Iraq and a Hard Place: From the Archives

This piece was originally published in my LiveJournal on Feb. 10th, 2004. The timeline’s a little off, but ten years later, it’s not far from the target.

David Brooks has another dismal column in the New York Times today. But it ends on a hook that gives me a chance to go out on a limb.

Brooks does a poor-man’s variant on a Bill Safire device, that of re-writing someone’s speech, or trying to get inside their thoughts. I kind of understand why Safire likes this device, as he’s a former speechwriter. If Brooks was a former novelist it might make a bit more sense. But as it is…

So the re-write in question is of Mr. Bush’s tongue-tied to the point of stream-of-consciousness interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press. Here’s Brooks’ last paragraph, speaking as Bush:

“I could lose this election. I don’t know whether the American people are with me or not. But I know our hair-trigger reputation has jolted dictators in Libya, North Korea and elsewhere. I know that if in 20 years Iraq is free and the Arab world is progressing toward normalcy, no one will doubt that I did the right thing.”

Oh, yeah. God knows Mr. Bush’s behavior has caused a jolt in behavior from North Korea. So much so that history may well write, “George W. Bush — Father of the North Korean Bomb”.

But, as readers of this LJ know, I had a success rate of 63% when I made 8 predictions regarding the war in Iraq. The big score there: I predicted we would never find any WMD, because the Administration’s behavior makes it clear that not even they believe the weapons existed.

So, here’s that limb, complete with saw: Iraq will not be free in 20 months, let alone 20 years. 20 months would be… October 2005. Yeah, that sounds safe.

By October 2005, there will be one of four outcomes in Iraq:

* A weak but basically authoritarian regime is still in power, propped up by US troops. (The current status quo.)

* US troops are out, and there’s an Islamic theocracy. (This is the “democratic” option, and why, rhetoric to the contrary, we’re butt-scared about democracy breaking out in Iraq.)

* US troops are out, and there’s another Hussein/Mubarak/Somoza/arap Moi/Marcos/Diem/Musharraf mostly-“friendly” dictator installed.

* US troops are out, and Iraq has broken up into three countries — Kurdistan, “Iraq” (the Sunni enclave), and… Let’s call it Basrastan (the Shi’ite enclave). Basrastan would be an Islamic theocracy (again). Kurdistan may or may not be at war with Turkey. “Iraq” would have no oil, probably be secular, and possibly authoritarian again.

I’ll tell you the truth — I’m not sure which one is the “best” scenario here. But it’s where we’re going, as of this writing.

Now, all things are provisional, pending better data. It’s possible that somehow the Administration will start treating the situation with finesse and competence, and actually figure out a way to rebuild Iraq so that the Iraqis like and cooperate with us. To put John Kerry’s spin on it, they might stop fucking up.

What I see as more likely, though, is another Vietnam… But not the way that’s usually meant. I think what will happen is that regardless of the final outcome, we have so alienated the Iraqi people that some few will immigrate to the US and become incredibly prosperous, while the remainder stay at home and refuse to have anything to do with us for at least 20 years. Just like Vietnam. Or Iran. In fact, I think the US withdrawal from Iraq, if it happens before the election like so many seem to think it will, will look spookily like the withdrawal from Vietnam, people clinging to helicopters and all.