Magazine article The New Yorker

UNREALISTIC; COMMENT; COMMENT Series: 1/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

UNREALISTIC; COMMENT; COMMENT Series: 1/5

Article excerpt

We are all realists now. Iraq has turned conservatives and liberals alike into cold-eyed believers in a foreign policy that narrowly calculates national interest without much concern for what goes on inside other countries. The Republicans had their neoconservative spree and emerged this month from its smoking wreckage, in Iraq and at the polls, with nothing to steady them except the hope that two aging condottieri from the first Bush Presidency, James A. Baker III and Robert Gates, can lead the way out. These are the same men who, fifteen years ago, abandoned Afghanistan to civil war and Al Qaeda, allowed Saddam to massacre his own people, and concluded that genocide in the Balkans was none of America's business. They are not the guardians of all wisdom. At some point, events will remind Americans that currently discredited concepts such as humanitarian intervention and nation-building have a lot to do with national security--that they originated as necessary evils to prevent greater evils. But, for now, Kissingerism is king.

And the Democrats? Since winning the midterms, they have been talking about the endgame in Iraq with a strangely serene sang-froid. Last week in the Times, John M. Deutch, who was the director of Central Intelligence under President Clinton, praised the nomination of Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld, and added, "The consequences of withdrawal need not be catastrophic to American interests in the region." Also last week, on National Public Radio, Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who was an early supporter of withdrawal, casually offered that, if Iraq were to fall apart in the wake of an American departure, "I don't think it'll be any worse" than the partition of the Indian subcontinent. A million people are estimated to have died in 1947 during the movement of Muslims and Hindus across the newly drawn India-Pakistan border. Sixty years and several wars later, the two countries confront each other in a nuclear standoff, trade charges of subversion, and periodically exchange fire in the Kashmiri Himalayas.

What America will gain in return for leaving Iraq, according to Murtha and other Democrats, will be the holy grail of realism: stability. "They have more confidence in their people than they do in ours," Murtha said of the Iraqis. "And I'm convinced there'll be more stability, less chaos." Former Senator George S. McGovern recently laid out a plan, in an essay he co-wrote in Harper's, that amounts to a series of non sequiturs: American withdrawal, followed by the evaporation of the insurgency, followed by an influx of foreign police, followed by American-funded reconstruction. A letter signed by leading House and Senate Democrats and sent to the President on October 20th called for "beginning the phased redeployment and transitioning the U.S. mission in Iraq by the end of the year." It also called for the Administration to pressure Iraqis to reach "a broad-based and sustainable political settlement." The letter represented a united Democratic position on Iraq, with signatories ranging from Nancy Pelosi to Joseph Biden, but the common front came at the expense of common sense: if American troops start leaving no matter what Iraqis do, with what additional leverage will the U.S. compel them to do what they haven't yet done?

It is true that the presence of American troops is a source of great tension and violence in Iraq, and that overwhelming numbers of Iraqis want them to leave. …

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