I’m a big fan of New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman. I think his articles are must-reading for anyone interested in world affairs.
However, his November 29, 2006 column, Ten Months or Ten Years (registration required), was not up to Mr. Friedman’s usual standards. In particular, this section:
"Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch."
The ten year option makes no sense to me. I don’t understand why anyone would think the US can “rebuild Iraq from the ground up” in ten years, or any length of time for that matter. I seriously doubt the US could “crush” the Sunni or Shiite militias either. On the contrary, the addition of 150,000 more US troops would more likely help unify the various Iraqi factions, and the surrounding countries against America.
If the Iraq War has taught us anything, isn’t it the hubris of attempting to impose democracy by force from the outside? Establishing democracy in the Middle East – or anywhere – is a laudable goal, but people, especially the leaders, have to want it. The US can and should guide, support, encourage, teach, persuade, cajole, defend and even prop-up, but ultimately there has to be at least a plurality of Iraqis who want to create a stable democratic state. As Mr. Friedman has pointed out in previous columns, there appears to be very little political will today among Iraqis to do this.
I agree that Mr. Friedman’s “you break it, you own it” rule still applies. But at this late stage, I wonder if the most the US can accomplish is to protect those areas that are relatively stable, like the Kurdish north, and maintain enough of a presence in the conflicted areas to prevent outright genocide, until such time as the Iraqis tire of killing each other. I suspect even that modest task will take at least ten years.