Catastrophe Still Awaits

"The real difficulty in changing any enterprise lies not in developing new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones."
– John Maynard Keynes

A ray of realism appeared in the confirmation hearings for Secretary of Defense nominee Robert Gates before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Gates himself said that the U.S. was not winning in Iraq, a statement with which everyone agreed except the White House.

The U.S., however, is not out of the woods. The question remains: what will be the U.S. government’s response to the lost war and the terrible calamity that Bush has created in Iraq?

Many Americans are still fighting the Vietnam War. They see Iraq through the lens of the futile Vietnam misadventure and express their dismay that America will lose another war because "the Democrats will cut and run like they did in Vietnam." These Americans have forgotten that it was a Republican administration that got the U.S. out of Vietnam and that it was the Democrats who committed the U.S. to that conflict. Moreover, Democrats are not showing a cut-and-run propensity.

For example, Silvestre Reyes, the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says the U.S. cannot withdraw from Iraq until it has dismantled the militias. Reyes wants to put 30,000 more U.S. troops into Iraq to dismantle the militias. Reyes has forgotten that sending more troops was the Democrats’ policy in Vietnam, a policy whose only result was that more Americans lost sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers.

Obviously, sending more U.S. troops will not succeed in dismantling the Iraqi sectarian militias. However, a U.S. attempt to dismantle the militias will result in the militias joining the insurgency and turning on the U.S. troops. The situation would deteriorate, not improve. It is frightening that the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee does not understand this.

The appearance of a ray of realism about Iraq in the Senate Arms Services Committee does not mean that the U.S. will escape catastrophe. At the Armed Services Committee hearing (Dec. 5), some senators said that U.S. troops must not be used in a civil war between Iraqis, but that the troops have to stay until stability is created. Senators have the idea that U.S. troops can be shorn of their combat role, but remain to train the Iraqi army so the Iraqi government can put down insurgency and civil war.

However, in civil war each side has a government and an army. Which side will the U.S. support? If the U.S. sides with the Sunnis against the majority Shi’ites, it will be throwing in its lot with the insurgency that has been killing its troops and find itself arrayed against the more numerous Shi’ites backed by Iran. If the U.S. favors the Shi’ite majority, the U.S. will anger its Sunni allies in the Middle East.

Indeed, civil war between Sunnis and Shi’ites, with or without U.S. involvement, could easily spread throughout the Middle East. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was not the only country where Sunnis hold political sway over Shi’ites. By invading Iraq, stirring up extremism, and setting in motion sectarian violence, the Bush regime may have opened Pandora’s Box of civil war throughout the Middle East.

The neoconservative Bush regime lacked the brains to understand that defeating Saddam Hussein’s army would not give the U.S. control over Iraq. Whatever minimum control the U.S. might once have had is gone. The U.S. Army in Iraq has so little control that it cannot even provide sufficient security for President Bush to meet in Iraq with Prime Minister Maliki.

Since the U.S. Army has no control, provides no security, and does not know who it is fighting, U.S. troops simply provide targets for insurgents. They are accomplishing nothing positive and should be withdrawn. U.S. troops in Iraq serve one purpose: They are a provocation that foments Islamic extremism and creates dangerous instability throughout the Middle East.

The senators and Robert Gates haven’t got this far in their comprehension. The question is whether they will see the light before U.S. troops are forced to pay a higher price for their government’s stupidity.

A minority of Americans still believe the U.S. can defeat the Iraqi insurgency if only the U.S. would use enough force. Americans hear this from neoconservatives and from the right-wing crazies of talk radio. These are the same Americans who believe the U.S. could have won the Vietnam War by invading or nuking North Vietnam.

The U.S. probably could have defeated North Vietnam on a one-on-one basis. However, just as Gen. MacArthur’s invasion of North Korea brought in the Chinese, a U.S. invasion of North Vietnam would have been an extreme provocation for the Soviet Union and China and could have ended in nuclear war.

Many Americans have the absurd notion that the only limit to U.S. power is the will to use it. This absurd idea provides the Israel Lobby with a vocal American minority that is easy to exploit in behalf of "standing tough" in the Middle East. The main reason that neither Republicans nor Democrats can come to their senses about Iraq and America’s disastrous Middle East policy is that the Israel Lobby will not let them.

Right-wing Israeli governments suffer the same delusion as neoconservatives about limitless U.S. power. They believe that the power of their lobby can ensure that American power will be used to destroy all of Israel’s enemies.

The U.S. is likely to remain mired in Iraq until Israelis cast out this delusion. No amount of U.S. power can make it possible for Israel to both steal Palestine from Palestinians and have peace. No number of U.S. invasions of Islamic countries can win "the war on terror." As long as right-wing extremism prevails in Israel and as long as the U.S. interferes in the internal affairs of Muslin countries, the formula for calamity remains in place.

Author: Paul Craig Roberts

Paul Craig Roberts wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and was assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was associate editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and contributing editor of National Review. He is author or co-author of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon chair in political economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and senior research fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and testified before Congress on 30 occasions. He has been awarded the U.S. Treasury's Meritorious Service Award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a reviewer for the Journal of Political Economy under editor Robert Mundell.