Thursday, December 15, 2005

Images from a "failed state"? 

According to Juan Cole, Iraq is stillborn:
The LA Times probably reflects the thinking of a lot of Americans in hoping that these elections are a milestone on the way to withdrawing US troops from Iraq. I cannot imagine why anyone thinks that. The Iraqi "government" is a failed state. Virtually no order it gives has any likelihood of being implemented. It has no army to speak of and cannot control the country. Its parliamentarians are attacked and sometimes killed with impunity. Its oil pipelines are routinely bombed, depriving it of desperately needed income. It faces a powerful guerrilla movement that is wholly uninterested in the results of elections and just wants to overthrow the new order. Elections are unlikely to change any of this.

Cole, who is obviously a smart and knowledgeable scholar, would be a lot more persuasive if he did not constantly give the impression that he hopes that American policy in Iraq fails. While one might quarrel with every line of this pessimistic paragraph, I will confine myself to three.

Cole cannot imagine why anybody hopes "that these elections are a milestone on the way to withdrawing US troops from Iraq." Well, of course they are. If they result in the first broadly legitimate government in Iraq in more than a generation (if not ever), more Iraqis will defend it against the insurgency. Even if they want American troops out of the country -- and who, in the abstract, would not? -- victory will come when it becomes too dangerous to join the insurgency. That will happen when there are enough Iraqis who will risk themselves to turn the insurgents in. So, yes, these elections are a milestone even if they do not mean that most American troops will come home as quickly as the Los Angeles Times, the American people, the average American soldier and, yes, the typical Iraqi wishes.

Does Iraq have "no army to speak of," as Cole claims? Well, it certainly includes thousands of soldiers willing to die for the new Iraq. And who can forget this picture from the January elections? The caption reads, "[a]n Iraqi soldier crawls towards a polling station in an act of respect during his country's national elections in eastern Baghdad January 30, 2005." Whatever its poor showing prior to January, the new army of Iraq has not cut and run from a fight since that historic election. Now, when the new Iraqi army takes over an area from Americans, security improves. Is it so surprising that soldiers who crawl to the precinct out of respect are willing to fight in defense of the franchise? Is there any doubt that we and the increasingly legitimate government of Iraq are building a fighting force that, in the forseeable future (meaning a couple of years) will be able to secure those parts of the country that are not secure already? Will they need air support, supplies and advice? Yes. Will we need tens of thousands of Marines to patrol restive city streets? No.

The most annoying claim that Cole makes, though, is that Iraq is a "failed state." He uses this term because it is evocative and damning. But has the new government of Iraq even had the chance to fail? Isn't this a bit like declaring the United States a "failed state" in 1778, when it was still in a death struggle with the British? Yes, there is violence and corruption in Iraq, but are there not also a great many people who will risk themselves and their families in defense of it? Cole claims that its "parliamentarians are attacked and sometimes killed with impunity." Yet new parliamentarians keep stepping forward notwithstanding the mortal risks in doing so. Why? To defend a "failed state"? Of course not. Iraqis keep stepping up at enormous personal cost so that they can give birth to a new government. Having paid with their blood, they will be extremely reluctant to let it fail.

Does this man, who risked his own life and that of his daughter to vote (at least, according to the argument that the insurgency can kill Iraqis democrats "with impunity"), think that Iraq is a failed state? Cole -- or at least Nancy Pelosi -- would probably argue that he had to take her to the polls because Iraq lacks "affordable child care." But why, then, did he feel he had to go to the polls at all?


By Blogger Gordon Smith, at Thu Dec 15, 08:39:00 AM:

I think it's wonderful that the Iraqis are out votin' up a storm.

But it's hard to forget that we saw identical reports coming out of Vietnam years before we made our final withdrawl.

Voting does not equal success or stability. It's an important piece of an immense puzzle, but it's not the coup de grace.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Dec 15, 08:55:00 AM:

I don't think anybody says it is, Screwy. But Juan Cole says that it is crazy to think that it is even a "milestone," a term most people understand to mean "prerequisite," rather than "ultimate achievement."

You, apparently, disagree with Juan Cole, too! :)  

By Blogger tarpon, at Thu Dec 15, 11:28:00 AM:

It is a milestone onlyif the Defeatocrats don't get their way. We caanot withdraw until the task is complete -- like Germany and Japan, staying is the best course.

To think there was a time that Democrats stood for freedom and democracy for all.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Dec 15, 12:14:00 PM:

The beauty of declaring a nascent state "failed" already is that it's awfully hard to find any facts to contradict him with!  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Dec 15, 01:40:00 PM:

Someday, I'm going to get really peevish and spend an entire Sunday afternoon reading old Juan Cole archives. And then writing about the experience.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Thu Dec 15, 03:16:00 PM:

If you want to be technical, a failed state has to #1, already exist as a state, and #2, lose legitimacy to the point of socio-economic disintegration. i.e. fail.

I'd like to hear how this asshole would defend calling Iraq a failed state BEFORE the 1st fee Iraqi government takes control. Just because a phrase or buzzword gets used doesn't imply that the user knows what he's talking about or uses it correctly, you know.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Dec 15, 03:42:00 PM:

Dawnfire82, I could not agree more.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Dec 15, 05:30:00 PM:

...and somebody will remember his words

Not much of a danger there, I'd say.

And Dawnfire, at least warn me next time so I can put my drink down before reading your comment :D  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Dec 15, 09:07:00 PM:

Juan, at one time, must have been considered an expert in the Middle East. At least his CV would suggest that. But his Bush Derangement Syndrome has come to the fore in all his writings. He wishes for a failed state because he knows it is the only way that history will write the Iraqi war as a failure. And thus the Bush presidency. A walk through the archives of Juan's writings will show that he's been wrong about nearly everything that has happened in Iraq, and as a soldier currently in Iraq, I can attest to how wrong he is about this latest statement. I know that the political sciences are not as clearly right or wrong as are the hard sciences, but really, is a university helping its image when they have a professor who is so clearly wrong, all the time?  

By Blogger Tom DeGisi, at Fri Dec 16, 06:03:00 PM:

We did not see identical reports coming out ot Vietnam. It Vietnam the reports were generally that the elections were not free or reliable. At first we were propping up a minority Catholic in a country where there were more Buddhists and Cao Dai. Then he was overthrown in a military coup. Subsequent elections were widely regarded as completely corrupt.

In contrast, we have worked hard in Iraq to make sure the leaders are supported by the majority Shia and the next largest minority, the Kurds. Elections have generally been regards as fair, and not tampered with or marred by government intimidation.

No, people who claim this war is just like Vietnam usually are dead wrong about both this war and Vietnam.

As regards the failed state comment: from now on, let's refer to Juan Cole's graduate students as failed professors. After all, they don't have tenure!


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