The United States must learn to lose this war—a harder task, in many ways, than winning, for it requires admitting mistakes and relinquishing attractive fantasies. This is the true moral mission of our time (well, of the next few years, anyway). The cost of leaving will certainly be high, just not anywhere near as high as trying to ‘stay the course,’ which can only magnify and postpone the disaster.
And yet, regrettable to say, even if this difficult step is taken, no one should imagine that democracy will be achieved by this means. The great likelihood is something else—something worse: perhaps a recrudescence of dictatorship or Civil War, or both.
An interim period, probably very brief, of international trusteeship is the best solution, yet it is unlikely to be a good solution. It is merely better than any other recourse. The good options have probably passed us by. They may never have existed.
If the people of Iraq are given back their country, there isn’t the slightest guarantee that they will use the privilege to create a liberal democracy. The creation of democracy is an organic process that must proceed from the will of the local people. Sometimes that will is present, more often it is not. Vietnam provides an example. Vietnam today enjoys the self-determination it battled to achieve for so long; but it has not become a democracy.
On the other hand, just because Iraq’s future remains to be decided by its talented people, it would also be wrong to categorically rule out the possibility that they will escape tyranny and create democratic government for themselves.
The United States and other countries might even find ways of offering modest assistance in the project. It’s just that it is beyond the power of the United States to create democracy for them. The matter is not in our hands. It never was.
Winning is easier than losing for United States in the context of the passage because losing would mean