Thomas Friedman Offers Ten Months or Ten Years for Iraq

Thomas Friedman offers two possible scenarios for Iraq considering the current realities, which are even worse than being in a civil war:

Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war — it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.

Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch.

Anyone who tells you that we can just train a few more Iraqi troops and police officers and then slip out in two or three years is either lying or a fool. The minute we would leave, Iraq would collapse. There is nothing we can do by the end of the Bush presidency that would produce a self-sustaining stable Iraq — and “self-sustaining” is the key metric.

Friedman had previously applied the “Pottery Barn rule” to Iraq which warns that, “You break it, you own it.” He no longer believes this applies:

But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.

That vacuum was filled by murderous Sunni Baathists and Al Qaeda types, who butchered Iraqi Shiites until they finally wouldn’t take it any longer and started butchering back, which brought us to where we are today. The Sunni Muslim world should hang its head in shame for the barbarism it has tolerated and tacitly supported by the Sunnis of Iraq, whose violence, from the start, has had only one goal: America must fail in its effort to bring progressive politics or democracy to this region. America must fail — no matter how many Iraqis have to be killed, America must fail.


  1. 1
    Probus says:

    I’m not sure how Mr. Friedman would go about re-invading Iraq if we are already there. We didn’t fail in implementing the strategy badly we failed because the strategy was bad. That’s why Bush Sr. never wanted to send ground troops into Iraq to take out Hussein during the first Gulf war. I don’t see how we could send 150,000 more troops, it seems like a logistical impossibility. The 150,000 troops we already have over there, are having trouble dealing with the insurgency how can sending more troops help? Our presence is fueling the civil war, sending in more troops would only make things worse.

    It didn’t help in us the Vietnam war to send in more troops how can it help in Iraq though admittedly there were vast differences between the 2 wars. He is basically arguing to do the same things that have already been tried in Iraq. They didn’t work once why would they work again? He suggests that democracy has always been this administration’s goal in Iraq. That was not always the case. The justification for going into Iraq has changed so many times, it is hard to know what were the true motives behind going to Iraq. It is time for us to withdraw our troops. Most of the Iraqis don’t want us there.

    The neo-cons are having a hard time realizing that they were wrong about their preconceived notions about what ideas would work in Iraq and what wouldn’t. Repugs like McCain have tried to make the case that the ideas weren’t bad they were just executed poorly. That is not true. We never should have gone there in the first place. I notice that no where does he make any mention of diplomacy or the urgent need to talk to Iraq’s neighbors namely Iran and Syria.

  2. 2
    Probus says:

    I am much troubled by this phrase “start over and rebuild it,” we are talking about war, you don’t get to redo war. You have to live with the mistakes you make. You are responsible for your actions. In war you don’t get second chances. If you fail as bad as this administration has with this war you change course. And Mr. Friedman is not talking about changing course, he talking about doing the same thing again.

  3. 3
    Christopher says:

    I’m not sure how Mr. Friedman would go about re-invading Iraq if we are already there.

    Friedman is hawkish on the Iraq war because his motivation is what’s best for Israeli national security — not the security of the USA. Same with Lieberman.

    I mean no one in his right mind ever saw Saddam’s Iraq as a threat to the USA. Saddam was an American creation and a US puppet.

    But Saddam did have an intense dislike of Israel.

  4. 4
    battlebob says:

    Friedman is nuts when he talks about not being responsible for rebuilding the infrastruture.
    Before we got there, the lights worked, the hospitals were functional, the schools were good. The brdiges and roads were safe. They infrastructure functioned well.
    We broke it and we need to fix it.
    Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:


    On one level we should fix it because we broke it, but the problems remains that they don’t want us there. Fixing it might very lead require Friedman’s ten year option, which I don’t think any of us believe is either desirable or realistic.

    Hopefully there are options beyond Friedman’s two which might work, such as assisting reconstruction thru international organizations so that it ceases to appear to be an American occupation.

  6. 6
    kj says:

    We’ve created another Afghanistan, only in a much shorter amount of time.

  7. 7
    battlebob says:

    We cannot physically do it but we must finance it. The work should be done by non-us companies.
    We write the checks.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:


    You mean it won’t be done by Haliburton? Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of the war. 🙂

  9. 9
    HW says:

    kill the queen in the beehive, then blame the mess on the progress-resistant nature of Bee culture.

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