George Packer writes more eloquently about Iraq than anyone in the establishment, usually for the very influential audience who read the NY Times magazine, the New Yorker, etcetera. His special talent is writing persuasively and gracefully about how impossible it is to withdraw from Iraq. His function is to freeze liberals where they are, which his crowd thinks is better than supporting withdrawal. In fact, withdrawal is virtually taboo, delegitimizing, for anyone seeking a mainstream forum. In fact, the spectrum of "serious" debate nearly eliminates the option of withdrawal altogether. Like Packer, we apparently are to accept the tragic burden of justifying a war which is unjustifiable, but which will somehow become more tragic if we stop the justifications.
Packer's latest pronouncement as a key gatekeeper of acceptable opinion is a subtle assault on Sen. John Kerry in the May 8 New Yorker. Packer credits Kerry for "having found his voice" in his recent anti-war speech, but then criticizes Kerry for calling for withdrawal by the end of the year. "But abandoning Iraq is an exasperated rush will leave ordinary Iraqis far more vulnerable to the murderous conduct of the militias and the insurgents than they are now", Packer writes, in a declaration more inelegant than his usual prose. Without an "American buffer", he warns, there will be a wider war and a "larger safe zone for jihadis."
So there we are, burdened with carrying on a war that was a mistake to begin with. A "forever war", he lamented in the New York Times Book Review.
A problem with Packer is that from time to time he fixes the facts to suit the policy he favors, or so to speak.
In this case, he cleverly alters Kerry's proposal by leaving out the international summit Kerry has proposed to address peacekeeping, reconstruction and other issues concerning the transition to a post-war period. Kerry thus is categorized as an uncaring advocate of "out now", unlike Packer who at least cares about the killing he seems to support forever.
Why would replacing US troops, clearly the primary cause of Iraqi nationalist attacks, with an international peacekeeping force from neutral countries increase the violence? There is no answer.
Packer sees the US troops not as occupiers, not the cause of violence, but as "buffers" between violent Iraqis. The same civilizing role was claimed by the British when they sent troops to Northern Ireland in 1969; thirty years later they signed the Good Friday Agreement but still haven't permitted free elections. Baghdad is simply the next Belfast, in this view.
While distorting and dismissing Kerry for "finding his voice", Packer applauds the recent op-ed by Leslie Gelb and Sen. Joe Biden calling for a devolved, tripartite Iraq - Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite - with a weakened central government to assure the fair share of oil revenues and other matters. This is the longstanding preference of numerous neo-conservatives, and Israeli officials, to put an end to Arab nationalism. By redefining Iraqis along tribal, not national lines, by weakening the central state apparatus, a threat to stability [oil stability, Israeli stability, presumably] would be removed from the Middle East.
It's another imperial scenario, of course, though it seems more benign than the continued slaughter. The problem is that Gelb-Biden take an opposite course from Kerry, failing to answer if and when a US troop withdrawal would take place, no small matter.
While these highly-placed and virtually tenured best and brightest types go on worrying about what those poor Iraqis will ever do without us - Gelb has proposed a "three state" federal solution for three years - one factual matter is constantly left out of all serious discussion - what Iraqis themselves actually think. According to reputable surveys, 87 percent of all Iraqis favor the US setting a fixed timetable for withdrawal, the very position which Packer decries. If one excludes the pro-American Kurds from these survey numbers, it means that nearly one hundred percent of all other Iraqis say the US should set a deadline. Recent projections even show that a majority of the newly-elected Iraqi parliament favor a US timetable.
Of course, a majority of Americans, American troops in Iraq, and a majority of British people, favor a one-year timetable for withdrawal.
But who are we, especially the Iraqis? Apparently only little chips on somebody's bigger chessboard, giving our taxes and blood to prevent the tragedy from becoming more tragic, thankful for those committed to saving us from ourselves.
I hope Mr. Packer receives this complaint in order to set the writer, and other confused souls, on the higher path of sacrifice for nobler ends known only to the modern and humane literary-military knights of the round table. If he is at an undisclosed location, we understand. #