Three years ago Sunday, our country embarked on a war it was not prepared for. Now, we find ourselves wondering what to do with the mess we've made.
And make no mistake, it is a mess. The media do make things look worse than they are, but that doesn't mean that things are good over there. The bombings are still a daily occurrence. There may not have been an al-Qaeda presence in Iraq before the war, but there sure as hell is one there now. The whole country is beset by sectarian tensions that make the Northern Irish look like campfire hippies. Ayad Allawi himself says Iraq is in a civil war. Worse, our leaders don't seem to have any idea what's going on.
The question often arises of what the hell we should do now. Should we pull out and pretend like this never happened, hoping things work out for the best? Should we stick around for a while and see if we can make things a little bit better? Should we occupy the place indefinitely?
Well, I personally don't think immediate withdrawal is an option. Colin Powell's "Pottery Barn rule" may not be the policy at Pottery Barn, but it's proving to be the policy with invasions. We made a mess, we clean it up. The weaker we leave the central government, the more influence radicals and terrorists will have.
The threat of an unstable Iraq is bad, but is the threat of an Iranian-controlled Iraq worse? That's a possible path if we help stabilize the central government. However, I would rather have an Iranian ally in Baghdad than mass chaos. You can deal with an organization better than you can deal with disorganization.
We have the further problem that our very presence empowers the radicals who feed on nativist sentiment and occupation self-pity. Which means we need to lower our ostensible footprint in the country, but not leave it completely. We're left with an unfortunate choice between being seen as an oppressor and being seen as an abandoner. Which means we have to be there as nothing more than the muscle - political theorists would call us the "monopoly on force" - for the elected Iraqi government.
So I think we're there now, for better or worse, whether or not we should have been there in the first place. I am extremely worried that we're afflicted with a president and a civilian leadership who aren't doing their job in assessing the situation and coming up with strategy. We can only hope that they don't actually believe the bullshit that they're feeding the media, that Cheney doesn't actually think that the current state of affairs in Iraq is how liberators are generally welcomed, etc. Don't hold your breath, though - I don't think we can expect competent leadership in Iraq until 2009 at the earliest.
And don't expect victory to look like we want it to look. Chances are that we're not going to end up with a pluralist democracy that respects minority rights. Islamic law will likely be instituted in some way, shape, or form. The best we can realistically plan for right now is stability - after that, we can work for human rights.
Which brings me to Afghanistan. Folks, this is pretty scary, if not surprising. I don't think that anyone expected the Afghanis to accept freedom of religion overnight, but this proves how important the religious conservatives still are. If the supposedly moderate central government that we're supporting can do this sort of thing, what, exactly, did we accomplish? Is our silent disengagement from Afghanistan allowing them to slip back into the cold comfort of extremism? Or is our footprint there creating a backlash similar to the one we're experiencing in Iraq?
I don't know. I don't think anyone does.