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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Wednesday, November 12, 2003
The latest attack in Nasiriyah seems to indicate a pretty high level of sophistication from the enemy, both in tactics and strategy. A car ran off the road just before the main truck, successfully distracting the guards at the checkpoint and allowing the real attacker to go right up to the building.

Strategically, this is a clear shot against the US plan to bring troops in from other countries. No foreign leader is going to send forces to Iraq if he knows it will mean being held accountable for significant casualties. The burden is going to stay on us.

People still talk about winning, but I'm increasingly skeptical that that's possible any longer. Immediately after the war, pundits often spoke of a 'window of opportunity' which we had to use to fix Iraq before our presence there became untenable. That window now seems to be closed. What would winning mean? Pacifying the country? That seems out of reach - attacks are increasing and all the precedents from Algeria, Vietnam, the West Benk, etc suggest that you just can't win this sort of war by using force. For every enemy that you kill, two new ones spring up.

That can be prevented if we get the Iraqis to support us, but again this seems like a desirable but impractical goal. Every day we're there, the Iraqi people are enduring increasingly hostile contacts with the GIs on the front lines. It isn't the soldiers's fault - they're just trying to do their jobs and survive in a truly nasty situation where the enemy can't be identified and death could come at any moment without warning. But in a war like this, those confrontations can't be prevented, and they will gradually turn the people against us.

In either case, even if we have the support of most Iragis - at present we probably still do, at least to the degree that they oppose incidents like today's - it only takes a pretty small portion of the population to keep the pot boiling. And for a whole lot of reasons: the betrayal of Iraqis who rose against Saddam in 1991, the sanctions, Israel, the large and growing number who have had a relative or friend killed in the war or occupation, general xenophobia, there will always be a significant minority of Iraqis who loathe us.

Democracy in Iraq would be nice, but again to get there and actually make it work looks not only hard but perhaps impossible. There is no history of democracy and little visible desire for it. And in the few instances where local Iraqi democracy has sprung up on its own the CPA has been less than helpful.

At this point, I really don't see how we can get a better result than installing a new government that, while not democratic, would at least not be contemptuous of the rule of law. Something along the lines of Jordan, but not a Hashemite restoration. (The Hashemite dynasty, which is historically linked to Mecca, was given Jordan, then called Transjordan by Churchill during the Palestine Mandate as a reward for supporting the Arab Revolt against Turkey after al Saud drove them out of Mecca. Another Hashemite was named King in Iraq when the British occupied the country at about the same time. The Hashemites ruled in Iraq until a coup executed most of the ruling family in 1958.)

A failure in Iraq would be a failed state with no real government at all. a new dictatorship that would be comparable in brutality to Hussein, or permitting al Qaeda to establish a base of operations there. Also, any Iraqi government that tended to commit aggression against its neighbors would be a disaster, not least because it would encourage Iran to continue nuclear and other WMD development. Anything that isn't actual failure is about as close to a real success as we can probably hope for.