Barry Eisler

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Iraq: It's Over.

A year ago I wrote an opinion piece for the Philadelphia City Paper that asked how and when a society would admit a war was lost. Now we're finding out.

Don't think it's over yet? Remember, whatever officials say in public, they're probably an order of magnitude more pessimistic in private.

Here's General John Abizaid, commander of US forces in the Middle East, testifying before the Senate last week: “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.”

Look at the qualifiers in that last clause. It's "possible" that Iraq "could" "move towards" civil war. My guess is that General Abazaid, mindful of what happened to then Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki when Shinseki publicly disagreed with SecDef Rumsfeld, is protecting his political flank (he also described himself as "optimistic"). But if the general is talking this way in public, on the record, what do you think he's saying in private? What do you think he really believes?

Also, the outgoing British ambassador to Iraq says in a leaked memo that "the prospect of a low-intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely" than a stable democracy.

Okay, leave aside the pronouncements, publicly hedged and privately leaked. What's going on on the ground?

The Economist reports Shiite and Sunni militias are dividing Baghdad into de facto ethnic sectors. In the former Yugoslavia, this was known as "ethnic cleansing." The UN reports that over 100 Iraqis a day being killed in sectarian strife, mostly in Baghdad. (It'll be interesting to see at what point a public consensus emerges that what's happening in Iraq is indeed a civil war. Remember, the Pentagon at first refused to call what we were fighting following the fall of Baghdad an "insurgency." But events have a way of slipping past linguistic attempts to bottle them up, or deny them.)

Not long ago, the administration was taken with the so-called "Oil Spot Strategy," in which we would focus our efforts on improving conditions in already relatively untroubled parts of Iraq, then extend those improvements like a spreading oil spot to more troubled regions. I don't know whether the strategy was seriously attempted or whether it could really work, but it seems things have gotten so bad in Baghdad that the administration is afraid the city will act like caustic detergent on whatever oil spots might drop around it. Now, to try to halt Baghdad's slide, we're sending more troops to the city, and the oil spot approach seems forgotten.

I'm not a military man, but it's hard to see the increase as grounds for General Abazaid's professed optimism. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman describes the increase, to about 135,000, as a "sustained spike." "You're going to see that spike," he said last week, "that is a sustained spike, for a while, and you're going to still have force rotations that take place."

Quick question: is a "sustained spike" the same as a "long term development?" Just asking.

But when do we really know the game is over? Shouldn't we give our efforts just a little more time, maybe another six months? For an answer, google "six months Iraq." I've been curious about this apparently critical moving six month window for years now. Tom Friedman of the New York Times, who I think ought to be in charge of US foreign policy, has referred to it pretty much since the war began, and at some point I started to suspect that Friedman was unconsciously moving the magical six month window forward because he couldn't face that the war was lost. But in his most recent op-ed piece, called "Time for Plan B," Friedman writes, "It is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are baby-sitting a civil war." There's no mention of six months in the piece. Friedman is writing about now.

How will things end? Check out "What do we do about Iraq."
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26 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Barry,
The only thing to do now is to run as far and as fast as possible. The problem in the Middle East and indeed Sub Saharan Africa is that all the borders were basically set up by the winningest powers after WW1 and WW2. We and the international community cling to the fiction of these borders as though they are set in stone. How much bloodshed in these areas could have been solved by an acurate reading of tribal borders rather than European statesment drawing lines on maps in backrooms in Versailles and Potsdam. How many lives could have been saved in Rwanda, Nigeria and many others. I don't know how to solve it because all international organisations are complicit in this fiction.

Paul N.

Monday, August 07, 2006 3:52:00 AM  
Blogger Steve G said...

I’m sure most people would agree with me that Saddam isn’t long for this world. Whether he hangs or gets his wish for a firing squad, remains to be seen. I’m wondering if the Secretary of Defense and his allies are hoping that the Sunni insurgency will lose its momentum when that day occurs. I know it’s a farfetched theory and they wouldn’t air it publicly, but when one is reaching for straws...

Monday, August 07, 2006 7:03:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

It is, indeed over.

The Asian Times reported yesterday that Iraqi Shi’ites are pushing hard for a federal system with their own “homeland” in the South. (See here.) Compounding all of this, the crisis in Lebanon continues to worsen, and protests across the Muslim world – including Baghdad - against Israel’s invasion and continued U.S. support for that country’s actions are growing and spreading. (See here.)

President Bush and his gang of criminally negligent hacks have taken a country that sits in the very cradle of human civilization into a spiral of anarchy and bloodshed that is already brutal and which will probably only get worse. Was Saddam Hussein a malignant stain on the landscape? Absolutely, but even his removal does not excuse our blundering into Iraq like some special needs child armed with the best military technology money can buy. Former ambassador Peter Galbraith has stated that Bush didn’t even know there were two Muslim sects in Iraq as late as two months before the invasion, exclaiming when he was briefed on the Shia and the Sunni, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!” (See here.) Pathetic if true, but it would certainly explain a lot.

I literally feel sick every time I see or read or hear what’s going on; it just gets worse and worse. (Of course it must be that the big, bad media is just failing to report the good news!) I am absolutely furious at the arrogance and stupidity and ignorance that are guiding our ship of state.

It’s a good thing that Bush’s approval ratings are in the toilet. If they weren’t, he’d probably be able to pressure Congress into approving a draft. (With appropriate deferments for those with “other priorities” of course.) I wonder what the over-under is on his trying anyway?

Paul

Monday, August 07, 2006 9:29:00 AM  
Anonymous jdlt said...

It is very sad that the War or displacement of Saddam was not done right. Bush had his heart in the right place, but fighting a politically correct war against a people and systems that hate America and Israel is destined to fail.

time to commit to another type of war, politcally incorrect, but could determine the outcome to dominance of one culture over another. i prefer the American way myself....

Monday, August 07, 2006 1:13:00 PM  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Barry,

Thank you for this insightful post. But how would conceding defeat in Iraq be handled practically? A withdrawal of the troops will certainly throw Iraq into a civil war. Do you think the government is concerned about perception if they leave and a full-scale civil war ensues? Will this give rise to anti-American sentiments, or has all the damage already been done?

As much as I did not support this war and was glad my own country stayed out of it, I sympathize with what must be an incredibly difficult decision to make now about how to withdraw.

Nice to see you back,
Sandra

Monday, August 07, 2006 1:43:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

jdlt,

To be blunt, after hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, I don’t really care where the president’s heart is. I’m reasonably certain that the people who are being killed, maimed, displaced, terrorized and otherwise subjected to the kind of savage existence we can only hope never to encounter personally probably don’t really care either, and I’m pretty sure that the service people and their families would rather have something a little more solid, too.

I apologize in advance if this comes across as rude, but when, exactly, did having one’s heart in the right place become a mitigating factor for failed policy? When did it become a stand-in for the respect due the lessons of history? What exactly, are we supposed to take away from that perspective? That it somehow, in some way, excuses the storm of chaos we have birthed in Iraq?

It does not.

Not in any way.

This conflict is not “winnable” by any definition that we would like to use and if it ever was, it was a long time ago. Going into Iraq to topple a vicious dictator, who nonetheless was not a direct threat to the United States, on trumped up evidence and in bad faith with the American people was never a good idea. The neocon vision of pressuring the countries in the region to adopt democracy through our actions in Iraq was a pipedream wholly unsupported by anything other than wishful thinking and a myopic and arrogant view that everybody else in the world sees things just like we do. We have damaged our own cause severely by pursuing it.

Even absent the fact that there was no realistic plan for the occupation, the misguided disbanding of the Iraqi Army, the failure to address the insurgency in its early stages, and the corruption and fiscal irresponsibility surrounding our abortive reconstruction efforts, Iraq as a platform for democracy in the Persian Gulf was so unlikely in the extreme as to make chasing it flat out foolish. Worse, it was pursued when other enemies who had directly attacked us remained - and remain - on the loose. Neither the United States, in several tries including Afghanistan, nor anybody else has ever pulled off anything even remotely similar.

This is not a question of a “politically correct” conflict versus a “politically incorrect” one. It is not a matter of fighting the right war the wrong way. It is simply that we are fighting the wrong war, period, and it is made worse by the simple-mindedness and disconection from reality of our leaders.

Paul

Monday, August 07, 2006 2:54:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Sandra, for how we withdraw, see the link at the end of my post. Generally, we declare support for what seems to be the Iraqi desire to split into three countries. We stop fighting fissiparousness and instead try to manage it. It'll be a mess, no doubt, but I haven't heard anyone propose anything less worse and we can't stay in Iraq forever.

Paul, by coincidence Martin Peretz invoked the "but the war is just" argument today in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. I've long been of the opinion that, when results are awful, they tend to eclipse intentions. Still, remember that comments here are intended to persuade... "simply" and "period" probably aren't helpful modifiers in that regard...

:-)
Barry

Monday, August 07, 2006 11:06:00 PM  
Blogger David Terrenoire said...

jdlt,

As a veteran and a student of military history, I can assure you that there's no such thing as a politically correct war.

If you mean that we've fought this war with care not to inflict civilian casualties, that can be argued, but be assured that it was a practical more than humanitarian consideration. This is just one of the difficulties in fighting an insurgency, especially in an urban environment.

I suspect, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, that by politically incorrect you mean to kill 'em all and let God sort them out. If you really look at that strategy, you'll see that it sounds good, and has a macho swagger that looks great on a tattoo, but does not constitute any kind of effective long-term plan, either strategic or tactical.

As for where the president's heart lies, I can only point to Rush Limbaugh's criticism of liberals' inetntions. He's not right about much, but he's right when he says that intentions mean nothing if not backed up by a solid, well thought out and implemented policy.

For those of you who might want some good news in all this, read James Fallow's piece in the current Atlantic. He lays out how successful we've been in dismantling Al Queada.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006 4:38:00 AM  
Anonymous JRH said...

I don't have anything good to say about the present administration and its conduct of this war. But again, I don't think there is anyone out there with a good alternative idea as well. If my history is correct, American Foreign Policy has been an utter failure since before WWII. Facism "wasn't a threat" to the US, so it was OK to appease those governments and let them continue to exist. During WWII, foreign policy gave up most of Eastern Europe to years of painful domination and millions of deaths at the hands of Communists. It was also "foreign policy" that ended up creating two Koreas and two Vietnams. All of these foreign policy "successes" were followed by wars of some kind, but only after untold hardship, torture and deaths for their populations.

Perhaps there is no room in this world for the "kill 'em all" solution, but we'll never rid ourselves of a Fundamentalist Islamic/Facist movement unless it is totally defeated, in every sense of the word. Negotiation, appeasement, nor any other policitally correct solution can even begin to deal with a well organized movement whose only goal is to kill us for who we are. Their solution for us is to be Islamic or Dead - only two choices. We need to find the national will to protect ourselves against this threat, and right now it isn't coming from either side.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Andrea at Lochthyme said...

How will this end? Badly. If we stay to try to get a stable democracy going we will be there forever...and in the end a stable democracy won't happen. If we pull out we will leave a country in chaos and civil war. The game was over before it began. We had no plan for what to do after Hussein was ousted and we still don't have a workable plan. There isn't anything we can do that won't leave us looking like total incompetents.

There is already strong anti-American sentiment in the world community and by the time this is all done, one way or another, it will be even stronger.

Bush and his cronies started a war that they had no way of winning. And all they can say is everything is fine. We are optimistic...blah blah blah. I'm not optimistic, everything is not fine and I feel very badly for the Iraqui people who are suffering and dying because of Bush and cronies incompetence.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

Barry,

Point well taken on the word choice.

I’m just finding it increasingly difficult to sit back and calmly discuss exactly why Iraq is such complete mess with those who strongly appear to be ignoring current reality, as well as recent and more distant history. There has never been a shred of credible evidence to support the invasion of Iraq, and Bush is outright lying when he continues to claim that Saddam “wouldn’t let the inspectors back in.” I’ve been angry about the snow job since before our invasion, and although I recognize that the wheels of democracy turn slowly, I guess I’m growing impatient with the cognitive dissonance that still has half the people in the country believing weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, and two thirds under the impression that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were working together. (See here.)

It is amazing how thoroughly supporters of the Bush Administration – like Peretz - have talked themselves into the idea that we went into Iraq to help its people. We went in because it was claimed that Iraq was a direct, credible and near-term threat to the United States, and “spreading freedom” only became the phrase of the day once it was eminently clear that we had ignored the word of all the inspectors who looked for WMDs in Iraq – and duly reported that there weren’t any - at our own peril.

I know you’re not carrying water for Peretz, but the continued attempts by people like him to reshape the past through repetition of talking points grates on me in the extreme. It just tears me up to see what has been done to both this country and its standing in the world, all because of foolish pride, base negligence and failure to hold people to account for their actions.

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Tuesday, August 08, 2006 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Maryann said...

I don't believe there is a true solution to Iraq, anymore than there was a successful conclusion to Vietnam, or Korea for that matter. I too believe that our military will either be there for years to come or we will leave the country in worse condition, political or otherwise, than when the first troops landed.
I also believe this administration uses 'stay the course' as a mantra rather than admit any errors made since the declaration of WMD. And lately, for many Iraq has taken a
backseat to the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict. Wars and rumors of wars abound. Solutions are few and unsatisfactory.
Just my humble opinion...I wish I could offer some answers that made sense.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 6:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Barry, I somehow can see you smiling at my taking the bait on this one …

Okay, here goes …

The war was a good idea presented in bad and far reaching rhetoric. There have been gains in Iraq that are not sexy enough for the nightly news and which are obviously overshadowed by the massive loss of life. The current civil war is born of religious insanity compressed by years of oppression. It was let loose as a direct result of an attempt to fight a war with handcuffs.

Until yesterday, Israel was trying to fight a war with handcuffs. Somebody put caffeine back in the leadership’s coffee last night and now they’re fighting it the way it needs to be fought. There is no negotiating with people hell bent on killing you/us/Israel.

We shouldn’t be (or have been) concerned about Democracy anywhere else but here (some of the bad rhetoric).

We shouldn’t be fighting the war for the sake of the Iraqi people (although it’s a nice byproduct if the affected parties can ever get along).

We shouldn’t be fighting the war because of the very suspect Al Qaeda link to 9-11.

We should have fought the war to take down a guy who publicly supported terrorism post 9-11 (his $25K rewards to suicide bombers in Israel) and because he ignored U.N. sanctions for 12 years … and, quite frankly, we needed to show those who thought us a paper tiger (according to Bin Laden) that they should take us off their “next to terrorize” list.

Ruling out preemptive war is absurd in the 21st century. We shouldn’t jump into one, but we’d be damned foolish to think it won’t happen again (say, when Iran or North Korea can reach the U.S. mainland with ballistic missiles). And in that regard, we shouldn’t rule out nuclear preemptive strikes.

What is going on between Israel and Hezbollah at Lebanon’s expense is horrible but more necessary than we like to admit. Syria and Iran have decided to use the Lebanese AND Israeli people and their lands as a killing field. Israel finds itself having to do the only SANE thing left – taking out Hezbollah at all costs (including Kofi Annan’s lip service condemnations). For Israel to do anything else would be akin to a slow suicide. They can’t let Hezbollah retrench. The Lebanese army can’t stop Hezbollah. Another U.N. security force will lead right back to where this thing started. Israel can either take out Hezbollah now and do a better job of keeping watch where the world community refuses to do so, or it can count on fighting this same war every few years until a militant Arab or Muslim state drops a nuke on them.

Iraq isn’t a popular war. Except for the one with Japan after we were attacked at Pearl Harbor and the one with the Taliban after 9-11, what war (was/is) popular? It is horrible and brutal and nasty and unfortunate (and may well seem an uncontrollable mess to 60% of the U.S. population), but 85% of the same population (a generation removed) didn’t want anything to do with Hitler (so much for righteous historical comparisons; I speak here of all the poll taking that turns our wrong over the course of history).

We may never know whether the Iraq war does (or did) us any good, but there are some (myself obviously) who believe it was absolutely necessary. I wouldn’t mind seeing a U.S. withdrawal sooner rather than later (I am not calling for one with a deadline, though, make no mistake) because I think most of the Islamic fundementalist world understands we’ll no longer just threaten to bring justice to terrorists against our people (the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center bombing, the Cole, Mogadishu, etc.), we’ll actually go to war over it.

Sometimes winning lofty rhetorical goals aren’t the real issue. Sometimes it’s just as important (if not more so) to let the bullies on the block understand there will be a fight waiting for them if they push hard enough.

Israel finds itself in a grave situation; Israel fights for survival. They should, as Mr. Conrad suggested, “exterminate all the brutes” since Hezzbolah has offered them this unfortunate, but golden opportunity.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

Thank you for your sober and knowledgeable comments. those i can respond to.

for the most part you are right in your analysis of my previous post.

i am looking very far down the path and i really do not have hope in humanity resolving their problems through negotiation. nor am i interested in a one-world government that homogenizes all ideals and actions, as i saw the Clintons doing in their adminstration and the liberals running with today.

i guess, in summary,i would rather just jump to pre-armegeddon. i have very little patience for what is going on.

there will be no peaceful resolution between the two world views at war.....hence my desire to fight and fight with all we have. maybe we can buy some time by pushing some of our enemies back to the stone age.

do i want world peace? yes, but i am not confident that this will be achieved via liberal ideals.

jdlt

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 1:35:00 PM  
Anonymous jdlt said...

Charlie Stella,

i agree whole heartedly with you.

my analysis just happens to leapfrog through time to the time we will have to use the nuclear pre-emptive strike.

i just pray to G-d, (Israel's and Christians) that we have the leadership with the courage to do so.

jdlt

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 1:59:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

"We should have fought the war to take down a guy who publicly supported terrorism post 9-11 (his $25K rewards to suicide bombers in Israel) and because he ignored U.N. sanctions for 12 years … and, quite frankly, we needed to show those who thought us a paper tiger (according to Bin Laden) that they should take us off their “next to terrorize” list."
__________________________

Charlie,

Why should we have been invading Iraq when the actual terrorists - as opposed to someone who was wholly contained, fully obedient to U.N. sanctions or not - were still on the loose? It seems like it would make more sense to finish the job we were supposedly doing in Afghanistan first, but even if we accept your premise, why not invade Saudi Arabia? They support terrorists at all levels of government through the royal family, and almost all of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Why not Pakistan, the other hiding spot for Al Qaeda? Why not Syria or Iran, with their direct, documented links to Hezbollah, rather than some has-been who couldn't even fly in his own country? Why was Iraq the priority when links to terrorism from other countries were demonstrably stronger?

I am unaware of any successful "regime change" - even counting World War II - that has been accomplished without conscription and massive loss of life. Why would we think our adventure in Iraq would be successful, given all historical evidence that both a draft and the sacrifice of large numbers of Americans would be required? Finally, if our goal was to show the world we're not a paper tiger, doesn't trying to pull this invasion off on the cheap, running it as a luxury war that allows the vast majority of Americans to escape any kind of direct effect like combat duty or even rationing, actually show us to be just that? Doesn't it show us to be uncommitted, and wouldn't actually capturing Bin Laden have demonstrated that commitment?

Paul
Sensen No Sen

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 6:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Paul said: Why should we have been invading Iraq when the actual terrorists - as opposed to someone who was wholly contained, fully obedient to U.N. sanctions or not - were still on the loose?

Iraq invaded two neighbors (albeit one with our blessing), but they were anything but obedient to U.N. sanctions. Hussein's public support of terrorism came on the heels of 9-11 (not the brightest move on his part). His firing scuds into Israel (and our subsequent demand that Israel stay out of the first Gulf War) was more than enough reason to go after him again (and for good) when he issued those public rewards post 9-11.

Paul said: It seems like it would make more sense to finish the job we were supposedly doing in Afghanistan first, but even if we accept your premise, why not invade Saudi Arabia? They support terrorists at all levels of government through the royal family, and almost all of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Why not Pakistan, the other hiding spot for Al Qaeda? Why not Syria or Iran, with their direct, documented links to Hezbollah, rather than some has-been who couldn't even fly in his own country? Why was Iraq the priority when links to terrorism from other countries were demonstrably stronger?

Why invade Afghanistan for that matter? It wasn’t the Taliban that flew jets into our buildings. It was Al Qaeda. We attacked Afghanistan because they provided sanctuary to Al Qaeda. To my knowledge, Hussein was the ONLY one offering “public” rewards to suicide bombers. He was waving the proverbial red flag in our faces (after Bush’s statement about being with us or against us). Frankly, he made it easy.

As for going after Al Qaeda, etc., I believe we still pursue them. Perhaps not the way we should, but that pursuit of terrorism shouldn’t have precluded us from taking down Hussein. Frankly, I’m all for us lending direct support to Israel right now, but I suspect the handcuffs we’re shackled with in Iraq preclude us from that venture.

Paul said: I am unaware of any successful "regime change" - even counting World War II - that has been accomplished without conscription and massive loss of life. Why would we think our adventure in Iraq would be successful, given all historical evidence that both a draft and the sacrifice of large numbers of Americans would be required?

You make two very good points here, Paul. I have to agree, except to say times have changed and not necessarily for the better. Regime change in Germany, no matter what the cost, was a much easier task because we had an easily identifiable enemy. As we should have learned in Vietnam, we don’t now. As for “Large numbers of Americans” … the war in Iraq falls far short of World War II and/or Vietnam. At the current rate (and I’m not celebrating death rates here, so no one should think I’m being callous about our losses), we’d have to be in Iraq another dozen years at least to come close to the American death totals in Vietnam. There’s no point in comparing it to WWII where we lost half a million, unless one of our adversaries manages to use a nuke.

Paul said: Finally, if our goal was to show the world we're not a paper tiger, doesn't trying to pull this invasion off on the cheap, running it as a luxury war that allows the vast majority of Americans to escape any kind of direct effect like combat duty or even rationing, actually show us to be just that? Doesn't it show us to be uncommitted, and wouldn't actually capturing Bin Laden have demonstrated that commitment?

This is a great point, Paul. It is my opinion that we should have a mandatory draft (much like Israel). I’m not sure it would be popular, but it sure would solve a lot of our internal problems if everybody (political sons and daughters included ... yes, and my boy Bush doesn't get to play weekend warrior, he'd have to be on the front lines) had to serve. It would probably clean up a lot of our domestic mess as well. There’s nothing like a little bit of responsibility.

We should go roman and get it over with, but imagine the world condemnation at that? There are those who still insist we (and President Truman) were inhuman in ending the war with Japan with atomic bombs. I don’t agree ... and I don’t believe in fighting wars for the sake of proving how humane we can be. Either we concern ourselves with defense of a nation (including preemptive war when necessary) or we let the world decide our fate at the U.N.

Frankly, as a New Yorker, I firmly believe the U.N. should be turned into a casino and/or long term parking.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 8:03:00 PM  
Blogger M. G. Tarquini said...

I don't think the U.S. admitted defeat in Vietnam until the last helicopter airlifted out of Saigon.

Barry, if it's over in Iraq, why continue wasting lives? Why not bug out? False pride? Take a poll. Find me the parent, spouse or child who wouldn't rather have his/her soldier home in one piece, than worry s/he'll earn the dubious honor of 'last casualty'.

Sandra, re: world opinion if we withdraw. I doubt the world can think much less of us than it does now. If this is a failed endeavor, we need to pack it up.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 10:49:00 PM  
Blogger David Terrenoire said...

Charlie and jdlt,

Charlie, you'll be surprised that I agree completely about the problem. Islamic fundamentalists have set themselves the goal of killing as many Americans, or Westerners, as possible.

Where we disagree is in the solution. Not because I'm squeamish about casualties or unwilling to make sacrifices, but because I think it's counterproductive.

Using the military to kill people is an attractive option because it's simple. But, in my opinion, it's using a sledge hammer to sew a shirt. A sledge hammer is good for some thing, but not for all things.

Our military cannot kill them all. Impossible. Can't be done. And it just enrages friends, neighbors and family of those we do kill, both guilty and innocent. Think of how you felt on 9/11 and then multiply that anger and desire for revenge over a lifetime. I don't know about you, but even at my advanced age, I'd be picking up a gun.

So, if a military solution can't work, what else do we do? I don't know.

But I do know it will be difficult and require some heavy lifting, creativity and very hard work and I don't trust out present leadership to have the patience, intellectual rigor, empathy, diplomacy, or wisdom to find the solution that escapes me, just an average schmuck in North Carolina.

So it's not that we disagree on the problem, nor do we differ in our desire to kick some ass, but in the light of day I think that will do much more harm than good.

Oh, and a slight correction. There are several people in the Saudi royal family who gave money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Yes, Saddam was a prick, but the military solution to getting rid of him has proven to be a disaster. We're now an occupation army and as Murtha has pointed out, that makes us a target.

Again, the military is great for killing people and breaking things, but not for building nations.

In that, I agree with George Bush. Not the president George Bush, but the candidate George Bush.

Thursday, August 10, 2006 4:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Our military cannot kill them all. Impossible. Can't be done. And it just enrages friends, neighbors and family of those we do kill, both guilty and innocent. Think of how you felt on 9/11 and then multiply that anger and desire for revenge over a lifetime. I don't know about you, but even at my advanced age, I'd be picking up a gun.

Dave, we agree here as well … I don’t think it will solve the problem at all. I do think it will keep at least some of the hounds at bay. We’re not going to change the opinions of people who teach their children that Israel should be wiped from the face of the earth in their schoolbooks and that America is the great infidel (at best) and a bigger, badder Israel (at worst). I agree there’s no total and/or absolute solution to the problem, but what do we do in the meantime?

Reagan’s response to the marine barracks sure didn’t work … nor did Clinton’s continuous threats. And what Clinton did manage to do positively with the military (against the U.N.'s advice) in Kosovo can never happen in the middle east so long as we depend on allies or world opinion because Israel just isn’t respected (or acknowledged) by very many of our so-called allies.

So, if a military solution can't work, what else do we do? I don't know.

But I do know it will be difficult and require some heavy lifting, creativity and very hard work and I don't trust out present leadership to have the patience, intellectual rigor, empathy, diplomacy, or wisdom to find the solution that escapes me, just an average schmuck in North Carolina.


We’re all average schmucks, brother. We can’t depend on any leadership to find a solution to a problem that has none. I don’t understand why the military answer is so wrong, though. The key nation states are calling for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth. What is there to discuss? Where do you send your diplomats? How do you even approach dealing with that mentality? I don’t think Israel (or us) have time for the creative solutions that currently elude all of us. To suggest we all back off and let organizations such as Hezbollah take pot shots at Israel or that we permit allies to take those potshots doesn’t seem like a viable answer (I speak of the scuds in Gulf I as a good enough reason to invade Iraq--not the rhetoric we were fed).

Oh, and a slight correction. There are several people in the Saudi royal family who gave money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

I don’t remember ever reading about them publicly supporting suicide bombers (i.e., publicizing monetary rewards to the families of suicide bombers), but I could be very wrong. Still, though, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the Saudi Government acting as head of a nation state (as was Hussein) offering those rewards.

Yes, Saddam was a prick, but the military solution to getting rid of him has proven to be a disaster. We're now an occupation army and as Murtha has pointed out, that makes us a target.

Why we should have and should still go Roman and get it over with. That doesn’t mean kill them all, but it does mean flattening a few of the trouble spots from the air (collateral damage--yes, I'm going to hell someday--be damned).

Thursday, August 10, 2006 8:16:00 AM  
Anonymous jdlt said...

Charlie Stella,

G-d bless you for stating our next objective to the war on terrorist.

Americans need to aggressively pursue the dismantling of the U.N.

Thursday, August 10, 2006 9:11:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

Charlie,

I enjoyed your response – the tone of discourse here is one of the things that keeps me coming back – and have some additional thoughts. Apologies on the length...

Charlie said: Iraq invaded two neighbors (albeit one with our blessing), but they were anything but obedient to U.N. sanctions. Hussein's public support of terrorism came on the heels of 9-11 (not the brightest move on his part). His firing scuds into Israel (and our subsequent demand that Israel stay out of the first Gulf War) was more than enough reason to go after him again (and for good) when he issued those public rewards post 9-11.

I think we may have talked past one another on this one. My point was that Saddam’s obedience to U.N. sanctions really wasn’t that big a deal since he wasn’t able to project force, which is what counts (or should). Even if disobedience was somehow a major problem, Bush’s claim that Saddam was refusing to let the weapons inspectors back in prior to our invasion is 100% false. (See here.) In other words, we abandoned a diplomatic solution that was demonstrably working in order to invade a country that had no direct connection to any attack on the U.S.

With regard to Saddam’s bluster about suicide bomber rewards – which I believe were offered to those who would attack Israel, and not us – my perception is that we ought to be able to see it for what it is. If we invaded every tin-pot dictatorship that mouthed off we’d be in Vnezuela right now and have active wars all over the globe. I don’t disagree that Saddam Hussein was a bad guy and never have, but my central point remains: given resource constraints, diplomatic considerations and higher priority targets, invading Iraq because its leader makes a lot of noise about how suicide bombing is a good thing seems hard to defend. Yes, he might “deserve” to be deposed, but the timing and allocation of limited resources is way off-base.

Charlie said: Why invade Afghanistan for that matter? It wasn’t the Taliban that flew jets into our buildings. It was Al Qaeda. We attacked Afghanistan because they provided sanctuary to Al Qaeda. To my knowledge, Hussein was the ONLY one offering “public” rewards to suicide bombers. He was waving the proverbial red flag in our faces (after Bush’s statement about being with us or against us). Frankly, he made it easy.

I’m not sure I understand. Doesn’t invading a country that is providing material support and a base of operations for an enemy that has directly attacked us (Afghanistan) both differ significantly from - and make more sense than - invading a nation that is simply making loud PR gestures (Iraq)? If the emotional baggage associated with Saddam is stripped out of the equation, it starts to look pretty out of whack, and I don't think we should be emotional about the decision to go to war.

Charlie said: As for going after Al Qaeda, etc., I believe we still pursue them. Perhaps not the way we should, but that pursuit of terrorism shouldn’t have precluded us from taking down Hussein. Frankly, I’m all for us lending direct support to Israel right now, but I suspect the handcuffs we’re shackled with in Iraq preclude us from that venture.

This is pretty much my point; we aren’t pursuing the people we should be pursuing as we should, and our military options have been profoundly limited by our war of choice in Iraq. It’s like we lost our keys in the garage but went looking for them in the living room because there’s better light.

Even if one thinks the war was a good idea, the manner in which it is being carried out is having ripple effects that will last for years. More than two-thirds of our National Guard brigades are not ready for duty because of equipment shortages spawned by our commitment in Iraq (See here), we’re hammering coming generations with debt to finance this thing, and we’ve diminshed the quality of our army by lowering recruitment standards and raising the maximum enlistment age to 42 (42!).

We’ll be paying for this in many ways for a long time to come, and have gained… what? Certainly not security, since non-state actors continue to be the problem – not whole nations like Iraq - as today’s foiled terror plot (See here) amply illustrates.

Charlie said: As for “Large numbers of Americans” … the war in Iraq falls far short of World War II and/or Vietnam. At the current rate (and I’m not celebrating death rates here, so no one should think I’m being callous about our losses), we’d have to be in Iraq another dozen years at least to come close to the American death totals in Vietnam. There’s no point in comparing it to WWII where we lost half a million, unless one of our adversaries manages to use a nuke.

I think my point was misconstrued; I’m not advocating that we send more Americans to their deaths. I’m stating that we should realize that accomplishing the goal we’ve declared would necessitate it. The only successful regime changes that have occurred have been at the expense of massive loss of life. You are correct that we’d have to be in Iraq for another dozen years to equal the number of Americans killed in World War II, and I don’t dispute that. I think what’s missing however, is the realization that, under current “strategy” we could actually be there another dozen years. Likewise, if we were to commit a massive, conscripted Army, we might pull it off, but we would suffer the same loss of life, only earlier and in more concentrated form.

The upshot is, you can pay the reaper now or you can pay the reaper later if regime change is the goal. If we are casualty-averse however - as we are – then we won’t accomplish the goal because the necessary payment in lives will not have occurred either via a massive, sustained assault with high casualties, or through a drawn out slow bleed like we have today. Again, to be clear, I’m not advocating either a draft or the loss of life; I’m simply stating that there is a price that has to be paid for our stated goal, and we are unwilling to pay it. That being the case, it’s another reason we should not have pursued that goal.

Charlie said: This is a great point, Paul. It is my opinion that we should have a mandatory draft (much like Israel). I’m not sure it would be popular, but it sure would solve a lot of our internal problems if everybody (political sons and daughters included ... yes, and my boy Bush doesn't get to play weekend warrior, he'd have to be on the front lines) had to serve. It would probably clean up a lot of our domestic mess as well. There’s nothing like a little bit of responsibility.

I’m not sure universal conscription would be my choice, but amen to our leaders having skin in the game! I’ve never believed that military service experience is crucial to effective rule, but I may be revising that position after watching George “I swear I was there” Bush, Dick “Five Deferments” Cheney and the like send other people’s kids into harm’s way. It’s almost like they have contempt for anybody who is actually serving.

Maybe we just make mandatory enlistment of all offspring a requirement for political office! : )

Charlie said: We should go roman and get it over with, but imagine the world condemnation at that? There are those who still insist we (and President Truman) were inhuman in ending the war with Japan with atomic bombs. I don’t agree ... and I don’t believe in fighting wars for the sake of proving how humane we can be. Either we concern ourselves with defense of a nation (including preemptive war when necessary) or we let the world decide our fate at the U.N. Frankly, as a New Yorker, I firmly believe the U.N. should be turned into a casino and/or long term parking.

I don’t think we disagree here. The point of war is not to be nice; it’s to protect our nation’s interests. I think where we diverge is that I believe we are wasting money, equipment, good will, diplomatic credibility, property, and most importantly, lives, on a war that neither protects the country nor furthers our interests. If anything, this war is making things worse for us. We have fewer friends on whom we can depend, we have depleted our armed forces, we have failed to begin addressing the root causes of Islamist terrorism and we have not gone after the people responsible for the deaths of 3,300 civilians with anything like the level of intensity I believe is appropriate.

As far as the U.N. goes, it’s just a forum and a useful release valve for the un-empowered. I don't see it as evil; it’s just kind of useless in its present form, and the U.S. is as much to blame for that as anybody else. On the other hand, Manhattan can always use more parking!

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Thursday, August 10, 2006 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Paul, it’s a pleasure having discourse with you … Dave T. and JD Rhodes taught me humility at this site (although sometimes things did and do get hot), so let me say in advance that I’m just posing a viewpoint here and not intending to piss anyone off.

Paul wrote: With regard to Saddam’s bluster about suicide bomber rewards – which I believe were offered to those who would attack Israel, and not us – my perception is that we ought to be able to see it for what it is. If we invaded every tin-pot dictatorship that mouthed off we’d be in Vnezuela right now and have active wars all over the globe.

We have to draw a line in the sand (and hopefully we have) in regards to who our allies are. Israel is an ally. The fastest way for us to make friends with the Arab world would be to bomb Israel for them. Obviously (or hopefully) it’ll never come to that (and I’m not so sure the militant Arab world would like us anyway), but in the meantime, we should support Israel when it is attacked. It was attacked in Gulf I with scuds from Hussein (he wasn’t a “tin pot” after invading Kuwait or when he used mustard gas on the Kurds and Iranians) and to draw Israel into the war, he fired scud missiles at Israel. This was serious stuff that was overshadowed by the war. The suicide rewards issued by Hussein many years later (post 9-11) needed to be addressed. They were and now he doesn’t issue them anymore. We can’t equate Venezuela with Iraq … yet. Iraq needed to be addressed the same way Kosovo needed to be addressed, except that for our (U.S.) interests, it had more to do with drawing that line in the sand than freeing oppressed people. Again, I’m not a supporter of the rhetoric used to sell the war. The fact Hussein promoted terrorism was more than enough reason for me to take him out.

Paul wrote: I’m not sure I understand. Doesn’t invading a country that is providing material support and a base of operations for an enemy that has directly attacked us (Afghanistan) both differ significantly from - and make more sense than - invading a nation that is simply making loud PR gestures (Iraq)? If the emotional baggage associated with Saddam is stripped out of the equation, it starts to look pretty out of whack, and I don't think we should be emotional about the decision to go to war.

We can dig back forever on some of those types of analysis (regarding countries that provide material support, etc.). The Afghani people (the same as the Lebanese people) didn’t fly those planes into our buildings. It’s a casualty of war (attacking Afghanistan) we were all willing to accept at the time because of what had just happened (9-11). I call this the Phil Donahue answer, by the way. I once heard him debate the Iraq war (prior to hostilities) and he said, “We’re made as hell and we just wanna go out there and punch somebody in the nose and Iraq is daring us to so off we go.” Never said better I thought then and think now. It’s exactly what happened for many who supported the Iraq war (myself included) … and some of that feeling came from the selling of the war and some of it came from the heart … many of us were just sick and tired of all this terrorism bullshit and felt it was time to start dealing with it. Hussein made Iraq a target. I’m fine with that.

Paul wrote: This is pretty much my point; we aren’t pursuing the people we should be pursuing as we should, and our military options have been profoundly limited by our war of choice in Iraq. It’s like we lost our keys in the garage but went looking for them in the living room because there’s better light.

I don’t buy that our military can’t handle a two front war … but it may go back to something you mentioned in your prior post and that I agreed whole heartedly with … a draft and a determined war effort to include gas rationing at home, etc., and most of all, to crush the enemy (and I mean crush them).

Paul wrote: Even if one thinks the war was a good idea, the manner in which it is being carried out is having ripple effects that will last for years. More than two-thirds of our National Guard brigades are not ready for duty because of equipment shortages spawned by our commitment in Iraq (See here), we’re hammering coming generations with debt to finance this thing, and we’ve diminshed the quality of our army by lowering recruitment standards and raising the maximum enlistment age to 42 (42!).

Back to the draft. I agree. I don’t mind the 42 and wish they’d raise it to able-bodied 62-year olds. The human body can take a lot more than we assume. Other cultures, from necessity, go a lot further than 18 and 42.

Paul wrote: We’ll be paying for this in many ways for a long time to come, and have gained… what? Certainly not security, since non-state actors continue to be the problem – not whole nations like Iraq - as today’s foiled terror plot amply illustrates.

I don’t think we’ll be able to measure the benefits of the war for a long time to come, if ever. Sometimes we don’t get the instant gratification we seek. History will decided whether it was smart vs. the right thing to do vs. the wrong thing to do vs. dumb. As for today’s foiled terror plot, I’ll go one further and say they should peel the skin of those clowns to find out whatever information they can. Right here, in the good old U.S.A … use whatever torture is necessary to make sure we have them all. The one thing that hasn’t happened since the invasion of Iraq (and I suspect we’re doomed for it sooner or later anyway) is a terror attack here. I do think terrorist groups seeking state sponsorship for attacks against the U.S. are finding it much more difficult because of our invasion (but how do we measure that if there are no attacks?). For one thing, I doubt Iran would let itself get caught sponsoring an attack now because of Iraq. Syria certainly did an about face after Iraq, as did Libya.

Paul wrote: Again, to be clear, I’m not advocating either a draft or the loss of life; I’m simply stating that there is a price that has to be paid for our stated goal, and we are unwilling to pay it. That being the case, it’s another reason we should not have pursued that goal.

We need to learn we have to pay the price. It’s as simple as that. There should be a draft. We should get over being the most spoiled nation in the world and start to understand how that came to be (and how that came to be sustained). It had to do with a lot of bloodshed and self-sacrifice. It might be a cliche, but it is true. America was born of war and has survived because of war.

Paul wrote: Maybe we just make mandatory enlistment of all offspring a requirement for political office! : )

Those have been my thoughts for a while now, too.

Paul wrote: I don’t think we disagree here. The point of war is not to be nice; it’s to protect our nation’s interests. I think where we diverge is that I believe we are wasting money, equipment, good will, diplomatic credibility, property, and most importantly, lives, on a war that neither protects the country nor furthers our interests. If anything, this war is making things worse for us. We have fewer friends on whom we can depend, we have depleted our armed forces, we have failed to begin addressing the root causes of Islamist terrorism and we have not gone after the people responsible for the deaths of 3,300 civilians with anything like the level of intensity I believe is appropriate.

We are definitely wasting money (where the bigger bang for the buck could’ve been useful) … equipment, yeah, I guess, but that keeps people working back in the states … good will (that only gets minimal attention in my war book … same with diplomatic credibility (everybody is always looking out for their own interests) … property (not a big issue for me) … lives are the key, but we disagree on whether they are being wasted or not. I understand your point and it is a valid one. I believe the war has protected our interest in ways that can’t be grafted on flow charts. As for friends we can depend on … that will always come down to their interests in the issue … France enjoyed dealing with Hussein for oil … they need the middle east more than we do … they aren’t friends to Israel because of it … who needs France? We invented head-butting and we really don’t want to learn how to surrender.

Our armed forces can be reinforced with incredible speed should we need them (of this, I’m sure). We did it in WWII and we’d do it twice as fast now. As for the root causes of Islamist terrorism … I’m just not interested in what they are. I’ll go with my favorite Dennis Miller line here: “You want to kill me? I hate you.” I’m all for sending Islamic fundamentalists to their sit-down with Allah as soon as possible.

I think we did pretty good (not great) with Al Qaeda and hope we nail the S.O.B. where he sleeps some day, but you’re right about us not pursuing OBL with the passion we should have.

Paul wrote: As far as the U.N. goes, it’s just a forum and a useful release valve for the un-empowered. I don't see it as evil; it’s just kind of useless in its present form, and the U.S. is as much to blame for that as anybody else. On the other hand, Manhattan can always use more parking!

It may not be evil, but it is corrupt. Oil for food was an absolute disgrace and the fact that Kofi Annan’s kid didn’t have the brains to embezzle more than $250.00 a week for what was going on proves the genetics in that family are defective. The U.S. may be as much to blame as anyone else, but it’s the U.S. that’s footing the greatest part of the bill. Let France have it.

Good stuff, Paul. You’re all right by me, brother.

Thursday, August 10, 2006 9:43:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Paul -- actually, there was intelligence, ours and from other services, supporting the administration's argument that Iraq had WMDs (which I believe the administration and Tony Blair hyped to support a war they wanted for other reasons). The existence of that evidence is why I'm leery of arguing with phrases like "never a shred of credible evidence" -- it comes across as tendentious and anyone on the other side of the debate who might have been inclined to listen to you will then tune you out.

I think the better question (and you ask it eloquently in your subsequent comments) is, even if we believed and had reason to believe Hussein had WMD, why did we need to invade right then? We've lived with North Korea and Iran, and Afghanistan wasn't (and now probably never will be) finished. In other words, was regime change the proper reaction, did we do it at the proper time, did we do it in the proper manner? What has it cost us in opportunity costs alone (let alone blood and treasure)?

MG, my proposed exit strategy is in my previous post, What Do We Do About Iraq -- http://www.barryeisler.com/2006_04_01_archive.html.

Thanks everyone for discussing another hot topic so respectfully!

Saturday, August 12, 2006 1:23:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

Barry,

I'm not sure I can give you back much ground on the "shred of credible evidence" point, although I will re-affirm my earlier "point taken" on choice of verbiage. : )

Language aside, it's looking more and more like the stuff the Bush Administration was touting as supporting evidence was known at the time to have been ginned up and de-caveated, and that those in charge were fully aware it was little more than a pig with a fresh coat of lipstick. They simply believed that Iraq had WMDs, and anything they came across was made to conform to that worldview. Other nations may have made the same mistake, but other nations (other than Britain, anyway, and they were part of the game) weren't putting their citizens at risk by sending them into battle. I recommend Ron Suskind's "The One Percent Doctrine," which I'm reading right now; this is a steady theme in what I've digested of it thus far.

Even, however, if one believes that there was credible and substantial evidence that Iraq had WMDs - despite, again, the testimony of every single weapons inspector in-country at the time - there is a very simple, but oft-overlooked element to this that undercuts the contention pretty thoroughly. I'll pose it in the form of a question: If you were president, and you believed that our country was in danger from an enemy that had weapons of mass destruction and both the capability and the desire to use them, would you talk about invading that enemy's country for the better part of a year? (The only places I have seen this query made have been The Economist and StratFor, and I'm still surprised no one else has looked at the issue from this very basic perspective.)

This question gains credibility from the manner in which we're approaching Iran. Diplomacy is all well and good right now, even though the evidence that that country is close to possession, or in possession now, of WMDs is much stronger. Some of that is because we're stretched thin by Iraq, but a lot of it is also basic realism; we're simply not threatened right now. If we're REALLY threatened - and I hope it doesn't come to this - we will either nuke whatever sites in Iran we believe house the relevant facilities, or stage an invasion in a fashion that does not give anybody with the actual desire to use WMDs against us the chance to do so.

To your other point, I did, in fact, ask a very similar question to the one you pose. I'll forgive you for not having waded through the reams of virtual copy that Charlie and I generated - it was an interesting conversation, but probably more to the two of us than to anybody stopping by for a quick read! : )

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Monday, August 14, 2006 6:48:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Paul, I agree with your substantive points. Maybe I was being pedantic about tone.

I do read all these comments, and I know you asked one similar to mine -- in fact, I referenced it when I said, "I think the better question (and you ask it eloquently in your subsequent comments) is...".

Cheers,
Barry

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 10:05:00 PM  

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