It's quite a juxtaposition. In Iraq, American soldiers are finally beginning the hard job of establishing a measure of peace, security and order in critical sections of Baghdad -- the essential prerequisite for the lasting political solution everyone claims to want.And so he begins with a slur. Politicians in Washington can't possibly have any principled reason for opposing escalation in Iraq. If they are opposed to it, it is merely because they are seeking to rid themselves of a political problem they will face next year. It can't have anything to do the three and a half years of degradation and spiraling violence we've witnessed in Iraq. It is merely assumed that opposition is political opportunism. There are no honest and troubled politicians left in D.C.
Back in Washington, however, Democratic and Republican members of Congress are looking for a different kind of political solution: the solution to their problems in presidential primaries and elections almost two years off.
Resolutions disapproving the troop increase have proliferated on both sides of the aisle. Many of their proponents frankly, even proudly, admit they are responding to the current public mood, as if that is what they were put in office to do. Those who think they were elected sometimes to lead rather than follow seem to be in a minority.Another asumption is made. Adopting a pro-escalation approach in Iraq is "leadership", and "leadership" consists of doing exactly what the American people-clearly a bunch of rubes to Kagan-elected you not to do. Opposing the escalation isn't leadership, but merely following the whims of the American people, who clearly cannot be trusted on these great and weighty matters despite the fact that they have watched Iraq fall apart with their own eyes for three and a half years now. And yet our politicians should be ashamed, rather than "proud", to listen to the people who put them in office.
The most popular resolutions simply oppose the troop increase without offering much useful guidance on what to do instead, other than perhaps go back to the Baker-Hamilton commission's vague plan
for a gradual withdrawal. Sen. Hillary Clinton wants to cap the number of troops in Iraq at 137,500.
Perhaps Kagan undestands something of foreign affairs, though his approach to the Iraq war undermines that proposition. However, he does not understand domestic American politics. The last time I checked, none of these resolutions would actually result in anyone coming home. They are merely expressions of disapproval of the current plan to increase forces in Iraq. Congress may pass as many resolutions as they wish, but it is law that will dictate when and how the troops are redeployed or brought home. Congress is not to that point yet, and it is at that point that the many, many ideas about what to do otherwise in Iraq will be seriously considered. This is fairly obvious.
Kagan also resorts to the tried-and-true approach of many on the right now: "Well we may have broken Iraq, but what are you going to do to fix it?"
Other critics claim that these are political cop-outs, which they are. These supposedly braver critics demand a cutoff of funds for the war and the start of a withdrawal within months. But they're not honest either, since they refuse to answer the most obvious and necessary questions: What do they propose the United States do when, as a result of withdrawal, Iraq explodes and ethnic cleansing on a truly horrific scale begins? What do they propose our response should be when the entire region becomes a war zone, when al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations establish bases in Iraq from which to attack neighboring states as well as the United States? Even the Iraq Study Group acknowledged that these are likely consequences of precipitate withdrawal.First, this is a dishonest or ignorant characterization. Many critics of the escalation have provided alternative plans, from "redeploying" to "hunkering down" to a minimum level to maintain our influence and attack terrorist cells in Iraq. Such alternatives have been proposed many, many times. But Kagan disagrees, and so does not hear them, and does not or cannot acknowledge that drawing down forces is a prelude to a change in policy, not the new policy itself. Capping or cutting the number of troops would be part of an effort to force the Bush administration to change policy whether they want to or not. It would be necessary because the Bush administration refuses to heed the clear will of a vast majority of Americans, and insists on "leading" us into greater conflict in Iraq.
Second, and more importantly, Kagan makes the assumption that all pro-escalation advocates do, that any success in Iraq is a matter of will and has absolutely nothing to do with the forces of sectarian violence and chaos that oppose us. But it's very simple. In war, one side loses. Or both sides are forced to a stalemate. Or one side wins a "pyrrhic" victory, that is costlier than it is beneficial. The point is, there are may possible outcomes to war but in any contest between factions one side will prove to be more powerful or more determined, or one side will be found to lack the ability to impose it's will on the other. Or to put this more to the point, whether we "win" or not in Iraq is not entirely up to us, and was never entirely up to us. Even if we had done what many of us believed was necessary in the beginning, occupy Iraq with hundreds of thousands of troops, there is still the possibility that Iraq would have dissolved into chaos over a period of ten or twenty years, instead of merely three. And so, even if we send twenty-thousand troops into Baghdad now, it is entirely likely that the violence is so far beyond any control we can exercise that the escalation will proved to be a failure. This is what opponents of the escalation, myself included, believe. We are firmly convinced that there is no power we are willing or able to exercise in Iraq that is sufficient to reverse the trend towards greater violence. And since this is the case, it is absolutely pointless to send more of our soldiers to die. And that is why to us, it appears that the soldiers are being sent to die for wishful thinking, pride, stubborness, or any of the other reasons that people will refuse to admit to reality.
The last point is this: it is the advocates for war in Iraq, and the advocates for the escalation, Kagan included, who have been consistently wrong about everything that would happen in Iraq after the invasion. And so it is simply incredible to listen to the likes of Kagan turn around and demand that the Democrats and other opponents of the war provide some other solution to the violence, or means to extricate ourselves from this mess. It is not incumbent upon those who are opposed to the war to answer questions about what they think will happen next and what we'll do about it (though in fact they are, even if Kagan refuses to admit as much.) It is incumbent upon those who have been wrong at every turn, to credibly explain why they believe that twenty thousand more troops, and hundreds or thousands of more casualties, will manage to fix everything that has thus far gone so badly wrong despite the presence of 140,000 troops.
Unfortunately the debate about what to do with Iraq is filled with rhetoric like this, and worse ("defeatocrats" comes to mind.) If we are to ever move beyond the current stalemate in Iraq, in which our troops hang around but accomplish nothing, we must turn this language back on those who would subject us to endless war. Demand of them, in emails or in letters to the editor, to tell us how it is more of the same will do what four years of effort have so far not. Demand to know what comes next, when this escalation fails. Demand to know what they believe we should do when chaos in Iraq proves to be more powerful than our military. And demand to know why we should believe them this time, when they have been wrong all along.