February 25, 2006
It Didn't Work
can tell you the main reason behind all our woes -- it is America."
The New York Times reporter is quoting the complaint
of a clothing merchant in a Sunni stronghold in Iraq. "Everything
that is going on between Sunnis and Shiites, the troublemaker
in the middle is America."
One can't doubt that
the American objective in Iraq has failed. The same edition of
the paper quotes a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.
Mr. Reuel Marc Gerecht backed the American intervention. He now
speaks of the bombing of the especially sacred Shiite mosque in
Samarra and what that has precipitated in the way of revenge.
He concludes that "the bombing has completely demolished"
what was being attempted -- to bring Sunnis into the defense and
Our mission has failed
because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading
army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call
for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are
latently there, but they have not been able to contend against
the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades
The Iraqis we hear
about are first indignant, and then infuriated, that Americans
aren't on the scene to protect them and to punish the aggressors.
And so they join the clothing merchant who says that everything
is the fault of the Americans.
The Iranian president,
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elucidates on the complaint against Americans.
It is not only that the invaders are American, it is that they
are "Zionists." It would not be surprising to learn
from an anonymously cited American soldier that he can understand
why Saddam Hussein was needed to keep the Sunnis and the Shiites
from each other's throats.
A problem for American
policymakers -- for President Bush, ultimately -- is to cope with
the postulates and decide how to proceed.
One of these postulates,
from the beginning, was that the Iraqi people, whatever their
tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order
to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them
religious freedom. The accompanying postulate was that the invading
American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymakers
to cope with insurgents bent on violence.
This last did not
happen. And the administration has, now, to cope with failure.
It can defend itself historically, standing by the inherent reasonableness
of the postulates. After all, they govern our policies in Latin
America, in Africa and in much of Asia. The failure in Iraq does
not force us to generalize that violence and anti-democratic movements
always prevail. It does call on us to adjust to the question,
What do we do when we see that the postulates do not prevail --
in the absence of interventionist measures (we used these against
Hirohito and Hitler) that we simply are not prepared to take?
It is healthier for
the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the
Mideast, the postulates didn't work. The alternative would be
to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind
of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled
to blow up the shrine of American idealism.
Mr. Bush has a very
difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession
that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies
he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His
challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical
reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy.
He will certainly
face the current development as military leaders are expected
to do: They are called upon to acknowledge a tactical setback,
but to insist on the survival of strategic policies.
Yes, but within their
own counsels, different plans have to be made. And the kernel
here is the acknowledgment of defeat.
2006 Universal Press Syndicate