The blogsphere and smogsphere (political punditry) are besides themselves with pronouncements on Iraq: it is a quagmire, it is getting better, Bush made a mistake, Kerry will cut-and-run, etc. A friend of ours sent us some sensible thoughts from the Balkans:
The US election debates on foreign policy recalls the statement allegedly made by Mao Tse Tung's foreign minister, Chou En Lai, when asked about the French Revolution's outcome. He replied, "It's too soon to tell." Forgetting this wise, Chinese long view of history, people are making an awful lot of sweeping statements here about Iraq rather soon after it has happened.
A lot can be learned from our recent attempt at nation- and coalition-building in Bosnia where, nearly ten years after the Dayton Agreement, the international community is still heavily engaged. It is trying to withdraw, but finding it difficult. It is also more or less now engaged on unraveling or at least modifying one of they key tenets of Dayton: the division of the country into ethnically-based entities and cantons. We can also perhaps learn from Kosovo, where the international community has no good way out of a bind it's in. It intervened in a conflict as a "humanitarian intervention" and now finds itself seeking the impossible: a solution between two parties, one expecting independence and the other expecting the province to remain part of a country, that will satisfy both sides. After five years of United Nations administration, the electricity still goes off for twelve hours a day and the natives grow increasingly restless.
Both these situations are, in the main, creations of the people who now, speaking for Kerry, criticize the Bush administration. That's politics. The positions are put into high contrast, whitewashing the more subtle lessons of the war. What nobody says, this being a political year, is that there are many situations that admit of no easy answers. Iraq is one of those.
Whether or not the current administration planned the peace well, one cannot deny they did a good job planning the war. They won in three weeks in a campaign of maneuver that will be studied in military academies for years to come. The United States Marine Corps moved farther from the sea faster than it ever had in history. There was a lot of hard fighting along the way, even in Baghdad, quelled by a lot of individual initiative and bravery. In so doing, they removed an evil tyrant, and there is something to be said for that.
This military campaign also raises the question: If we can intervene in Kosovo on humanitarian grounds, a rather shaky doctrine under international law and a conflict for which we also could not get the backing of the U.N. Security Council (until afterwards), why were we not justified in doing the same in the face of a much-worse situation in Iraq?
The speed of the campaign, which was unexpected, also appears to have affected the aftermath, for it left large parts of the country untouched. Unlike Germany and Japan after the Second World War, the military campaign did not leave the country flattened. Unlike Bosnia, where the parties were depleted by the fighting, and unlike Kosovo, a tiny place where the losing party left, the campaign allowed a lot of combatants to shed their uniforms and slip back into society. That they're disgruntled, angry, and belligerent is without a doubt. That anyone, from any administration, could have anticipated all this seems more doubtful.
As for the larger question of whether this was worth doing, perhaps that is the one we should be asking ourselves. But the answer to this question may be the Chinese one: it's too soon to tell.