I Admit

First I cave, then I admit.

Andrew writes,

Reihan admits “victory”, whatever that means, is not yet at hand:

and he then links to a short item I wrote on the parlous state of Iraqi security, which, by the way, totally ignored Kirkuk, potentially the most explosive issue on the Iraqi political scene.

I don’t think I ever used the word “victory” in the piece, and while I actually do think there is such a thing as “victory” in the context of U.S. goals in Iraq, it’s certainly not the kind of language I normally use. And I have to wonder: why would I be admitting anything? Taking the crudest view of my motivations, it’s hardly an admission if I am arguing that we need to keep a large U.S. force in Iraq because, as a neocon or neocon fellow-traveler, it’s hardly surprising that I think we should keep a large U.S. force in Iraq, right? If anything, we neocons can never admit that victory is at hand, as that would undermine our central claim to power, namely that there is a never-ending national security emergency that requires the existence of a garrison state — here I’m channeling Andrew Bacevich and other smart critics of the national security state broadly and neoconservatives in particular.

Wouldn’t it be more of an admission if, say, I admitted that we ought to have embraced Andrew’s chosen strategy of leaving Iraq and allowing Sunni and Shia Iraqis to settle their dispute through force of arms? That, at least, is my understanding of Andrew’s realist stance on Iraq, an argument he often made before the surge strategy changed U.S. perceptions of the security situation in Iraq.

But of course I haven’t admitted that we ought to embrace that strategy because, based on my reading of the evidence, I think that would be a very bad idea. I don’t think advancing Andrew’s Luttwakian argument is evil, but I also don’t think that McCain’s endorsement of George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004 was evil.

Is there, by the way, a coherent case that advocating that the United States absolve itself of responsibility for the charnel house that Iraq threatened to become during the darkest days of Iraq’s civil war was in fact an evil position to take? I certainly wouldn’t go that far. Plenty of serious people believed that a cold-eyed Bismarckian approach was the only appropriate response, and this view was rooted in an “ethical realism” — making this difficult decision was ultimately the most moral thing to do. My sense is that events have overtaken this argument, and my sense is also that this style of realist argument has a self-justifying quality. But I recognize that these are open, difficult questions, and I’ve been all over the map on Kosovo, Iraq, etc.