The Strategy of Pure Destructionism

The flight of the Iraqi middle classes (New York Times; requires simple registration), which means among other things people with education and a more worldly viewpoint, is an especially dire sign for the future of Iraq. The goal of at least a large faction of the terrorists is pretty clear: to murder, bomb, and destroy their way to total chaos. This is just one example of their strategy:

Trash is collected only sporadically. On April 3, insurgents shot seven garbage collectors to death near their truck, and their bodies lay in the area for eight hours before the authorities could collect them, said Naeem al-Kaabi, deputy mayor for municipal affairs in Baghdad. In all, 312 trash workers have been killed in Baghdad in the past six months.

Trash collectors, electricians, sewage repairmen, nurses, police officers, lawyers, and many other professions have been targeted, not for their ethnicity or their politics, but in order to wreck social order, destroy the infrastructure, and create such chaos that only the most vicious and brutal will survive to establish their rule. For some that means a revival of Ba’athism, for others a theocracy. And for yet others, an endless war throughout the region that will bleed America.

I have worked with Iraqis on my trips to the country to try to craft an acceptable constitutional and legal improvement over the previous situation and I will continue to do so. But I also do not underestimate the challenges that Iraqis face. As I pointed out in this essay in Reason magazine (the third essay of the three that are linked),

The war being fought in Iraq is unlike any other. Parallels with Vietnam are of limited use for the simple reason that the Communists were seeking to kick out the Saigon government and replace it, not to create a firestorm that would engulf the region. For Al Qaeda in Iraq, it won’t be over if the U.S. and allied forces withdraw, or the U.S.-backed government falls. In fact, many of those fighting the U.S. and the elected government don’t want the U.S. to withdraw. They want to draw us in further, hoping, as Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri recently put it, to “make the West bleed for years.” Nor is World War II a useful comparison: Once the Fascists and Nazis were beaten, they were beaten. They didn’t go underground and wage a war of destruction; their ideology was effectively defeated with their armies.
The goal of at least a large faction among the insurgents is to create maximum chaos and maximum bloodshed. They account for a tiny fraction of the Iraqi population, and no one really knows what percentage of them are foreigners, but they are ruthless and determined. They will also be very difficult to defeat. No accommodation is possible with them. The existence of an armed faction that is dedicated to destruction per se makes the job of defeating the insurgency all the more difficult.

George Will’s remarks on Thursday in Chicago at the Milton Friedman Prize dinner honoring 2006 winner Mart Laar were quite on target when he lambasted the administration for their decision to invade. The administration’s naivete in thinking that all you had to do was to remove a dictatorship to uncover a democracy has been shown to be absurd. Criminally so. (The issue of WMD is more complex, since it seems that they sincerely believed that Saddam had poison gas and biological weapons. Nonetheless, the president’s decision to award a medal to the man who presided over the “intelligence” fiasco was a deliberate thumb-in-the-eye to the American people.)

It’s long past time for the U.S. to craft a careful withdrawal strategy that sets goals for the Iraqis but makes it clear that U.S. forces will be gone and therefore that Iraqis will have to create peace among themselves. As the fiasco with Ibrahim al-Jaafari (who refused to step down for months, even though it was clear he could not be confirmed) made clear, factions will jockey for power and delay any defeat of the terrorists so long as they think that the U.S. will be there to protect them. That safety net for politicians has to be removed. They will have to fashion their own safety net by fashioning peace themselves among the factions.