Home/Daniel Larison/You Cannot Win Someone Else’s Civil War

You Cannot Win Someone Else’s Civil War

Yet that [withdrawal] is what many Americans now favor, perhaps because they have been persuaded that when Sunnis and Shites [sic] kill one another, Americans must be to blame. ~Cliff May

Really?  Persuaded by whom?  Which opponents of the war have claimed that the sectarian bloodbath is, except in the most general, indirect sense (i.e., because the U.S. government invaded Iraq and overthrew its government), the fault of Americans and that it would be solved by the departure of Americans from the scene?  We have, in the phrase of “Six Months” Friedman, “uncorked a civil war,” but I don’t know of anyone who thinks that our departure will convince the sectarian militias to stop slaughtering their enemies.  “Oh, the Americans are gone.  We can stop the killing now!  Everybody shake hands.” 

I assume that others also support withdrawing our soldiers from Iraq for the simple, common sense reason that our soldiers cannot stabilise, or should not be asked to try to stabilise, a country in which all the factions want to rip it, and each other, to pieces.  Put bluntly, if the Iraqis are going to kill each other, it ceases to make any sense to ask our soldiers to risk their lives for the sake of a foreign country when the country’s own inhabitants seem to have given up on it.  It is incumbent on those who continue to support this war to explain why it makes sense and why remaining is of vital and compelling national interest for the United States.  

It seems to me that they have thrown around every argument in the book for why it is such a vital interest for the U.S., and very few in the public are buying it, because it simply doesn’t add up.  “We cannot let Iraq become a failed state,” the war supporters intone.  The average American looks at Iraq today and has to ask himself, “If Iraq today isn’t already a failed state, what on earth does a failed state look like?”  The war supporter will then burble unconvincingly, “It could become worse!”  The American replies, “Okay, but worse for whom?  For us or for them?”  The war supporter would like us to believe that it will be worse for us when it becomes worse for them, but there are good reasons to think that preventing the wreck of our armed forces, extricating ourselves out of a spiraling disaster and retaining some initiative in the direction of our foreign policy (rather than having the implosion of Iraq dictate our policy in the region for the next decade) are positively good things for us, even though they will have lousy consequences for the Iraqis.  Considering that the present war supporters and opponents of withdrawal are the same people who have cheered on the policies that led to  the starvation, bombing and shooting of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, their sudden compassion and deep concern for the humanitarian effects of withdrawal are somehow less than compelling.  Having helped make Iraq into a charnel house, partly to serve their twisted “flypaper” idea, they now lament, “We can’t leave Iraq!  Look at the slaughter.  It’s becoming a charnel house!  We have to stay around to help make it into a nice fixer-upper.”  To that proposal many Americans and a vast majority of Iraqis say, “No, thank you.  America has done enough good in Iraq to last a lifetime.  It is time to go.”  If majorities in both countries involved think that it is time to call the whole thing off, there may well be something to the idea of withdrawing from Iraq.  However, the main reason, the crucial reason, is to keep any more Americans from dying for a cause that, whatever you may have thought of it in the past, serves no rational purpose and has completely ceased to serve the national interests of the United States.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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