Who is the Winner?

The National Review has hosted an excellent debate about the future of Iraq – excellent, because it is one of the few forums where the debaters do not descend into infantile name-calling. I wonder if there really are people who believe the choices are between Cut and Run or Stay the Course … and whether those people should have been allowed to vote.

From their opening statements, first from Peter W. Galbraith:

Reuel, I fully agree that the break up of Iraq is messy and has already cost thousands of lives in Baghdad and other areas where Sunnis and Shia have lived together. But the break up has happened.

Do you believe that the United States should now try to put the country back together? If so, how would you do it? Would you use force to disarm the Shia militias, or do you imagine, as the administration does, that Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki’s government will suddenly have the will and the power to accomplish this? Would you use U.S. troops as police and peacekeepers in Baghdad? How do you get Sunnis and Shia to see the police and army as national institutions as opposed to sectarian ones?

If our goal is, as President Bush has proclaimed, a unified and democratic Iraq, we will be in the country for a long time. And that means that other national security threats will go unaddressed. Remember, Reuel, that in the nearly four years we have been engaged in a war undertaken to rid Iraq of nonexistent WMD, North Korea detonated a nuclear weapon and Iran made substantial strides toward its own nuclear bomb. Because it is so committed to Iraq, the Bush administration has responded to these developments with a lot of tough talk and no action. Is the unity of Iraq worth this?

and then a response from Reuel Marc Gerecht:

If the Americans start to withdraw from Iraq–if they just announce that they are leaving and give a timetable–we are probably going to see the violence in Iraq explode. Take the killing rate of today and triple it–that would be a reasonable guess of where the Iraqis will be within six months of any “redeployment” of U.S. troops. A Shia conquest of the Arab parts of Iraq is only a matter of time.

In just about every way conceivable, we will be a defeated nation if we leave Iraq as you recommend. All of our enemies will know it. So will our friends. It is hard for me to fathom how this will improve our strategic and moral position in the world.

The full debate:

Wednesday: Peter W. Galbraith
Thursday: Reuel Marc Gerecht
Friday: Peter W. Galbraith
Saturday: Reuel Marc Gerecht

It surprised me how much they agree over the particulars. Reuel’s bottom line is that, if we leave, the country will descend into chaos and America’s standing in the world will be damaged. Peter’s is that the country is descending into chaos anyway whether we stay or go – and the quicker we get out, the quicker the chaos can work itself out.

It was not clear what Reuel thought the outcome would be if we stay – just that we are morally and strategically obligated to do so.

For myself, I am not sure what our moral obligations are. If you start an immoral war that is causing untold misery, is it more moral to stay or to leave? I am not even sure that morals have a role in the decision any more.

The decision should be based on whether staying would prevent disaster or prolong it. Peter W. Galbraith makes a persuasive case that civil war and partition are inevitable either way.

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Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

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