About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Iraq isn't Vietnam, but that ain't no good news...
In Vietnam the US was waging a proxy war against the Soviet Union. It grossly miscalculated the necessary effort, as well as the support that its puppet government in South Vietnam really had, and ended up cutting its losses by withdrawing its troops. War lost, lives wasted, pride wounded, international credibility seriously affected – yes, those things are in fact in common with the outcome of the Iraq invasion.
But in Iraq the actual war has been won, in a matter of weeks. When Bush declared the cessation of ground operations three years ago he was, for once, telling the truth: the Iraqi army (such as it was) had been annihilated by the “shock and awe” approach of the most powerful military in the world. But that, as we now all too painfully realize, was just the beginning, not the end.
The reason Iraq isn't like Vietnam is because Iraq has become what Vietnam probably would have, had the US actually won on the ground. There, it never got to that point – fortunately, one might say in retrospect – and that's why any further parallel between the two situations is specious. Iraq has descended into a sectarian war where American troops are the common target, because they are hated by everybody. The number of Americans dying in Iraq is much smaller than those that lost their lives in Vietnam, but the Iraq quagmire – unlike the Vietnam one – has no end in sight.
So, what to do? Pulling out abruptly is not an option, first because we have a moral responsibility having caused this mess to begin with, and second because that would leave Iraq open to the influence of Al Qaeda and Iran, most certainly not welcome outcomes for either the US or the international community. Staying the course, as the White House used to say, is obviously foolish, and we keep seeing the consequences every day. “Surging” the troop level looks a lot like the gambler who has lost almost everything and desperately raises the stakes in the vain hope of getting his money back with a last desperate attempt. Seems like the only way out is a long process involving action on multiple fronts: phasing down military involvement, maintaining financial support to rebuild the country's infrastructure (which we have destroyed) conditional on the achievement of political goals, as well as rebuild international trust and engage the diplomatic help of Europeans, Iranians and Syrians, to say the least. Alas, something tells me that the latter approach is way too sophisticated for the cowboy running things from the oval office, as I'm sure we'll find out in a few hours when he will address the nation with his “new plan.” Is it 2008 yet?