From a recent Charles Krauthammer op-ed:
We should have given up on Nouri al-Maliki long ago and begun to work with other parties in the Iraqi parliament to bring down the government, yielding either a new coalition of less sectarian parties or, as Pollack has suggested, new elections.
The brazenness of the "serious voices" of Iraqi "experts" is truly astonishing. After years of crowing about establishing democracy in Iraq as a starting point for broad transformation in the Middle East those same voices are now explicitly calling for regime change again -- the regime in question this time a democratically elected one. Neoconservative pundits have never been able to describe how we could achieve the dual goals of democracy in Iraq and a working pro-US Iraqi government; and now that those goals conflict they are happy to cast off the former entirely.
These "serious voices" are not only undermining the Maliki government, they are undermining Iraqi governance as a whole. They quite clearly believe that the US is ultimately calling the shots, and that the democracy in Iraq is only something we'll put up with when the "right" person who suits are interests is elected. When former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who was voted out of office, wanted his job back he hired well-connected Washington lobbyists to influence US policy rather than campaigning in Iraq itself. He too evidently believes the US is the ultimate decision maker.
One thing the pro-war crowd could never be accused of is consistency of argument; the only consistent viewpoint is that more force is always the solution. Anything else is merely extraneous detail. It is impossible to overstate how often war proponents used democracy in Iraq as a primary justification for war, increasingly the primary justification. Yet now they openly grumble that democracy may be too ambitious; that those pesky Iraqis elected the wrong people and more US meddling is called for.
Like O'Hanlon, Krauthammer consistently plays a game defined to exclude any genuinely opposing viewpoints from the conversation entirely. The central premises are unquestionable; the only debate allowed exists at the margins. Despite the fact that Krauthammer and others like him have been wrong about virtually everything they are still the serious experts -- or so they protest repeatedly.
But the serious voices will prevail. When the Democratic presidential front-runner concedes that the surge "is working" (albeit very late) against the insurgency, and when Petraeus himself concedes that the surge cannot continue indefinitely, making inevitable a drawdown of troops sometime in the middle of next year, the terms of the Iraq debate become narrow and the policy question simple: What do we do right now -- continue the surge or cut it short and begin withdrawal?
Serious people like Levin argue that with a nonfunctional and sectarian Baghdad government, we can never achieve national reconciliation. Thus the current military successes will prove ephemeral.
Nonetheless, continuing the surge while finally trying to change the central government is the most rational choice because the only available alternative is defeat -- a defeat that is not at all inevitable and that would be both catastrophic and self-inflicted.
Krauthammer and O'Hanlon clearly read the same playbook. That the surge is working is unquestionable fact -- despite the fact that the surge strategy is to empower local governments and militias at the expense of the central government and official Iraqi forces, something O'Hanlon freely admits to. It's dreadfully unserious to point out that the surge, rather than creating space for political considerations, is making them impossible and meaningless. Similarly staying the course is the only "rational" choice; just as invading Iraq was the only rational choice at that time, according to these terribly serious experts.From a Krauthammer Foreign Policy Research Institute speech:
That’s why the entire enterprise of changing the culture of the Arab world was undertaken. It was, as I and others had said at the time, a radical idea, an arrogant idea, a risky idea. But it was also the only idea of any coherence and consistency that anyone has advanced on how to change the underlying conditions that had led to 9/11 and ultimately to prevent the kind of conditions that would lead to a second 9/11.
When Ron Paul points to blowback from our own policies as a root cause of animosity towards the US that is unserious and not an "idea of any coherence and consistency." Killing fewer Arabs and meddling less in Arab affairs is likewise off the table, along with diplomacy of any kind. The only serious option, according to Krauthammer, is to wield American power like a hammer.
At every step along the way it is the unserious voices that have proven correct on Iraq. Time after time Krauthammer and his friends are wrong, while the people unworthy of consideration are correct.
We Americans, looking at a situation like the one that has unraveled in Iraq, immediately want to blame ourselves.
Nonetheless, the root problem is not the United States and not the tactical errors that we have made in Iraq. The root problem is the Iraqis and their own political culture.
I think that has a lot to do with Iraqi history.
But the problem, I believe, is Iraq’s particular culture and history. This after all is a country that was raped and ruined for thirty years by a uniquely sadistic and cruel and atomizing totalitarianism. What was left in its wake was a social and political desert, a dearth of the kind of trust and good will and sheer human capital required for democratic governance. All that was left to the individual in Iraq was to attach himself to a mosque or clan or militia. That’s why at this earliest stage of democratic development Iraqi national consciousness is as yet too weak and the culture of compromise too underdeveloped to produce effective government enjoying broad allegiance.
Plenty of unserious voices warned of exactly these problems well in advance; their concerns about the history and people of Iraq were ignored. The only rational choice was to invade Iraq -- who could have predicted that our efforts there would go disastrously? Who could have predicted that Shia and Sunni's violence was not "pop sociology" but a likely scenario? Who could have possibly known about the culture and history of Iraq in advance, by say reading a book or using Google? Not our serious experts.
Now these serious voices, having told us for years that democracy in Iraq would transform the Middle East, are coming to realize what the unserious non-experts warned us of: that democracy is not a panacea and that a democratic government may be ineffective and reject the US for Iran; that the country could splinter along tribal lines; that the entire enterprise of reshaping Iraq in our image was pure folly to begin with. Yet even now they are the voices we should be listening to. They told us to invade Iraq and install democracy, now they argue that we should bring down that same democratically elected government. It doesn't have to make sense -- they are the experts, and we should listen to them unquestioningly.