Debating Dr. Barnett
Dr. Barnett responds to our conversation yesterday and my post below with two entries at his blog, here and here. He asserts that “Hugh wants to pre-emptively tag the Dems for future Sunni-v-Shia killings in the inevitable drawdown and pullback to follow,”and that I want “a number to pin on them now in advance of Petraeus’ report. The stabbed-in-the-back storyline is being pro-actively weaved.”
I am not trying to misrepresent Dr. Barnett’s views, and point people to the transcript. Others drew even harsher conclusions than I did, but the reader can decide for himself what Dr. Barnett is advocating.
On the other hand, Dr. Barnett’s characterization of my views is simply wrong. I believe there are excellent prospects for stability in Iraq, and I base that assessment on everything coming out of Iraq as well as interviews such as the one I conducted with Major General Simmons this morning which will play on the program today as well as on interviews with General Petraeus, John Burns, Michael O’Hanlon, General Keane, Fred Kagan, Max Boot and Bill Kristol (each of the six civilians have been in Iraq in the recent months.) I don’t think the bloodletting that Dr. Barnett views as inevitable is in any real sense “inevitable,” and those urging it –both Democrats and Republicans– are playing with genocide as though that’s just a consequence of the world in which we live. When Dr. Barnett admitted to there being at least a “small chance” of avoiding the sectarian slaughter he predicts will follow our withdrawal from the middle of the Sunni-Shia conflict in Iraq, he gives up the argument about morality. There’s a lot of evidence that there is a great deal more than “some chance” of that happening, but even “some chance” of reducing loss of life and helping Iraq emerge as a stable democracy compels us to stay committed to the freely elected government of Iraq.
I also find it unpersuasive –indeed very unrealistic– to assert against a great deal of evidence to the contrary that we can negotiate with the Iranians, and urge Kim Kagan’s comprehensive report on Iranian interference on everyone who believes we are missing an opening with Iran.
I will ask Dr. Barnett back next week, but it seems to me that advocates of his strategy or of an even more comprehensive withdrawal have to begin their analysis by asking the people who are there or who have been there recently what they see happening in Iraq. What a folly and a terrible tragedy it would be if the U.S.abandoned Iraq to a paroxysm of sectarian killing far worse than that of 2006, and to another tyrant in the mold of Saddam if it could have been avoided. As long as there is a good, or even “some” chance of that result, we should be supporting the surge.