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November 02, 2006

Ralph Peters: War Is Over, If You Want It (And Even If You Don't)

Ralph Peters is a tough-minded veteran, formerly a strong war supporter and optimist on Iraq. Not any longer. He thinks the war is lost.

raq is failing. No honest observer can conclude otherwise. Even six months ago, there was hope. Now the chances for a democratic, unified Iraq are dwindling fast. The country's prime minister has thrown in his lot with al-Sadr, our mortal enemy. He has his eye on the future, and he's betting that we won't last. The police are less accountable than they were under Saddam. Our extensive investment in Iraqi law enforcement only produced death squads. Government ministers loot the country to strengthen their own factions. Even Iraq's elections — a worthy experiment — further divided Iraq along confessional and ethnic lines. Iraq still exists on the maps, but in reality it's gone. Only a military coup — which might come in the next few years — could hold the artificial country together.

This chaos wasn't inevitable. While in Iraq late last winter, I remained soberly hopeful. Since then, the strength of will of our opponents — their readiness to pay any price and go to any length to win — has eclipsed our own. The valor of our enemies never surpassed that of our troops, but it far exceeded the fair-weather courage of the Bush administration.

Yet, for all our errors, we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to build a rule-of-law democracy. They preferred to indulge in old hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of corruption. It appears that the cynics were right: Arab societies can't support democracy as we know it. And people get the government they deserve.

For us, Iraq's impending failure is an embarrassment. For the Iraqis — and other Arabs — it's a disaster the dimensions of which they do not yet comprehend. They're gleeful at the prospect of America's humiliation. But it's their tragedy, not ours.

Iraq was the Arab world's last chance to board the train to modernity, to give the region a future, not just a bitter past. The violence staining Baghdad's streets with gore isn't only a symptom of the Iraqi government's incompetence, but of the comprehensive inability of the Arab world to progress in any sphere of organized human endeavor. We are witnessing the collapse of a civilization. All those who rooted for Iraq to fail are going to be chastened by what follows.

Iraq still deserves one last chance — as long as we don't confuse deadly stubbornness and perseverance. If, at this late hour, Iraqis in decisive numbers prove willing to fight for their own freedom and a constitutional government, we should be willing to remain for a generation. If they continue to revel in fratricidal slaughter, we must leave.

I'm still not quite sure what "lost" means. Chaos, civil war, mass deaths -- certainly the US didn't hope for these things for Iraq, but then, the killing of large numbers of Sunnis is not exactly going to bring the Ba'athists back into power.

Those who fought the US first, and most viciously -- the Sunnis and Al Qaeda -- can't "win" this war. They can only kill... for a time. They can drive the US out by turning pubic opinion against the war, but that is not a path to victory.

That is a path to their own slaughter.

Their cries of victory will be short-lived, as Shiite killers begin executing them en masse and driving the survivors into the western wastes.


There's that old story of the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion wants to cross a river but cannot do so itself without drowning. The frog would like to offer it a ride across the river on its back, but is hesitant to do so. "If I allow you on my back, won't you just kill me with your stinger?"

"Of course not," says the scorpion. "For, if I did that, I would drown along with you."

So the frog allows the scorpion on its back, and swims out across the river. Halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog through the heart.

"But we'll both die," the frog says, unable to comprehend the scoprion's choice. "Why would you kill me, when it means killing yourself as well?"

"Because I'm a scorpion," it replies. "It's my nature." And they both drown together.

We've come a long way since 2003, when we thought, so naively, that Arab Muslims -- such as the Shiites -- might actually be grateful to an America that freed them from Sunni domination and tyranny and gave to them what they could never otherwise have: their own state, and a right to political self-determination, and a freedom from genocide and ethnic cleansing (as Saddam inflicted on the Marsh Arabs).

Instead, they make common cause with Moqtada al-Sadr, whose own father was killed by Saddam Hussein, and whose terrorist minions kill the Americans who liberated them from domination.

It's the nature of the scorpion. It cannot be changed. And the biggest strategic mistake of the war was the belief that it could be.

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posted by Ace at 07:21 PM

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