When War And Political Ignorance Collide

In The New Republic, Lawrence Kaplan has a piece up on how little the Democrats seem to know about Iraq. Iraq is a complicated country, and we need a political leadership that understands the situation there if they have any expectation of providing realistic solutions. Yet I doubt more than a handful of the Democratic caucus could identify the major cities in Iraq on map, could identify four of Iraq’s major ethnic groups, or have any idea of who the factions are in Iraq. For all the talk about how George W. Bush is an intellectual incurious leader, the Democrats are hardly setting a better example. Kaplan explains:

Obliviousness, after all, has its uses. It comforts the sensibilities of politicians whose varying levels of awareness allow them to favor certain facts and not others. Obliviousness testifies to the virtue and good intentions of members of Congress who, in truth, couldn’t care less what comes next in Iraq. It invites Americans to indulge in the conceit that what happens in Washington obviates the need to think seriously about what happens in Baghdad.

Most of all, illiteracy makes for good politics. There is the conviction, to paraphrase McCain, that winning a war takes precedence over winning an election. But it isn’t so clear that this conviction guides a partisan brawl in which the Senate majority leader can gush, “We’re going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war.” In such an environment, the subordination of facts to politics inform matters small and large, from the relatively trivial question of whether U.S. troops still operate in Tal Afar to enormous questions regarding the future of the U.S. enterprise in Iraq.

A lack of understanding leads to poor policy choices, as Major Owen West explains in a brilliant op-ed in The New York Times:

t’s hard for a soldier like me to reconcile a political jab like Senator Harry Reid’s “this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything” when it’s made in front of a banner that reads “Support Our Troops.” But the politician’s job is different from the soldier’s. Mr. Reid’s belief — that the best way to support the troops is by acknowledging defeat and pulling them out of Iraq — is likely shared by a large slice of the population, which gives it legitimacy.

It seems oddly detached, however, from what’s happening on the battlefield. The Iraqi battalion I lived with is stationed outside of Habbaniya, a small city in violent Anbar Province. Together with a fledgling police force and a Marine battalion, these Iraqi troops made Habbaniya a relatively secure place: it has a souk where Iraqi soldiers can shop outside their armored Humvees, public generators that don’t mysteriously explode, children who walk to school on their own. The area became so stable, in fact, that it attracted the attention of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. In late February, the Sunni insurgents blew up the mosque, killing 36.

If American politicians pull the marines out of Anbar, the Iraqi soldiers told me, they too will have to pull back, ceding some zones to protect others. The same is true in the Baghdad neighborhoods where the early stages of the surge have made life livable again.

The reality is that the Democrats have a profound ignorance of what’s going on in Iraq. For example, if the Democrats really believe that an American pullout would make Iraq safer, then how do they explain what happened in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Western Baghdad when American troops left and terrorists and thugs immediately took over. There can be little doubt that a precipitous American withdrawal would leave Iraq in chaos. The National Intelligence Estimate says as much, had anyone in Congress paid attention to it.

There’s a tragic irony here. The Democrats accuse the Bush Administration of using cherry-picked intelligence to make a decision for political advantage with horrendous consequences to the US and Iraq. And what are the Democrats doing now? Cherry-picking intelligence to justify a decision made for their political advantage that would harm the interests of both the United States and Iraq. If the Bush Administration had a disastrous headlong rush to war in 2003, the Democrats are pursuing an equally disastrous and headlong rush towards abject surrender in 2007. If the Democrats wanted to prove that they were wiser and more judicious leaders than their GOP counterparts, then they have failed.

The realities on the ground in Iraq are clear to all those paying attention. The surge is working, but the enemy is also surging. A successful counterinsurgency takes time, and can’t be achieved an an arbitrary timetable. Political and diplomatic reconciliation is impossible without a decent level of security for the Iraqi people. It is impossible to call for withdrawing troops but still chasing after terrorists in Iraq. Counter-terrorism requires boots on the ground, and we barely have enough troops in Iraq as it is.

In short, all the Democratic preconceptions about Iraq are faulty. If one accepts that the war in Iraq was bad policy to begin with, it still makes little sense to follow up bad policy with even worse policy. We are engaged with al-Qaeda in Iraq. That is the battlefield, and if we leave all the resources that al-Qaeda has been investing there will be free to be used elsewhere — including here. The Democrats embrace of a policy of preemptive surrender is the wrong policy and will leave America weakened and our enemies emboldened. Our political class is trying to micromanage a war in a country they know nothing about, based on faulty assumptions and blind ignorance. Getting us out of a war in such an irresponsible fashion makes no more sense than irresponsibly getting us into one — and given the stakes at play, may be even worse.