Whatever happens in the wake of President Bush’s new Iraq strategy, one thing won’t: Saddam will not come back. This is not a statement of the obvious, or a lame joke. The power that dictators and their supporters acquire by actual acts of violence is augmented by fear—fear of their omniscience, their omnipresence, their indestructibility. In the worst cases, fear is transmuted into a servile love: If only Stalin knew, thought many prisoners of the gulag, I would be saved. The aura of fear is born as dictators rise to power, and lingers after they are deposed, so long as the dictator does. Saddam’s followers, and even the man himself, no doubt believed that he might come back, even from prison. And who could say they were wrong? If the final Götterdämmerung came to Iraq, who might make what deals with whom to save his own skin? Saddam’s skin is now past saving; his sons’ skins shriveled a while ago.
Yet his voice remains. As John F. Burns reported in The New York Times, the court where the trial of Saddam’s co-defendants goes on heard a recording of the dead man himself, discussing the good points of chemical attacks. (Poor Saddam—Nixon could have warned him: Just turn the damn tape recorder off.) “They’re very effective if people don’t wear masks.” “You mean they will kill thousands?” a minion asks. “Yes, they will kill thousands.” Hundreds of thousands, it turned out, by chemicals, bullets in the night, or the ordinary wear and tear of torture. It is possible that not even now is the daily death rate in Iraq higher than it was under the peace of Saddam Hussein, which was the peace of the tomb.
What has changed since our invasion in 2003 is that the monopoly of violence was broken up and replaced by a free market of evil actors. When we leave, if we leave in defeat, the violence will become much worse. We speak of the country splitting into three, Shiite, Sunni and Kurd, but partition is never easy. Ask Israel and the Palestinian Authority, or India and Pakistan. Ask the Confederate States of America. Breaking up is hard to do.
So President Bush, confronted with the tactical failure of the war, proposed new tactics. The news peg was the surge of 21,500 additional troops. Equally important will be rules of engagement that permit them to fight first and politick later. Before now, Mr. Bush said, “there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have …. This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light” to do what they have to do, “ … and Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated.” (It would be nice to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation.) The third equally important element may be the willingness to shut down terrorists and weapons coming from Syria and Iran. The day after Mr. Bush spoke, American troops raided an Iranian visa office in the northern city of Irbil, no doubt on the hunch that it arranged more than package tours to scenic Persepolis. The only W.M.D. Saddam got to use were lowly chemicals; the mullahs want the big bang. We will have to reckon with them soon; we might as well warm up now. In this regard, it is noteworthy that Gen. John Abizaid’s replacement at Central Command is Adm. William J. Fallon. If you expect to choke the Strait of Hormuz, go directly to the relevant service.
It is possible that there is yet another secret component to Mr. Bush’s strategy—secret perhaps even from himself. Could his hidden allies be Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy and Jack Murtha—the Democratic leadership, and the bug-out true believers at their left hands? I am neither a scholar nor a traveler, but I have bought rugs from Turks, Berbers and Arabs, and in every shop the pattern was the same: After all the viewing and little white lies and tactical nitpicking and glasses of mint tea, you only make the deal when you’re out the door. Not pretend out-the-door, but the-heck-with-it-I’ll-go-to-the-next-place out-the-door. Then comes the handshake. Is it necessarily a bad thing that the larger half of America’s elite and the voters who support it are out the door already? Of course, Congress may take direct control of the war power, as it did at the end of the Vietnam War. As the 20th-century scholar E.S. Corwin wrote, the Constitution “is an invitation to struggle for the privilege of directing American foreign policy.” Then it will be every Iraqi for himself.
In the casualties to come, from the brave men and women in uniform to basically everybody, if the bottom falls out, it is unseemly to speak of an idea, but let me risk it. President Bush’s second inaugural, and especially one sentence in it—“Eventually the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul”—was hammered by multiculturalists, paleocons and hard-headed supporters of Mr. Bush himself. They’re having a field day now. Mr. Bush told only part of the truth, and partial truths can be more dangerous than lies. But that does not drain them of the truth they do tell, which we should recover before consigning Muslims to wogdom and their world to friendly or unfriendly jailers.
The blood that flows in Iraq is not flowing from the Volk; it flows because of human nature, but it is not even yet flowing from local humanity as a whole. Specific actors, with specific goals, make it flow. They want power, and the money that comes from power, and they are willing to spend money and lives to get it. If they kill enough people along the way, then every man’s hand will be raised against every other man—and so would yours, in a similar nightmare. But most people most of the time want their daily bread, something for their children, and not to be beaten up by cops, goons or people who won’t let them shave their beards. Let’s kill as many bad actors as we can.
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