Friday, March 24, 2006

Success In Iraq Requires Jettison of Myths

It is time to put away the ideological and rhetorical cudgels and begin to reason again about the best course to choose. – Frederick W. Kagan

Military and war expert Frederick W. Kagan criticizes the myths that prevent us from formulating a coherent policy on our country’s involvement in Iraq (here). WSJ’s Daniel Henninger notes here that Kagan is no water carrier for the Bush administration. Indeed, Kagan invites a robust debate about Iraq and the war on terror, but he says, “this debate can only help the formulation of sound policies if it is based on reality and focuses on the issues at hand.”

In his essay, Kagan takes on six specific myths that he feels are hobbling real progress:
  • The Bush administration intends to keep substantial U.S. forces in Iraq for a long time and must be pressured to bring them home quickly.

  • The presence of U.S. forces in Iraq is the major source of the conflict there. Peace will return to Iraq as Americans leave.

  • The war in Iraq is a distraction from the war on terrorism.

  • The wisdom of invading Iraq in 2003 should be an important part of the discussion about what to do in Iraq today.

  • Most Iraqis “want us out,” and we have lost the battle for “hearts and minds.” Therefore, we cannot succeed.

  • Setting a timetable for withdrawal will “incentivize” the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own country.
All of Kagan’s myths are favorite points of the President’s critics. Kagan argues that these ideas are not based in the reality of what really matters. He says that all of them must be discarded if we are to have a healthy debate about what we should do now. For example, on myth #4 about the motives for going into Iraq, Kagan says, “It does not matter now why we went into Iraq, only what will happen if we do not succeed there.”

And that is where it lies. It is time to put the good of the country ahead of politics. We need to ask in a clearheaded way what will happen if we fail in Iraq. If we conclude that success is important (indeed, many would argue that it is essential), then we need to figure out the best way to achieve that success. Those who argue that we can afford to fail must do more than put up ideological fluff.

Substantive debate can be useful. There has recently been a debate about Iraq going on between two conservative factions. One side stands with the President’s Wilsonianism (democracy in the Middle East will make us safer – see here), while the other side argues for a more Jacksonian approach (stop the threat and then get out – see here and here).

Kagan notes that the Bush administration has made mistakes in Iraq. For that matter, so does the President. While all of that may be useful historical information, it does little good to move the debate forward about what we should do now. And that debate is essential for the long-term wellbeing and security of our nation.

1 comment:

mark smith said...

Currently the issue of whether the decision to go to war in Iraq or not is rather irrelevant. We are at war in Iraq and honor demands that we leave victorious. If we leave in disgrace, our stature will be diminished, this would prove to be a disaster for our future diplomacy. Without the credible threat of violence, diplomacy is much more difficult.

Of course there isn't any reason to cut and run; our casualities are very light, our policies are succeding, our enemies are dying, and our friends are thriving. Most importantly we are fighting our enemy on a battlefield of our own choosing. The main difficulty we are facing now is that nation building is very difficult and expensive. But we have succeded in the past, (ie Germany, Japan, Korea, etc) as well as failed (ie South Vietnam, Haiti). I believe Iraq is very close to being a success story. We merely need to be patient and not lose our nerve. One day we will realize that we have succeded, the problem is we won't know that this day truly arrives until months have past. Indeed it is posible that this day has already occured.