There’s always been the real possibility in Iraq that the whole thing will fall apart and that the country will descend into chaos. The United States and the coalition forces have tried within reasonable limits to prevent that from happening, but the underlying problem, the lack of a unifying and overriding national identity among Iraqis as Iraqis, is not something that the United States can resolve by itself.
Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites, and others, all have their own views on how a society should be ordered, and it is only natural that they are suspicious of each other’s quest for oneupmanship, which is not merely a survival strategy but also in many cases a matter of moral and theological conviction. The Iraqis may not be able to agree. I wish that they would agree, but I do not blame them for not doing so.
I have no interest in Great Britain participating in a European Constitution. I have no real identity as a European. I have nothing against the French and the Germans but I don’t want them running my country. It is beyond ironic that we Europeans, who cannot agree among ourselves after all these years, would want to insist that the diverse peoples of Iraq find a workable solution to their problems while we simultaneously insist that they may only consider those options that yoke them permanently together under a single governing authority.
The United States may be proferred as an example for Iraq. But the United States only became the United States we know today at the cost of 600,000 lives. Lincoln saved the Union by plunging it into a blood bath. Besides, the United States only learned to appreciate racial, religious and cultural diversity very gradually over four hundred years. Can Iraq do it in four months?
I hope that the United States and its allies are successful in enabling the installation of a unified and democratic government in Iraq, but I don’t think that the United States should be willing to pay any price, in terms of human casualties, in order to see the job through. At some point we have to allow the Iraqis the freedom to foul up, the freedom to pillage and murder and destroy themselves. That is ultimately up to them.
If everything crumbles in Iraq, if the country literally comes apart, I will not hold George W. Bush or Tony Blair, or their respective administrations responsible. They got rid of Saddam Hussein so that terrorists would not be able to use his government as a resource. That job was worth risking coalition lives for and it was accomplished. But soldiers cannot enforce a kingdom of brotherly love, nor should they be expected to continue such an effort indefinitely at the risk of their own lives.
Most Americans do not yet seem to have awakened to the fact that there are many things that a president cannot do. Being a successful president is largely a matter of fortune as well as skill. A president cannot erase fundamentalist theology from the globe, singlehandedly reinvigorate an economy, make foreign dictators less corrupt, or force other countries to become enthusiastic allies in a battle that they don’t grasp the significance of, and we should be wary of any candidate who does promise to accomplish such improbable dreams. Perhaps it’s the luck factor that prevents any really intelligent people from ever running for president in the first place. Bush removed Saddam. That’s good. What the Iraqis choose to do with the opportunity thus afforded them is a choice that nobody can make for them.
I don’t suggest that the time for the coalition to pull out of Iraq has come yet. But we should start radically decreasing our forces there this Fall if there is not significant progress toward stability and a significant reduction in coalition casualties.