Wall Street Journal
October 30, 2006
By Thomas Sowell
Iraq is not the first war with ugly surprises and bloody setbacks. Even World War II, idealized in retrospect as it never was at the time -- the war of "the greatest generation" -- had a long series of disasters for Americans before victory was finally achieved.
The war began for Americans with the disaster at Pearl Harbor, followed by the tragic horror of the Bataan death march, the debacle at the Kasserine Pass and, even on the eve of victory, being caught completely by surprise by a devastating German counterattack that almost succeeded at the Battle of the Bulge.
Other wars -- our own and other nations' -- have likewise been full of nasty surprises and mistakes that led to bloodbaths. Nevertheless, the Iraq war has some special lessons for our time, lessons that both the left and the right need to acknowledge, whether or not they will.
What is it that has made Iraq so hard to pacify, even after a swift and decisive military victory? In one word: diversity.
That word has become a sacred mantra, endlessly repeated for years on end, without a speck of evidence being asked for or given to verify the wonderful benefits it is assumed to produce.
Worse yet, Iraq is only the latest in a long series of catastrophes growing out of diversity. These include "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans, genocide in Rwanda and the Sudan, the million lives destroyed in intercommunal violence when India became independent in 1947 and the even larger number of Armenians slaughtered by Turks during World War I.
Despite much gushing about how we should "celebrate diversity," America's great achievement has not been in having diversity but in taming its dangers that have run amok in many other countries. Americans have by no means escaped diversity's oppressions and violence, but we have reined them in.
Another concept whose bitter falsity has been painfully revealed in Iraq is "nation-building." People are not building blocks, however much some may flatter themselves that they can arrange their fellow human beings' lives the way you can arrange pieces on a chess board.
The biggest and most fatuous example of nation-building occurred right after World War I, when the allied victors dismembered the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Woodrow Wilson assigned a young Walter Lippman to sit down with maps and population statistics and start drawing lines that would define new nations.
Iraq is one of those new nations. Like other artificial creations in the Balkans, Africa and elsewhere, it has never had the cohesion of nations that evolved over the centuries out of the experiences of peoples who worked out their own modi vivendi in one way or another.
Tito's dictatorship held Yugoslavia together, as other dictatorships held together other peoples forced into becoming a nation by the decisions of outsiders who drew their boundaries on maps and in some cases -- Nigeria, for example -- even gave them their national name.
Even before 9/11, there were some neoconservatives who talked about our achieving "national greatness" by creating democratic nations in various parts of the world.
How much influence their ideas have had on the actual course of events is probably something that will not be known in our generation. But we can at least hope that the Iraq tragedy will chasten the hubris behind notions of "nation-building" and chasten also the pious dogmatism of those who hype "diversity" at every turn, in utter disregard of its actual consequences at home or abroad. Free societies have prerequisites, and history has not given all peoples those prerequisites, which took centuries to evolve in the West.
However we got into Iraq, we cannot undo history -- even recent history -- by simply pulling out and leaving events to take their course in that strife-torn country. Whether or not we "stay the course," terrorists are certainly going to stay the course in Iraq and around the world.
Political spin may say that Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror, but the terrorists themselves quite obviously believe otherwise, as they converge on that country with lethal and suicidal resolve.
Whether we want to or not, we cannot unilaterally end the war with international terrorists. Giving the terrorists an epoch-making victory in Iraq would only shift the location where we must face them or succumb to them.
Abandoning Iraqi allies to their fate would ensure that other nations would think twice before becoming or remaining our allies. With a nuclear Iran looming on the horizon, we are going to need all the allies we can get.
Mr. Sowell is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution. He is the author, most recently, of "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" (Encounter Books, 2005).