Liberal bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall are furiously attacking my comparison between Iraq and Germany. “There are almost countless differences between the two historical situations,” Marshall writes. And he’s right. But that’s the way historical analogies work: They are always imperfect and partial, but nevertheless everyone uses them to draw conclusions about international politics. In fact, Marshall himself draws comparisons between Iraq and Germany in the very same post!
Needless to say, I wasn’t denying the substantial differences between the two historical situations. I brought up the analogy only in a very limited context–to demonstrate what I meant by a long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq. I didn’t mean years of fighting. I didn’t mean years of occupation. I meant years of the same sort of presence we have in Germany to this day.
Sullivan thinks it’s impossible to imagine that we could have this sort of long-standing military presence in the Mideast without perpetual fighting. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that the U.S. already has a string of bases in Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and other Middle Eastern countries. Having visited many of these installations I haven’t noticed a lot of fighting there. In fact they are peaceful and relatively uncontroversial. Granted, the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia was more controversial: Osama bin Laden cited it as a justification for his campaign of terrorism. But we now know that was simply a pretext, since his calls for violence in his homeland have not ended even though we have withdrawn our troops.
What I find curious is that neither Marshall nor Sullivan has commented on the other historical analogy I drew when I wrote that
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.
Lots of people couldn’t imagine when we first intervened in the former Yugoslavia that our troops would stay there for years and that they would not be violently contested. But that is, in fact, what’s happened. Obviously there are major differences between the Balkans and Iraq, which Sullivan and Marshall can no doubt cite ad nauseam. But those deployments also show the kind of long-term role that U.S. troops can play.
The broader point is that the success of American military interventions has usually been closely related to their length. The longer we stay, the more successful we are. When we get out too quickly–as we did in Haiti in the 1990’s–the situation often goes to hell. So if we want to secure a lasting victory in Iraq we need to stay around for a good long while.
But I get the sense that Marshall and Sullivan, like many of their antiwar compatriots, don’t really care about whether we win or lose in Iraq. They simply want to get out, and damn the consequences. That brings up another historical analogy that I’m sure they would rather forget: the way we pulled out of South Vietnam after the defeat of the North’s Tet and Easter Offensives when a decent outcome (namely the long-term preservation of South Vietnam’s independence) was within our grasp. A lot of antiwar voices back then said it would actually be good for the locals if we left, just as they now say it would be good for Iraq if we skedaddled. Tell it to the Vietnamese boat people or the victims of the Cambodian killing fields.