Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Where's The Reset Button On This War [Game]"?

Although I don't claim to have originated the idea, I have shared the perspective that some of the biggest proponents of the Iraq war seem to be confused about what a war entails, and appear to believe that if things go wrong they can press a "reset" button and start over, as if they were playing a video game. And now comes Thomas Friedman,
On Feb. 12, 2003, before the war, I wrote a column offering what I called my “pottery store” rule for Iraq: “You break it, you own it.” It was not an argument against the war, but rather a cautionary note about the need to do it with allies, because transforming Iraq would be such a huge undertaking. (Colin Powell later picked up on this and used the phrase to try to get President Bush to act with more caution, but Mr. Bush did not heed Mr. Powell’s advice.)

But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.
Oh, right. Try that at Pottery Barn. "I bought this vase three years ago and I've been using it the whole time, but it's leaking and I think that's because it was broken when I bought it. Can I get a refund?" You know what? It makes sense to be a more careful consumer, making sure that you know that you are buying exactly what you intend to buy, particularly when there's a huge sign over the cash register that reads "All Sales Final! Absolutely No Returns!" What's really going on here? Friedman doesn't want to take responsibility for his role in cheerleading the botched adventure in Iraq, so he's scrambling to somehow make its failure somebody else's - anybody else's - fault.

Friedman describes us as having two choices - Ten Months or Ten Years - pull out, or press the reset button:
Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch.
I don't actually believe that Friedman is seriously endorsing restarting the war. I think he's trying to put the alternatives in sufficiently stark terms (with his "plan for victory" sufficiently unrealistic) to force the choice of withdrawal. But whatever he thinks, he obviously anticipates that many of his readers will believe that we can still push the reset button.

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