President George Bush vowed yesterday to keep American troops in Iraq despite growing calls for a timetable for withdrawal that have prompted a bitter political fight in Washington.Others, though not sharing all of Bush's assumptions, concur. The Observer does. And Andrew Sullivan does. Bush is right, as are the Observer and Andrew Sullivan.
[He] said 'sober judgment' should prevail against those urging a pullout. 'We will stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory our troops have fought for.'
Anyone arguing for a withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq, whether tomorrow, in six months, or at any date determined in advance rather than set by the demands of the situation and the democratically expressed will of the Iraqi people, needs to support and explain persuasively one of the following hypotheses. (1) That the presence of coalition forces is the main substantial cause of the problems in Iraq today, so that their withdrawal will more or less quickly lead to a radical improvement there. (2) That though this is not the case and therefore not the prospect, however bad things might be after a withdrawal they are unlikely to be worse than they are now. (3) It is not for us to care what would happen in the event of an early withdrawal, bad as the situation may then get. The intervention has been a disaster, it's time for us to get out, and the Iraqis must be left to sort out the mess as best they can.
If there are people who sincerely believe either (1) or (2), then their arguments need to be engaged with; but on the basis of my (non-expert) understanding of events, I would say that rather more likely than either of these projections is that, if there is an early pullout of US and British troops, the situation will become considerably worse, with some of the most ugly and reactionary forces of the 'insurgency' let loose, the danger of a descent into open civil war with regional involvement, and the various gains, to date, of the liberation of Iraq from Baathist tyranny wiped out in short order. Given this prospect, I'm not really impressed with the argument - (3) - that the countries that, by their military intervention, initiated the present process should now wash their hands of it. Precisely because of what they started they have a responsibility to stay and complete it - until either victory or defeat.
Whatever anyone in the anti-war camp may like to tell herself or himself about the reasons why this war was fought - whether their story is about WMD, oil, or whatever - one of the things it was fought for, from the very beginning, was regime change. In view of its difficulties and its dangers, that is not the sort of enterprise that a responsible political leader, or a civlized democratic government, can embark on as if it were a weekend outing, saying 'Oops, sorry - let's go home' when things go wrong. The US and its allies have a responsibility, in view of what they've begun, to stay and fight until the forces now opposing self-determination and democracy for the Iraqi people have been defeated or are victorious.
All those who, in opposing the war, claimed to have the interests of Iraq and the Iraqis at heart should be calling, not for a timetable of withdrawal, but for getting behind the effort to ensure a successful democratic transition in Iraq. Getting behind it - in the sense of actively debating how that battle can now best be fought, previous errors best be corrected and remedied, the expertise and resources of other members of the community of nations most effectively be drawn on, and so forth. A common discourse, in other words, across those who supported and those who opposed the war, and for the sake of common liberal and democratic objectives in Iraq. That would be quite something, no?
If, on the other hand, this war should come sooner or later to its moment of turning, of a coalition withdrawal when the war is lost not because it actually is lost, but because Western opinion has made it impossible for the principal governments to prosecute it further, this would support a rather gloomy line of speculation. Is it now the case that the Western democracies cannot fight wars unless these are short and very sparing of the lives of their own soldiers? That any war that becomes too long and too costly in these terms will quickly lose support within an electorate whose impulses become more self-centred (in the national sense) the more badly the war goes? If so, then the outlook is not at all good for the future of humanitarian military interventions where the circumstances are difficult. But I let that go for now, for it isn't my main thought - which is, rather, the following.
If this is where things now are, one has to hope that the left-liberal voices of accommodation, of 'root-causes' understanding, of placating the grievances and alienation which are due, when all is said and done, to us and the US, more than to any of the forces of dictatorship and murder that ostensibly exist and do damage of their own, that all those for whom the main current conflicts in the world would be resolved if only US and British foreign policy were set according to the priorities of the Guardian's comments pages, are in fact right. Because, if they're wrong, things will have to get considerably worse before the electorates of the liberal democracies are persuaded that they and their way of life are seriously threatened. These electorates will have, that is, to indeed be much more seriously threatened. By which time the threat may be harder to meet and to defeat.