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May 16, 2004

UK/US: Fast Exit from Baghdad

Well, Drudge is blaring that the USA and UK plan to hand over security functions to the Iraqis "as soon as possible." We think Drudge is probably overplaying the implications here -- after all, weren't we always planning to turn over internal security "as soon as possible"? Surely we weren't planning on continuing to police Iraq past the point at which Iraqi internal-policing became "possible."

That quibble aside, there can be no doubt that Bush has shifted to the "sooner better than later" camp. This isn't a wholesale sea change in policy, nor a bug-out, but it does signal that we're getting out when the criteria for stability are only marginally satisfied, as opposed to more fully satisfied. It's a major tack, yes, but still only a tack. A shift.

And not one we're particularly upset about, although we reckon many of our readers will be.

As we've said, our full, "carry all burders" obligations to Iraq were premised upon full (or near full) Iraqi cooperation and assistance. We haven't gotten that. Yes, a majority of the country do support us, but only in an intellectual fashion, and often secretly. It's one thing to spend blood and treasure to assist a nation whose men are fighting side-by-side with you, eagerly confronting the same enemies you fight. It's quite another thing to spend blood and treasure to assist a nation whose "men" refuse to fight the terrorists who bomb their schools and whose inhabitants do very little but criticize and condemn you for daring to liberate them.

We've long believed that a big part of our problem was psychological: the psychology of the powerless, in which the only contribution to the public good is conspiracy-mongering and complaint. The psychology of Arab men, in which the Westerners who liberate you are to be despised more than the fellow Arabs who slaughter you. And the psychology of a long-repressed people, in which "action" is something that is either avoided, or is something that the government takes care of.

Remember, early after the liberation, unemployed Iraqi men were complaining their streets were dirty? Anyone else think to themselves, "Well, pick up a frickin' broom, Achmed"?

The confluence of these psychologies is killing our troops, and not significantly advancing the cause. Looks like we're changing our strategy; we hope that doing so will also provoke a change of psychology amonst Iraqis.

It may be that the change in strategy will instill it in the minds of our Iraqi friends that we're not solely responsible for their damn fates. If they want to improve security: Pick up a phone and call the CPA to inform on the terrorists, Achmed. It's not our country, it's yours. We shouldn't have to guess where the terrorists might be.

There will be those who say an early exit will represent a cutting of losses, and that those Iraqis who genuinely supported us, and tried to help us, will feel in their minds a sense of being betrayed.

Perhaps. But there is another feeling this announcement might engender. All of those Iraqis who didn't support us, and who never tried to help us, and perhaps who even aided and abetted in the killing of their brave American protectors, might now begin to understand that America feels betrayed, and that betraying America is never good for business.

They'll either get their shit together or they won't. It's their country. We cannot guarantee their peace, progress, and prosperity, especially with so many Iraqis actively undermining our efforts. We gave them an opportunity. We can't grant them an outcome. That's their job.

We still think that there is very little likelihood the terrorist can actually take over the country. The Iraqis don't want the terrorists in control; if they did, the terrorists wouldn't have to fight us, as the political power they crave would be delivered the moment we departed anyway.

Which means that what our boys are dying for at the moment is not really to safeguard the future of the Iraqi state, but to spare the lives of Iraqi men who would otherwise die fighting the terrorists in the early months or years of the new nation's life.

We think there are nations of the world who might almost deserve such a selfless gesture -- let our boys die so that yours might live -- but at this point we can't say Iraq is anywhere on such a list.

It's not laws or a constitution or even prosperity that keeps a democracy alive, although of course all those things help. It's the desire of the citizens to keep democracy alive. Nixon might have simply seized power when confronted with impeachment, but he did not. Not because we have a paper Constitution forbidding such a thing -- a lot of banana republics have similar Constitutions, and they haven't prevented coup d'etats very well -- but because the American people would not stand for such a maneuver. We would not accept it.

Ultimately, democracy and freedom cannot be forced on anyone, nor can it really be taught to anyone. Ultimately it comes down to the character of a people. If they want it. If they will work to have it. If they will, when necessary, fight for it.

We don't know if the Iraqis want democracy and freedom enough to work for it or fight for it.

But we do know that if they do want democracy and freedom enough to work for it and to fight for it, they will probably have it, with little need for assistance by America.

And if they don't want democracy and freedom enough to work for it and fight for it, they probably won't have it, and all the legions of Rome probably couldn't secure it for them.

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posted by Ace at 09:59 PM

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