John Quiggin argues that with respect to the war in Iraq ‘Only after the governments of the Coalition countries admit that military power has failed, and that nothing good will be achieved by persevering can we make a serious assessment of what can be salvaged from this disaster.’ He buttresses his view by saying that lots of others share it. I assume John's post is linked to current events in the US - President Bush has vetoed a bill forcing US troops to withdraw.
I assume John means that things will become clearer if, in particular, the US declares (i) it has lost and (ii) that it pre-announces a date for withdrawal. Things certainly will become clearer for the US, at least in the short-term – their troops will go home.
I fail however to see how withdrawal will improve the clarity or quality of the situation in Iraq. Certainly it will give those factions seeking the overthrow of the Iraq Government a predetermined window of opportunity in which to act. Iraq might become a base for international terrorism, a client state of Iran or it might split ascender into regions that presumably would fight each other. In some of these situations a ‘serious assessment’ of what can be salvaged might emerge – in other states of the world the situation, even if it does become clearer, will become more desperate.
John is horrified by the scale of the killing in Iraq and by the magnitude of the consequent refugee problem. So am I and indeed who isn’t? But the question is how to improve things – not necessarily how to walk away from a situation which has soured and which has become intensely difficult. Most of the current killing is a product of insurgency actions with Muslim killing Muslim – the real issue is whether this scale of killing will increase or decrease if the US withdraws. Will the various groups of fanatics suddenly learn to love each other when the Americans leave?
One possibility is that the pre-announced withdrawal outcome might well prove to be a catastrophe with massive killings engineered by elements in the insurgency. That is the claimed viewpoint of the current Australian, British and American Governments. Certainly the defeat of the Coalition in Iraq would signal a key victory to the media-addressed killings of civilian innocents by terrorists. These killings reflect a short-term tactical initiative by the terrorists that might come to plague the US and the rest of the civilised world for decades.
Am I sure? No I am not and I don’t believe John Quiggin is either. But if John calls for an end to the war he is seeking peace and I guess I will, again, be portrayed as a warmonger. This is a dirty debate that one hesitates to enter into. But I’ll learn to live with the risk of vilification and restate my view that a pre-announced Coalition withdrawal from Iraq is probably unwise.