No matter what your position on the Iraq war, you should sit down with General William Odom's piece in this morning's Washington Post. General Odom addresses all the reasons commonly cited for which a)this war was a great idea and b)why we must follow through to "victory," whatever that means. The title is fairly telling: "Victory is not an option."
Everyone who reads this is presumably interested in and involved with history and culture, broadly defined. This accounts for why the following are my favorite excerpts from General Odom's piece, because I believe no one making decisions about the Iraq war looked at precedent or the record of democracy in this century, or for that matter the history of the United States, probably the most fertile soil anywhere for a flowering of democracy. Instead, as General Odom outlines, they decided on war based on ideology and a kind of magical thinking.
"First, the assumption that the United States could create a liberal, constitutional democracy in Iraq defies just about everything known by professional students of the topic. Of the more than 40 democracies created since World War II, fewer than 10 can be considered truly "constitutional" -- meaning that their domestic order is protected by a broadly accepted rule of law, and has survived for at least a generation. None is a country with Arabic and Muslim political cultures. None has deep sectarian and ethnic fissures like those in Iraq."
Not only did the people who planned the war ignore precedent, they actively sought to put down and discredit those who DID try to bring the history of the 20th century into the discussion. I personally remember being told on more than one occasion that I must "hate freedom" because I thought this enterprise was a bad idea.
"Strangely, American political scientists whose business it is to know these things have been irresponsibly quiet. In the lead-up to the March 2003 invasion, neoconservative agitators shouted insults at anyone who dared to mention the many findings of academic research on how democracies evolve. They also ignored our own struggles over two centuries to create the democracy Americans enjoy today. Somehow Iraqis are now expected to create a constitutional order in a country with no conditions favoring it."
It is true that history can be an imperfect guide, because it never repeats itself precisely. But I join General Odom in declaring that history would have been a much better guide than theory and hope against hope in the decision for this misbegotten enterprise.