The article begins with the very true statement: "It matters what we call things." Unfortunately, Prof. Toft then proceeds to get almost everything else wrong. She writes: "The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the war in Iraq is a religious civil war..."
Er, has she been asleep in class this entire semester? The war in Iraq is nearly over and it hasn't been a civil war for the better part of a year, if it ever was. For the most part, since at least 2005, mostly foreign fighters have been trying to kill U.S. soldiers. Civil wars occur between combatants who are citizens of the same country.
True, plenty of Iraqi civilians get blown up by the psychopathic suicide bombers and guerrilla fighters among the enemy forces in Iraq. But they are incidental targets. It's the U.S. military personnel (and "collaborators" whom they hope to terrorize into submission) that are and have been the main targets. It is, after all, America that is the Great Satan, not the Iraqis. The latter are merely useful rocket grenade fodder to the mind of a jihadist.
As for the enemy being mostly foreign, there I'm on weaker ground. Weaker, like six-inch concrete is weaker than six feet of granite.
Even the so-called Left insist that al Qaeda members are not native to Iraq. (Remember, that was one of their talking points, insisting that Hussein had little to no contact with al Qaeda and hence was not a supporter of terrorism.) And, the Mahdi Army may be composed of chiefly Iraqis, but it's no secret — in fact, their leader practically boasts of it — that the army is ultimately controlled by rulers in Tehran. That makes them mercenaries of a foreign government.
Prof. Toft moves smoothly from error to fantasy.
Despite signs that security has improved, the religious civil wars in Iraq may have only just begun.
Er, is she not aware that the strife is winding down? When even the Washington Post acknowledges that the popularly-termed Surge has worked, is it harsh to suggest that Harvard professors should be able to admit it, too? That political changes are afoot to ensure the gains are long-term is equally evident to anyone who will look. Or, don't Harvard professors do research anymore before they render an opinion?
One thing that is still obviously true of at least this Harvard professor, though, is a love for embracing contradictions. Or, as academics prefer to name them, "nuances."
She writes: "The idea of victory versus failure is really a false dichotomy, however." Er, no. If one loses, one does not win. If one wins, as the U.S. has all but virtually done by now, one has not lost. I know the philosophy department at Harvard has some quirky interests, but I'm moderately confident it still offers an elementary logic course. Maybe Dr. Toft could sit in, discreetly.
She goes on to clarify this seeming paradox in a statement that clearly reveals her biggest delusion and fondest wish:
The real choice for US and British policymakers is between the more costly failure that will obtain from current policy and the less costly failure that might obtain from a well-thought-out and well-executed withdrawal.
Oh, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! How sweet that would be. But even the persuasive Mr. Obama may find that hard to pull off (should Prof. Toft's students succeed in getting him elected come November).
Still, the good professor is definitely right about one thing, which is the main point of her article. Islam (as she puts it) is at the heart of the war.
Unfortunately, she draws the wrong conclusion, such as believing that this implies that the Sunni are at war with the Shiite and vice versa. The jihadists have provided ample evidence of being equal opportunity butchers when it suits their purpose, regardless of the sect of killer or victim.
Also, her prescription is illogical.
The withdrawal of US forces would allow Iraq's predominantly Arab Shiites and Sunnis to find common interest in opposing their two more classical historical adversaries: Kurds and Persians.
That contradicts a statement three paragraphs earlier where she says:
[R]eligious civil wars are less likely to end in negotiated settlement. Instead, combatants tend to duke it out until one side achieves victory.
Also, she appears to be satisfied with, if not actually advocating, civil war by the Sunnis and Shiites against the Kurds and Persians. If so, she should be ashamed. Kurdistan is peaceful and relatively prosperous; in short, a model for the rest of Iraq. And — Dr. Toft has to know this — the Persians live in Iran. Does she think another Iran-Iraq war would be a good thing?
But, then, perhaps I misinterpret her here. Possibly she thinks it's okay if they butcher each other, so long as they're not killing Americans.
I could agree with her on that, but unfortunately the Islamists have shown no willingness to leave anyone alone outside Iraq, either. Just ask the Danes. Or the Spanish. Or the Dutch. Or the French. Tragically, there are 3,000 Americans in New York we can no longer ask.
And, the more successful they are in Iraq, the more likely they are to be emboldened to press efforts elsewhere. Conversely, as they lose in one major arena, the heat tends to taper off in other hot spots. There are exceptions, but that just shows that the jihadist cancer needs radiation treatment as much as surgery.
The professor is right, though, on her key statement. Islam is central to the conflict. (We'll let go without elaboration that those on the 'pro-war' side have been shouting this open secret for several years now.)
It is this dreadful, life-destroying religion that is driving al Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, and their ultimate material and spiritual masters, whether in Pakistan, Iran, or elsewhere. Oddly, Prof. Toft gives no indication that she condemns it as the fundamental cause of the violent conflicts in Iraq. This is even more odd given that she herself says:
Islam has been involved in more than 80 percent of all religious civil wars.
How she could fail to draw the right conclusions from this will have to remain a mystery. Maybe Harvard's psychology department could give us a clue; maybe its history department could give Dr. Toft one.
It does indeed matter what we call things. We should call this thing the War Against Islamic Jihadism, and a surge to wipe out these evil ideas is badly needed just now. Somehow, I don't think the Professor Tofts of this world will be enlisting anytime soon.