"The real difficulty in changing any enterprise lies not in developing new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones." John Maynard Keynes
A ray of realism appeared in the confirmation hearings for Secretary of Defense nominee Robert Gates before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Gates himself said that the US was not winning in Iraq, a statement with which everyone agreed except the White House.
The US, however, is not out of the woods. The question remains: what will be the US government's response to the lost war and the terrible calamity that Bush has created in Iraq?
Many Americans are still fighting the Vietnam war. They see Iraq through the lens of the futile Vietnam misadventure and express their dismay that America will lose another war because "the Democrats will cut and run like they did in Vietnam." These Americans have forgotten that it was a Republican administration that got the US out of Vietnam and that it was the Democrats who committed the US to that conflict. Moreover, Democrats are not showing a cut and run propensity.
For example, Silvestre Reyes, the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says the US cannot withdraw from Iraq until it has dismantled the militias. Reyes wants to put 30,000 more US troops into Iraq to dismantle the militias. Reyes has forgotten that sending more troops was the Democrats' policy in Vietnam, a policy whose only result was that more Americans lost sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers.
Obviously, sending more US troops will not succeed in dismantling the Iraqi sectarian militias. However, a US attempt to dismantle the militias will result in the militias joining the insurgency and turning on the US troops. The situation would deteriorate, not improve. It is frightening that the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee does not understand this.
The appearance of a ray of realism about Iraq in the Senate Arms Services Committee does not mean that the US will escape catastrophe. At the Armed Services Committee hearing (Dec. 5), some senators said that US troops must not be used in a civil war between Iraqis, but that the troops have to stay until stability is created. Senators have the idea that US troops can be shorn of their combat role, but remain to train the Iraqi army so the Iraqi government can put down insurgency and civil war.
However, in civil war each side has a government and an army. Which side will the US support? If the US sides with the Sunnis against the majority Shiites, it will be throwing in its lot with the insurgency that has been killing its troops and find itself arrayed against the more numerous Shiites backed by Iran. If the US favors the Shiite majority, the US will anger its Sunni allies in the Middle East.
Indeed, civil war between Sunnis and Shiites, with or without US involvement, could easily spread throughout the Middle East. Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not the only country where Sunnis hold political sway over Shiites. By invading Iraq, stirring up extremism, and setting in motion sectarian violence, the Bush regime may have opened Pandora's Box of civil war throughout the Middle East.
The neoconservative Bush regime lacked the brains to understand that defeating Saddam Hussein's army would not give the US control over Iraq. Whatever minimum control the US might once have had is gone. The US army in Iraq has so little control that it cannot even provide sufficient security for President Bush to meet in Iraq with Prime Minister Maliki.
Since the US army has no control, provides no security, and does not know who it is fighting, US troops simply provide targets for insurgents. They are accomplishing nothing positive and should be withdrawn. US troops in Iraq serve one purpose: They are a provocation that foments Islamic extremism and creates dangerous instability throughout the Middle East.
The senators and Robert Gates haven't got this far in their comprehension. The question is whether they will see the light before US troops are forced to pay a higher price for their government's stupidity.
A minority of Americans still believe the US can defeat the Iraqi insurgency if only the US would use enough force. Americans hear this from neoconservatives and from the right-wing crazies of talk radio. These are the same Americans who believe the US could have won the Vietnam War by invading or nuking North Vietnam.
The US probably could have defeated North Vietnam on a one-on-one basis. However, just as General MacArthur's invasion of North Korea brought in the Chinese, a US invasion of North Vietnam would have been an extreme provocation for the Soviet Union and China and could have ended in nuclear war.
Many Americans have the absurd notion that the only limit to US power is the will to use it. This absurd idea provides the Israeli lobby with a vocal American minority that is easy to exploit in behalf of "standing tough" in the Middle East. The main reason that neither Republicans nor Democrats can come to their senses about Iraq and America's disastrous Middle East policy is that the Israeli Lobby will not let them.
Right-wing Israeli governments suffer the same delusion as neoconservatives about limitless US power. They believe that the power of their lobby can ensure that American power will be used to destroy all of Israel's enemies.
The US is likely to remain mired in Iraq until Israelis cast out this delusion. No amount of US power can make it possible for Israel to both steal Palestine from Palestinians and have peace. No number of US invasions of Islamic countries can win "the war on terror." As long as right-wing extremism prevails in Israel and as long as the US interferes in the internal affairs of Muslim countries, the formula for calamity remains in place.
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Paul Craig Roberts [email him] was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider's Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Click here for Peter Brimelow's Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.