I supported the removal of Saddam Hussein. I believed that Arabs deserved a chance to build a rule-of-law democracy in the Middle East. Based upon firsthand experience, I was convinced that the Middle East was so politically, socially, morally and intellectually stagnant that we had to risk intervention — or face generations of terrorism and tumult. I still believe that our removal of Hussein was a noble act.
I also believed that removing Saddam was noble, but I've long since come to recognize that one cannot separate the act of removing Saddam from its tragic aftermath, and that it was wrong, wrong, wrong, to think that Bush and his gang of ideologues, cronies, and crooks were ever remotely interested in committing the resources and political capital necessary to give the new Iraq a fighting chance.
It's been said that Bush doesn't understand that Iraq is a political battle, not a military one. I think Bush does understand this, it's just that he's been waging the political battle in the wrong place: here at home. If Bush had devoted even a fraction of the energy and resources to preparing, planning, and rebuilding Iraq that he has in trying to manage domestic perceptions of the deepening chaos, I think we'd be in a much different, a much better, situation. But that's like saying if a grapefruit was a pineapple, it would be a pineapple. To even imagine such a scenario is to imagine an administration that is not George W. Bush's.
Iraq is failing. No honest observer can conclude otherwise. Even six months ago, there was hope. Now the chances for a democratic, unified Iraq are dwindling fast. The country's prime minister has thrown in his lot with al-Sadr, our mortal enemy. He has his eye on the future, and he's betting that we won't last. The police are less accountable than they were under Saddam. Our extensive investment in Iraqi law enforcement only produced death squads. Government ministers loot the country to strengthen their own factions. Even Iraq's elections — a worthy experiment — further divided Iraq along confessional and ethnic lines. Iraq still exists on the maps, but in reality it's gone. Only a military coup — which might come in the next few years — could hold the artificial country together.
We have no one but ourselves to blame for the rise of Muqtada al Sadr, whose power is a direct result of Bush's incompetence and Rumsfeld's lack of planning. Back when the Secretary of Defense was shrugging off the chaos in Baghdad ("Stuff happens") Muqtada's people were policing Shi'a neighborhoods, protecting shops, and setting up medical clinics and food distribution, things for which, by law, the occupying power is responsible, but which for Rumsfeld merely served as a punchline.
Iraq breaking down along sectarian lines was by no means inevitable, but the ad hoc fashion in which the Coalition Authority cobbled together an Iraqi government based on confessional and ethnic divisions (and with an over-emphasis on returning exiles with no base of support in the country), another result of poor planning and ignorance of Iraqi society, all but guaranteed that this would happen.
As for Maliki "throwing in his lot with Sadr", Maliki has always been part of Sadr's coalition. He's a member The Da'wa Party, which was founded by Muqtada's great uncle, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al Sadr. What would Peters suggest Maliki do, join with Chalabi or Allawi, two U.S.-approved leaders with no base of support? Join with Hakim and SCIRI, whose committment to Iran is well known and not merely suspected (wrongly, in my opinion), as it is with Sadr? With the withdrawal of Grand Ayatollah Sistani from political life, Muqtada is probably the most powerful person in Iraq. More importantly, unlike the U.S. mission, Muqtada has shown an ability to get shit done, and so aligning with him seems a pretty understandable move by Maliki. But, of course, when Arabs make rational political decisions that we don't like, it's because they're "savages". Please see: Hamas, Palestine, elections.
Yet, for all our errors, we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to build a rule-of-law democracy. They preferred to indulge in old hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of corruption. It appears that the cynics were right: Arab societies can't support democracy as we know it. And people get the government they deserve.
Well, I suppose expecting the Iraqis to get their political house in order while under military occupation, in the face of daily terror bombings, curfews, kidnappings, mass arrests, and without security adequate for any sort of recognizable social life is "unique" in a way...
For us, Iraq's impending failure is an embarrassment. For the Iraqis — and other Arabs — it's a disaster the dimensions of which they do not yet comprehend. They're gleeful at the prospect of America's humiliation. But it's their tragedy, not ours.
Gleeful? They're gleeful about finding the bound, tortured, bullet-riddled bodies of their sons and fathers in the streets every morning? I don't think that's glee, Ralph.
Iraq's impending failure is quite a bit more than just an embarrassment, it is a tragedy for which the United States, whether we choose to accept it or not, is responsible. Even in purely realist terms, it's simply daft to suggest that a collapsed Iraq doesn't have dire implications for U.S. interests in the region.
Iraq was the Arab world's last chance to board the train to modernity, to give the region a future, not just a bitter past. The violence staining Baghdad's streets with gore isn't only a symptom of the Iraqi government's incompetence, but of the comprehensive inability of the Arab world to progress in any sphere of organized human endeavor. We are witnessing the collapse of a civilization. All those who rooted for Iraq to fail are going to be chastened by what follows.
Iraq still deserves one last chance — as long as we don't confuse deadly stubbornness and perseverance. If, at this late hour, Iraqis in decisive numbers prove willing to fight for their own freedom and a constitutional government, we should be willing to remain for a generation. If they continue to revel in fratricidal slaughter, we must leave.
Bush supporters have been confusing stubbornness with perseverance since even before the Iraq invasion occured. Maybe Ralph Peters deserves some credit for finally recognizing what should have been clear to him more than a year ago, that Iraq is falling apart. His attempt to absolve the United States of any responsiblity for this, however, is ridiculous and reprehensible.