Home > Uncategorized > William F. Buckley on Iraq — It Didn’t Work

William F. Buckley on Iraq — It Didn’t Work

It Didn’t Work
By William F. Buckley
The National Review

Friday 24 February 2006

“I can tell you the main reason behind all our woes – it is America.” The New York Times reporter is quoting the complaint of a clothing merchant in a Sunni stronghold in Iraq. “Everything that is going on between Sunni and Shiites, the troublemaker in the middle is America.”

One can’t doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. The same edition of the paper quotes a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Reuel Marc Gerecht backed the American intervention. He now speaks of the bombing of the especially sacred Shiite mosque in Samara and what that has precipitated in the way of revenge. He concludes that “The bombing has completely demolished” what was being attempted – to bring Sunnis into the defense and interior ministries.

Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven’t proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.

The Iraqis we hear about are first indignant, and then infuriated, that Americans aren’t on the scene to protect them and to punish the aggressors. And so they join the clothing merchant who says that everything is the fault of the Americans.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elucidates on the complaint against Americans. It is not only that the invaders are American, it is that they are “Zionists.” It would not be surprising to learn from an anonymously cited American soldier that he can understand why Saddam Hussein was needed to keep the Sunnis and the Shiites from each others’ throats.

A problem for American policymakers – for President Bush, ultimately – is to cope with the postulates and decide how to proceed.

One of these postulates, from the beginning, was that the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom.

The accompanying postulate was that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymkers to cope with insurgents bent on violence.

This last did not happen. And the administration has, now, to cope with failure. It can defend itself historically, standing by the inherent reasonableness of the postulates. After all, they govern our policies in Latin America, in Africa, and in much of Asia. The failure in Iraq does not force us to generalize that violence and antidemocratic movements always prevail. It does call on us to adjust to the question, What do we do when we see that the postulates do not prevail – in the absence of interventionist measures (we used these against Hirohito and Hitler) which we simply are not prepared to take? It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn’t work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism.

Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy.

He will certainly face the current development as military leaders are expected to do: They are called upon to acknowledge a tactical setback, but to insist on the survival of strategic policies.

Yes, but within their own counsels, different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.

  1. Bob from San Luis
    March 1, 2006 at 9:39 am

    President Bush may have had the best of intentions regarding Iraq, but he trusted too much those around him who offered many reasons why going into Iraq would be a good idea, but didn’t listen to those who had the experience and training to either know better, or, at least would have done it better. History may be kind to Bush, but linking all of the signatories from PNAC with many in the Administration may show the perceived (by many) arrogance of a group who thought the world was their pearl, ripe for the grabbing. Probably the worst possible interpretation for the motivations at work here is the perception that greed was an overriding consideration. In chaos, theft, larceny, out-right stealing and shady deals can proceed with no over sight. Did that happen in Iraq? We may never know the whole story, what with $8.8 Billion missing, many contracts for rebuilding not completed, and reports of helicopters delivering “bricks” of cash in amounts of $1 million to persons unnamed in desolate areas, with no receipts, no accountability, just being loaded into trucks that were driven out into the desert. Why was this allowed? Who benefitted? While I will not denigrate the service of those in uniform, the abuse of prisoners was appalling, and to put the onus on just the enlisted personal is once again disowning the responsibility for the actions of a few who may have been trained in techniques that are illegal, but were pushed by this Administration, justified by counsel, refined at the Guantanamo prison in Cuba. I think that most who chose to sign up and serve did so honorably,it is unfortunate that the taint of abuses has diminished to a degree what many have accomplished in trying to do the right thing. Was there rebuilding done in Iraq? By all reports (the few that have been put out), the military has done a lot of great work. The unfortunate situation that has unfolded is that much of what the service people did accomplish has either been undone by insurgents bent on claiming a religious majority or the rebuilding was far from setting right what was demolished when the invasion first took place.
    To those who proudly claim that George W. Bush has and is doing the “right” things to protect America, I ask you to explain how is it that our occupation of Iraq has turned so badly, so quickly, if everything the President has told us has been true.
    Do I love America? Undeniably. As an American who believes that we can do the right thing, I have to take issue with what has been done in our name. Do I believe that we as a country have allowed a grave injustice to be perpetrated in our name, for unclear motivations, without enough planning, preparation or resources allocated to do what was supposed to be done? Absolutely. President Bush embarrasses me; not because he may not speak clearly sometimes, not because he doesn’t believe in the causes he tried to take up, no, what I can’t swallow is his allowing himself to be mislead by his advisors, his cronies and backers into taking on a monumental task without being honest about what was going to be needed, about how much many would have to sacrifice, and that it could all be done with little or no pain or inconvenience to most Americans. George W. Bush’s biggest problem, in my opinion, is that he is gullible, and has been allowed to think that he can’t do anything wrong. President Bush, your reality check is here now, and the bill is due.

  2. Rich from Paso
    March 1, 2006 at 6:06 pm

    Bob and everyone: I am awaiting an e-mail from my Iraqi friend who is Shia to find out from him exactly what the state of affairs is on the ground in Iraq. When that e-mail arrives here in the next day or two, I will post what he says for you all to read.

    That having been said, I caution everyone to slow down and wait before jumping up and down and saying “See, I told you so, I told you so.” Yes, there is chaos in Iraq right now. There are revenge killings and bombings, but I would also remind everyone that the Grand Ayotollah Sistani (no Iranian connections by the way) and other Sunni and Shia leaders are calling for calm. The Sunni are coming back to the bargining table for the negotiations for a coalition unity government. The bottom line is that in my opinion, Mr Buckley and others dramatically understate or just don’t know how badly the Iraqis wish to self-govern together. There will be no civil war, period. It is suicide for the 20% Sunnis to take on the 60% Shia pure and simple. The only winner in a Shia-Sunni civil war are the Kurds that will sit it out and solidfy their “semi-autonomous” status for all time.

    Two final points: My very wise Brigade Commander in Iraq said that a war is never over until the enemy says it is over. That is a fact of life for every insurgency.
    Two, the United States did not cause or incourage the bombing of that mosque. The cowardly insurgents did it as a means of trying to create the civil war that the insurgents and, apparently, those rabid anti-Bush, anti-war people said would happen. The casualty figure would be higher if there was going to be a civil war.

    So, I will wait and hear from my friend before I am willing to throw in the towel as Mr Buckley has done.
    By the way, Bob, the Sunni in Iraq never had a majority of the religion or populace. They have always were a minority that happend to hold power in the country. Just a small point of correction.

    Have a nice day.

  3. Anonymous
    March 7, 2006 at 10:19 pm


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