Jonah Goldberg

Then there are those who take the fatalist's cop-out: Civil wars have no good guys and bad guys. They're just dogfights, and we should stay out of them and see who comes out on top. But that's also confusing, because not only is it not true, but liberals have been saying the opposite for generations. They cheered for the Reds against the Whites in the Russian civil war, for the Communists against the Fascists in the Spanish civil war, and for the victims of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia and Sudan. Surely liberals believe there was a good side and a bad side in the American Civil War?

Ah, but I'm missing the point, they might say. It's not that there aren't good guys and bad guys, it's that we can't do anything about it and therefore it's not in our interests to try. Then they point to, say, the civil wars in Lebanon or, closer to their hearts, Vietnam.

Let's stipulate Vietnam was a civil war. So what? There were certainly good guys and bad guys, and let the record show the bad guys won, which was not in our interests. This in turn led to many humanitarian calamities. And, recall, another superpower intervened in that civil war, and it worked out pretty well for the Soviets.

More to the point, it's ludicrous to believe America has no interest in who wins or loses various civil wars, including Iraq's. The 20th century would have been a lot more pleasant if the Bolsheviks had lost the Russian civil war, and the 21st will be a lot more ugly if Sunni Salafists or Iranian pawns win in Iraq.

I'm not saying a civil war is a desirable environment for anybody. But nor is it a geopolitical black box absolving all concerned from moral and strategic discrimination. And yet that is exactly what advocates for withdrawal from Iraq want everyone to believe, but only when it comes to Iraq.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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