This week's column:
I wish I could find the perfect label for the depths of denial and the heights of delusion manifested in Frederick and Kimberly Kagan's latest declarations on Iraq, published this week in The Washington Post as "opinion."
"Fantasy," is more like it. The premise of these two military advisers closely associated with the "surge" strategy in Iraq is that Western-style nation-building there failed not because the policy was an exercise in hothouse academic utopianism (leftist cant) that withered in the real-world conditions of the Islamic Republic of Iraq, but because the exercise didn't go on long enough.
Even as our troops withdraw after eight fruitless years, the husband-wife team still sees "American core interests" in Iraq, including "ensuring that Iraq contributes to the security of the Middle East, rather than undermining it through state collapse, civil war or the establishment of a sectarian dictatorship."
Is that all? Ensuring that Iraq doesn't collapse, enter civil war or establish a sectarian dictatorship requires an indefinite occupation on a colossal scale (why?) or the total transformation of Iraqi Man (read: Muslim Man), which is the Frankensteinian basis of "winning hearts and minds," the cornerstone of counterinsurgency theory (COIN).
In another epoch, armies of Christian missionaries might have been the force of choice to rework Islamic culture to such an end; then again, Western nations haven't fared so well in such endeavors. (Remember the Crusades.) COIN-inspired nation-building is the contemporary, secular alternative. Its adherents burn with a blind zeal that admits no cultural difference between the West and Islam, that sees most arrogantly a universal appeal in their own Judeo-Christian-derived values.
The only stumbling block between COIN values and Islamic acceptance, as COIN elites see it, is PR. The sales pitch. Take off those protective, ballistic glasses, soldier. Eat parasite-ridden goat and wreck your digestive system maybe forever, grunt. Smile. Get to know the people. Walk those roads (bang) and see that those wells and bridges are built, those mosques mended, those tribal conflicts settled, and don't call in fire support when a "kinetic" incident occurs or the "population" will think you don't trust them. And whatever you do, don't forget the payola.
But remaking human beings, "re-educating" people to conform to ideological goals, doesn't ever work out well, whether the policy is enacted through bribery by nation-builders with guns bearing gifts, or?through force by commissars destroying civilization with gulags.
No doubt the Kagans would disagree with my premise. They see no gulf so existential between the West and the Islamic world. In their eyes, it's an easy-peasy fix when it comes to Iraq, requiring just two conditions. "First," they write, "Iraq must be able to control, police and defend its territory, airspace and waters. Second, Iraq must preserve and solidify the multiethnic and cross-sectarian political accommodation that was established in 2008 and 2009 but that has been eroding since the formation of the current government."
Again, is that all? Not only are these beyond Iraqi competence and scope, they aren't American interests. They are Iraqi interests, if Iraqis care. They are also international interests that global interventionists arbitrarily obsess about, whether in Iraq, Libya or any other hot spot du jour. It is not in America's interest whether Iraq preserves and solidifies multiethnic and cross-sectarian blah blah blah. It is, however, in the interest of the unreconstructed Iraq Hawks, the COINdinistas, and their political allies because these are the theoretical justifications for their failed missions. In many ways, Obama's reluctant troop withdrawal, which, last time I looked, fulfilled George W. Bush's agreement with Iraq, is the best thing that has happened to them. It keeps the fantasy of "if only" alive.
"Neither condition is likely to be met in the coming years," the Kagans write. Thanks to Obama, they hereby absolve themselves of any and all responsibility for the impossibility of these conditions -- the conditions of COIN nation-building -- ever being met. They are free. Or so they seem to think.
But maybe there's a chance to take another whack at things. Noting violations of international agreements by Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Kagans write: "Responsible nations should insist that Iraq demonstrate its commitment to those obligations. The president should tell Maliki in no uncertain terms that Washington will hold him to account in the international arena if Iraq does not."
Excuse me, isn't that where we came in?