In Billmon's penultimate post, he draws our attention to this quote from Condi Rice:
This [Iraq] is a country that is worth the investment because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilizing factor, you'll have a very different kind of Middle East. And I know that from the point of view of not just monetary costs, but the sacrifice of American lives, a lot has been sacrificed for Iraq, a lot has been invested in Iraq.Billmon points out that to speak of American soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq as an "investment" seems cold and heartless. True enough, but that's not what I'm going to write about either.
The bit that really caught my attention was this:
once it emerges as a country that is a stabilizing factor, you'll have a very different kind of Middle EastI've heard and read variations on this assertion countless times before. For various reasons I've never really focused much attention on this particular assertion, but I think it is long overdue for careful scrutiny.
Certainly no reasonable person would question the potential for a broken, war-torn Iraq to have a destabilizing influence on the region. But what would it really mean for Iraq to be a "stabilizing factor?"
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment a magical world in which a reverse-Murphy's-Law begins to operate in Iraq. If anything can go right it will. Sunnis and Shiites see the futility of civil war and stop fighting each other. Insurgents from other countries pack up and go home. The infrastructure is repaired and made better than it ever was before. Free and fair elections are held, and the losing parties accept defeat gracefully and vow to work within the system to try to achieve their goals. The Iraqi police and armed forces become exemplary keepers of the peace, able to maintain civil order and protect against foreign threats.
Heck, while we're at it, let's even imagine that we find a huge stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles with the latitude and longitude of major U.S. cities programmed into their tracking systems, thus proving that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was entirely justified. Having disarmed these weapons, the coalition forces are able to go home, secure in the knowledge that the flourishing democracy that Iraq has become is safe and secure.
Gee, that sure would be great, wouldn't it?
But I still don't see how it would make Iraq a "stabilizing factor" in the region.
How, specifically, would the fact that things are going swimmingly in Iraq make the fundamentalist ayatollahs in Iran any less crazy? Would the Palestinians stop fighting the Israelis and each other simply because the people over in Iraq are savoring their freedoms? Is anyone seriously suggesting that Hezbollah terrorists in Syria and Lebanon would lay down their arms and espouse nonviolence purely out of a desire to emulate the peaceful, democratic ways of their Iraqi neighbors?
I'm not saying that a peaceful, stable, democratic Iraq wouldn't be a great thing; it sure as hell would. But first and foremost it would be a great thing for the people of Iraq. And for that reason and that reason alone I hope some policy genius comes up with some way reversing the downward spiral of violence and chaos in Iraq.
Let's stop imagining the Middle East to be some sort of Rube Goldberg contraption where the stabilization of Iraq magically leads to the establishment of democracy in another country, then another, then another. Instead, let's put all talk of broader strategic aims aside and put our heads together and see if there is any way, whether by leaving or by staying, by working with our friends or those we call our enemies, to undo even in small part the mess we have made of Iraq. And let's do it for the Iraqi people. Because they deserve it, and we owe it to them.