Time to get out of Iraq

WE ARE all, left and right, pro-war and anti-war, frozen in the headlights of Iraq. Even many of those who campaigned vigorously against the war are frightened to be bold and say the troops should come out. Anarchy is the state of political disarray we have long been acculturated to fear. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” wrote Yeats. To walk away is the height of irresponsibility. But is it?

By Jonathan Power

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Published: Sat 20 Aug 2005, 10:18 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:11 PM

An insurgency working in its home terrain enjoys advantages that are just as formidable as any precision-guided weaponry that soldiers of the coalition can deploy. The insurgents may not have ground down the American and British troops but they have certainly created enough mayhem to instil sufficient fear in every Iraqi and expatriate workman so that the economy remains almost where years of sanctions and two aerial bombardments left it — in ruins. The guerrillas have the advantage of being able to put the occupying forces in situations where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. They have also succeeded in chasing the UN out of Iraq, the one institution that might have been able, over time, to become a viable alternative to the invaders.

But that is only the half of it. A few guerrillas in Iraq can only do incremental damage. Everything is already so destroyed and dilapidated that the bombs and booby traps have diminishing returns, at least as far as the physical environment and the economy are concerned. But a few guerrillas deployed in New York, Istanbul, Madrid and London can wreck instant havoc in a sophisticated modern state. In each case less than 20 activists with a few well-chosen sites sent each city reeling. Imagine if over the next three years this were to grow to 100 such terrorists or, not inconceivably, a 1000.

Iraq is simply a breeding ground for hard-bitten, hard-eyed, religious fanatics who, day by day, are having their baser instincts reinforced by combat. If the previous generation, trained directly by the CIA and its Saudi and Pakistani counterparts to drive out the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan, could organise or inspire the wrecking of so much havoc in Western cities we should try for a moment to soberly imagine what this new graduating class — or those they inspire by their example — might be able to do in future years. Political leaders who attempt to play down the connections between the war in Iraq and the bombing of Western cities are trying to pull the wool over the electorate’s eyes in a way quite reminiscent of their previous duplicitous campaign to persuade us that Iraq was armed and ready to fire with weapons of mass destruction.

The first priority of policy in Washington and London should be to preserve the peace at home, not to bring “peace” to Iraq.

Iraq should be left to find its own way. This is what Charles de Gaulle decided for France instead of continuing the long and bitter war in Algeria. It is what Richard Nixon decided after America’s gruelling attempt to turn back the supposed tide of Asian communism in Vietnam. Fingers were pointed, calling these French and American withdrawals “defeats”. They weren’t defeats. They were wisdom restored.

Vietnam has prospered peacefully since then and the contagion of revolutionary, expansionist, Marxism gave way to an appreciation of the value of markets and capital once economic development and not war became the priority. In Algeria the outcome was messier. Factions have fought over the inheritance. The economy has been led to ruin. Islamists took to the field and became the main opposition to the government. Atrocity followed atrocity. The ingrown leadership learnt the hard way. Belatedly, under the astute leadership of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the country seems to have found a way out. Democracy and good governance are getting more than a toehold and the future looks reasonably promising. But we should note one thing: because no foreign troops were involved the resentments and hatreds were turned inwards. There was no spill over to speak of in France.

Iraq at best could go the Vietnamese way. At worst the Algerian way. Either way the West is better out of it.

Anarchy in Iraq is a danger first and foremost to Iraqis, not to the West. As long as the Americans and British are sitting targets, Iraqi factions can indulge themselves, exhibiting the bravado of extreme nationalism or Islamism, blaming the invaders for all their ills. On their own they would have to learn to find their own compromises, Sunni, Shia and Kurd, altogether. At least the invaders have laid the foundations for the basic democratic institutions of a new Iraq. Let the Iraqis now get on with it, alone.

Jonathan Power is a widely published commentator and can be reached at JonatPower@aol.com

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