Donnerstag, 22. März 2012

Disagreeing with Stephen Walt is way too much fun

Courtesy of the US Army
Stephen Walt is someone I hardly ever agree with. And I can say with some satisfaction that that has not changed today. Walt is taking it away by drawing ten lessons from the war in Iraq. First lesson, the United States lost, because it did not win in any meaningful way. In fact, Iran seems to have gained most, or so Walt argues. To which I simply have to reply this: Sure the United States did not remove any WMD, because there weren't any. So, they did not fail on that either. But today, Iraq is a relatively free country and beyond any shadow of a doubt it is better off than at any time under the awful regime of Saddam Hussein. Perhaps it would be a good idea to recall the Bush doctrine for a second. The 2002 NSS stated very clearly, I am paraphrasing here, that the survival of freedom at home increasingly depends on the fate of freedom abroad. If that is the benchmark—and I do think that in evaluating the Bush doctrine's impact we should at least partially apply its own goals—its cause has been advanced successfully. Sure enough, Iraq is not the sort of Switzerland democracy I would wish for in my wildest of dreams. But for the first time in a couple of decades there is now a path toward such a future for Iraq. Its also not true that Iran has gained most. In fact, in the long-run it might be said that Iran lost. Prior to the war in Iraq, Iran was the freest society in the Middle East (except of course Israel). People enjoyed more freedom and liberty in Tehran than any other capital of the region. That changed considerably, Tehran is today one of the least free places in the world and that, in the end, will bring down the Iranian regime. Iraq is exactly what the Iranian regime has to fear most. The place where the alternative to the Iranian regime and its system of the rule of the jurisprudent can now be formulated. But the quote that amused me most in Walt's article is this:

"The danger of this false narrative is obvious: If Americans come to see the war as a success--which it clearly wasn't--they may continue to listen to the advice of its advocates and be more inclined to repeat similar mistakes in the future."

If that would be a useful advise, we would have stopped listening to or reading Stephen Walt a long time ago. After all, Walt argued that the Arab Spring would not move beyond Tunis. Mearsheimer, who, after all, is a beloved colleague of Walt's, argued that NATO would not survive the end of the Cold War. Yet, NATO is alive and well and so is Mearsheimer. Put differently, be careful what you wish for. The remaining nine lessons are along the lines of “conterinsurgency is ugly”, so I won't dive into those. But I am going to add this: The lessons strangely omitted are these:
  1. If you happen to intervene, commit the necessary resources and time.
  2. Address the regional dimension before going in.
  3. Make sure you have the necessary resolve and the stomach to sell the war even if the going gets rough.   
If you cannot do any of that, you're probably doomed. President Bush did all that in Iraq, whereas in Afghanistan, President Obama did not, even though he referred to the war in Afghanistan as the 'necessary' one. 

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