Hoping for Failure?

Dean Barnett pens a sloppy diatribe:

The left and other anti-war figures like Andrew Sullivan have a lot invested in this war failing and failing miserably. They have a lot invested emotionally, intellectually and most of all politically. That's why they routinely dismiss or ignore good news out of Iraq and hype bad or even potentially fabricated news like the Thomas Diarists.

It's been interesting watching their tactics evolve over the past few weeks, from the publishing of the Thomas Diarists to the smearing of David Petraeus. Interesting, but also revolting.

There's no "smearing" of David Petraeus, so far as I can see. There's concern he's not a disinterested party in a critical debate. There is worry that by talking to partisans like Hugh Hewitt, he will only undermine his credibility. There is legitimate scrutiny of his forecasts in the past. The broader concern is that whatever small successes a decent counter-insurgency strategy might finally be having, it cannot work without many, many more troops throughout Iraq and without a political settlement. Taking small, local successes as an indicator of the inevitability of systematic, national success would be foolish. And patience is not unlimited.

Why is it not unlimited? Why can we not just stay in Iraq indefinitely until we get this right? The answer is because it is unclear whether this campaign is helping or hurting the battle against Islamist terrorism, and in so far as we have clarity, it suggests the Iraq front is making things worse. The answer is because this war was started on false pretenses, and has been conducted in such a way as to shred trust in the current commander-in-chief. The answer is because many of us do not want to see the US permanently occupying a Muslim country in the middle of the Arab world. The answer is because the bulk of the US military is being ground up in Iraq for minimal benefit. The answer is because a Petraeus campaign with 500,000 troops might have worked in 2003 but cannot work today, after the critical window of opportunity has closed, and Iraq has fractured irreparably. So for many of us, the question, after four dreadful years, is: how do we withdraw in as strategically a helpful a way as possible? And how do we minimize the future damage to our global and regional interests?

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Is there an element of emotional investment in having this war fail? No one enmeshed in a public debate this raw will be devoid of emotional investment. That goes for both sides. But it seems to me the question is moot. The war has already failed on its own terms, in its causes, its consequences, and its effects. WMDs? Democracy? Terror-reduction? The results are in, guys, after a conflict as long as the Second World War. The question is simply now the further consequences of the failure and the extent of the damage. And it seems to me that the bulk of the emotional investment is now on the side of the neoconservatives and Cheney-Republicans, fearful that their entire worldview has not just been detonated by recent events, but could be buried by history in the next few years. The phenomenal emotional need to be proven right after all, to goad those of us chastened by the evidence of four grueling years, to escape the tarnish of war crimes, and to rescue an entire movement from impending electoral and intellectual oblivion is surely stalking the current stage.

Our job is to look as dispassionately at the evidence as we can. This blog has, and this blog will: the good news as well as the bad.