[Paleopsych] WP: Victor Davis Hanson: Why We Must Stay in Iraq

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Victor Davis Hanson: Why We Must Stay in Iraq

    Vietnam is once again in the air. Last month's antiwar demonstrations
    in Crawford, Tex., have been heralded as the beginning of an antiwar
    movement that will take to the streets like the one of 30 years ago.
    Influential pundits -- in the manner of a gloomy Walter Cronkite after
    the Tet offensive -- are assuring us that we can't win in Iraq and
    that we have no option but a summary withdrawal. We may even have a
    new McGovern-style presidential "peace" candidate in Wisconsin Sen.
    Russ Feingold.

    America's most contentious war is being freely evoked to explain the
    "quagmire" we are supposedly now in. Vietnam is an obvious comparison
    given the frustration of asymmetrical warfare and savage enemies who
    escape our conventional power. But make no mistake, Iraq is not like
    Vietnam, and it must not end like Vietnam. Despite our tragic lapses,
    leaving now would be a monumental mistake -- and one that we would all
    too soon come to regret.

    If we fled precipitously, moderates in the Middle East could never
    again believe American assurances of support for reform and would have
    to retreat into the shadows -- or find themselves at the mercy of
    fascist killers. Jihadists would swell their ranks as they hyped their
    defeat of the American infidels. Our forward strategy of hitting
    terrorists hard abroad would be discredited and replaced by a return
    to the pre-9/11 tactics of a few cruise missiles and writs. And loyal
    allies in Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan,
    along with new friends in India and the former Soviet republics, would
    find themselves leaderless in the global struggle against Islamic

    The specter of Vietnam will also turn on those who embrace it. Iraq is
    not a surrogate theater of the Cold War, where national
    liberationists, fueled by the romance of radical egalitarianism, are
    fortified by nearby Marxist nuclear patrons. The jihadists have an
    8th-century agenda of gender apartheid, religious intolerance and
    theocracy. For all its pyrotechnics, the call for a glorious return to
    the Dark Ages has found no broad constituency.

    Nor is our army in Iraq conscript, but volunteer and professional. The
    Iraqi constitutional debate is already light-years ahead of anything
    that emerged in Saigon. And there is an exit strategy, not mission
    creep -- we will consider withdrawal as the evolution to a legitimate
    government continues and the Iraqi security forces grow.

    But the comparison to Vietnam may be instructive regarding another
    aspect -- the aftershocks of a premature American departure. Leaving
    Vietnam to the communists did not make anyone safer. The flight of the
    mid-1970s energized U.S. enemies in Iran, Cambodia, Afghanistan and
    Central America, while tearing our own country apart for nearly a
    quarter-century. Today, most Americans are indeed very troubled over
    the war in Iraq -- but mostly they are angry about not winning
    quickly, rather than resigned to losing amid recriminations.

    We forget that once war breaks out, things usually get far worse
    before they get better. We should remember that 1943, after we had
    entered World War II, was a far bloodier year than 1938, when the
    world left Hitler alone. Similarly, 2005 may have brought more open
    violence in Iraq than was visible during Saddam's less publicized
    killings of 2002. So it is when extremists are confronted rather than
    appeased. But unlike the time before the invasion, when we patrolled
    Iraq's skies while Saddam butchered his own with impunity below, there
    is now a hopeful future for Iraq.

    It is true that foreign terrorists are flocking into the country, the
    way they earlier crossed the Pakistani border into Afghanistan to
    fight with the Taliban, and that this makes the short-term task of
    securing the country far more difficult. But again, just as there were
    more Nazis and fascists out in the open in 1941 than before the war,
    so too there were almost none left by 1946. If we continue to defeat
    the jihadists in Iraq -- and the untold story of this war is that the
    U.S. military has performed brilliantly in killing and jailing tens of
    thousands of them -- their cause will be discredited by the stick of
    military defeat and the carrot of genuine political freedom.

    All this is not wishful thinking. The United States has an impressive
    record of military reconstruction and democratization following the
    defeat of our enemies -- vs. the abject chaos that followed when we
    failed to help fragile postwar societies.

    After World War II, Germany, Italy and Japan (American troops are
    still posted in all three) proved to be success stories. In contrast,
    an unstable post-WWI Weimar Germany soon led to something worse than
    Kaiser Wilhelm.

    After the Korean War, South Korea survived and evolved. South Vietnam,
    by contrast, ended up with a Stalinist government, and the world
    watched the unfolding tragedy of the boat people, reeducation camps
    and a Southeast Asian holocaust.

    Present-day Kabul has the most enlightened constitution in the Middle
    East. Post-Soviet Afghanistan -- after we ceased our involvement with
    the mujaheddin resistance -- was an Islamic nightmare.

    So we fool ourselves if we think that peace is the natural order of
    things, and that it follows organically from the cessation of
    hostilities. It does not. Leave Iraq and expect far worse tribal chaos
    and Islamic terrorism than in Mogadishu or Lebanon; finish the task
    and there is the real chance for something like present-day Turkey or
    the current calm of federated Kurdistan.

    Have we forgotten that Iraq before the invasion was not just another
    frightening Middle East autocracy like Syria or Libya, but a country
    in shambles -- not, as some will say, because of international
    sanctions, but thanks to one of the worst regimes on the planet, with
    a horrific record of genocide at home and regional aggression abroad?
    As the heart of the ancient caliphate, Iraq symbolized the worst
    aspects of pan-Arab nationalism and posed the most daunting obstacle
    for any change in the Middle East. Thus al Qaedists and ex-Baathists
    alike are desperate to drive us out. They grasp that should a
    democratic Iraq emerge, then the era of both Islamic theocracies and
    fascist autocracies elsewhere in the region may also be doomed.

    Our presence in Iraq is one of the most principled efforts in a
    sometimes checkered history of U.S. foreign policy. Yes, there is
    infighting among the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis, but this is
    precisely because Saddam Hussein pitted the sects against each other
    for 30 years in order to subjugate them, while we are now trying to
    unite them so that they might govern themselves. The United States has
    elevated the formerly despised and exploited Shiites and Kurds to
    equal status with the Sunnis, their former rulers. And from our own
    history we know that such massive structural reform is always messy,
    dangerous -- and humane.

    So, too, with other changes. It is hard to imagine that Syria would
    have withdrawn from Lebanon without American resolve in both
    Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor would either Pakistan's A.Q. Khan or Libya's
    Moammar Gaddafi have given up on plans to nuclearize the Middle East.
    Saddam's demise put pressure on HosniMubarak to entertain the
    possibility of democratic reform in Egypt. These upheavals are, in the
    short term, controversial and volatile developments whose ultimate
    success hinges only on continued American resolve in Iraq.

    There is no other solution to either Islamic terrorism of the sort
    that hit us on Sept. 11, 2001, nor the sort of state fascism that
    caused the first Gulf War, than the Bush administration's easily
    caricatured effort to work for a third democratic choice beyond either
    dictatorship or theocracy. We know that not because of pre-9/11 neocon
    pipedreams of "remaking the Middle East," but because for decades we
    tried almost everything else in vain -- from backing monarchs in the
    Gulf who pumped oil and dictators in Pakistan and Egypt who promised
    order, to "containing" murderous autocrats like Saddam and ignoring
    tyrannous theocrats like the Taliban.

    Yes, the administration must account to the American people for the
    radically humanitarian sacrifices of American lives we are making on
    behalf of the freedom of Kurds and Shiites. It must remind us that we
    are engaging murderers of a sort not seen since the Waffen SS and the
    suicide killers off Okinawa. And it must tell us that victory is our
    only option and explain in detail how and why we are winning.

    The New York Times recently deplored the public's ignorance of
    American heroes in Iraq. In fact, there are thousands of them. But in
    their eagerness to view Iraq through the fogged lens of Vietnam, the
    media themselves are largely responsible for the public's shameful
    lack of interest.

    A few days ago, while the networks were transfixed by Cindy Sheehan
    (or was it Aruba?), the United States military, in conjunction with
    Iraqi forces, was driving out jihadists from Mosul -- where the
    terrorists are being arrested and killed in droves. Lt. Col. Erik
    Kurilla of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, who had worked
    for months to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding on the
    city's streets, was severely wounded as he led his men to clear out a
    terrorist hideaway. The jihadist who shot him -- who had recently been
    released from Abu Ghraib -- was not killed, but arrested and given
    medical care by U.S. surgeons.

    Not long before he was wounded, Lt. Col. Kurilla had delivered a
    eulogy for three of his own fallen men. Posted on a military Web site,
    it showed that he, far better than most of us, knows why America is

    "You see -- there are 26 million people in Iraq whose freedom we are
    fighting for, against terrorists and insurgents that want a return to
    power and oppression, or worse, a state of fundamentalist tyranny.
    Some of whom we fight are international terrorists who hate the fact
    that in our way of life we can choose who will govern us, the method
    in which we worship, and the myriad other freedoms we have. We are
    fighting so that these fanatical terrorists do not enter the sacred
    ground of our country and we have to fight them in our own backyard."


    Author's e-mail:

    [2]author at victorhanson.com

    Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian at
    Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the author of the
    forthcoming "A War Like No Other" (Random House).

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