Over at Volokh, Orin Kerr posts three challenges to hawks.
First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?
Yes I do, for exactly the same reasons that I gave before the invasion:
…a part of what I have realized is that as long as states – particularly wealthy states – are willing to explicitly house terrorists and their infrastructure, or implicitly turn a blind eye to their recruitment and funding, we can’t use the kind of ‘police’ tactics that worked against Baader-Meinhof or the Red Army Faction. The Soviet Union and it’s proxies offered limited support to these terrorist gangs, but they didn’t have a national population to recruit from and bases and infrastructure that only a state can provide.
So unless we shock the states supporting terrorism into stopping, the problem will get worse. Note that it will probably get somewhat worse if we do…but that’s weather, and I’m worried about climate.
I believe that a sufficiently aggressive terrorist action against the United States could well result in the simple end of the Islamic world as we know it. I believe that if nukes were detonated in San Pedro and Alameda and Red Hook that there’s a non-trivial chance that we would simply start vaporizing Arab cities until our rage was sated.
I’d rather that didn’t happen. I’d rather that San Pedro, Alameda, and Red Hook stayed whole and safe as well, and I believe the answer is to end the state support of terrorism and the state campaigns of hatred aimed at the U.S. I think that Iraq simply has drawn the lucky straw. They are weak, not liked, bluntly in violation of international law, and as our friends the French say, about to get hung pour l’ecourager les autres…to encourage the others.
You’ll note that the pattern of state behavior by Arab states over the last 18 months has been overall positive; from Libya to Lebanon, we are seeing baby steps away from the abyss. Pakistan is apparently allowing US experts to ‘safe’ their nukes against theft as it negotiates with India. The Palestinian Authority PM is questioning their strategy of terror.
Clearly there are nonstate actors who are fighting us with all their power, and will continue to do so until they run out of resources, people, or will. But they are not being and will not be fed at the rates that supported their growth in the last decades.
Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?
I expected it, since history happens in historic time – rather than according to the faster pace of television news cycles. It’s obviously tragic – and more so since I do believe that some severe missteps in the beginning of the occupation opened the door to wider unrest. But this is going to be a contest of sitzfleisch more than cleverness. I worried about that as well – also before the invasion:
How do we do this in a way that won’t mean that we’ll be back next year, and the year after, and the year after that?
Because otherwise, we’re playing King Canute, lashing the tide as a demonstration of the limits of our worldly power. We can push back our enemies. We can weaken them. We can even kill them all, if it comes down to that.
But can we stick this out long enough to make peace with them? Or rather, to fight them hard enough and long enough and still have the stomach and heart to offer the average person on the ground in Tikrit or Jakarta something worth living for? Because that’s what it will take to have a chance that they will make peace with us.
This is uncharted territory. I can’t think of an example in modern history where it has worked.
I think we’ll readily win the clash of arms. But as the Israelis have discovered, I believe that this is more a war of stomach, heart, and backbone than one of arms.
Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?
I doubt that there are very many indicators that will operate over a period of months that will be terribly fruitful in the overall strategic evaluation (as opposed to evaluating the tactics that make up the overall strategy). I think we need to set a timescale in increments of a decade; we’re still in Germany a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I think the macro indicators are three: the rise of a just civil society in Iraq (I think the democracy there is going to be damn imperfect, even by Florida standards); the commitment of the American people to that goal (just civil society in Iraq, by means that may change as circumstances unfold); and the commitment of the Iraqi people to that goal (i.e. what we’re seeing now is neither a mass uprising nor an attack by an organized skilled, well-equipped foe – which suggests that overall, the Iraqi people are – if not on our side, not violently opposed).
I think the short term metrics are the classic ones; electricity availability, kids in schools, hospital beds functioning, crime, the level of insurgent violence. But those will spike and ebb; we can’t be panicked by the spikes and we can’t get cocky because of the ebbs.
I think that most of all, a sense of realism about the scale – in effort and in time – of the project we are engaged in is necessary. Bush hasn’t done that, and that’s arguably his biggest vulnerability.