable Iraq.Posted by Gregory at March 27, 2006 01:57 AM | TrackBack (0)
About Belgravia Dispatch
Gregory Djerejian, an international lawyer and business executive, comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.
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