“If We Had Known Then”

“IF WE HAD KNOWN THEN”….In the LA Times today, Jonah Goldberg writes about the war:

The Iraq war was a mistake.

I know, I know. But I’ve never said it before. And I don’t enjoy saying it now. I’m sure that to the antiwar crowd this is too little, too late, and that’s fine because I’m not joining their ranks anyway.

Fair enough. I don’t expect the National Review crowd to turn into liberals, though I do think there’s a minimum standard of intellectual honesty involved here. No matter how enthusiastic you are about spreading democracy at the point of a gun, at some point you have to acknowledge that the Iraq project has turned out disastrously for U.S. interests: “Truth is truth. And the Iraq war was a mistake by the most obvious criteria: If we had known then what we know now, we would never have gone to war with Iraq in 2003.”

But Jonah says that even though it was mistake to go in, we still need to see it through. And then there’s this:

According to the conventional script, if I’m not saying “bug out” of Iraq, I’m supposed to….

To my surprise, the rest of the paragraph is a suggestion that we should hold a plebiscite asking Iraqis if they want us to stay. But that’s not at all what the conventional script requires. The conventional script requires that those who think we should stay need to suggest a way in which we can win. Otherwise Jonah will be writing this same column in 2009, except this time it will be, “If we had known then what we know now, we would have been better off pulling out when we could.”

Well, we do know now what we know now. The civil war in Iraq is getting worse, our current strategy plainly isn’t working, there are no more troops to send over, the political situation in Baghdad is untenable, and the U.S. Army is still culturally allergic to counterinsurgency and security training (“Everyone in the U.S. armed forces knows that the way to the top is to command American units, not to advise foreign units,” says Max Boot, and he’s right).

So what’s the plan? It may be true that “if we can finish the job, the war won’t be remembered as a mistake,” but even if the Iraqis vote to keep us around, how do we finish the job?

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