Iraq Chaos: Enemies Must Be Defeated, Not Policed

Iraq war vet J.R. Salzman expresses understandable frustration regarding Iraq’s collapse into chaos brought on by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Salzman and so many others have been told for years that their sacrifices were offered to establish a free and orderly Iraq. My PJM colleague Austin Bay summarizes the conventional wisdom which has informed the effort when he writes:

The US has a vital interest in helping Iraqis create a stable, democratic state. Would-be isolationists will quickly rediscover that economic links bind the 21st century world, once they see the oil price hikes spurred by the battlefield successes of the [ISIS].

What if the Iraqis don’t want a stable, democratic state? What if they lack the philosophical and moral base upon which to establish it? Wouldn’t that largely explain why their nation descends into chaos without Americans there to impose order?

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast on this topic. 16:15 minutes long; 15.67 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)

The interests of the United States are properly defined by the individual rights of its citizens. We have a right to defend our lives, our liberty, and our property. If ISIS presents a threat to those rights, they should be engaged as an enemy and utterly destroyed.

But that’s the old fashioned, pre-WWII, pre-UN way of looking at foreign policy. And it’s not very popular today. Day suggests:

To stabilize, Iraqis need confidence; a long-term US security presence inspires confidence. America kept a security “nightlight” in Germany and Japan for half a century.

Of course, Germany and Japan were first militarily defeated in total war, their cities and civilian populations devastated to the point of unconditional surrender. Unless we’re willing to first defeat our enemies, we can’t hope to police them.

Part of the problem is that Iraq doesn't have a unified national identity. You can't expect the natives to fight for something they don't believe in. But that raises the question: if they don't believe in it, why are we there? If it's not to neutralize an objectively defined threat, then fifty years of more sacrifices like Salzman's are hard to justify.