Saturday, March 1, 2008

Winning in Iraq? Ask a Neoconservative

The new American Interest has a symposium on victory in Iraq: "What if We Win? Here's the blurb:

Thanks to a fragile but real improvement in the security situation in Iraq, it has become possible to imagine the United States and its allies achieving what could plausibly be described as a win. But a win how defined, and with what implications? We asked a diverse group of observers to ponder these questions.
It is a diverse group, and I'm still reading through the responses, but since the war's routinely denounced as a neoconservative fiasco, it's not inappropriate to give a neocon the first crack.

Here's one of the greatest
dark neocon princes of all, Richard Perle: "We Won Years Ago":

For those who never considered that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed any threat to the United States, the idea that we might “win” is, by definition, inconceivable. For those who worried that Saddam’s regime might one day provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, the end of his regime was a “win” the day Baghdad fell. For that small and much-maligned group who regarded the invasion of Iraqi as an act of risk management, weighing the costs of war against the risk of leaving Saddam in place and hoping for the best, the notion of victory has been swamped by a debate over its cost.

And the cost has been high—far higher than I believe was necessary. That cost was driven by colossal mismanagement, chronic indecision about strategy, tactics and even goals, confusion about whom to trust among Iraqis and allies alike, a failure to deal effectively with Iranian and Syrian involvement in the conflict, and a shocking level of incompetence within the Bush Administration....

Contrary to the view of many critics of the war, we did not go into Iraq mainly to impose democracy by force in some grand, ambitious (and naive) scheme to transform Iraq and then the region as a whole into a collection of happy democracies. It is notable that the critics who charge that this was our core objective never cite evidence to support their claim....

Without military action we could not have decisively managed the threat from Iraq. It is now managed: Saddam will not be sharing WMD with anyone. Judged against that measure, we have already won in Iraq, despite all the failures of policy and implementation that followed the destruction of his regime. To be sure, that victory has come at a terrible price, and whether it can be sustained remains to be seen. After all, we once “won” against the Soviets in Afghanistan, only to see the Taliban regime, aligned as it was with Osama bin Laden, emerge to threaten us directly in a way Afghanistan never did under Soviet occupation. But in the larger picture, driving the Soviets from Afghanistan, even if the means were crude and even if we suffered later from unintended consequences, was an important factor in our victory in the Cold War, which was the larger picture.

There is a larger picture with respect to Iraq, as well, and there is reason to hope that it will vindicate what we have done there. We have demonstrated in Iraq that we will act to protect ourselves. We have shown that we will fight terrorists where we find them, even when the cost is high. We, and now much of the world, have begun to take terrorism seriously. This is in good measure because we have been willing, in Iraq and Afghanistan, to go beyond the instruments of law enforcement and plaintive pleas to ineffective international institutions on which we once relied. We have, as the always wise Fouad Ajami put it, created, “from Egypt to Kuwait and Bahrain, a Pax Americana [that] anchors the order of the region. In Iraq, the Pax Americana, hitherto based in Sunni Arab lands, has acquired a new footing in a Shiite-led country.”

Such success as we have achieved in Iraq, like the strategic and tactical failures there that went before, is due largely to the (bewilderingly episodic) leadership of President Bush. He found the courage to offer the surge when he was under immense pressure to withdraw. He understood that the advice coming from his Secretary of State amounted to accepting a thinly masked defeat while the advice from Congress amounted to defeat, period.

The gains could be reversed, of course, and if some of the candidates for president have their way, they will be. But it is already significant that Iraq has faded as a partisan political issue, not because there is a shortage of Democrats—the implacable “leadership”, Pelosi and Reid come to mind—who want us out whatever the consequences, but because the turnaround has dimmed the star of withdrawal, retreat and isolation.

After the ordeal that Iraq and the belated but absolutely necessary mobilization against Muslim extremism have imposed on us, it would be the final, tragic irony if what has been achieved were squandered by a new administration more concerned with honoring a foolish, irresponsible commitment to the antiwar sentiment of left-wing Democrats and isolationist Republicans than to the safety of the nation.
The Democrats are definitely "dug in" on retreat, so Pearle concludes appropriately.

But note something important: Pearle's been a "fair-weather" neocon,
denouncing the administration and the war in no uncertain terms before the troop surge of 2007, which has made the war look like less of a fiasco after all (more on that here).

With this piece (and perhaps a possible forthcoming and more forthright reverse mea culpa) it seems Perle's returning to his original "dark prince" identity.