Interesting Times: Double or nothing

US Jews believe the war in Iraq was a mistake by a margin greater than any other religious group. Why?

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
According to a Gallup poll, Jews believe the war in Iraq was a mistake by a margin greater than any other American religious group. Why? Because Jews are trying to dissociate themselves from a fiasco they are afraid of being blamed for, and because they blame the war in Iraq for emasculating America's ability to confront the greater threat from Iran. The first Jewish discomfort is a somewhat surprising mark of insecurity in 21st-century America. A more confident community would lash out at the obvious anti-Semitism in blaming a particular religious group for starting a war it so heavily and consistently opposed. Positions on the war have obviously turned on ideological and political rather than religious lines, so what sense does it make to single out war supporters by religion? Not much, unless you are an anti-Semite. The second concern, that the war actually detracted from the fight against a more serious enemy, is a valid one. The threat from Iran is obviously greater than it was in 2003, when Saddam was toppled. Moreover, the Iranian regime is more threatening now than Saddam was then. Yet the choice between dealing with Iran or Iraq is, and was all along, a false one. Once it was decided to topple Saddam, the choice was binary: winning meant ending the threat from Iraq or Iran; losing meant two belligerent Irans. Iran's mullahs rightly saw an American victory in Iraq as a mortal threat to their regime. America's big mistake lay not in going into Iraq, but ironically - given President George Bush's vision of what a non-tyrannical Iraq would mean for the region - failing to assume and plan for how Iran would fight back. AS EARLY as October 2001, I wrote of the paradox that the US was perfectly comfortable supporting the Northern Alliance - which controlled only 10 percent of Afghanistan and was only a shade less fundamentalist than the Taliban - while refusing to back the united Iraqi opposition movement that supported democracy and included leaders from all Iraqi ethnic groups. The Afghan model, installing a transition government led by regime opponents, was more applicable to Iraq than it was to Afghanistan, yet the US decided to govern Iraq itself instead. A native Iraqi government would not have made the mistake of allowing Iranian agents and money to flood the country to the degree the US did, against the advice of the US governor, Paul Bremer, who warned of the growing power of Iranian-backed Shi'ites early on. Yet, despite the tenor of the current American debate, the key question is not what mistakes were made, but what should be done now. Should the US belatedly force Iraqis to sink or swim by leaving, which would also free up resources and political capital for the face-off with Iran? As tempting as such an analysis might be to the war-weary, it doesn't stand up. The US needs to help Iraqis out of the mess the US allowed to develop. Far from facilitating the West's confrontation with Iran, the abandonment of Iraq would set off a political earthquake in the region in which every American ally would scurry for cover in the face of a resurgent Teheran. The alternative is to start winning, and it can be done. As Senator Joseph Lieberman, a serious member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and no knee-jerk Bush supporter, wrote in Monday's Wall Street Journal: "Where previously American forces were based on the outskirts of Baghdad, unable to help secure the city, now they are living and working side-by-side with their Iraqi counterparts on small bases being set up throughout the capital. At least four of these new joint bases have already been established in the Sunni neighborhoods in west Baghdad - the same neighborhoods where, just a few weeks ago, jihadists and death squads held sway. In the Shi'ite neighborhoods of east Baghdad, American troops are also moving in - and Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army are moving out." A new American general with a new strategy and more troops could make a difference. And if it doesn't, Bush has to do as Abraham Lincoln did: change generals until he finds one who knows how to win. IT IS FAIR, however, if Iraq is such a must-win, to ask what winning means. Indeed, the Bush administration has led many to regard victory as impossible by seemingly defining it as Jeffersonian democracy. Victory, in this case, should be defined more by what it is not than what it is: not Saddam, not a Iranian-backed radical Shi'ite dictatorship, and not terrorism-racked anarchy. Some might argue that even so defined, victory is beyond reach. But Iraqis themselves have not come to this conclusion. After months of haggling, the Iraqi cabinet approved a draft law for distributing oil revenues to each province according to its population - a measure which would both allay Sunni fears of being cut out of such revenues and decrease separatist pressures. The vast majority of Iraqis do not want a return to either a Saddam-style or Iranian-style dictatorship. There was a time when it seemed there was no military solution to the wave of suicide bombings within Israel. Over time, however, Israel was able to make substantial headway against terrorism, despite an inability to station forces in terror-infested areas, as US and Iraqi forces are able and have now decided to do. American Jews, like Americans generally, need to understand that the possible outcomes of this conflict remain binary in nature. Either the peoples of the world win - including Americans, Israelis, Iraqis and even Iranians - or jihadi regimes and their proxies will. Winning in Iraq and facing down the Iranian regime are both integral parts of this fight. Losing risks a second holocaust, and would be disastrous for American interests. In this context, is there any question which side American Jews should be on?

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11