When no less a conservative icon than William F. Buckley himself announces the inevitability of defeat in Iraq, then you know things have gotten bad. Buckley may no longer the the singular icon of the conservative intelligentsia that he once was, but he’s still the elder statesman of the right wing in America, and he still defines what it is to be a conservative.
An astute student of history, Buckley may remember what happened in 1917-1918 in the Middle East. The British Empire, knowing that it could no longer sustain itself in its then-current incarnation, needed to find a way to withdraw with honor and security from its holdings. The clever servants of King George V developed a practical, if Machiavellian, solution to the problem of divesting itself of its imperial possessions. They carved up their holdings to create an ever-shifting balance of power behind them, pragmatically (and not idealistically) setting up a variety of small states that would be perpetually stalemated by one another. They invest ed local elites in the new local power structures, to ensure that each state would remain autonomous by giving the elites a personal reason to keep those states in existence. Then, they got the hell out of there and turned their attention to being British. Is that the way we’re going to have to go, too?