In October 2004 New York Times columnist Tom Friedman predicted on CBS that what we’d know “in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war.” More than two years later, in May of this year, Friedman was holding to his timeline. On MSNBC he announced, “I think that we’re going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months -- probably sooner -- whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we’re going to have to just let this play out.”
But Friedman’s looking at it from the wrong direction.
As Americans, we assume Iraq is bound to fail, unless we can accomplish X, Y and Z in the next six months. After all, we like to accomplish things under tight deadlines. But Iraqis work on different deadlines.
Think of all they went through under Saddam: a lengthy war against the U.S., a 10-year stalemate with Iran, hundreds of thousands of people “disappeared.” Compared to that, a six-month wait for a prime minister doesn’t look so bad. We say, “The future of Iraq is up to Iraqis,” but we don’t really believe it. We still assume only Americans, operating on our own schedules, can get the job done and we assume that if we fail, Iraq will as well.
But if Iraqis wanted a civil war, they’d be having one. American troops are one reason they’re not, but our military isn’t the only reason. Iraqis have many other motives for minimizing bloodshed and finding ways to make their government work. They seem to be doing that. We should be optimistic that they’ll continue to do so -- over the next six months and the next six years.
Of course, not everyone thinks we’re making progress. “What I’ve been saying over and over again, we can’t win it militarily,” Rep. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, told CNN on June 16. “What I am saying is we should withdraw and redeploy as soon as practicable.”
Fair enough. You can call Murtha’s position “cut and run” or call it “sensible redeployment” but at bottom, it’s simply his proposed policy alternative. Oh and by the way, if his party retakes the House this year, Murtha says he’ll attempt to become the Democratic majority leader. So this is about American politics as much as American policy.
We’ll know, in less than six months, which policy and which politicians the American people support.