There are no good answers in Iraq

by Tom Ricks

Susan Glasser's approach in underlining out some interesting aspects of the book leads to a larger point about it that occurred to me only after I finished writing it. To me, The Gamble was much more of a revelation than Fiasco. That is, when I wrote the earlier book, we all knew the major events that needed to be described-the invasion, the rise of the insurgency, Abu Ghraib, First Fallujah, Second Fallujah, and so on. But the events covered in The Gamble were much more obscure. There were many reasons for this. American attention had wandered and the media was kind of baffled by the surge. Much of what was significant wasn't fighting but talking, and much of that was happening in private.

"If we couldn't win under the best circumstances we can reasonably expect, why linger on?" 

Because, I think, we have to, despite the meager outcome that I expect, which Stephen Walt limns well. I don't like the idea anymore than Walt does. I think that invading Iraq  preemptively on false premises, at the time that we already were at war elsewhere, was probably the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy. Everything we do in Iraq is the fruit of that poisoned tree.

But I think also that there are no good answers in Iraq, just less bad ones. I think staying in Iraq is immoral, but I think leaving immediately would be even more so, because of the risk it runs of leaving Iraq to a civil war that could go regional. That is, I don't expect much to be gained by staying, but I think much, much more could be lost by leaving right now. Just pulling out unilaterally reminds me of Jerry Rubin's comment back in the 1960s that after the revolution, he would just "groove on the rubble."

I'm old enough to remember Jerry Rubin, and Barack Obama is no Jerry Rubin. So I think he will have troops fighting and dying in Iraq for many years to come. Yes, he will get the troop numbers down. But no, he won't get out.

This is the question I'd like to pose back to Messrs. Drezner, Bose, Lynch and Walt: Should we try to mitigate the damage we have done to Iraq and the region, and if so, how?