Is Iraq Winnable?
In a recent Slate article, Christopher Hitchens lays into James Baker, head of the Iraq Study Group. Hitchens: “Baker was quoted as saying, with great self-satisfaction, that nobody ever asks him any more about the decision to leave Saddam Hussein in power in 1991.”
In 1991, for those who keep insisting on the importance of sending
enough troops, there were half a million already-triumphant Allied soldiers on the scene. Iraq was stuffed with weapons of mass destruction, just waiting to be discovered by the inspectors of UNSCOM. The mass graves were fresh. The strength of sectarian militias was slight. The influence of Iran, still recovering from the devastating aggression of Saddam Hussein, was limited. Syria was—let's give Baker his due—”on side.” The Iraqi Baathists were demoralized by the sheer speed and ignominy of their eviction from Kuwait and completely isolated even from their usual protectors in Moscow, Paris, and Beijing. There would never have been a better opportunity to “address the cause” and to remove a dictator who was a permanent menace to his subjects, his neighbors, and the world beyond. Instead, he was
shamefully confirmed in power and a miserable 12-year period of sanctions helped him to enrich himself and to create the immiserated, uneducated, unemployed underclass that is now one of the “root causes” of a new social breakdown in Iraq. It seems a bit much that the man principally responsible for all this should be so pleased with himself and that he should be hailed on all sides as the very model of the statesmanship we now need.
Whether or not you were in favor of toppling Saddam, the fact is: he’s gone and we’re there. So, the question now is: can we win? Can the U.S. and coalition forces quell sectarian violence enough for the fledgling Iraqi government to establish and maintain peace?
It seems that the newly elected Democrat House and Senate, and very likely, the Bush administration, are eagerly awaiting the recommendations of the ISG, which is expected to call for regional diplomacy (read that: negotiations with Iran and Syria). I wonder, though, what they hope to gain from such negotiations. Does anyone really think that Iran or Syria is interested in assisting the West; that they’ll suddenly tolerate liberalism and modernity and how to save money on car repairs allow Iraq become the “democracy” that Bush envisions?