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Kerry, Iraq, and the New York Review of Books

Has John Kerry finally found a plan for Iraq in the writings of Peter Galbraith?

8:55 AM, Sep 30, 2004 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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As for the Sunni Triangle, one hope is for elections to produce a set of leaders who can restore order and end the insurrection. Presumably this is an outcome the Sunni rebels do not want to see happen; they will use violence to prevent a meaningful election in large parts of the Sunni Triangle. In these circumstances, the United States may face the choice of turning power over to weak leaders and living with the resulting chaos, or continuing to try to pacify the Sunni Triangle, which may generate ever more support for the insurrection.

And yet, Galbraith continues, one advantage of his plan is that, if democracy fails in the Sunni region, "the three-state approach could limit U.S. military engagement to a finite area."

Galbraith touches on all these points in his second article for the Review, which appeared in the September 23 issue under the title, "Iraq: The Bungled Transition." In this essay, Galbraith is more reportorial than prescriptive. He profiles Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, details how the United States let the Transitional Administrative Law die on the vine, and reiterates the need to divide the country into three. "If this conception had been understood earlier," he writes, "America's problems in Iraq could have been narrowed to the Sunni Triangle and Baghdad."

What Galbraith and Kerry share is a sense that the American project in Iraq is edging toward defeat and bordering on catastrophe. "The United States faces a near-impossible dilemma in Iraq," Galbraith writes. Withdrawal would mean "leaving behind a weak government unable to cope with the chaos that is the breeding ground of terrorism." Long-term deployment, on the other hand, "undermines the legitimacy of the Iraqi government it wants to support, while U.S. military action produces more recruits for its enemies." So far, Kerry hasn't articulated a strategy that squares this circle, providing security while allowing U.S. forces to leave. Galbraith provides Kerry with such a strategy. And it is an exit strategy, not a victory strategy: "The advantage of a strategy aimed at loose federation is that it can create powerful regions and thereby a possible escape from our dilemma. The current strategy, if it can be called that, offers no way out." You can see why John Kerry would be excited.

What separates Kerry and Galbraith? Two things. First, Galbraith doesn't stress the need to bring in foreign troops like Kerry does. The way Kerry sees it, once he's president, the French and Germans will assume the burden in Iraq, thus allowing a rapid, substantial reduction of U.S. forces. In Galbraith's Iraq, that wouldn't be necessary. Instead, the United States would leave the Kurds and Shiites to themselves, thus freeing up men and materiel for the Sunni Triangle and Baghdad.

Second, if you listen to Kerry on the stump these days, it's clear he now believes the war in Iraq accomplished little, if anything. The war was "the wrong war in the wrong place and the wrong time." On the stump, Kerry stresses intervention's downside: the monetary cost, the human cost, the opportunity cost. He does not talk about the fact that Saddam Hussein is in prison and his sociopath sons are dead.

Galbraith does. For him, Saddam Hussein's removal was a universal good. What's gone right? "Iraq is free from Saddam Hussein and the Baath party," he writes in "How to Get Out of Iraq." "Along with Cambodia's Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein's regime was one of the two most cruel and inhumane regimes in the second half of the twentieth century." And he goes on: "The peoples of Iraq are much better off today than they were under Saddam Hussein." Furthermore, Galbraith writes, the problems the new Iraq faces, though exacerbated by U.S. mismanagement, are not the products of U.S. mismanagement: "Rather, they are inherent in an artificial state held for eighty years primarily by brute force. American liberation--and liberation it was--ended the brute force."

Maybe someone should ask Kerry if he agrees.

Matthew Continetti is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.