There is a Vietnam shadow on Friedman's grand strategy. Not many Americans would have supported a war solely to secure the factitious independence of South Vietnam. It took the original domino theory to justify the deaths of so many U.S. soldiers and the expenditure of so much treasure: if we don't stop "them"—the forces of international communism—in Pleiku we'll have to fight them in Pasadena. (President Bush has said the same thing about the terrorists attacking our troops in Iraq.) In Syria, for one, the dominoes have been falling the wrong way. At the height of "major combat operations," Pentagon hawks made noises about an incursion into Syria. The House recently voted sanctions on Syria for its support for terrorists. The Syrian dictatorship has used the U.S. presence in Iraq and the increased U.S. pressure on terrorism to crack down. "The situation enables the regime to say there is a danger of war," Haitam Maleh, a human rights activist, told The Financial Times. "We estimate there have been over 700 new [political] prisoners over the past year."
Maximalist goals tend to sanction maximum sacrifices. Suppose our goal in Iraq was modest: call it tenable stability—broadly representative government—in one country. That would be consistent with our interests in the Gulf. The region's governments have never been democratic, but they have kept the oil flowing for more than fifty years. Stable government in Iraq: what strategy could realize that goal? A plan was recently proposed that might. It would: turn Iraqi reconstruction over to the UN, which would have complete political control. The UN could draw in troops from around the world, and deal their host countries in on reconstruction contracts. reverse Ambassador Bremer's tragic decision to demobilize the Iraqi army. stand up some kind of Iraqi government tout de suite, to put an Iraqi face on the reconstruction. pull U.S. troops out of the Iraqi cities, where the attacks on them are hampering nation-building and killing three to ten Americans a week. Replace them with combined Iraqi and UN troops. And deploy the U.S. troops, in reduced numbers, to bases near Iraq's borders, to guard against infiltrating jihadis eager to turn Iraq into America's Afghanistan.
Not a bad plan—but, alors!, the French foreign minister proposed it, and according to a jolting recent Friedman column France is our "enemy." Enemy? Not of the families whose sons might get killed if we try to use Iraq to redeem the Middle East. Not of U.S. taxpayers, who would bear a lighter burden if the UN were doing the nation-building in Iraq. It is the enemy of the transformational agenda, however.
Friedman is a principled man with influence not only over Administration thinking but among people often opposed to Bush policies. "Even Tom Friedman..." In my circle that was a conversation stopper during the lead-up to war. "Well, if Tom Friedman is for war..." voices trailed off, second thoughts were thought. As a rare sane man writing about foreign policy—a man not besotted with power worship—he has moral credibility. To maintain it he needs to write a column on the costs of his vision, on its risks (Islamist democracies opposed to the U.S., for one), and on its feasibility that would help his readers judge the U.S. stake in the war after the war, which Friedman would be the first to agree has taken too many American lives.