Liberals see Iraq as Vietnam Redux. But now in the (London) Spectator, Charles Moore compares the possible effects of a U.S. stand-down in Iraq to the effect of England’s failure of nerve at Suez — an idea both so striking and so distressing (especially in light of the midterm elections) that I am breaking Inkwell’s unofficial ban on discussing articles that require registration to mention it.
For those of you who might be hazy on Suez:
“Fifty years ago on Monday, Britain ordered its soldiers in Egypt to cease fire. An Anglo-French force, secretly colluding with Israel, had invaded because Nasser, the President of Egypt, had nationalized the Suez Canal. Militarily, our invasion was successful, but it caused international political outrage. America and the United Nations denounced it.
“The ceasefire was a humiliation for Britain, and marked the end of our leading, colonial role in the Middle East. The Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was discredited, and anyway became too ill to continue. In January, he resigned….”
The coming humiliation in Iraq, if it comes (we do have two years to solve the problems, and maybe we can solve a few) will likely signal to the world that we don’t have a stomach for war. Moore writes about the Bush-Blair vision for Iraq — and about the people who will now have the guts to stay the course. The “insurgents.”
“Bush and Blair were also right more broadly that the world after September 11 challenged America and her allies to create a different order. They had been the status quo power, and had been punished for it. Now America needed to become a transformational force in the Middle East. In this respect, the Vietnam comparison now being drawn is wrong. In Vietnam, America tried to prop up a collapsing order. In the Middle East, it seeks to create a new one.
“Everyone can see that it is not working properly. America and Britain were not ready from the start to back a strong provisional government in Iraq, and so were quickly seen as an occupying power rather than an enabling one. There were plans aplenty, but Mr. Bush never exerted his authority over warring Washington factions to get one plan agreed. The diplomacy was poor; there weren’t enough soldiers; there weren’t nearly enough people ready to rebuild the infrastructure.
“And now it is worse still because people can see the weakening of the will of the West. There isn’t much more that we dare do. As one Iraqi friend put it to me: ‘It won’t improve if your troops stay, and it will get much worse if they leave.’
“One hears that America, encouraged by the old-think of James Baker, is putting out feelers to Iran to find out what it wants in Iraq. A senior British official has just been to Syria. Expect some grand conference in which the terrorist-supporting powers of the region bargain with the West for spheres of influence in Iraq, over the heads of the people who actually live there and voted freely, in amazingly large numbers, for a government of their own. It is all very depressing.
“Today, everyone blames the neoconservatives. It reminds me of a remark by Daniel Defoe in the early 18th century that the apprentice boys of London have very little idea of what a Papist is, but thousands of them are more than happy to go out and break his windows. Who in Britain knows that neocons are a phenomenon of the Left and that neither George W. Bush, nor Dick Cheney, nor Donald Rumsfeld has ever been one? Indeed, devilishly clever though neocons may be, they can’t be very good at PR, for they were responsible for about five per cent of the action in Iraq and have attracted about 95 per cent of the blame.
“It is not mad ideology that got us into this war — or rather, the madness and the ideology come from our opponents, not from ourselves. If we do pull all our troops out, mock Blair and Bush, and hail some deal with Iran as ‘peace,’ we shall have a few weeks of self-congratulation, but that is all.
“The Islamist movements that wait to cheer our withdrawal are not militarily strong, but they are good at what they call ‘the management of savagery,’ and they know that the West’s attention span is much shorter than their own. It is a pity that we seem so determined to prove them right.”