Entry from December 5, 2008

Jennifer Rubin on the Commentary blog, “Contentions” quotes extensively from the column of Charles Krauthammer in this morning’s Washington Post on the famous victory for American arms and American diplomacy in Iraq. “Every conventional wisdom has been turned on its head,” she says:

The vilified George Bush did largely accomplish his goal of liberating an entire nation. A democratic regime can function in the Middle East. And there was in fact a military “solution” — one that preceded the political reconciliation. Each of these propositions was hotly disputed by the man who is now President-elect, who rose to power on the promise to end the “disastrous” war.

Now we know, she adds, on account of what the Bush-Petraeus strategy has accomplished, that “radical clerics don’t have the last say unless the population passively consents. There is another route, one which Muslim countries can freely choose for themselves. What more need be said?”

All this is true, of course, and yet there is something more that needs to be said. It is that the other route for Iraq has existed because of the presence there of large numbers of American troops. Now that the Bush administration has reached agreement with the Maliki government on the departure of those troops — and so spared the grievously mistaken Barack Obama from suffering the consequences of his mistake — the question remains of what will happen when they are gone. Bobby Ghosh in the magazine Time foresees the distinct possibility of a civil war between Kurd and Arab and Turkoman over control of Kirkuk and the rich oil-fields thereabout. Obviously, there are many other potential flashpoints between Sunni and Sh’ia, who could easily return to the civil war of a couple of years ago.

We cannot know what will happen but, whatever it is, we can be sure of one thing — that we will be in no position to do anything about it. For what may well turn out to be more important than the Bush legacy of freedom to the Iraqis is the meta-legacy of America’s inability to project force abroad for anything short of an existential threat to our own existence for the foreseeable future. What is actually happening on the ground in Iraq, for good or ill, will prove to be of far less long-lasting importance than the discredit in the world’s diplomatic and military markets that intervention has suffered as a result of the Iraq adventure. I would agree with those who say that this is monstrously unfair, both to America and to the good intentions and the fine accomplishments of the Bush administration. Nevertheless, it remains the fact.

It is also tragically unfair to the people of Darfur or the Congo or Zimbabwe or any of a dozen or so other moral and political “black holes” (as Bernard-Henri Lévy calls them) around the world where a small amount of American intervention could do a very large amount of good. Only today The Washington Post reports the latest visitation of disaster upon the poor people of Zimbabwe: an epidemic of cholera. The Times of London a couple of days ago reported that even the police there are begging for food. That must be the very definition of a failed state. But so much misery can’t be classified as genocide, exactly, so there will be no swinging into action of the “never again” crowd — even supposing that they would swing into action if there were a genocide. And yet it could all easily be put to rights with a ridiculously small military outlay by the west. A single brigade would probably do the trick

But the temperature of the rhetoric, led by the international left, against the Iraq war together with the reigning academic mythology about colonialism, prevents anything being done when it would be relatively easy to do something. Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice in Copenhagen is saying that “”It”s well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave.” Ya think, Condi? Such embarrassing impotence well becomes Richard Nixon’s “pitiful helpless giant.” But we’d better get used to it again. We’re in for a long spell of Jimmy Carterish bleating and hand-wringing about world problems that we are powerless to do anything about. That’s what more there is to be said.

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