Last week we were involved in a discussion spanning several blogs regarding the views of those possibly erroneously named hawks and doves. My reply got postponed to the point where most may have lost interest in the exchange, but I did think I should return to clear up some loose ends raised by Kevin Sullivan‘s last reply. While I don’t think it is feasible to settle an entire debate on how long we should remain in Iraq, I hope that this will at least provide better insight into the views of those who disagree with Kevin on remaining for several years.
Some of the points I wish to discuss are significant to the issue beyond this debate, but the first pertains specifically to the terminology used in our posts. I noted that Kevin was using labels in a manner in which it appeared he was applying one word (progressive isolationists) for those with views he disagreed with and another word (liberal) for those who supported staying in Iraq. Kevin questions why I refer to leaving Iraq as the liberal position. The answer is simply that this is the view held by most liberals, as well as the general population, and I am dispensing with playing the label game here to arbitrarily apply labels to others.
Most of the objections to leaving Iraq can be dispensed with by noting that there is no reason to believe that staying longer will do anything to prevent them, but there is reason to believe that the ultimate outcome will be worse. If the concern is the entry of other countries, this only proves that the primary emphasis of US policy must be shifted from a failed military strategy to a diplomatic strategy which includes Iraq’s neighbors.
Kevin used World War II era examples of nation building to argue that we just need more time in Iraq. I noted that the conditions in Iraq are considerably different, and thought that this point was so obvious at the time that it didn’t require further elaboration. Iraq has far more internal division than any of the countries that the United States has occupied in the past. To keep these divisions in check, it required that Saddam utilize suppressive measures which the United States would not, and should not, consider. There’s also the problems of foreign influence. We didn’t have other countries meddling as we do with both Iraq’s bordering countries and with al Qaeda.
The primary battle we are engaged in is one for hearts and minds. As long as we appear to be the invader and occupier of a Muslim country we will be seen as the enemy, even by many moderates in the region. Israeli and Saudi studies have demonstrated that the primary opposition to the United States comes not from long time radicals but from people newly radicalized by the US intervention. The bumper sticker slogan is really true when it warns that we are creating more terrorists than we are able to kill. The Israeli experience also demonstrates that occupation is a difficult process with no clear end point.
Kevin then refers to some mysterious Middle Eastern Playbook “which incidentally has been filled with arrogant and condescending assumptions about how Arabs ‘can’t do’ democracy for decades.” The question isn’t whether Arabs can establish democracy but whether our policies promote or hinder this. Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside. Democracy advocates working in non-democratic countries complain that many see the US invasion as reason to oppose democracy. Many see what is occurring in Iraq and respond, “if this is democracy, I want no part of it.” Some of them turn to Islamic fundamentalism in response. If the Arabs cannot establish democracy for decades, it may very well turn out to be because of United States policy in the region.
Update: Kevin has responded, and I respond with criticizing his Argument By Labels Rather Than Logic on Iraq