Monday, February 12th, 2007 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/approaching-infinite-justice
avid Brooks is the first serious and supportive right-of-center columnist to have recast his lot against victory in Iraq—at least, victory as it has been defined to date. He said on Charlie Rose Feb 6th that he likes the proposal of breaking Iraq into its three constituent parts: a Shiite south, a Sunni east & center, and a Kurdish north. This even at the risk of the southern part strengthening Iran (though, he suggests, the prospect of a more free Shiite neighbor could in fact galvanize the Iranian people into shaking off their theocratic oppressors).
If Brooks has come to that conclusion, then it’s probably the right one, and following suit soon might be the only slightly less agile Charles Krauthammer along with the leadership at the Weekly Standard, William Kristol and Fred Barnes. This small handful of guys would I guess be the tipping point, either because their judgment is sound and the decision-making community will come to see that, or because they are the last band of influential people trying to shore up support for America’s presence in Baghdad in support of the Iraqi regime.
Meanwhile, proper debate on these questions is, they say, being stymied in the Senate by procedural wrangles. As Brooks quipped, everybody’s debating Iraq except the world’s most prestigious deliberative body. But maybe, just maybe, there’s some sub-national-conscious reason for the dumbness. Humour me as I look at the situation with the presumption that nations behave just as individuals do: according to their unconscious rather than their conscious drives.
Immediately after 9/11, the burgeoning war on terror was named “Operation Infinite Justice”. This terrible name was quickly changed to “Operation Enduring Freedom” but there is such a gulf between the emotions connoted by the two monickers that the second always seemed to me merely a polite cloaking of the first. The first suggests wrath from a defiled City on a Hill that may have suddenly tired of being called “infidel”; the second sounds stoic, even weary. The white heat of fury may have been a temporary truth serum, in which case America’s war on terror remains, if you look beneath, indeed Operation Infinite Justice.
What would infinite justice for that Tuesday morning look like?
The West’s grand padre of Islamic studies, Princeton’s Bernard Lewis, has argued that the Arab Muslim world needs to undergo its own Reformation, to learn to separate mosque and state, to come to grips with its current inferior position in the world and turn that situation around and improve itself. Other leading minds have said so too, such as James Q. Wilson in ‘The Reform Islam Needs’. But can we see such reform happening without a catalyst, or rather, a cataclysm? Right now America holds the cards to fomenting that cataclysm simply by withdrawing from Iraq. If America withdrew the Iraqis would kill each other in the thousands and tens of thousands, sucking in the antagonists’ respective patrons in the Muslim world, leading in all likelihood to a regional war between Sunnis and Shiites. The death toll would be unimaginable, the right-wing pundits warn, not to mention that it would make America look weak, useless and guilty. Cambodia is the parallel, the blame for the mass killings there placed on America’s precipitatious retreat from Vietnam. (Right-wingers are not above using the Vietnam analogy when it suits them!)
Well, I’m not so sure that leaving Iraqis to their own devices would make America look entirely weak and useless, and perhaps looking guilty wouldn’t be quite so bad as the so-called hawks fear. It would be an embarrassment, certainly, to have gone in and broken the place then not stick around long enough to fix it, but if it’s not actually fixable, as David Brooks is coming around to believing, then that’s only because the Sunnis and the Shiites want to go at each other. Not just in Iraq, but across the region. (True, there is the argument that Iraqi murderousness is not merely sectarian hatred but also a pathological reaction to having been subjected for decades to a sadistic tyranny, but Palestinian murderousness belies this argument: Israelis can be despicably demeaning but there are no known cases of our throwing Palestinians into meat-grinders legs first, and Palestinians are having few qualms about going at each other when they can’t get at Israel.) American withdrawal from Iraq would bring on the Arab civil war that has been brewing since Islam began.
This civil war among the Arabs would be precisely the sort of cataclysm that could, in the aftermath, bring about a Reformation. Put it more strongly: nothing less than an Arab civil war will bring about the chastised change in attitude that would enable Islam to finally live at peace and in harmony with the rest of the world.
Triggering the long-suppressed Arab civil war in an era of weapons of mass destruction—would not this be infinite justice?
I hasten to add that the above is not a prescription but an angle to consider, perhaps a notion to obliquely allude to as a stick whilst doing one’s genuine utmost to prevent any further bloodshed.