Iraq: Three Years On (Plus A Movie Pick!)
I’ve been invited by the good folks at WILLisms.com to participate in the Pundit Roundtable for the second time. Two questions were asked; the first:
Topic 1: Yesterday was the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Is the U.S. on the right trajectory for success in Iraq, or not? Are we witnessing a civil war unfolding in Iraq? Should the troops come home yet?
The troops should not come home yet; it is not only undesirable, but impossible. There may be room for a limited drawdown (politically, it would be nice to have something to announce before the November elections), but General Abizaid needs to make that determination, with the success of the mission and the safety of the troops the paramount concerns. However, we simply cannot afford a pullout at this time; the stakes are as high as ever, and the signs are more encouraging than they have been in a while.
That may sound paradoxical, given the spate of bad news lately, and indeed, even a diehard supporter of the war such as I finds myself more and more frequently depressed and disheartened. The signs of hope are tangible, however: (1) We are succeeding in the ‘Iraqification’ of the armed forces. More and more Iraqi troops are capable of fighting at a competent level. This not only lowers the ‘American occupation’ profile, but it sets the stage for the day when real, substantive withdrawals can occur.
(2) The Sunnis are drawing a clear distinction between ‘rejectionists’ and terrorists, and making the latter more and more unwelcome. There is always hope for bringing in former Baathists and other disillusioned Sunni parties into the emerging political system; there is no hope for anything constructive with the terrorists. They must be rooted out and eliminated, and the Sunnis are increasingly taking on that task themselves.
(3) The prospects of a civil war have actually decreased since the bombing of the shrine. The Iraqi people went to the brink, peered into the abyss, and said that’s a place they don’t want to go. What we are seeing is a power struggle, to be sure, and oil wealth complicates it, but there are ways to clamp down on the violence and move forward constructively.
First, reconstruction is woefully inadequate, too much money is wasted, and too little benefit is seen. I’ve advocated elsewhere for a ‘reconstruction czar’ of considerable stature to be appointed to gain control of the spending and introduce accountability for the results.
Second, the battle at home is actually more precarious than the battle in the field. The court of public opinion has a better chance of killing our success than anything on the battlefield. We have the ablity to stay in Iraq for years and wear down the enemy, but we don’t have the political support we need. The Bush administration has faced numerous challenges in staying on message, but they must do better. A staff shakeup in the White House would be helpful, and a full-court press on selling the war must be unending.
Third, we must deal with Iran and Syria harshly and cut out the foreign support for the chaos. It’s high past time that we deliver ultimatums to these two countries, up to and including air strikes, if they don’t cease and desist their financial support, their refuge for terrorists, and their provision of weapons. We can’t let Iran’s considerable oil production hold us hostage when our troops’ lives are on the lines.
The most likely outcome for Iraq is that it will be considered a partial victory and a partial failure. Certainly, we removed the tyrant Saddam, an unequivocal plus, and we killed his maniacal sons, perhaps an even bigger plus. We shook up the status quo, and brought the wind of liberalization into political institutions throughout the Middle East. We failed to bring to bear the force, harsh policies, and sheer willpower to crush the insurgency early, and as a result, we allowed it to grow in numbers and tenacity. We failed to deliver infrastructure improvements at an acceptable rate, despite the expenditure of countless billions.
I still feel the opportunity is there to lay the foundation for a stable, democratic Iraq – but I can’t say with any certainty that we’ll have the political will to stay there long enough to achieve it.
The second question was far simpler:
Topic 2: Give us the name of one movie our readers should watch.
Hmmmm…regular readers know I’m a bit of a movie buff, to be sure…I could pick a personal favorite (Memento, say, or The Usual Suspects), or an old classic that everyone should see (such as The Philadelphia Story).
Let me get obscure, instead, though, and suggest a movie that you may have to search for (I found a copy on E-Bay). Louis Malle’s Au Revoir, Les Enfants is the story of a boarding school in Vichy France that is in the business of sheltering Jewish children from the Nazi occupiers. Though the film is entirely in French with English subtitles, the story is so absorbing that you soon forget to notice. It is at once a moving portrait of childhood, a study of the barbarity of war, and a stirring defense of the human spirit (during one scene, the children are allowed to view a Charlie Chaplin movie, one of the ‘Little Tramp’ series. The Chaplin character is an immigrant coming to America, and when the boat he’s on comes in view of the Statue of Liberty, the look of longing, awe, and respect on the face of Chaplin, the monks who run the school, and the children watching him on the screen, is an image I’ve never forgotten, one that says more about the American dream than a thousand novels ever could).
Thanks for the invite, guys, I’ll put up a link when available…