October 23, 2004

One man's mistake is another man's smart move...

A reader writes:

John
You're the war guy. How would you rate Iraq by historical precedent? Aren't there always screw-ups? Ever read A Bridge Too Far? As I recall they dropped a bunch of Polish paratroopers right on a Panzer unit. They were slaughtered. Then of course there is the Light Brigade, Picket's Charge, Battle of the Bulge, etc.

The idea that our Iraqi problems would be solved if we had had more troops in the beginning is now accepted as a fact. But when pressed this view doesn't hold up very well. Seal the borders? That would have taken a million troops and casualties would have been higher. Looting? The problem was not numbers, it was that soldiers aren't police. Reports that soldiers were standing on corners doing nothing are probably true. So we could have used 3 times a many standing on corners doing nothing?

The usual military solution to looting is: All looters will be shot. It's very effective.

But somehow gunning down Iraqis who probably rationalized that they were getting their stuff back from Saddam doesn't seem very sensitive. Even Kerry would agree with that.

By historical standards this has been a war with astonishingly few mistakes. And the "mistakes" criticized are mostly "whatever Bush does is wrong." I remember fisking some clank-brain who said we should have had a draft and sent 500,000 Americans to mingle with the Iraqis in the villages and make friends. That's stupid in a dozen ways--I won't insult you by enumerating them. But imagine the criticisms if our government actually did such a thing!! Yow!

The real issue is that things that are called "mistakes" are only mistakes in relation to a particular goal that they move us away from. If you assume we have a different goal, the same thing may not be a mistake.

And the critics won't say what their goal is! Or what they think America's goal should be. That's sneaky. Dishonest. For instance, a frequent subtext of criticisms is that we ought to aim for stability over democracy. But they won't say that out loud! So you can't pin them down on it. Consider the oft-heard statement that we should have kept the Iraqi Army intact. This is, implicitly, an argument in favor of turning Iraq over to a Sunni strongman so we could get out. The old army existed for that reason above all others, and keeping it alive would have strongly tended towards that result. [keeping the old army was also a very impractical idea; click here for the CPA's reasons...which the critics invariably ignore.]

Similarly, many critics seem to assume that bringing democracy to Arab countries is quixotic, if not impossible. But they won't say this openly. They imply it by criticizing instances where we let the Iraqis try things, and make mistakes, and have failures. If our goal is democracy, we should be letting some problems fester, with the hope that the Iraqi people will be motivated to act. We should be letting the Iraqis do some very stupid things, like looting their own schools and hospitals, so they learn that that's not what freedom is all about. We should NOT solve all their problems, or make them perfectly comfortable. But it is hard to argue with those "critics," because they won't reveal where they stand on the bigger question. Or even admit there IS a question.

Posted by John Weidner at October 23, 2004 2:34 PM
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