Friday, April 27, 2007

TPM on TPV on Iraq

Josh Marshall, over on his excellent blog "Talking Points Memo," makes a cogent argument for why it's misleading to talk about "winning" or "losing" the Iraq War. As he points out, we -- meaning the U.S. -- "won" the war in 2003, insofar as the reason we went to war was to remove Saddam Hussein. Since that time, however, we've been engaged in an occupation who's endgame is unclear. As Marshall argues persuasively, that's no coincidence, because our stated reasons for invading in the first place -- to remove WMDs (primary reason), and to install a pro-Western democracy in the Middle East (fallback justification) -- have turned out to be false and/or hopelessly naive. Hence:

It's often been noted that we've had a difficult time explaining or figuring out just who we're fighting in Iraq. Is it the Sunni irreconcilables? Or is it Iran and its Shi'a proxies? Or is it al Qaida? The confusion is not incidental but fundamental. We can't explain who we're fighting because this isn't a war, like most, where the existence of a particular enemy or specific danger dictates your need to fight. We're occupying Iraq because continuing to do so allows us to pretend that the initial plan wasn't completely misguided and a mistake. If we continue to run the place a bit longer, the reasoning goes, we'll root out this or that problem that is preventing our original predictions from coming to pass. And of course the longer the occupation continues we generate more and more embittered foes to frame this rationalization around, thus creating an perpetual feedback loop of calamity and self-justification.

I think this nails the problem. We are hoping that the surge, and Gen. Petraeus, will figure out some strategy that will stem the sectarian and anti-U.S. violence. There was a name for this in Vietnam: escalation. But escalation didn't work then, and sadly, I think it's unlikely to work now.


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