Heading for the Exits

Forget the “good news” from Iraq that Glenn Reynolds, Arthur Chrenkoff, and the Pollyanna Brigade keep pushing, because this is the real news:

“Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, recently returned from his second fact-finding mission to Iraq, this latest with a small group of fellow members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, including committee chairman Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican; ranking member Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat; and Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat. It was during a private meeting at the offices of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that Mr. Allawi told the senators to move their chairs away from the window – for fear an insurgent sniper might take aim at the American scalps.”

The “good news” propaganda is for the red-state masses, but our lawmakers and other insiders know what the real score is. We’re getting our asses kicked in Iraq, and there’s no polite way to say it. That’s why the buzz over “disengagement,” i.e., heading for the exits, is getting louder, with a front page treatment in the New York Times informing us that

“Conversation has started bubbling up in Congress, in the Pentagon, and some days even in the White House about when and how American forces might begin to disengage in Iraq.”

Members of Congress are returning from their districts, where they’ve had to listen to rising concerns among their constituents about the costs of this war: the public was never solidly behind it, and since the lies that dragged us into it have been exposed, they are now even less supportive. $5.8 billion per month, skyrocketing casualties, and a military stretched to the breaking point – no wonder it’s a Republican congressman, Rep. Howard Coble, dean of North Carolina’s congressional delegation – and an enthusiastic supporter of President George W. Bush – who is among the first to raise the issue of exiting Iraq.

Noting an upsurge in opposition to the war signaled in letters and calls to his office, the 10-term congressman representing North Carolina’s very conservative 6th congressional district says he’s “fed up with picking up the newspaper and reading that we’ve lost another five or 10 of our young men and women in Iraq.”

Coble is not the first Republican to call for withdrawal: the heroic Ron Paul (R-Texas), who opposed this war from the very beginning, has that honor. But Rep. Paul is a GOP maverick, long hated by the party leadership for his principled stands against big government and foreign wars: they tried and failed to purge him in the early 1990s and have since done their best to ignore him. They can’t ignore Coble, however, who heads up the House subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. When this guy begins voicing public doubts over “staying the course,” you know something’s up.

What’s up is that the antiwar movement no longer consists of people out on what the MSM derides as the “fringes” – Rep. Coble is no Michael Moore. Nor is he a libertarian in the mold of Ron Paul. He isn’t even a Jim Leach, the moderate Republican congressman from Iowa who criticized the war early on. But then neither are Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Edward Luttwak, and various unnamed “senior members” of the president’s national security team cited in the Times – all of whom are leading the growing chorus in favor of getting out of Iraq ASAP.

Washington is abuzz with the remarks of Scowcroft and Brzezinski at a seminar sponsored by the New America Foundation and presided over by the indefatigable Steve Clemons. Both came out for withdrawal in fairly unambiguous terms. Scowcroft averred:

“With Iraq, we clearly have a tiger by the tail. And the elections are turning out to be less about a promising transformation, and it has great potential for deepening the conflict. Indeed we may be seeing an incipient civil war at the present time.”

These remarks from a stalwart of the Republican establishment drew a lot of media attention because they stand in such stark contrast to the official GOP line that the elections will solve everything – because “democracy,” don’tcha know it, is a magical antidote for all the ills that have poisoned the region for centuries.

The democratic conceit is the linchpin of the neoconservative orthodoxy that, paradoxically, is the basic foreign policy view of what Lew Rockwell brilliantly terms “red-state fascism.” But it is not shared by Republican realists like Scowcroft – and Rep. Coble – who see the chaos enveloping Iraq through something other than Fox News-colored glasses. Scowcroft cuts through the propaganda and the guff, viewing each theater of the regional war through the unsparing lens of one who sees the world as it is, not as he would like it to be:

“Afghanistan. First of all, it is not Iraq. We did not go into Afghanistan because it was Afghanistan, we went in because it was the headquarters for al-Qaeda and the Taliban was supporting al-Qaeda. And we have pretty well cleaned out the Taliban and al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. Now Afghanistan stands as it was when the Soviet Union left – a failed state. And one election a democracy does not make.

“We’ve been really lucky about Karzai, he turned out to be pretty good, and rather lucky for us – but he is still more the mayor of Kabul than he is the president of Afghanistan. The warlords are not only alive and well, they are thriving and running much of that country. They probably have at their disposal more resources than they ever had before because Afghanistan is turning into a narco-state. We have precious little experience in dealing with failed states and putting them together. Now, fortunately, I don’t think we have to put Afghanistan together because it’s not surrounded by neighbors that require it be what you would call a ‘functioning modern state.'”

This echoes the analysis of Michael Scheuer, the former CIA agent-turned-author, who, until 1999, headed up the unit tasked with going after Osama bin Laden. As Scheuer wrote in chapter two of his scintillating and incisive bestseller, Imperial Hubris:

“The reestablishment of an Islamic regime in Kabul is as close to an inevitability as exists. One hopes that Karzai and the rest of the Westernized, secular, and followerless Afghan expatriates installed in Kabul are able to get out with their lives.”

Scheuer is a little harsher than Scowcroft, but that’s largely a matter of style. Both see through the “democratic” finery to the underlying flesh-and-blood reality, and this kind of x-ray vision was on display at the seminar when, in the question and answer period, Scowcroft examined the regional problem not in terms of postwar Germany and Japan, the two favorite examples held up by the neocons, but using Turkey – the only successful post-Ottoman state – as the model. But that, he glumly notes, took 80 years to construct.

The laser-like clarity of realism shone brighter in the case of Brzezinski, especially when Morton Kondracke – you can just hear his annoyed “how dare you say that?” tone – rose to ask the following:

“What should Iraq policy be if we are in as bad a shape as you say we are? What are you both suggesting? Are you saying we can get the European Union and other nations involved in Iraq – when the Europeans have flatly rejected our requests and haven’t been involved in Iraq at all?”

Moderator Clemons managed to lighten the atmosphere by quipping, “So, you are asking if the realists are being realistic,” but Zbig let Mort the Wart have it right between the eyes:

“If our presence in Iraq is going to be for a long period, then we need to change the terms of our presence drastically. And if it’s not going to change drastically, then our presence should be terminated.”

Both Brzezinski and Scowcroft agreed that we have to involve the Europeans, either under the UN or NATO, but even if we can’t get them on board, we ought to jump ship – before the whole ill-conceived enterprise sinks. As Brzezinski put it:

“If we can get in some fashion, some form of significant international presence either under the UN flag or under the NATO flag, fine. We cannot get the Europeans to join us in Iraq unless we are prepared to share with Europeans the serious decisions regarding the Middle East – including the Iraq problem and Iran. I would say that this is in our interest, but many people in this country would be opposed to that. And I’m not sure the Europeans would be prepared to do much even then. But I would think that it would be worth the trouble after the elections – assuming the elections are not a total disaster. Let us try.”

The hard part about being a member of the reality-based community – as one White House official derisively characterized war opponents – is considering the worst possible outcomes as all-too-probable, and Brzezinski’s unsparing realism leads inexorably to the only logical conclusion:

“If that doesn’t work, then I would think that sometime in the course of this year, if there is something which vaguely approximates an Iraqi government – in all probability a Shi’ite theocracy, as a consequence of elections – then I think we should disengage because staying longer will dig us deeper and deeper in the conflict.”

Scowcroft, too, raised the question of getting out in answer to a question from Dana Priest, of the Washington Post, about Iraq:

“If Bush admits that we have a serious problem and asks, what would happen if we left Iraq? Europe would have to say, ‘It’s as bad for us as it is for you.’ We can’t have a civil war in Iraq.”

Scowcroft apparently believes that if we threaten to get out, making withdrawal our public posture, this will provide the Europeans with enough incentive to get in there and help keep order. But Edward Luttwak, writing in the current (January/February) issue of Foreign Affairs, has another idea: the key to keeping order in Iraq is in its immediate neighbors, all of which would suffer adverse consequences in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.

First off, says Luttwak, we have to understand that the conquest and occupation of Iraq is nothing like the defeat of either Germany or Japan after World War II. It is more like Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and southern Italy in the beginning of the 19th century. As Luttwak points out (sorry, it’s not online):

“The very word ‘guerrilla’ acquired its present meaning from the ferocious insurgency of the illiterate Spanish poor against their would-be liberators under the leadership of their traditional oppressors. On July 6, 1808, King Joseph of Spain presented a draft constitution that for the first time in Spain’s history offered an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, and the abolition of the remaining feudal privileges of the aristocracy and the church. … Yet the Spanish peasantry did not rise up to demand the immediate implementation of the constitution. Instead, they obeyed the priests, who summoned them to fight against the ungodly innovations of the foreign invader – for Joseph was the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte and had been placed on the Spanish throne by French troops a month earlier. That was all that mattered for most Spaniards – not what was proposed, but who proposed it.”

The same thing happened in Naples, where a “Holy Faith” militia organized by Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo rose up against the Napoleonic “liberators” and paved the way for the British massacre of local French-supported liberals. It didn’t matter to the insurgents that the Roman Catholic faith was enshrined in the Napoleonic constitution – the illiterate peasants who resisted “liberation” couldn’t know that, and wouldn’t have cared if they did. As Luttwak says, what mattered was “not what was proposed, but who proposed it.”

Like the Spanish and Italian peasants who were urged to resist Napoleon’s occupation by their priests, the Iraqi people are listening to their clerics, who are telling them that foreigners are crusading against their religion, stealing their resources, and violating their women. In Germany and Japan, the elites collaborated with the Allies to effect a transformation of the political structure, and the people, with a long (if not entirely untroubled) history of parliamentary government behind them, were not in irreconcilable opposition. The situation is quite different in Iraq. In short, there can be no Iraqi democracy in any recognizably Western sense of the term due to the acute shortage of democrats.

Luttwak is not unaware of the possible consequences of an American withdrawal, yet, like Scowcroft and Brzezinski, he sees this as the least worst alternative:

“The probable consequences of abandoning Iraq are so bleak, in fact, that few are willing to contemplate them. That is a mistake. It is precisely because unpredictable mayhem is so predictable that the United States might be able to disengage from Iraq, at little cost, or perhaps even advantageously.”

How so? “A well-calculated retreat” would not only extricate us from an increasingly untenable situation, it could also cause the enemy to over-stretch itself, and – although we don’t face a single enemy, but a multiplicity of hostile parties – the resulting power vacuum may cause the various factions to pull back from the abyss of civil war.

These factions are united, today, around an overarching antipathy to the U.S., but the announcement of a date certain for withdrawal would surely take the wind out of the pan-Arabic and Islamist grouplets that are thriving under the occupation. Luttwak points out that Moqtada al-Sadr‘s radical Shi’ite militia felt unconstrained enough to attack U.S. forces even while it was American troops who were keeping the Ba’athist remnants and other Sunni militants from reestablishing Sunni minority rule. The withdrawal of U.S. forces would secure, for the government we leave behind, what the American occupation could never accomplish: majority support for a stable postwar governing structure.

Iran, for its part, would not like to see an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, in spite of their official rhetoric, because this would create enormous instability on their border, and the effects would be felt all the way to Tehran and beyond. The Iranian government has long since lost whatever theological and moral authority it once had in the Muslim world, and Iraq bereft of Saddam and the U.S. military would create more problems for them than it would solve – including the increasing problem, for them, of how to control their own dissidents.

The U.S. could easily demand “the end of subversion, arms trafficking, hostile propaganda, and Hezbollah infiltration in Iraq”: in return, the Iranians would get the dismantling of dissident bases within Iraq (the weirdo “People’s Mujahedeen”) and the advantages of having a stable neighbor.

Turkey would also want to be in on the deal. The Turks have been stirring up the Turkmen minority (who aren’t really Turks, as Luttwak notes, but Azeris) in an effort to forestall the emergence of an independent Kurdish state – which, they believe, would greatly exacerbate their own long-standing problem with a combative Kurdish minority in Turkey. Luttwak also points out that the Turks, in supporting an “anti-Kurdish coalition” in Kirkuk with violently anti-American Sunnis, are indirectly aiding the insurgency. As long as the U.S. military remains in Iraq, the Turks can afford to aid their Turkmen protégés in Kurdistan without facing any unpredictable and possibly unpleasant consequences. If and when the U.S. sets a timetable for withdrawal, however, the Turks have an interest in making sure that the outcome benefits their own national interests – which means a unitary Iraqi state and no independent Kurdistan. The Turks have a natural interest in ensuring Iraqi unity and stability – but the presence of U.S. troops has given them an incentive to pursue another policy.

The Saudis, too, come into play here: they have been lax in policing their border, across which legions of fanatics have joined the latest theater in the worldwide Islamic insurgency directed at the United States. Yet the Saudi monarchy is even more fragile and vulnerable to subversion by the insurgents than is Iran: without U.S. troops to keep local al-Qaeda jihadists at bay, Iraq would pose a deadly threat to the Saudi regime. Instead of blowing up Iraqi policemen in Baghdad, Zarqawi‘s suicide bombers would hurl themselves at Riyadh.

The Saudis have a vital interest in maintaining order in Iraq – and we’ll see how quickly they militarize their porous border with Iraq once the Americans are no long shielding them. The Saudis are currently enjoying a spike in oil prices: let them pay some significant portion of the $45 billion monthly bill, and consider themselves lucky that we gave them ample notice before vacating the premises.

I don’t agree with Luttwak’s plan to threaten Syria with “punitive action” if Damascus doesn’t go along with the plan, nor do I believe such bullying is necessary. In the vacuum left by American military power, the Syrians have just as much to fear as the others, and for many of the same reasons. The American withdrawal would deprive Damascus of such legitimacy as opposition to the designs of the “Crusaders” confers: it would also open up the possibility of ethnic strife in the north and among the growing ranks of devout Muslims in the country. The last time Islamism raised its head in Syria, the former dictator, Hafez al-Assad, leveled an entire city and killed some 20,000 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Assad’s son is less decisive, and his regime is far weaker: the Syrians would be ill at ease to contemplate the rising influence of radical Islamism not far from Damascus itself, which Iraqi anarchy would certainly encourage.

But even if all these diplomatic arrangements fall apart, or are never even consummated, we should still withdraw, says Luttwak, and this is my favorite part of his scintillating piece:

“Even if the negotiations here advocated fail to yield all they might … the disengagement should still occur, and not only to live up to the initial commitment to withdraw. Given the bitter Muslim hostility to the presence of U.S. troops … their continued deployment in large numbers can only undermine the legitimacy of any U.S.-supported Iraqi government.”

The battle against the Iraqi insurgency isn’t anything like the aftermath of our World War II triumph – it’s more like the radical recession of the Napoleonic empire that presaged Waterloo:

“With Iraq more like Spain in 1808 than like Germany or Japan after 1945, any democracy it sustains is bound to be more veneer than substance. Its chances of survival will be much higher if pan-Arab nationalists, Islamists, and foreign meddlers are neutralized by diplomacy and disengagement. Leaving behind a major garrison would only evoke continuing hostility to both Americans and Iraqi democrats. Once U.S. soldiers have left Iraqi cities, towns, and villages, some could remain a while in remote desert bases to fight off full-scale military attacks against the government – but even this could incite opposition, such as happened in Saudi Arabia.”

He’s right about the garrison: it would be a target of choice, and a de-legitimizing factor (perhaps a critical one) – in deciding the fate of the regime we leave behind. Total disengagement is risky, and Luttwak acknowledges this, but “its risks are actually lower than the alternative of an indefinite occupation, and its benefits might surprise us.” I’m sure Scowcroft, Brzezinski, Scheuer, and an increasingly vocal majority of the American people would agree.


I‘ll be the guest speaker at the first Yale Political Union meeting next month, discussing and debating the topic “America should not use force to export democracy.” Naturally, I’ll be arguing for the affirmative. Antiwar.com readers can witness the event February 2nd, at 7:30 p.m., on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Conn. E-mail austin@antiwar.com for more details.

I note, with amusement, the following diatribe on Michelle Malkin’s blog:

“Meanwhile, over at the unreality-based web site antiwar.com, Justin Raimondo decries ‘[w]idespread support on the Right for internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, touting Michelle Malkin’s shoddy-to-nonexistent scholarship.’ A question for Mr. Raimaondo [sic]: If support for my book is so widespread, why hasn’t a single major pundit or blogger come to Pipes’ defense?”

But these same pundits and self-important “bloggers” have touted Pipes and his works continuously, defending his oxymoronic appointment to the government-funded U.S. Institute of Peace, quoted him, and held him up as an “expert” on matters Islamic. Yet now Madame Malkin and her neocon confreres are running away from him as fast as they can. How fickle – and typical.

I have a question, in turn, for La Malkin: if it was okay to lock up all those Japanese-Americans, then why not round up all Muslims, too? And let’s throw antiwar dissidents in the same brig: after all, if American citizenship doesn’t immunize you against this sort of treatment, then where does one draw the line?

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].