OK, I’ll give in to the point of view that we should do everything possible to accelerate a transition to an Iraqi government. We should install an interim government with limited soveriegnity on the 30 June deadline. The primary task of this interim government should be to organize elections as soon as possible. Everything else should be secondary and/or handled by the Coalition. Voting should be held only in relatively secure areas - those areas controlled by insurgents would be excluded. This should be a big help in turning the locals against the insurgents, because then it would be the insurgents who were preventing the locals from participating in the government.
What’s changed my mind? The problems at the Abu Ghraib prison.
The abuse of prisoners by Coalition forces is terrible, both for itself and for the impact on public opinion in Iraq. I wonder, though, how much it will really affect the latter. I suspect that most who will be thoroughly enraged are probably already part of the active opposition. I think the biggest shift will be even more pressure for a transition to local control of the government, which is why I’m switching over to the “transfer faster” side. Others may wonder what will happen when similar abuses occur in Iraqi controlled prisons, but I already know the answer to that.
However, the opinion of the anti-Western factions aren’t particularly relevant. I suspect that this kind of abuse, however vile it may be, will create far less ill feeling if it’s a “local” problem. One could cynically consider how little far worse abuses in other Arab countries seem to register on the “Arab Street”, but even without that the psychology is simply different. One need only look at how much more outrage this will generate in the USA than similar or worse abuses in the USA itself (when a state Attorney General can openly joke about widespread anal rape in that state’s prison system, there’s something of a lack of outrage about prisoner abuse).
One refrain I’m already seeing is a demand to make sure prisoner abuse never happens. I find that delusionally utopian. As noted just above, we can’t even guarantee that in our own prison system. How it is supposed to be done in the after math of a war in a foreign country where lives depend on extracting information from some of those prisoners?
It occurs to me that this highlights what most distinguishes conservatism from liberalism - the tragic vision. Liberalism is essentially a search for utopia. Conservatism is trying to build a nice house of out crooked timber. The fact that failure is guaranteed doesn’t excuse not trying. We can’t achieve the utopia of perfect behaviour in general, much less in a war zone. But that doesn’t justify not doing all we can to behave with decency and honor. On that point, I note that another comment about this incident is that nothing would have been done if the picture hadn’t been published. But the fact remains that arrests and investigations had started long before there was any publicity. That gives me confidence that our military is making a true effort in this regard.