05/20/2005 12:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Iraq: Imposing Anarchy

American generals have an admirable, constitutional tradition of speaking their minds to Congress independent of their oath of loyalty to the President. I wish Britain had the same. General Myers recently admitted that America was not winning the war in Iraq. His colleagues are now saying that military occupation might have to continue for years. I hate glib parallels between wars but this precisely replicates Vietnam. Cities are no easier to pacify, in many ways harder, than jungle.

More to the point, from my brief time in Saigon I recall the Americans governing with some competence until the very end. No one who has visited Baghdad can be anything but aghast at the incompetence of the regime that the Pentagon put in place. This has nothing to do with the justification for toppling Saddam. From day one it was just sheer, ideologically-driven, neo-conservative incompetence. In my entire career I have never met anything to match it. And the British, who frankly were not incompetent in Basra, are now being dragged down into the same mire. You cannot rescue a nation by "imposing anarchy". When the books come to be written about Iraq, this will be the simple message. You cannot reduce a working state to the political stone age and keep it there, and then expect 24 million democratic flowers to bloom. They will not. Extremism and fundamentalism will take over, as is happening. The only interesting thing about Iraq now is what happens when the American leaves. Everything else is hell in suspended animation. After two years of rule by two of the world's most supposedly sophisticated nations, Iraq is the most dangerous and thus unstable place on Earth. That takes some doing.