Current conditions in Iraq are deeply sobering. As described in the April 18 Washington Post, the insurgency, with its kidnappings and its savage murders of foreign aid workers, has extended beyond Fallujah and Najaf to other parts of the country, making it too dangerous for foreigners to go outside the areas occupied and guarded by the Coalition and thus bringing the Iraqi reconstruction efforts to a halt. In addition to the non-performance and desertions by the Coalition-trained Iraqi security forces, many Iraqis employed by the Coalition and the various reconstruction projects are failing to come to work, afraid of being murdered by their fellow Iraqis for cooperating with foreigners. If these conditions persist, President Bush's entire strategy for Iraq will be doomed.
What has gone wrong? As I've been saying since last summer, the erection of a new government in Iraq presupposes the first law of all governments, that it have a monopoly on the use of force. Yet instead of focusing on the need for such a government and on the practical requirements for creating such a government, we've been pouring most of our energy and hopes into creating the mechanisms of democratic elections—imagining, in excited reverie, that the cart of universal rights and democratic proceduralism could pull the horse of sovereign national existence.
Thus, when challenged on the viability of Iraqi democratization on ABC's "This Week," Condoleezza Rice echoed the oft-expressed view of President Bush and leading neoconservatives, that all people in the world want rights, that they want good things for their sons and daughters, and that they don't want a knock on their door in the middle of the night—from which it follows, Rice believes, that all peoples in the world including Moslems are capable of creating and maintaining a democratic form of government. The obvious problem with this Pollyannish view is that the desire of individuals for those nice things, even the desire of the majority of the people in a given country for those nice things, does not necessarily mean that they will possess the collective will to put down the lawless minorities in their midst and thus be able to have those nice things. It is not a sign of wisdom in our political and intellectual elites that they fail to see this elemental truth of political existence.
Another way of understanding the situation in Iraq is that our leaders have disregarded the lesson of Vietnam: If you're going to fight a war, either fight to win or get out. In the Iraqi context, winning means destroying the jihadist or Ba'athist forces that threaten the Coalition, and, as indicated above, creating a successor Iraqi government that will have the force and energy to maintain its own existence. But instead of such a strategy, we've had the "stay the course" mantra. "Staying the course" does not mean victory. "Staying the course" means adhering to a policy that is not leading to victory and that is not even logically designed to lead to victory. As far as anyone can tell from the president's own remarks, "staying the course" simply means showing resolve, soldiering on, and enduring the insurgents' attacks as long as they keep coming at us. But the question is, what if the insurgents keep coming at us? What do we do then? What policy do we have in place to eliminate the insurgents—both those from within Iraq and those entering the country from outside? To my knowledge, this is a question that Bush has never addressed and that he has never even been asked. Thus we not only lack a policy aimed at victory in Iraq, we have not even had a national debate aimed at formulating such a policy. We have had a parody of a debate, in which the Left mindlessly screams, "Bush lied," and the Right stolidly replies, "Stay the course."
If the administration had seriously contemplated the true obstacles to democratic transition, they might have approached Iraq in a very different way. They might, for example, have concluded that victory in Iraq cannot be achieved without winning a much larger victory in the Moslem Mideast as a whole. As Michael Ledeen has argued over and over, the war against militant Islam is a regional war, but we're fighting it only as a local war. As long as neighboring Moslem countries keep sending jihadis and other insurgents into Iraq, the stabilization of Iraq, and therefore the construction of a free government there, is an impossibility.
There is a compelling logic in Ledeen's argument, but also—especially in the light of our recent unhappy experiences in Iraq—a grave flaw. If it is crushingly expensive and murderously difficult to control and rebuild Iraq, how much more difficult would it be if we were also trying to do the same to Syria and Iran, and all at the same time? Ledeen replies that we don't need to conquer Syria and Iran physically and become responsible for running them; we only need to encourage and support the internal dissidents and reformers in those countries, much as President Reagan did the dissidents under Soviet Communism. He says the Mullahs' regime in particular is so internally weak that it is ready to fall, if, Reagan-like, we would deny its moral legitimacy instead of playing diplomatic footsie with it.
Ledeen's idea is certainly more coherent and comprehensive than anything the president has offered, and our foreign policy makers should consider it.
But if the administration had thoughtfully considered such an ambitious, victory-directed strategy, they might have concluded that the victory requisite to democracy cannot be achieved in any Arab Moslem country. Such a realization would have led to a total re-thinking about what to do with post-Hussein Iraq. They might, for example, have adopted the Daniel Pipes alternative. According to Pipes, it is impossible for a non-Moslem power to impose its will on a Moslem society in any enduring way, simply because the Moslems will never accept it. We should therefore forget about building democratic institutions in Iraq, put a democratically-minded strong man in power, and withdraw our forces as quickly as possible.
To sum up, the indispensable condition for a democratic Iraqi government—or for any stable, decent government in that country—is victory in the sense of the permanent suppression of jihadis and terrorists. If such a victory is not possible, then democratization is not possible, and some other approach must be found. Refusing to face this unpleasant choice, the Bush administration has situated itself between two stools, insisting on democratization as the linchpin of our Iraq policy and even as the basis of our own national security, while pursuing a "stay the course" mode that cannot, by itself, ensure the victory that is the very condition of democratization.
Let us hope that I am wrong, and that the insurgency soon collapses and the jihadist forces fade away, allowing the Iraqi people to continue forward to the "broad sunlit uplands" of freedom and self-government. But if that wished-for event comes to pass, it will have happened as much by good fortune as by any conscious plan on the part of the Bush administration.
Lawrence Auster is the author of Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation. He runs the weblog View from the Right.