Let me have your attention for a moment.
There’s a brutal, astonishing and final dispatch today from Lawrence Kaplan at the New Republic blog, The Plank. Let me reprint it in full …
Even by the degraded standards of everyday life in Baghdad, this report from CNN’s Nic Robertson comes as a shock:
One international official told me of reports among his staff that a 15-year-old girl had been beheaded and a dog’s head sewn on her body in its place; and of a young child who had had his hands drilled and bolted together before being killed.
From its gruesome particulars, the report goes on to describe the fear that has gripped even the most hardened Iraqis during this latest round of sectarian bloodletting. Robertson’s dispatch points to a revolting truth about the war in Iraq–one that American officers discovered long ago, but which has yet to penetrate fully the imaginations of theoreticians writing from a distant remove. The fact is, there is very little that we can do to dampen the sectarian rage and pathologies tearing Iraq apart at the seams. Did the Army make a mistake when it banished “counterinsurgency” from the lexicon of military affairs? Absolutely. Does it matter in Iraq? Probably not. How can you win over the heart and mind of someone who sews a dog’s head on a girl? Would more U.S. troops alter Iraq’s homicidal dynamic? Not really, given that, on the question of sectarian rage, America is now largely beside the point. True, U.S. troops can be–and have been–a vital buffer between Iraq’s warring sects. But they cannot reprogram their coarsened and brittle cultures. Even if America had arrived in Iraq with a detailed post-war plan, twice the number of troops, and all the counterinsurgency expertise in the world, my guess is that we would have found ourselves in exactly the same spot. The Iraqis, after all, still would have had the final say.
The brutality described here is difficult to move past. But I want to try. As we walk around the carnage, it’s worth noting too that there’s a good measure of excuse-making Kaplan has bundled into this post. In those rhetorical questions toward the end, he is reviewing a series of debates which his side of the debate (the regime-change, Chalabi, transformation of the Middle East side) was now clearly on the wrong side of.
He raises them to dismiss them. Did we have a crappy post-war plan, Kaplan asks. Yes, he answers, but in the end it didn’t matter one way or another.
My point here isn’t to pile on. To a degree at least, on these points, he’s clearly right.
What I want to focus on is the final, totalizing message — one that’s worth taking note of. You could summarize what Kaplan is saying as, Our guns and our money and ideas are no match for their history and their hate.
And that — phrased different ways or from different perspectives — was the conservative realist line of opposition to the whole enterprise — the arguments Kaplan and his compatriots villified and slurred for literally years. Kaplan’s one of the smartest and most candid of the neocons (not much of a compliment in itself, I grant you, but deserved in a fuller sense in his case). But here you have the final come-down. Not an admission of error here or there or in execution, but total — that the whole idea and concept and program was upside-down-wrong in its essence.
Mark the moment — that’s the ghost given up.