The Bush administration and The Poodle say we must not cut and run. This is actually an excellent argument for staying in Iraq. Critics can be forgiven for having missed its excellence, given it comes from the mouths of idiots. It’s not quite excellent enough, though.
One good thing about the argument is it captures the only good reason the US ever had for invading Iraq. Oil was a terrible reason, as events have shown. Profiteering was a terrible reason too: real defense companies learned long ago that you can make just as much money selling the government expensive stuff that shuffles off into obsolescence without ever being used. Much the same goes for other corporations. Halliburton has lost money every year of the war. Bechtel, the giant construction firm, has just cut and run itself. WMDs, no, not a great reason. Fighting terror, no, not a great reason either.
The best reason for invading Iraq was the simplest, and probably the real reason. The US wanted someone, preferably ‘Arabs’, to fight. They couldn’t find them in Afghanistan, so it seemed a good idea to put on a big show in Iraq. Why was that a good reason? Because the US, having been attacked very successfully on its own territory, had to scare off its enemies. It had to show it was strong, that it could crush, well, if not its attackers, at least someone, some country larger than Granada. Otherwise America’s enemies would know it was not strong, but weak, and move in for the kill.
Despite this, the cut and run strategy is self-defeating, because it’s already a confession of weakness. It’s pathetic to have no better reason for a war than to prove one’s ability to make war. Perhaps some very modest, very reticent country might really have such a need, but not a dumb-ass braggart country like America. If a country like that has to prove it can fight, it’s got a problem, because it shouldn’t have to prove anything. The ‘number one country in the world’ should have things under control before that sort of need ever arises. And if the need is so desperate that so much blood should be shed, not for any material gain, nor for any enduring strategic advantage, and despite the really enormous expenditure of money and good will – if the only reason to fight is such a desperate need to show one can fight, then it’s the desperation that really shows up, not the ability to fight. And that’s just the opposite of what is supposed to happen.
Now everyone is saying, what a mess. Maybe that’s an understatement, because this is a major military defeat. It doesn’t matter that mistakes were made in planning, or that there was no planning. It doesn’t matter that the equipment wasn’t what it should have been or that the tactics or strategy weren’t what they should have been. Wars have been won with worse beginnings. But they really were won.
Stalin made just about every mistake in the book fighting, or not fighting Hitler, but Stalin really did win. He didn’t just destroy the German armies; he held all of Eastern Europe and half of Germany in his iron grip. Huge areas were entirely under his control, huge populations were his slaves. That’s a real, indisputable victory. Stalin won according to the most widespread, most conventional military notion of victory. He attained ‘his objectives’, a phrase ubiquitous in military histories.
In Iraq, the US has been defeated militarily, because it has not attained the most basic objectives it could possibly be said to have had. These were not silly high-school-civics objectives having to do with ‘democracy’ or ‘hearts and minds’- could Stalin have stopped laughing if someone had told him he hadn’t won Eastern Europe’s hearts and minds? No, to attain any sort of military objective the US had to control Iraq. That means, oh, for instance, controlling the capital city, the major roads, really it means imposing authority over the whole country, as the allies did in Germany and the US in Japan. The US has not established military control over Iraq’s capital, much less the whole country. That was its objective. The goal was not to eliminate the Iraqi army, never considered a threat, but to get Iraq under control so that, according to the administration, it would not threaten the US in the future – or, according to me, so the US could show itself capable of getting some country, somewhere, under control. The US failed to attain its objective, and not because of sunspot activity or an asteroid colliding with earth. It failed to obtain its objectives because there were people with guns in their hands who prevented the US from obtaining them.. I don’t know whether these people won, but it is quite clear that the US lost. It did not attain those objectives and it won’t.
So the US can’t conquer a country it has been at work crippling for years, a country just barely big enough and sophisticated enough to make a credible opponent when in good shape. Leaving now, that would indeed be a case of cut and run. It’s more than a military defeat, more than a political disaster, it’s a catastrophe of historic proportions. So it’s not surprising that Bush and Poodle are sure they have to stay there.
If it’s a catastrophe to cut and run, why should we cut and run? How can a good argument for ‘staying the course’ be not good enough? Because we’re *not* going to stay the course. Because we *are* going to cut and run, and sooner is much better than later. Later only makes the defeat even bigger.
Why am I so sure we’re going to cut and run? Here are three inter-related reasons.
1. Military people always said the US needed a lot more troops, as many as 500,000. Few people today would disagree. 500,000 troops means instituting a draft. This doesn’t seem a real political possibility, especially since controlling Iraq promises no noticeable benefits. The US can get the oil, if it likes, without controlling the whole country. It can apply political pressure, economic pressure, or even physically cut the flow of oil. Of course the latter approach would have steep political costs, but not so steep as the war itself. The idea that Americans would countenance a draft for basically nothing is a non-starter, especially when even a draft doesn’t guarantee victory, and when no victory after this dÈbacle is going to impress the world very much.
2. It is often said that the US has squandered the good will it gained world-wide after 9-11. It should also be noted that the US has squandered the goodwilll it gained *domestically* after 9-11. Americans are not united behind the war on terror because too many of them don’t believe in its efficacy. If the US could not gain victory united, it certainly won’t gain it divided. The war in Iraq won’t, barring preposterousy massive new efforts, suddenly become efficacious as any kind of war on anything at all, so this disunity is here for the duration.
3. Even if the US could control Iraq, there would be no strategic advantage. US victory would only send alarm bells ringing world-wide, even louder than they’re ringing right now. That the US should kill something like half a million people in a country that had done absolutely nothing to endanger Americans – that, as others have said, will send every non-poodle country in the world rushing to upgrade its military capacities, often through nuclear weapons. This will simply make the US’ relative strategic position incomparably worse than if it does *not* win in Iraq.
In other words, “should the US cut and run?” is the wrong question, and the argument for not cutting and running has no force. Both presuppose that the US has a choice in the matter, and it does not. The right question is: *when* should the US cut and run? Since sooner is a less bad defeat, sooner is better.
The song says:
Now this story has no moral, this story has no end,
This story just goes to show that there ain’t no good in man.
But maybe there is a small lesson for the US government: we are Britain circa 1956. It’s over. From now on, if the US wants something done – like preventing one, two, many 9-11s – it will have to make real alliances, the old way, not by recruiting cute little doggies to run at its heels. It will have to reconcile itself with the preponderance on world opinion on most issues, including the old favorite Israel, and it will have to stop talking nonsense about democracy. No one who counts is interested any more.
MICHAEL NEUMANN is a recently retired professor of philosophy. He is the author of What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche and The Case Against Israel. He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org and maintains a blog at http://insufficientrespect.blogspot.fr/