I'm not really back, although I am just about done with the book. I'm writing this as an exercize in preparation for a meeting I have today. I want to think through where we stand now in Iraq, and in the world, and I want the discipline of readers looking over my shoulder.
First, a recap of my own position: I supported the invasion of Iraq. And I supported it specifically on the Tom Friedman-NeoCon Build a Shining City On The Hill, notion. But I thought from the start it was a 51/49 decision. The reason for my hesitation was that I doubted the capacity of the Bush administration, and of the current incarnation of the GOP to manage a massive nation-building effort. The GOP had no ideological or intellectual tools for nation-building. This was a party that had spent decades deconstructing government, cutting taxes, cutting services, denying the very utility of government. My glib and snarky phrase at that time was, "The only answers they have are, cut taxes, outlaw abortion and beat up on gays, and none of those is going to be useful in Iraq."
But to those who said it was absurd to talk of democracy in Iraq, I countered with Germany and Japan circa 1945. I assumed that was our playbook. I assumed the administration knew it was Japan 1945. That was my essential intellectual failure, that assumption. The administration wasn't thinking Japan 1945, they thought it was Paris 1944. They expected to be welcomed with bottles of Cognac from old guys in berets, and kisses from pretty girls.
Almost as soon as we concluded our brilliant invasion and moved to the occupation I knew we were in trouble. When Secretary Rumsfeld responded to massive, country-wide looting with "Stuff happens," it was one of those chills-down-the-spine moments. I persisted for a while in hoping that all the happy talk, all the carefree idiot optimism was just propaganda and that we meant still to place boots on necks. But it was soon clear that we had no intention of shaking off the Paris 1944 delusion.
In trying to analyze this, or any foreign policy situation, certainly any situation involving the use of military force, I start by looking at power relationships. Who's got how much. Hope is great, but power is real. Ideology is hot air, power is real. I supported the invasion because I knew the United States had the power to make it work. I assumed our government had run some numbers, reached intelligent conclusions about how many hundreds of thousands of men we'd have to keep in Iraq for at very least a critical first year. Later we learned that the administration was actually planning on drawing down US forces immediately after the invasion. In other words, they didn't share my concern with the underlying architecture of power, they were following ideological biases. My faith was in power. Their faith was in faith itself. They were convinced that liberty is the natural state of man and if you smack the tyrant down you'll suddenly have New Hampshire town meetings popping up all over Baghdad and Mosul and Fallujah.
They were wrong. I may have been wrong as well, but we're not going to find out.
I spent the next three years calling for more men, more force, more boot-on-neck and less fledgling-democracy. My glib and snarky line (I always have one) was that "It's right there in Occupations For Dummies, chapter one: place boot firmly on neck."
Well, that ship has sailed. We don't have the men for it and it is too late to grow the army now. We'll be gone from Iraq before the next general election, not because of the Democrats, but because John McCain, Rudi Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Sam Brownback, Newt Gingrich, and every other potential GOP presidential candidate, as well as 100% of GOP Senators up for election in 2008, and 100% of the House's GOP members, do not want to be running on Iraq.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are now the only two men in the entire Republican party who really want US forces in Iraq. The GOP has collapsed on this issue. The GOP wants to cut some taxes, whittle away at abortion rights, and pick on gays. It doesn't want Iraq. You know who -- if you're thinking purely politically -- would like us to be in Iraq come November 2008? The Democrats.
We're leaving, or at least setting our evacuation in motion. Before 2008.
In the next 23 months will we turn the Iraqi army into a fighting force? No. Because it's not about training or equipment. Those are wonderfully American solutions: train and arm, education and technology. It works for us because we are "the Americans." We've been "the Americans" since 1865. The Iraqis unfortunately are not "the Iraqis." The Iraqis are tribes and sects and ethnic groups. The Maliki government is a fiction. The Iraqi election wasn't an election, it was a census: so many Shiites, so many Kurds, so many Sunnis. Iraq itself is a fiction, lines on a map signifying very little.
Armies don't fight just because they are trained. A national army fights for a nation. They won't fight for a nation or a government that doesn't really exist. Lebanon has an army. Does it fight? No. Hezbollah fights. And in Iraq the Mehdi Army fights and the Badr Brigade fights and Al Qaeda fights, and the Baathists fight, and the death squads we humorously refer to as the police, fight. But none of them fight for Iraq. Who fights for Iraq? The Americans.
So, here's where we are: we have trained the Iraqi police to be more effective death squads, we have trained the Iraqi army to always have something better to do when the trouble starts, and we have 140,000 men trying all alone to control a nation of 25 million. Right now we can't control Baghdad. We can't create a single place safe enough in all of Iraq for the President of the United States to meet with the Prime Minister of Iraq. After three and a half years.
This thing is over. We're not going to leave behind a stable democracy. We're not going to leave behind a stable anything. Odds are we're going to leave behind a Mad Max movie.
We will also be a much-reduced power in the world, at least for a while. Our credibility is in shreds. Our alliances are a bad joke. Our military is in desperate need of a long vacation.
After loudly stating that a North Korean nuke was "unacceptable," we've accepted it. We'll either accept an Iranian nuke or do something stupid that will cost us more men and treasure and then we'll accept an Iranian nuke. We'll do nothing in Darfur. We'll do nothing in Somalia. We'll pray Pakistan's Musharraf doesn't catch a cold. We'll stop talking about elections in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. We'll be lucky to maintain a shaky status quo in the narco-state of Afghanistan.
In two years we'll elect some other poor dumb bastard to repair the massive damage done to American power and prestige.
As for Iraq, we've lost that fight. It's too late to double down. We can either cut and run, or we can surge men into Baghdad, shoot some Sadrists, stomp around for a while, hand Mr. Bush a wilted fig leaf with which to cover himself . . . and then cut and run.
In the end the Iraqis will have their fight. They'll probably split the country. We'll try to salvage Kurdistan. We'll continue attacking Al Qaeda in Anbar from 30,000 feet, or with special forces. None of that will be changed because we stay another six months or year or eighteen months. Staying some undefined period will not salvage a win, or save our reputation, or strengthen our hand, or accomplish anything of any value.
So the question now is: how many more American men and women do we put in wheelchairs or coffins in order to salvage Mr. Bush's ego? What price do we pay for a fig leaf?