It’s a Hard War to Follow

The Iraq war has caused such an ideological crisis in the West that both sides report the war won or lost at regular intervals. Before I understood the extremeness of the desire of the war’s opponents to see the US defeated I was actually a bit worried when I saw a BBC report during the initial invasion in 2003 that declared the US Army defeated when they were only stopped by a sandstorm on the way to Baghdad. Likewise I have read at several points in time declarations from the war’s supporters – including Dick Chaney – that the insurgency was finished. For one side the insurgency is always getting stronger and more effective and they have stats to prove it. The Vietnam model is liberally applied by this side sometimes tellingly but often completely ignoring the differences in order to indulge in wishful thinking about a Vietnam replay. The opposite is true of the other side which often falls into the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ optimism that reeks of self delusion. They’ve got stats too. What is clear is that there is still plenty of trouble in Iraq in four provinces – one of which contains Baghdad – and until that situation changes things will be difficult nad unresolved. From what I can see, neither defeat or victory has been achieved.

What I do see is a difficult war with a surprisingly persistent and complex insurgency. But I also see a people determined to create a better government than they have known. John Samford in this comment to this Belmont Club post said in part:

….as far as there being a civil war in Iraq, there is. A civil war is where two or more national groups are fighting for control of a nation.
But wait, there’s more.
Iraq is also in the middle of what could be seen as a revolution. Revolutions are civil wars that are fought not only for control, but as the means to a change in the type of government. In Iraq, the guerrillas are fighting to throw out the revolutionaries (pro-democratic groups, supported by the USA).

I think a lot of people forget that the US policy under the past three presidents has been working for regime change in Iraq. Bush 41 thought he had done enough and was, by his own admission, surprised that Saddam remained in power. During the Clinton administration Congress even passed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.


It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.

It has been cited many times but it is worth rereading that sentence. Bush 43 used the WMD issue as the clincher in his argument for war in 2002-3, but regime change and installation of a democratic government was always the larger goal of US policy and stated as such. This policy is in sharp contrast to what happened in Vietnam where we intervened to support a neo-colonialist government against a revolutionary movement that was also highly nationalist. Senator Fulbright said that our error in Vietnam was that we chose to oppose Communism first and support nationalism second and that our policy should have been the reverse. Without getting into the historical issues raised by the senator’s view, my point here in citing him is that, Communism aside, in Vietnam we were up against a fierce majority nationalism with all of the north and a substantial portion of the southern population dedicated to national unification. The neo-colonialist government is Vietnam was corrupt and the CIA actually ended up assassinating president Diem because it couldn’t work with him. Vietnam was always an uphill battle. We have done just the opposite in Iraq deposing the tyrant and intervening on the side of the majority with the goal of putting a democratic government in place.

With the formation of the first democratic government I think it is fair to say that the conflict has reached a new phase. What it is not clear is if the agonizingly slow formation of the government over the last six months has led through negotiation to a government that will have the unity and strength to build a nation or is just a patchwork of arrangements that will fall apart when tested by those bent on imposing their will by terrorist violence. Here I have in mind both the Shia militias and the Sunni insurgents. There are positives and negatives aplenty for both sides in the ideological war to cite at this stage leading to their favored conclusion. My basic point here is that the burden of success or failure has shifted to the Iraqi government and that their performance over the next year will probably be the decisive factor in determining the outcome. In Mr. Samford’s terms that outcome may be either a descent into all out civil war or a successful revolution.

One Response to “It’s a Hard War to Follow”  

  1. 1 Yankee Wombat | An American in Oz

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