THE CHAOS HAWKS….In the beginning were the War Hawks, and much did they counsel the powerful to do battle against the evildoer Saddam. Then came the war, and the looting, and the Heritage Foundation hordes, and the hawks lamented exceeding loud and many soon repented of their ways. Yea, verily, they presently transformed themselves into Pottery Barn Hawks, eager to fix the disaster they had helped create and thus redeem themselves in the eyes of the faithful. In the fullness of time, though, the disaster ripened and flowered and became impossible of resolution, and the hawks despaired. Success had become unachievable, yea unto their own generation and the generation to come after them. In short, life sucked.
So what’s a Pottery Barn hawk to do? The answer, lately, is: become a Chaos Hawk. First, admit that Iraq is hopeless, thus demonstrating that you’re not completely out to lunch. After all, the surge has produced only tiny gains in a few highly localized areas and has no chance of replicating those successes on a wide scale. The Iraqi government is dysfunctional, the police forces are dysfunctional, the army is years away from competence, militias are engaged in a ruthless campaign of sectarian cleansing, infrastructure is declining, and refugees are fleeing the country at a rate of thousands per day.
Having admitted, however, that the odds of a military success in Iraq are almost impossibly long, Chaos Hawks nonetheless insist that the U.S. military needs to stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Why? Because if we leave the entire Middle East will become a bloodbath. Sunni and Shiite will engage in mutual genocide, oil fields will go up in flames, fundamentalist parties will take over, and al-Qaeda will have a safe haven bigger than the entire continent of Europe.
Needless to say, this is nonsense. Israel has fought war after war in the Middle East. Result: no regional conflagration. Iran and Iraq fought one of the bloodiest wars of the second half the 20th century. Result: no regional conflagration. The Soviets fought in Afghanistan and then withdrew. No regional conflagration. The U.S. fought the Gulf War and then left. No regional conflagration. Algeria fought an internal civil war for a decade. No regional conflagration.
So where does this bogeyman come from? Hard to say. Probably a deep-seated unwillingness to confront the fact that the United States can’t really influence a course of events we originally set in motion. But Iraq is already fighting a civil war, and that civil war will continue whether we stay or go. If we go it will likely become more intense, but also shorter lived. The eventual result, however, will almost certainly be the same: a de facto independent Kurdistan in the north and a Shiite theocracy in the south. The rest of the Middle East will, as usual, watch events unfold without doing much of anything about them, and will accept the inevitable results. The U.S., for its part, will remain in the north to protect Kurdistan, in the east in Afghanistan, in the west in the Mediterranean, and in the south in its bases in the Gulf. We’ll hardly be absent from the region.
I think it’s worthwhile for proponents of withdrawal to be honest about the likely aftermath of pulling out: an intensified civil war that will take the lives of tens of thousands and end in the installation, at least in the short-term, of an Iran-friendly theocracy. This is obviously not a happy outcome, but neither is it the catastrophe the Chaos Hawks peddle. The alternative is to babysit the civil war with American troops, spilling blood and treasure along the way, without truly affecting the course of events in any substantial measure.
Politically, this is the key battleground now. As long as the Chaos Hawks are able to panic the public into believing that withdrawal will result in a Middle East in flames and ten dollar gasoline at home, no Congress will have the backbone to defund the war and force a pullout. This means that it’s time for more sensible regional professionals to screw up their courage and tell the truth: pulling out won’t be pretty, but if it’s done prudently neither will it be Armageddon. The sooner we figure this out, the sooner we can leave Iraq.
Until then, though, our foreign policy will continue to be held hostage to a senseless war that does us no good. Al-Qaeda will continue to recruit and grow, Afghanistan will slowly slip away, a shooting war with Iran will become more likely, our military will continue being stretched and drained, and our country will become less and less safe. And all for nothing. It’s way past time for us to start formulating a sane national security policy for an age of terror. Leaving Iraq is the first step.