"I can tell you the main reason behind all our woes -- it is America." The New York Times reporter is quoting the complaint of a clothing merchant in a Sunni stronghold in Iraq. "Everything that is going on between Sunnis and Shiites, the troublemaker in the middle is America."
One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. The same edition of the paper quotes a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Reuel Marc Gerecht backed the American intervention. He now speaks of the bombing of the especially sacred Shiite mosque in Samarra and what that has precipitated in the way of revenge. He concludes that "the bombing has completely demolished" what was being attempted -- to bring Sunnis into the defense and interior ministries.
Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.
The Iraqis we hear about are first indignant, and then infuriated, that Americans aren't on the scene to protect them and to punish the aggressors. And so they join the clothing merchant who says that everything is the fault of the Americans.
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elucidates on the complaint against Americans. It is not only that the invaders are American, it is that they are "Zionists." It would not be surprising to learn from an anonymously cited American soldier that he can understand why Saddam Hussein was needed to keep the Sunnis and the Shiites from each other's throats.
A problem for American policymakers -- for President Bush, ultimately -- is to cope with the postulates and decide how to proceed.
One of these postulates, from the beginning, was that the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom. The accompanying postulate was that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymakers to cope with insurgents bent on violence.
This last did not happen. And the administration has, now, to cope with failure. It can defend itself historically, standing by the inherent reasonableness of the postulates. After all, they govern our policies in Latin America, in Africa and in much of Asia. The failure in Iraq does not force us to generalize that violence and anti-democratic movements always prevail. It does call on us to adjust to the question, What do we do when we see that the postulates do not prevail -- in the absence of interventionist measures (we used these against Hirohito and Hitler) that we simply are not prepared to take?
It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn't work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism.
Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy.
He will certainly face the current development as military leaders are expected to do: They are called upon to acknowledge a tactical setback, but to insist on the survival of strategic policies.
Yes, but within their own counsels, different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.