Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Exit Strategy

"Looking for the exit" says Arnaud de Borchegrave.

What was the "exit" from Germany? How about the "exit" from Japan? Where's the "exit" from Kosovo?

We're all herd animals; we're all influenced by the people around us. In my town there is tremendous social pressure to ride one's bike to work and I find myself giving it serious consideration despite it's impracticality.

There seems to be a massive herd-movement among the East Coast intellectuals to abandon the Iraq war in midstream and pull back. This movement seems to be independent of ostensible political orientation. Not living on the East Coast, I am completely immune to this unseen social pressure and find it odd if not unseemly.

What could be going on here?

To some extent this reflects the "long march through the institutions" of the Vietnam generation. Many of the members of that generation are simply reliving their adolescence. As I've said before, the Central Lesson of the Vietnam War was, for many, that whenever the going gets tough all we have to do is withdraw our troops back to our own shores and everything will be fine. Is that true now?

The issue comes down to this: was this war optional? If it was, then we should never have entered it. Lives should never be thrown away on whims. If it wasn't, then there's only one "exit" possible: victory.

It has been argued, on the one hand, that Iraq is a battleground in the larger war and, on the other, that Iraq is a distraction from the war on terror. I believe that nearly everyone will agree that in al Qaeda we face an enemy unlike any other--a transnational military organization tied to no single state and yet possessing the resources and organization of a state. It is no wonder that we are confused. We have rules and procedures for dealing with "wars" with states and we have laws for dealing with criminals, but al Qaeda is neither of these.

My view is that the new Islamic terrorist movement has root causes. If we fail to deal with the root causes we can never win. Among the root causes are the endemic poverty and hopelessness of most of the Muslim tyrannies of the Middle East. Our safety demands that we deal with these cesspools, one way or the other, sooner or later. Sooner is better. One of these cesspools was in Iraq; it is now being dealt with rather efficiently.

My feeling is that most of the people now calling for "exit" from Iraq are really, subconsciously, calling for an exit from the war on terror. Subconsciously, what they really want is for the terrorists to go away. Well, who doesn't? They have convinced themselves that isolationism--let's call it by its true name--will be the sure path to safety. They have convinced themselves that an act of withdrawal from Iraq is really an act of withdrawal from the terrorist threat.

I can understand this.

The threat of random death from people whom one has never met who hate one's guts for no reason one can comprehend is a new experience for most Americans. An experience which didn't exist prior to the election of George W. Bush. We don't know how to live with this experience yet. It will take time to accomodate this new fact--the fact of instant, incomprehensible, irrational death--into our daily routines. This accomodation will be painful. It is a natural response to resist this accomodation, to believe we can avoid this pain, this horrible situation. It is natural to hope that relieving ourselves of George W. Bush will relieve us of the pain, that relieving ourselves of Iraq will relieve us of the pain.

Natural, but very very foolish.

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