Middle east strategy

Victor Davis Hanson:


In fact, the current strategy of having removed the two most odious dictatorships — the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s — and fostering democracies in their places remains the only sensible course. Far from winning this war for the future of the Middle East, Syria, and Iran are increasingly isolated, desperate to thwart democratization that surrounds their borders in Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and Lebanon, and facing world sanctions for their roguery. For all its messiness, the promotion of democratic reform infuriates the Islamists and paid-off Arab journalists and intellectual toadies alike, and ultimately works in our favor.

But right now the real problem has been the necessity of reversing the order of traditional postwar democratization. The old calculus was first the proverbial horse of defeating and vanquishing utterly the enemy; then the cart of showing magnanimity in rebuilding the country of a contrite loser. Only in that order would the Americans be willing to give millions to the former supporters of once murderous Nazis, Italian fascists, or imperial Japanese who had killed and maimed their sons.

In the Middle East, we reversed the sequence, on the idealistic — and I think correct — premise that the Afghan and Iraqi people were captive to their dictators, and that we wished to avoid an all-encompassing conflict along the lines of World War II. In other words, we trusted that the Taliban and Saddam Hussein explained the recent savagery of the Afghans and Iraqis, rather than the innate savagery of the Afghans and Iraqis themselves explaining the creation of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. The result of this confidence, despite the carnage of war, was that democracy was ushered in, the rogues were to be kept out, and peace was supposed to follow from a grateful, liberated people.

But why should it, when the hard hand of American war was not first completely felt — nor the jihadists utterly vanquished and discredited and any who supported them? Unless there is some element of fear, or at least the suggestion of consequences to come for recalcitrance, why should an Iraqi cease his easy support of Hezbollah, his anti-Semitism, or his cheap support for Islamist terrorists around the block? It would be as if we expected to end slavery outright in the Confederacy around 1862, or rid Germany of Nazis around 1943, or persuade the Japanese fascists to vote in 1944 — before such ideologies have been utterly defeated and the steep price for those who tolerated them paid in full.


In any case, the administration’s problem is not really its (sound) strategy, nor its increasingly improved implementation that we see in Baghdad, but simply an American public that so far understandably cannot easily differentiate millions of brave Iraqis and Afghans, who risk their lives daily to hunt terrorists and ensure reform, from the Islamists of the Muslim Street who broadcast their primordial hatred for Israel and the United States incessantly.

The left keeps saying we have no strategy in Iraq, but the war in Iraq is part of our grand strategy. Infact the strategy for winning the war in Iraq is artuclated frequently by the spokesman for Multi-National forces-Iraq and the generals of centcom, but the anti war left never pays any attention to what they are saying. for example our current strategy is to deny the enemy his last battle spaces in Iraq by making it impossible for him to operate in baghdad and Ramadi. We are doing that by increasing our force to space ratio and increasing the safety of the neighborhoods.

Iraqis are happy to see the new US troop presence and do not want them to leave. They have rejected the Murtha prescription. The enemy still has the capacity to make things messy, but he does not have the capacity to defeat the US or the Iraqi army.

While the media keeps hoping for a civil war, it is getting something else. In a civil war factions fight each other for power. In Iraq there are no significant battles between competing factions much less battles with government forces. The Sunni and shia militias do not do battle with each other. What they do is kill non combatants of the others faith. This religious bigotry suggest genocidal ambitions, but the facts on the ground suggest they both lack the capacity to achieve their genocidal desires. They are both hoping that in the Saddam tradition they can intimidate the other side, but neither has his genocidal capacity or the mechanisms of the state to pull it off.


  1. It is nice to see all these conservatives taking the question of strategy head-on, this is where the conversation should be.

    I can't make out why he is suggesting Bush's strategy is objectively preferable to the "old calculus" of *absolute* victory before setting up the government of *our* choice. I know what motivates it in general (and in Bush's case): the altruistic feeling that it's our duty to sacrifice for the masses in the Middle East, and the refusal to believe that mysticism and statism are as popular with those masses as they have been proven to be by their actions across decades. The Middle East is not comprised of a Jeffersonian Virginian public which just happens, through no fault of its own, to be controlled by Koran-thumping or AK47-raising tyrants.

    That contemplation and forbearance are both too complex and too much to ask of a post-September 11 public

    In other words, the American "public" is too stupid to grasp how all this sacrificing of 20-year-old enlisteds -- for a people who put adherence to Islam right in their constitution and who continue to despise Israel -- is in our interest.

    On the Right the politicking works out with cynicism and disgust...

    How is it "politicking" to be disgusted that more American lives have been spent than absolutely necessary to secure American liberty?

    The unspoken notion that US soldiers rather than just Middle Easterners should die liberating the Middle East repulses many Americans, and that is, I believe, a great deal of what Bush is up against in public opinion.


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