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March 31, 2008

That Wacky, Wacky Max Boot
Posted by Michael Cohen

There is so much wrong with Max Boot's op-ed in today's Washington Post it's hard to know where to begin in critiquing it, but I think this paragraph provides a pretty good jumping off point:

An early American departure is the last thing that most Iraqis or their elected representatives want. (In a recent ABC/BBC poll only 38 percent of Iraqis said that coalition forces should leave at once.) It would be cheered, however, by our enemies in al-Qaeda, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere. Just as Islamist militants were emboldened by the Soviet Union's retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, so they would be encouraged by our premature departure from Iraq. Once we were out of Iraq (which Gen. David Petraeus has called "the central front of al-Qaeda's global war of terror"), they would be able to devote more resources to other battlefields such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This notion that "our enemies in Iran, Syria and Al Qaeda" will be cheered by an American "retreat" from Iraq, is classic neo-conservative obfuscation - conflating all of our supposed enemies as if the threat from them is equal. Is Syria and Iran's threat to America on par with Al Qaeda? Of course not. Syria and Iran may not like America, but so what - neither country is actively plotting to attack the US mainland. Iran is likely supporting groups that are attacking American troops in Iraq, but if our troops were not there it's hard to see why Iran would prod a much bigger enemy with pointless terrorist attacks.

Indeed, whatever Gen Petraues or George Bush or John McCain say about Iraq being the central front in the war on terror the FACT is that Afghanistan and Pakistan is where AQ is at is strongest.  Leaving the quagmire of Iraq, where AQ has been dealt a pretty harsh blow by Iraqi Sunnis (a fact readily trumpeted by neo-cons like Boot) and focusing on AQ's presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan would actually do enormous damage to Al Qaeda's ability to wage its war on America. It may seem hard to remember five years later, but protecting America against terrorist attack was supposedly the key motivation for going into Iraq in the first place.

It is simply the height of comedy that Boot argues our leaving Iraq would allow Al Qaeda "to devote more resources to other battlefields such as Afghanistan and Pakistan" all the while ignoring the fact that it would also allow America to devote more resources to these two battlefields.

Of course, Boot and other neo-cons argue that America leaving Iraq would be a public relations boon to Al Qaeda and they would be emboldened as they were after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. This is regular refrain from President Bush and Senator McCain. But it's also a pitch perfect example of the phenomenon that Zbigniew Brzezinski describes in the Sunday Washington Post, "The case for terminating the war is based on its prohibitive and tangible costs, while the case for "staying the course" draws heavily on shadowy fears of the unknown and relies on worst-case scenarios."

In all honesty, who really cares if Al Qaeda is emboldened by us leaving Iraq? These guys sent 19 young men on a suicide mission to destroy the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Capitol - don't you think they are already pretty emboldened to attack America? They can be emboldened all the want, but if they have the full force of American military and diplomatic power aimed to destroying them it ain't going to do them a lot of good. I know neo-cons love historical analogies but the reason why Al Qaeda was successful after the Soviets left Afghanistan is not because they were necessarily emboldened. It's because Al Qaeda was allowed to develop a base of operations in Afghanistan as the United States and others dropped the ball and let the place fall apart. To paraphrase Snoop, "emboldened ain't got nothing to do with it." Moreover, didn't Vietnam teach us that staying in military quagmires to maintain US credibility is a self-defeating proposition?

Finally, Boot make the more astounding claim, in critiquing Brzezinski's Sunday piece, that "he simply takes it on faith that the risks of withdrawal are smaller than the costs of commitment." For any supporter of this war to criticize a war opponent for making a cost/benefit argument is rich indeed. This entire war has been based on the utterly misguided notion that the benefits of going to war in Iraq would outweigh the costs.
Even if Iraq turned into a Jeffersonian democracy tomorrow, could anyone realistically argue that this "benefit" justifies the extraordinary "costs" that America has been forced to bear over the past five years? I think not. And of course, the possibility of Iraq turning into a Jeffersonian democracy anytime soon seems pretty slim indeed.


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Would you believe it? Max skipped some Iraq poll data.

58% disapprove of PM Maliki
70% say the US forces have done quite a bad job or a very bad job
72% somewhat or strongly oppose US forces
53% say security is made worse when US forces are present
42% say attacks on US forces are acceptable
63% say they are not very safe or not safe at all in their neighborhood
36% say they would leave the country if they could, and almost half of those have current plans to do so
69% say that security would improve or stay the same if US forces left the country entirely

Even if Iraq turned into a Jeffersonian democracy tomorrow, could anyone realistically argue that this "benefit" justifies the extraordinary "costs" that America has been forced to bear over the past five years? I think not.

Good point. But even more significant are the staggering costs that have been born by Iraqis themselves: somewhere in the vicinity of a million excess deaths; 4 million or so refugees; millions of additional physical casualties and blighted lives, an economy devastated; organized crime, including murderous extortion and kidnapping rackets run rampant; streets running with human waste for five years; and priceless historical artifacts from the cradle of civilization destroyed by the heedless, loutish roughnecks of a young and arrogant child-nation. The name "Iraq" will stand the test of time as a word with which to conjure: the watchword of a barbarous imperial atrocity mentioned in the the same breath as Algeria, the Belgian Congo, the partition of India and the Mau Mau revolt.

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