Commentary Magazine


Klein and Sullivan

Joe Klein and Andrew Sullivan, who used to be for the war before they were against it, are having conniptions over my suggestion, itself made in response to an intemperate posting by Klein, that we need to make

long-term commitment in Iraq–for 100 years if need be, as John McCain has said. That doesn’t mean 100 years of fighting; clearly, that would be unsustainable. It does mean a long-term troop presence designed to reassure Iraqis of our commitment to their security against an array of enemies.

Klein accuses me of being a “squealer” and demands disingenuously: “So anything less than 100 years is precipitous?” Sullivan writes in a more ominous vein in a post entitled “The Mask Slips.” He sneers:

Their security? Heh. In fifty years’ time, the Iraqis will not be able to defend themselves against Iran? Or Syria? Please. If they’ve managed this much progress in the last year, we could be almost out of there in the next president’s term of office. Even under Saddam, the Iraqis weren’t defeated by the Iranian mullahs. Notice also how a few months of relative calm are instantly deployed to justify a century of occupation. Can you imagine what the next platform for invasion will be? And on what planet does Boot live to think that permanent US troops in the heart of the Muslim Middle East will not require endless, endless fighting?

This obviously isn’t about Iraq, as we are fast discovering. It’s about an ever greater American entanglement in the Middle East in part to secure oil supplies we need to wean ourselves off and in part a foolish attempt to protect Israel.

I could just imagine an Andrew Sullivan of the 1940’s writing something similar about Harry Truman’s crazy idea to station troops in Germany and Japan without an exit strategy: “In fifty years’ time, the West Germans will not be able to defend themselves against the Soviet Union? Or East Germany? Please.” As it happens, the West Germans wouldn’t have been able to defend themselves against a broad array of enemies without a long-term American troop presence. That presence has served other important goals too, namely reassuring Germany’s neighbors that it would never threaten the peace of Europe again and fostering Germany’s internal democratic development. But just because we’ve had troops in Germany and Japan for 60 years–and in South Korea for more than 50 years–doesn’t mean we’re occupying those countries. We are there are the request of democratically elected governments.

The same is true, whether Klein or Sullivan concede it or not, in the case of Iraq. The occupation of Iraq is over. Iraq has a sovereign government that, if it so desires, could tell us to get lost, and we would do it. At the moment the Iraqi government is giving us a hard time over the terms of future American commitment, but there is no denying that the government of Iraq does want and need an American troop commitment for the foreseeable future. Granted, the enemies that Iraq faces aren’t as formidable as the enemies that West Germany faced for so many decades, but Al Qaeda, Iran, and its various proxies are dangerous enough, and Iraq isn’t nearly as strong as West Germany was. In fact, Iraq is just now starting to recover from the early stages of a civil war–a civil war that would still be consuming countless lives if Sullivan and Klein had had their way and the surge (and related strategy changes) had never occurred.

Notwithstanding the surge’s success (which I am glad to see Klein is willing to concede), it will take many, many years before Iraq is strong enough to completely control its own territory without any outside help. And even then lots of Iraqis may well want an American presence to reassure competing sectarian groups that their historical enemies will not slaughter them. That is essentially the role that NATO troops still play in Kosovo and Bosnia, years after the end of the conflicts that brought them there. That is the kind of role I envision American troops playing in Iraq.

That does not mean that I think anything less than a commitment lasting a century is inadequate. Obviously when I (or John McCain) refers to “100 years” that is a figure of speech meaning “a long time,” or more accurately “however long it takes.” McCain has talked about his desire to substantially reduce the U.S. troops presence during his first term in office, and, if progress continues at the rate we’ve seen in the past year, there is no doubt we can pull out a lot of our troops. But that doesn’t mean that we can safely carry out the Barack Obama plan–all brigade combat teams out within 16 months. That would be a course of action likely to send Iraq back to the brink of civil war, if not over the edge entirely.

Such a misguided policy would have many consequences. It might well ignite genocide in Iraq, destabilize its neighbors, export terrorism—and, yes, endanger the world’s supply of oil. What is wrong with trying to protect the world’s oil supply especially at a time when demand is as tight as it is? How does Sullivan get from Washington to his vacation hangout in Provincetown, Massachusetts? Does he walk? Bicycle? Ride a donkey? I am guessing he goes by car or airplane–rather important transportation devices that just happen to run on oil, not on carrot juice or granola. I too would love to make oil irrelevant, but that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, oil remains vital to the world’s economic well being, and the Middle East remains the world’s leading depository of the stuff. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the U.S. to play a central role in safeguarding the security of the Middle East. That will require a long-term military commitment of the kind we’ve long made in numerous countries such as Qatar and Turkey and that we are now making in the case of Iraq.

Please note that I am not endorsing the half-baked conspiracy theories which hold that the U.S. went to Iraq to grab its oil. Not surprisingly, we have done nothing of the sort; the government of Iraq is collecting its own oil revenues, not the United States. We don’t even get to fill up our Humvees–which are there to safeguard the people of Iraq–for free. But preserving the flow of oil is one of many objectives the U.S. has in Iraq. And the problem with that is . . . what precisely?

I don’t have much to say about Klein’s gobsmacking accusation, which Sullivan endorses, that American Jews who supported the Iraq War or now support firm action against Iran are putting Israel’s interests ahead of America’s. Like Jennifer Rubin, I am simply astounded to hear the old “divided loyalties” canard hauled out by commentators not named John Mearsheimer, Steven Walt, Pat Buchanan, or David Duke.

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