Wednesday, February 14, 2007

From Bad to Not-Worse?

Writing in the Washington Monthly, Robert Dreyfus takes on the conventional wisdom that an American withdrawal from Iraq will lead to worsening chaos and violence there. This idea is strongest, ironically, among the neocons who used to say that toppling Saddam Hussein would lead to a thousand years of golden peace and prosperity.

But if it was foolish to accept the best-case assumptions that led us to invade Iraq, it’s also foolish not to question the worst-case assumptions that undergird arguments for staying. Is it possible that a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces will lead to a dramatic worsening of the situation? Of course it is, just as it’s possible that maintaining or escalating troops there could fuel the unrest. But it’s also worth considering the possibility that the worst may not happen: What if the doomsayers are wrong?
This beautiful thinking makes the entire piece well worth reading. Not that Dreyfus thinks things are going to get better - it's more likely that they just won't get worse in the same ways. Al-Qaeda won't take over the country, a la 1990s Afghanistan, or even have much influence in a presumably Shi'ite-dominated country. Sunni-Shi'ite violence will probably continue, but may lessen when the antagonist of both parties - the United States - is out of the picture. Kurdish moves towards independence, which would shatter the country, will falter without that group's biggest patron (the U.S. again) around. And with American troops absent as targets and power-brokers, the regional powers - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Syria - will have to cooperate, if only tacitly or indirectly, to keep Iraq from imploding and spilling the war into their territories.

All in all, it's a massive "lesser of two evils" argument, but then again, less evil is less evil.