Barry Eisler

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Roots of Arab Muslim Sickness: Part 3, Solutions

1. Many Causes

In the first post in this three-part series, I discussed the roots of Arab Muslim sickness: failure; blaming an external party for that failure; implicit belief in one's own powerlessness; rebellion against that sense of powerlessness by demonstrating an ability to hurt the external party; chosen means (suicide bombs) that can only cause my condition to worsen; more suicide bombs; cultural stagnation and moral depravity; repeat. In the second part, I discussed these roots as they manifest themselves in Palestinian culture and ongoing failure. The question I'd like to address here is, what can the west do to cure, or at least contain the spread of, the sickness?

We need to start by asking what conditions permit the propagation of the disease. The question is initially daunting, because there seem to be so many factors at work: among them, the nature of Islam; Arab history and culture; political repression and economic despair; the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. And many others.

Take a step back, though, and you'll find there's some good news here. Because although the causes of the disease are many, they aren't redundant. That is to say, if we can find a way to inhibit even one causal factor, we can dramatically reduce the incidence and effects of the disease.

Think malaria for a moment. What causes it? Malaria parasites? Mosquitoes that carry the parasite? Mosquitoes biting people? Swamps where the mosquitoes breed? The climate that permits the swamps?

All of the above. But you don't need to (and anyway couldn't) eliminate every one of these causes to dramatically reduce the incidence of the disease. If you can attack even one cause cost effectively, the benefits can be significant.

As it happens, pesticide-treated nets, each of which costs just a few dollars, seem to be the most cost effective way of bringing malaria under control. Is there an equivalent we can bring to bear on the sickness propagating from Muslim Arabia?

There is indeed, and it's the one the Bush administration has at best ignored and more often undermined: reducing our dependence on petroleum.

2. The Most Treatable Cause

As NYT columnist Tom Friedman has pointed out in The First Law of Petropolitics, there is an inverse relationship between freedom and the price of a barrel of oil. If Friedman is right about this inverse relationship -- and logic, common sense, and empirical evidence indicate he is -- and President Bush is right in thinking that the root cause of Islamic terrorism is a lack of freedom in the Arab world -- then Bush's implementation of the so-called "Freedom Agenda" is impossible without a dramatic decrease in the price of energy.

I think Bush is right in believing that repression contributes to terrorism. And I think Friedman is right is suggesting high oil prices contribute to repression. But the link between oil prices and terrorism isn't just indirect, in that petrodollars prop up some of the world's most repressive (and dangerous) regimes. Petrodollars also directly contribute to the spread of the disease. Saudi Arabia uses them to fund madrasses that inculcate children with intolerance and hatred of the west. Iran uses them to arm Hezbollah -- "The Party of God" -- in Lebanon and pursue nuclear weapons of its own.

The most important US security imperative today is to reduce the price of a barrel of oil. We can't hope to contain the disease by killing mosquitoes one by one. We have to drain the swamp. For how to do it, read Gasaholic Communists.

If we succeed in reducing the price of oil, all our other initiatives against the disease -- public relations, security, law enforcement, intelligence, and military, can succeed. If we fail in the primary imperative, we will fail in everything else.

3. Iraq is a Distraction

Is there reason for optimism?

Some. The efforts of the Bush administration remind me of what Winston Churchill is supposed to have said about America: "You can always count on America to do the right thing... after it has exhausted all the other possibilities."

The Bush administration certainly is exhausting those other possibilities with Iraq. What were our first priorities after toppling the Taliban? Capturing or killing Bin Laden and his #2, al-Zawahiri and building a stable Afghanistan. This morning, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, al-Zawahiri released another video. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, opium production is at record levels and the Taliban is resurgent. By diverting so many military, intelligence, financial, and other resources to Iraq, Bush reduced the chances that we would successfully complete the dismantlement of al Qaeda and the reconstruction of Afghanistan. We can argue about the relevance of Iraq in the overall battle against the disease of Islamofascism. But I don't see how we can argue that, in attempting three monumental undertakings simultaneously instead of only two, the Bush administration dramatically increased the likelihood that we will fail at all of them.

I believe Iraq is the greatest foreign policy mistake in US history. We lost many more people in Vietnam, and we were there for longer. But how did General Abazaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, put it recently? "If we leave, they will follow us." No one ever said that about the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld famously asked in a leaked memorandum whether we had metrics to determine whether we were capturing and killing more terrorists in Iraq than we were creating. As far as I know, the administration never provided an answer. But maybe they didn't need to. Thanks, Paul, for the painfully hilarious link.

4. Getting Out of Iraq

How do we get out of Iraq? First, we have to change our rhetoric. The story we need to tell the world -- and ourselves -- is that "we already won the war; the rest is up to Iraqis. If they prefer civil war to unity and prosperity, we can't help them. If by their actions they indicate that they prefer a breakup of the country, we won't stand in their way. Our task was to topple Hussein and verify no WMD; that mission has been accomplished."

Back in April, I suggested breaking the country into three. In May, Joe Biden endorsed the idea, too. Since then, events on the ground have continued to create momentum for a three-state solution.

A breakup won't be smooth. Probably there will be a civil war, worse than the relatively low intensity Sunni/Shiite conflict already raging. But if the Sunnis and Shiites want to fight each other, why are we trying to stop them (and how long can we keep them from going at it)? Cold-blooded realpolitik suggests that we'd be better off with Islamofascists divided along sectarian fault lines rather than being brought together, as Hezbollah has partly managed to do by inspiring Egyptians and Saudis.

But most likely, we're going to waste another two and half years in Iraq. I believe it's politically, emotionally, and psychologically impossible for the architects of the war to acknowledge the magnitude of their mistake. Instead, they'll try to hold on and leave it to the next administration to get us out of there -- at which point, they will write in their memoirs that we had turned the corner and Iraq was won, but that the cowards in the new administration snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

There is a similar school of thought on Vietnam: that by 1972, we had destroyed the Viet Cong and rearmed the South sufficiently so they could stand up to the North. But after the Cambodian incursion came to light, Congress cut funding for the whole enterprise and the South was then helpless against the continued Soviet and Chinese supplied onslaught from the Northy. If Bush can just keep us in Iraq until the next administration takes over, he will have created the conditions for a similar fig leaf argument for himself.

It's possible, though, that things will get so much worse so rapidly in Iraq that Bush will be denied his fig leaf. In August, the Marines concluded that Anbar province, including much of the Sunni Triangle, is a lost cause.

And the troops we've repositioned to save Baghdad must have left a vacuum behind them. The news coming out of Iraq is only going to get worse.

So sooner or later, we'll get out. We'll rethink our strategy and refocus our resources. Here's what I hope to see then.

5. After Iraq

First, meaningful steps to reduce the price of oil (actually, I hope we don't have to wait years before implementing those steps, but I'm sure we will).

Second, expanded but refined law enforcement and intelligence work. Assassinations, kidnappings, and interrogations on a small, discreet, deniable scale (actually, I don't want to see the assassinations, kidnappings, and interrogations -- if I do, it means it's been done sloppily and will be counterproductive).

Third, devotion of appropriate resources to securing loose nukes. Absent WMD, al Qaeda doesn't threaten our civilization (only our own overreactions and stupidity can do that). But there's little doubt that if AQ could acquire and deploy WMD against America, they would. The Soviet Union had the means but was deterrable; AQ is undeterrable but lacks the means. We must make those means unavailable to them.

Fourth, less bombastic war rhetoric. If Bush really believes we're engaged in the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," why did he commit so few troops to Iraq? If Rumsfeld really believes “we face similar challenges [to the rise of Nazi Germany] in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism,” why is the country not mobilized as was during World War II?

Fifth, more cleverness, less venting of rage. It's natural to want to lash out after a terrorist provocation might seem to offer a temporary salve for our collective ego -- this was the emotional underpinning for the march into Iraq -- but ego ought to have little to do with our objectives. It may be that we'll have to exercise patience and restraint in the face of horrible provocations. Doing so will be difficult, but as James Fallows argued in the September Atlantic Monthly, our own overreactions will be the biggest obstacle to victory in this fight (thanks David Terrenoire for the link).

Sixth, examination of new approaches to Israel and Palestine, based (ironically) on the rise of extremism in the region. It used to be that repressive Arab regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia used Israel to distract their populations from the government's domestic repression, inability to provide jobs, and other failings. Now, hatred of Israel is fueling the rise of Iran and Hezbollah -- the hatred is slipping out of the control of these governments and becoming more dangerous than it is useful. Accordingly, conditions might exist for accommodation from Egypt, Saudi, and elsewhere. A long shot, but possible.

Finally, we may need to reconsider the feasibility of bringing freedom to people the name of whose religion, which provides the core of their identity, means "submission."

6. A Different Metaphor

Less than a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world is again engaged in a great game for power. Our opponent this time is not communism, but Islamofascism. But the roots of that earlier conflict provide a framework for understanding the nature of this new one, and could, if sensibly applied, help us to prevail once again.

Communism was an ideology that by its own tenets was guaranteed to fail in competition with the west. Command economies are inefficient; they cannot win in a capitalist foot race any more than a runner who insists on tying his shoelaces together can win against an opponent operating under no such self-imposed handicaps. The only way for communism to "win," then, was to sabotage its opponents. Married as it was to its own stunted ideology, it really had no choice.

Islamofascism is the same. A society that eliminates half its productive workforce by refusing to permit women to drive or vote or go out unaccompanied by men cannot compete against societies that lack similar constraints. The unconstrained societies will inevitably prosper and progress; the constrained societies will inevitably weaken by comparison. The only choice for the constrained is to try to bring the unconstrained down.

For a while, anyway. In 1989 I wrote, "'Workers of the world, unite!' was the birth cry of communism; 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em,' sounds like its death knell." If we effectively contain Islamofascism, there is hope that eventually it will undergo a similar metamorphosis (for possible philosophical models for modernized Islam, read George Packer's excellent "The Moderate Martyr" in the Sept 11 issue of The New Yorker).

If that metamorphosis does occur, the Arab psyche can rightly be flush with pride at its own positive achievements. The sense of indignity, humiliation, and helplessness in which the disease has taken root will pass, and the Arab middle east could become a productive part of the 21st century. If it doesn't, the Arab middle east will become an isolated seventh century theme park. Geopolitically, either outcome would be acceptable to the west.

What's most encouraging, but in some ways, most nerve-wracking, is that the outcome is largely up to us. Islamofascism appeals outside the Arab Middle East only by contrast to the perceived depredations of the west. If we stop perverting the implementation of our ideals by our addiction to oil, if we rediscover our better, truer selves, if we choose our means carefully, the disease will go into remission.

To put it another way: Islamofascism can't win this struggle. Only we can lose it.
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29 Comments:

Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Barry: I probably didn’t take as much time with this as I should have (two football games on tonight). I enjoyed the entire thread and just want to pre-apologize for anything in my comments that might read sarcastic or offensive in any way. I think your post is where the true divide lies in the country today. I think the stats go 61% against and 36% for the war, so you’ve got the high ground in this battle. That said … the resolutions brought out the hawk in me.

The most important US security imperative today is to reduce the price of a barrel of oil. We can't hope to contain the disease by killing mosquitoes one by one. We have to drain the swamp. For how to do it, read Gasaholic Communists.

The common sense of the above solution should be pursued for many reasons, but I seriously doubt it could or would stop the rest of the world’s dependence on oil; China (to name one) kept us from pursing another war we should have fought (yes, another war we (and everybody else) should have fought) in—Darfur. Unless we could reduce the need for oil worldwide (which would require global cooperation that just doesn’t exist), Arab states would continue to earn off their resources. We should decrease our dependence, but it just won’t really have an effect on those with the juice in the ground—not with an ever increasing world demand.

Thanks, Paul, for the painfully hilarious link.

It was very funny, but I have to wonder why so many Iraqi’s continue to join the police and military ranks there … vote … and are not hiding from their lives. I watched Bill Maher’s show a couple of weeks ago with Christopher Hitchens and thought he did a great job of countering all the criticism (especially when he gave Maher’s robot controlled audience the finger).

More on the video stuff later.

3. Iraq is a Distraction

If you believe the war was/is a mistake, then it has to be a distraction (at best). If you believe the war in Iraq is part of the global war on terror, then it’s necessary. I would have liked it to be fought differently (probably a bit too brutally for most people’s tastes), but I think the distraction factor just doesn’t apply. Critics often sight how Iraq has become a breeding ground for Al Qaeda (and, in fact, you used a quote about the Anbar province being lost politically to AQ). If that’s the case, then at least some of what Bush claims is true (regarding fighting them over there). I look forward to the day we get Bin Laden, but let’s face it, that isn’t going to stop terrorism. If it’s only Bin Laden we should’ve gone after, then we shouldn’t have invaded Afghanistan either. Some people believe that (and if you want to apply the police theory of fighting terrorism, they’re 100% right).

"If we leave, they will follow us." No one ever said that about the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese.

Eisenhower called it the “domino theory” … and then Kennedy, Johnson & Nixon went with it … but the exportation of terrorism as we know it today, for whatever reason, wasn’t used during the 60’s-70’s. It was already used here twice. It will no doubt be used again. It’s been used in other countries several times. Its effectiveness over the last dozen years is why it would be the method of choice today for Vietnam or any other country.

In August, the Marines concluded that Anbar province, including much of the Sunni Triangle, is a lost cause.

The marine in question spoke of “politically lost” and if that translates to the war itself, and … if … “… the Sunnis and Shiites want to fight each other, why are we trying to stop them (and how long can we keep them from going at it)? Well, then, why bother protecting Israel from a similar situation/fate? Israel isn't engaged in a civil war, but it might as well be (because of its size/proximity to its enemy). Israel is an ally we cannot abandone. Why shouldn't Iraq become one? I think the answer lies to Iraq’s east in Iran. If Iran gets control of Iraq, the balance of power tips the wrong way (for us). Bush isn’t wrong about the war we’re fighting in Iraq and/or why (rhetoric aside). If we pull out of Iraq, it goes to Iran.

Absent WMD, al Qaeda doesn't threaten our civilization (only our own overreactions and stupidity can do that).

Let’s not forget what many believe brought 9-11 in the first place, our own arrogance and acquiescence.

Fourth, less bombastic war rhetoric. If Bush really believes we're engaged in the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century," why did he commit so few troops to Iraq?

Just guessing here, but … probably because the generals in charge of the operation believed it could be done with fewer and because of the potential political fallout of a larger scale war. Although the initial stages of the war went brilliantly, there was not a well-thought out plan afterward – a bad mistake.

If Rumsfeld really believes “we face similar challenges [to the rise of Nazi Germany] in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism,” why is the country not mobilized as was during World War II?

We weren’t mobilized for WWII either … not until after Hitler declared war on us. Pearl Harbor is another example of a lack of mobilization and a military blunder. As I’ve stated several times here, had the media coverage of today been around for WWII, we’d all be speaking German. I watched Keith Olberman tonight and he went on ad nausea about how corrupt Bush "and his cronies" are ... he can be very funny, Keith can. Tonight he was boring.

Which brings me back to the video issue … imagine the cynical videos one could make of our military and political leaders (and their rhetoric) the morning of (or after) Pearl Harbor, Operation Market Garden, Hitler’s push into the Ardennes? It might be funny, but it would be as big a cheap shot as the one on Stewart’s show. I’m not calling for censorship here, just pointing out it’s a cheap laugh (like the Clinton-blowjob jokes—while the 1995 bombing in Saudi Arabia and later the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia were going on.) They’re just easy and cheap … but I’ll admit, they can be very funny.

If we effectively contain Islamofascism, there is hope that eventually it will undergo a similar metamorphosis …

And here’s what sets the hawks’ hair aflame. Do we really have that kind of time (even assuming the other posits work)? Eight years of doing nothing (but bringing a few people to jail—I’ll bet that scared the rest of them out of their sandals) has to be considered a “possible” cause of 9-11. Please don't give me another list of all the committees Clinton created and the dollars he spent on them--they did nothing. Bush might’ve found another reason to enter Iraq had the WMD issue not been left on the United Nation's table for 12 years (forgetting the two wars Iraq started, the gassing of the Kurds, etc.), but how long do these studies of our enemy and the handholding go on before we can act? Or can we only act after we’re attacked?

If that metamorphosis does occur, the Arab psyche can rightly be flush with pride at its own positive achievements. The sense of indignity, humiliation, and helplessness in which the disease has taken root will pass, and the Arab middle east could become a productive part of the 21st century.

Careful, Barry, you’re starting to sound like the Bush administration here. Who are we to determine how or whether the Arab psyche should feel flush with pride? No offense intended, but this part reads all too much like a therapy 101 session. Again, I’d point to the time it would take and the run of luck it would require for all things to fall in place. I just don’t think we’ll see it.

To put it another way: Islamofascism can't win this struggle. Only we can lose it.

I totally agree, Barry, but as you can guess, it’s from the other side of the argument. Only we can lose it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 12:13:00 AM  
Blogger JR said...

"First, meaningful steps to reduce the price of oil (actually, I hope we don't have to wait years before implementing those steps, but I'm sure we will)."

Reducing the price of oil by reducing demand (conservation/alternative/renewable) reduces general oil dependence and therefor our dependence on Middle Eastern Oil. Reducing the price by increasing supply creates different problems. Can Russia, the North Sea or other places produce sufficiently to fulfill needs and "compete" with Middle Eastern Oil. Presumably they would if they could. If we increase supply by drilling in Alaska, off the California Coast etc. we may reduce dependence on the Middle East but with trade-offs that are notoriously sticky here at home (environmental problems/politics). We therefore need the leadership to create the impetus for reducing demand - that has proven notoriously difficult for 30 years, but as the crisis of terrorism grows one would think that galvanization would be easier.

"3. Iraq is a Distraction"

True in the beginning, not now. As I have said elsewhere( http://ozymandiaspol.blogspot.com/2005/10/bush-stresses-terror-threat-and-urges.html ):

"That we went to Iraq under false pretenses is beyond any reasonable doubt. We were told we had to go because of WMD. All other reasons became politically convenient and ironically truthful only after we went. Before we went Iraq had little or nothing to do with terrorism. In fact Saddam was a pure opportunist when it comes to terrorists (kind of like Khadafi). Ultimately criminals and zealots do not get along well with dictators because criminals want anarchy (no rules, no enforcement, more money, more corruption, good for business) and zealots want power and leadership (dictators tend to dislike giving up these particular commodities). Thus Saddam only tolerated terrorists when it suited a particular purpose and furthered his dictatorial ends (did I mention Khadafi?)."

The problem is the distraction has become the central theme. Iraq is everything for both sides of the war. We, in essence, created Iraq, we executed our "endgame" like rank amateurs and now we are stuck like Napoleon in the Winter of 1812 - great initial victories, but we can't seem to finish it and now we are stuck fighting a war that is on unfriendly ground in a hostile environment against an enemy we don't understand.

"How do we get out of Iraq? First, we have to change our rhetoric. The story we need to tell the world -- and ourselves -- is that "we already won the war; the rest is up to Iraqis."

Are you saying "declare victory," "peace with honor." Sounds familiar, where have I heard that before? It didn't fool anybody in Viet Nam and it won't here. The problem is that, despite many others protestations to the contrary, people aren't stupid. We leave AQ and Iran will be in the streets handing out huge amounts of money and telling everybody, not only did the US lose, they walked away and we're hear to help. As my wife said about the war with Hezbollah. If I am an Arab woman in Southern Lebanon you know who's side I'm on? The side that protects my kids and puts food in their mouths, I could give a damn about the politics and the right and wrong. That side, in the short term is Hezbollah. Ditto in Iraq if we declare victory without achieving it.

There is a different slant to this, one that I believe has been in the mind of Don Rumsfeld all the time, but it is a callous one. Maybe its not so bad (if you can ignore the deaths of American kids, which I can't)to have an embattled force of 100,000 on the ground in the Middle East. Sounds like Henry Kissinger. Looks like Don Rumsfeld.

JR

http://ozymandiaspol.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 6:13:00 PM  
Blogger spy scribbler said...

I feel like I'm young again, reading all this. I used to be way smarter. Now I need the Dummies or Idiot's version. :-)

I only have two questions. (Are we allowed to ask questions?)

Terrorism seems to me a technique rather than something you can declare war on. If a smaller power can't win a war the old-fashioned way, then terrorism seems to be the only way he can fight. Even if we miraculously facilitate peace in the Middle East, the technique of terrorism will still be out there, waiting to be used by the next group that has an issue. How can you declare--and successfully win--a war on terror?

Secondly, how would the three state solution work? Why wouldn't it create the same problems the Israelis and Palestines have? And isn't the Palestinian issue a huge motivator for the Arab terroris? So if we impose a three state solution and divy up Iraq, wouldn't we be creating more terrorists?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 8:12:00 PM  
Blogger BayAreaKen said...

I believe Iraq is the greatest foreign policy mistake in US history.

Amen brother! Although to be clear, it isn't Iraq that's a foreign policy mistake as much as it is our invasion/occupation of Iraq. Iraq as a land mass isn't much of a foreign policy. ;-)

...reducing our dependence on petroleum.

Kind of like the old Steve Martin joke. "I know how to have a million dollars and never pay taxes. First, get a million dollars." I know how to reduce our dependence on petroleum. First, reduce your dependence on petroleum! Ok.

I believe that lowering the dependence on foreign oil is a worthy cause and one that the US should be spending its way to resolving (not unlike our mission to the moon exericise in the 60's). The benefits are too innumerable to ignor. I'm glad I live in the Bay Area because venture capitalists are really beginning to pile money into companies that are going to solve energy consumption issues.

I have much more to add, but my clients keep calling. I suppose I should go get some work done. More later.

Good post Barry. But more about pet peeves like "literally." :-) My brain hurts.

Rgds,
Ken

Thursday, September 14, 2006 4:36:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

Barry,

Strong post! I agree with just about all of it, although (it being my nature!) I have a couple of things I’d like to add.

2. We have very much the same perspective with regard to the role of pertroleum prices in keeping America safe from Islamist terrorists. However, I would amplify your statement and say that the goal here is to significantly reduce or eliminate our dependence on oil altogether, and that that should be the (long term) focus rather than merely price reduction. (It seems like you were strongly implying that course, but that perhaps you left it out in the interest of keeping your already-thorough post focused!) How amazing would it be to not only have the environmental and economic benefits associated with a successful implementation of alternative energy sources, but to be able to completely free to engage or ignore the entire Middle East as we choose?

3. Great Churchill quote! As I have written before, I believe we are indeed often guilty of being short-sighted quick-fixers. I also agree completely that Iraq is the single worst foreign policy blunder in this nation’s history.

4. I agree conceptually here, but would also mention that it’s important to keep in mind the effect of a partition of Iraq on the region. Iran’s position would be greatly strengthened, and we would get all kinds of pressure from Saudi Arabia about that fact. Further, any semblance of autonomy for the Kurds in northern Iraq will make the Turks extremely nervous, and might even prompt their intervention in "Iraqi Kurdestan." Neither of these issues is trivial; I don’t necessarily have a better answer, but they should be considered.

5. Agreed again. Let’s do this stuff right; less macho posturing, less emotion, and less short-term thinking. Careful planning and execution, as well as a return to effective, non-torture-based (although that’s a somewhat redundant expression) interrogations. I will further amplify this to say that civil liberties must be restored here in the U.S. and judicial oversight and process strengthened. The more we give away in the name of security and expediency, the less we look like America, and the more the terrorists win.

6. I largely agree. I think containment of Islamist fanatacism is the right move, but that containment is almost entirely dependent on weaning ourselves from the need to be involved in the region. That need for interventionism can only be eliminated or significantly reduced in turn if we diminish or eliminate our dependence on oil.

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Friday, September 15, 2006 2:49:00 PM  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

"But if the Sunnis and Shiites want to fight each other, why are we trying to stop them (and how long can we keep them from going at it)?"

Let me point out I'm not disagreeing. And to a certain extent, some conflicts have been going on for so long, others might meddle from time to time but they aren't responsible for creating the problem.

What I specifically wonder about is the perception that the US has created the problem in Iraq. Now, I'm not saying this is fair, or that it's accurate. However, the US and all countries who sent in military personal to depose Hussein have played a critical role in changing the entire structure of Iraqi society. It's comparable to Afghanistan. By eliminating the military target from a position of power, our governments have a share in the responsibility for creating a leaderless society where people are now in open conflict to gain power.

There is a push here to get out of Afghanistan. I don't support it. I do feel we have a responsibility to help the people rebuild, considering we took it upon ourselves to decide we were going to remove the existing power structure in Afghanistan.

I don't believe we were wrong to do that. However, one of the things that happened after World War II was a remarkable act of foresight. Hitler was smart. He had worked hard to condition the youth of the country. He was influencing the thinking of future generations. The British government realized if they didn't work with German youth, there would be another war eventually.

They approved a plan to bring German youth to the UK to spend time there, with a goal to rebuild bridges and reduce fear and ignorance of other cultures. I personally know some of the people who participated in this - in fact, Major Thomas fought in Germany and North Africa and eventually went home to the UK to work with German youth.

What I do feel is important to address responsibility. Certainly, there is the issue of perception. I am one who blamed Bush SR for not going after Hussein the first time. There was a legitimate reason to be there, they should have taken him out. It was that simple to me - go to war, finish the job (unless you tuck tail and run). That view has been supported by subsequent events that have necessitated another war in Iraq. It isn't even about whether the view is right or wrong - the perception is enough to continue to tarnish US credibility on the issue of Iraq, in the same way that Vietnam is considered the lingering stain of failure.

I think we need a plan that reaches the youth of these countries, to affect thinking for future generations. Imagine how it must be to the people of Afghanistan to live one way, then have someone come in, start a war, people die, life is hard, then you have to live with their rules. Until they leave, and who will lead you? How do the children see it? The youth who will shape their country tomorrow? No way to know. They see things we don't see.

Essentially, I agree with you. Get out. I do think that a plan for the youth of these troubled regions is critical and needs to be addressed, or all we are doing is leaving the poison to infest the wound instead of taking action to make sure there is healing.

Friday, September 15, 2006 6:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Simply playing devil's advocate here ...

I think we need a plan that reaches the youth of these countries, to affect thinking for future generations.

Wouldn't "our" plan for "their" future, especially to "affect thinking for future generations" impose "our" will? Aren't we guilty of enforcing democracy (or whatever one prefers to label it--thinking, whatever) anyway?

And, why was it right to invade Afghanistan and remove the Taliban when it was Al Qaeda who attacked us. If one is to argue that the Taliban supported Al Qaeda (and thus harbored terrorists), then what about State Sponsored terrorism (Hussein)?

As I noted above, just playing devil's advocate here. You(s) already know where I stand on this.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 7:17:00 AM  
Blogger r2 said...

Barry,

I think your blog is tremendous. I learn more from your posts and the spirited exchanges that follow than everything I pick up from the nightly news and newspapers combined. I'm not a news junkie, but I do consider myself fairly well read. The whole series on The Muslim Sickness has caused me to really examine some of my beliefs about the whole mess. In some cases, I've had to re-think my position, something a knucklehead like me doesn't like to do. Congratulations on becoming a haven for well-reasoned and reasonably well-mannered debate.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Fiona McCaffrey said...

"The most important US security imperative today is to reduce the price of a barrel of oil."

Barry,

Interesting take on the Middle East. Kinda psychoanalytical. Makes sense. The only thing that doesn't make sense is the solution. "Reduce the price of oil." The only way to "reduce the price of oil" is to decrease demand. In order to decrease demand, you'd have to start using alternative energy sources such as hybrid electricity and flex fuel, and later on, once the technology becomes perfected, fuel cells. But ironically, once you start using alternative energy sources, you no longer have the need for oil. As this technology takes hold worldwide, and it will, because the Chinese aren't any more enamored of overpaying while at the same time jeopardizing their national security than the Americans are, in fact, probably less so, the Arabs and all of the other repressive nations with large oil reserves will be left holding a worthless commodity. And that's exactly as it should be.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

A couple of quick points:

Charlie said: It was very funny, but I have to wonder why so many Iraqi’s continue to join the police and military ranks there … vote … and are not hiding from their lives.

It depends on where you are in the Iraq. There are large swaths of the country that are relatively peaceful, and people can lead what are basically normal lives. Other parts, including Baghdad, are increasingly chaotic. People do what they have to do to survive, and I think Iraq's 25-30% unemployment rate (see here) may have a lot to do with recruitment success.

Charlie said: Just guessing here, but … probably because the generals in charge of the operation believed it could be done with fewer and because of the potential political fallout of a larger scale war. Although the initial stages of the war went brilliantly, there was not a well-thought out plan afterward – a bad mistake.

The generals did not, in fact, believe the war could be prosecuted with fewer troops, and Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki was fired for declaring that Rumsfeld's troop strength estimates were too low. Worse, it's not that there was no "good plan" for the occupation, there was no plan whatsoever. Rumsfeld himself, it appears, was so much more concerned with political appearances than with doing things right that he threatened to dismiss anyone who actually plotted out scenarios for an occupation of Iraq. (See here.) And let's not forget to ask why political considerations were such a factor: the Bush Administration knew they were on thin ice getting the country into Iraq in the first place.

Charlie said: Critics often sight how Iraq has become a breeding ground for Al Qaeda (and, in fact, you used a quote about the Anbar province being lost politically to AQ). If that's the case, then at least some of what Bush claims is true (regarding fighting them over there).

This to me is somewhat circular logic, and essentially boils down to this: We had to invade in order to address a set of circumstances that didn't exist until we invaded. If Iraq has become a "breeding ground" then there are new terrorists being spawned; in other words they weren't coming into existence until we overthrew Saddam.

Charlie said: We weren’t mobilized for WWII either … not until after Hitler declared war on us. Pearl Harbor is another example of a lack of mobilization and a military blunder. As I’ve stated several times here, had the media coverage of today been around for WWII, we’d all be speaking German. I watched Keith Olberman tonight and he went on ad nausea about how corrupt Bush "and his cronies" are ... he can be very funny, Keith can. Tonight he was boring.

Which brings me back to the video issue … imagine the cynical videos one could make of our military and political leaders (and their rhetoric) the morning of (or after) Pearl Harbor, Operation Market Garden, Hitler’s push into the Ardennes? It might be funny, but it would be as big a cheap shot as the one on Stewart’s show. I’m not calling for censorship here, just pointing out it’s a cheap laugh (like the Clinton-blowjob jokes—while the 1995 bombing in Saudi Arabia and later the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia were going on.) They’re just easy and cheap … but I’ll admit, they can be very funny.


You are completely correct that we were not mobilized for World War II until after we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, but I really don't see the parallel. At this point we have been mobilized for years, and not rocked back on our heels in stunned surprise as we were five years ago on September 11th. The difference is that after Pearl Harbor we were committed, and now we're not; Iraq remains a luxury war. We have - as I have argued in previous posts - engaged in a politically-driven conflict built on flimsy justification to which we can't expect the populace to completely commit because it's a ginned-up cause, and somewhere in the backs of their minds, the people know this. George W. Bush can repeat all he wants that Iraq is for the "survival of civilization," but if we're seriously taking that position, let's act like it already. If we're going to occupy Iraq because it is truly that important, put the draft in place; otherwise we are continuing to demonstrate more effectively by our actions rather than by our rhetoric that Iraq really isn't, in fact, all that important a threat to the United States.

As for media coverage, Bush got a completely free pass on Iraq (Fox News, Judy Miller at The New York Times, etc.) and it is only now that the Iraq invasion fantasy is coming unraveled that the president is getting the scrutiny he deserves. We need to stop blaming the mirror if we're uncomfortable about what we see in it, and make some changes that will effect substance rather than image.

The video from The Daily Show was no cheap shot; it was a push to get our noses out of our collective navels and realize our role in this situation both as citizens of this nation and of the world. To me, Aasif Mandvi's piece has nothing to do with easy and cheap; rather, it is an uncomfortable illustration of the fact that if our cause can't withstand a little criticism, then it was never as strong as we thought it was. What is "easy" is "They hate us for our freedoms" and invading a country with "better targets" instead of finishing the job we started against al Qaeda and bin Laden. What is "cheap" is linking 9/11 to Iraq, and leveraging the deaths of our soldiers and of Iraqi civilians to keep the American populace politically cowed instead of actually prosecuting the war the right way. Finally, if we had today's media during WWII, we wouldn't be speaking German, we would instead have invaded Portugal after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Where in the world did we get the idea that our leaders and our government shouldn't be subjected to critical inquiry? The president is our employee, not royalty, and blind trust in the government has never led to anything but heartbreak.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 1:28:00 PM  
Blogger r2 said...

Fiona, if it happens as you predict....

Well, I can't wait.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 2:44:00 PM  
Blogger r2 said...

Fiona, if it happens as you predict....

Well, I can't wait.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 2:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

It depends on where you are in the Iraq. There are large swaths of the country that are relatively peaceful, and people can lead what are basically normal lives.

I guess it isn't all such a disaster …

The generals did not, in fact, believe the war could be prosecuted with fewer troops, and Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki was fired for declaring that Rumsfeld's troop strength estimates were too low.

Tommy Franks, the guy who led the charge, sure thought so.

This to me is somewhat circular logic, and essentially boils down to this: We had to invade in order to address a set of circumstances that didn't exist until we invaded. If Iraq has become a "breeding ground" then there are new terrorists being spawned; in other words they weren't coming into existence until we overthrew Saddam.

And it seems to me we get two for the price of one. I guess it's perspective, Paul. I don't mind losing Hussein and getting cleaner shots at AQ members. I see it as a bargain ... while showing anyone else in the mideast that we are not willing to sing kumbaya forever.

The difference is that after Pearl Harbor we were committed …

Nope, the difference is we weren't fighting Japan for 5 years, Paul. We dropped two atomic bombs and ended the mess within 4.5 years … perhaps we wouldn't have the same media attention today had we dropped two a few months ago? There's no comparing the media today with that during WWII.

Finally, if we had today's media during WWII, we wouldn't be speaking German, we would instead have invaded Portugal after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

What does the media have to do with invasions? I think I get your point, but I don't buy it.

Where in the world did we get the idea that our leaders and our government shouldn't be subjected to critical inquiry? The president is our employee, not royalty, and blind trust in the government has never led to anything but heartbreak.

We didn't get that idea, Paul, but it is that same critical inquiry (on a worldwide basis) that keeps armies (of most nations, by the way) from fighting wars the way you imply you'd like to see them fought (with total commitment). Why Israel stopped pounding Hezbollah in Lebanon (not because Hezbollah figured out a way to defeat Israel (it was the 6 years of U.N. bullshit security that secured Hezbollah). Why we didn't dust Fallujah before giving them three days' notice before invading. It is what it is, my friend. We dropped atom bombs to win the war with Japan (make no mistake). Today we're required to give notice (sort of like the notice to Hussein that we were coming so he had plenty of time to ship his WMD to Syria, etc.).

And we sure didn't drop atom bombs on Portugal.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 4:29:00 PM  
Blogger law dawg fed said...

Interesting analysis all.

Barry, your main point that reducing the reliance on oil is the prerequisite to beginning to control radical Islam is an interesting argument, but ultimately moot. If we reduce our consumption of Middle Eastern oil it would hardly matter because Russia, China, etc would fill the gap, still providing the funding that causes the problem in the first place. Its not something magical that only happens with American money. Any old money will do.

Saturday, September 16, 2006 5:04:00 PM  
Blogger FriendlyQuark said...

I am not certain that I agree with all points, but it certainly is refreshing to see a rhetoric and insult-free discussion of politics.

Personally, I think that the dismantling of HumInt by the Clinton administration was of far greater harm than anything we did in Iraq, but that's just my own bias.

I would like to hear of the strange plague of heart attacks and slips in the bathtub that have affected key players in AQ and the Taliban, but I am not a nice person.

I wonder what DID happen to Bush's pledge to get us off of fosil fuels, by the way. He obviously agreed with you about our oil dependence. Did he forget?

Saturday, September 16, 2006 5:32:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Thanks everyone for the usual thought-provoking comments.

Charlie and Law Dawg, you both pointed out that a reduction of US oil consumption would have little effect on the price of oil because consumption in China and the rest of the world would still be high. I would mostly agree with you if I accepted your premise -- that there's no link between US and world consumption. In fact, the techniques and technology that the US could bring to bear on reducing consumption would make US industry more competitive -- and the higher the price of oil, the more competitive low-consumption companies would become -- and would therefore be of at least equal value to high consumption countries like China. IOW, going green offers a competitive advantage, and countries that lead in green technologies are going to have a hot commodity to sell elsewhere.

Also, there are other reasons other than pure economic competition for other countries to follow the US lead (assuming we ever do lead). China, for example, is becoming an environmental catastrophe and her leaders know green technology is essential to the country's economic (and thus to the leaders' political) future.

These aren't my ideas, BTW; Tom Friedman writes about them in his NYT column. As he puts it, Green is the new Red, White, and Blue.

Regarding Iraq, I'm starting to think that perhaps the divide in the debate is located around the idea of killing vs breeding terrorists. Charlie and JR, I don't think you've addressed it directly (if you have and I've missed it, my apologies), but do you think we're killing and capturing more enemies in Iraq than our presence and approach there are creating? If you do, I understand your support for our continued efforts there, although I won't agree with you because my sense (which I acknowledge I can't prove) is that we're creating more than we're killing. I agree that time is a problem, especially with Iran trying to get develop nukes and AQ trying to buy them. What I'm looking for are tactics that buy us the time we need and create conditions that are favorable to our objectives. It's probably those tactics, more than anything else, on which we disagree.

JR, you asked, "Are you saying "declare victory," "peace with honor." Sounds familiar, where have I heard that before? It didn't fool anybody in Viet Nam and it won't here." I'm not sure I understand your point. Would you rather the US still be fighting in Vietnam? I haven't proposed any slogans, nor am I trying to "fool anybody;" I'm looking for rhetoric that along with other elements will permit our society to reverse an ongoing mistake. I'm open to alternatives, but I don't see any good ones. Do you? If so, what are they?

Spy Scribbler, good questions about declaring war on a tactic. The truth, which is lost in hyped-up war rhetoric, is that we'll never eliminate terrorism any more than we'll ever eliminate murder. The idea is to bring it down to levels that don't threaten society. BTW, John Kerry got hammered for suggesting this. I'm no Kerry fan, but he was simply speaking the (politically disastrous) truth. That said, the Bush administration, which seeks to "end tyranny in our time," probably doesn't agree with my take. Which is part of the reason I think they're either bullshitting us with their rhetoric, or else out of their minds.

As for the three-state solution, it's hard to say how it would work. I expect there would be ethnic cleansing and a lot of support for the Shiite rump from Iran and for the Sunni rump from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. I think the Kurds would cut a deal with Turkey. I could be wrong about all of this, but I believe we're going to find out no matter what policy we adopt because three states is where this thing is going.

Bay Area Ken, I love to get caught in a verbal faux pas, but I don't think using "Iraq" in context as shorthand for our current enterprise over there qualifies. It's like saying, "Vietnam was a mistake." But thanks for keeping me honest... and definitely look out for a post on more verbal tics soon. I store 'em up like a squirrel gathering nuts.

PBI and Sandra, good points -- thanks.

R2, thanks for the kind words. But I have to thank you and everyone else -- for your substantive input and for keeping things civil here. It's not always easy, but you've all made HOTM an oasis in a desert of Ann Coulter and Michael Moore.

Fiona, I understand your point, but I think the issue of oil use is less binary than you're suggesting. It's not addiction vs clean and sober; there's a long gradation of increasingly sensible use in the middle, and somewhere in that middle lies our reasonable objective.

Friendly Quark, regarding those slips in the bathtub, if only...

Thanks again everybody!
Barry

Saturday, September 16, 2006 5:41:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

Charlie Stella said: I guess it isn't all such a disaster …
I suppose that’s true, but it’s not the yardstick I believe we should use for success, or for setting goals.

Charlie Stella said: Tommy Franks, the guy who led the charge, sure thought so.
Charlie, Tommy Franks is the guy that was brought to the fore because he would toe the Rumsfeld line, after Shinseki got canned for speaking what he believed to be the truth. Again, not the standard I would choose to use.

Charlie Stella said: And it seems to me we get two for the price of one. I guess it's perspective, Paul. I don't mind losing Hussein and getting cleaner shots at AQ members. I see it as a bargain ... while showing anyone else in the mideast that we are not willing to sing kumbaya forever.
I think this view ignores the fact that we have created a large number of the Al Qaeda members at whom we are now getting “cleaner shots”. Worsening a problem and then claiming success because we are tying up resources and human lives to combat it, is again, not the standard I believe we should be applying.

Charlie Stella said: Nope, the difference is we weren't fighting Japan for 5 years, Paul. We dropped two atomic bombs and ended the mess within 4.5 years … perhaps we wouldn't have the same media attention today had we dropped two a few months ago? There's no comparing the media today with that during WWII.
There is a huge gradiation of commitment between conventional warfare and resorting to The Bomb. Commitment means gearing your entire society to fight the conflict. It doesn’t mean sending one third the number of troops that were recommended, or threatening to dismiss generals who wanted to plan for the possibility of an extended occupation, or running this luxury war that doesn’t directly effect anybody in this country who isn’t in the armed forces of have a family member who is. I don't think it holds water to brandish atomic warfare as the only other option, when there are clearly others.

Charlie Stella said: What does the media have to do with invasions? I think I get your point, but I don't buy it.
The media has an awful lot to do with invasions because it shapes popular support for issues either through biased reporting or even just through completely factual reportage. Iraq would never have happened if the supposedly “liberal media” weren’t parroting Bush Administration talking points almost verbatim. (The afore-cited Judy Miller is a perfect example.)

Charlie Stella said: We didn't get that idea, Paul, but it is that same critical inquiry (on a worldwide basis) that keeps armies (of most nations, by the way) from fighting wars the way you imply you'd like to see them fought (with total commitment). Why Israel stopped pounding Hezbollah in Lebanon (not because Hezbollah figured out a way to defeat Israel (it was the 6 years of U.N. bullshit security that secured Hezbollah). Why we didn't dust Fallujah before giving them three days' notice before invading. It is what it is, my friend. We dropped atom bombs to win the war with Japan (make no mistake). Today we're required to give notice (sort of like the notice to Hussein that we were coming so he had plenty of time to ship his WMD to Syria, etc.).

And we sure didn't drop atom bombs on Portugal.


Again, I think this speaks to a failure to look at any option that isn’t dilletantism or atomic warfare. As for giving Hussein time to supposedly ship his WMDs to Syria, that contention has been thoroughly discredited by the administration's own people. (See here.) If we were truly worried that Saddam Hussein was a “gathering threat” to the United States, we would have been in there much, much earlier. I think your point about wanting the world to like our decision is valid, but for the wrong reasons; we clearly weren’t looking for approval, we wanted other nations to volunteer to help clean up the mess we were going to create. (Not to mention trying to create legal/diplomatic cover for a war that is in total violation of international law.) The big, bad media was an all too-willing pawn.

There will always be criticism of any war waged by anyone; it is the nature of the beast. That said, an awful lot of war gets waged because people are unwilling to look at the consequences thereof, and it’s why the Bush Administration has forbidden photographing the flag-draped coffins of dead service people killed in Iraq. (See here.) Again, if what we’re doing is so weakend in the face of criticism, we shouldn’t be doing it. War kills people, ruins lives and changes the world, and to my mind, it ought to be subjected to the most vigorous critical appraisal possible. As a professor of mine drilled into me: Either own the data that supports your case, or be prepared to fail. We are not failing because the holes in our assumptions, our research and our execution are being made apparent. We are failing because those holes have been left open by poor leadership, and blaming the messenger isn't going to solve anything.

And I know we didn’t bomb Portugal; it was a reference to being hit by Afghanistan/Pakistan-based al Qaeda members from Saudi Arabia and deciding to invade Iraq.

Sunday, September 17, 2006 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger Joshua James said...

We dropped atom bombs to win the war with Japan (make no mistake).

Not technically correct. We dropped the bombs to end the war faster, but the war was already won, Japan was, at the time of bombing, negotiating a surrender with the US.

I'm away from home and don't have my copy of Zinn with me, but if I recall, the primary reason for dropping two atom bombs on a country who was already negotiating a surrender with us had less to do with Japan and more to do with Russia. Russia was about to declare war on Japan, and the US didn't want to split the spoils of war with Russia as we did with Germany (East, West Germany, pre-89). Surrender was imminent, but the US didn't want to wait for negotations, they wanted it now and unconditionally.

Again, I don't have my book with me, but if I recall, we dropped the bomb either two days before or two days after Russia entered the fray (I think it was before).

The bombs, which killed a large number of non-combatants, women and children, as well as Allied prisoners of war, essentially forced Japan to a complete, unconditional surrender and it also demonstrated to Russia that we had the bomb and were not afraid to use it on any country or anyone, be it soldiers or women and children.

Which next led us to forty years of a cold war and lots of espionage and James Bond movies.

But the war with Japan was won and would have soon been over whether we dropped the bombs or not. The bombs were dropped primarily to send a message to Russia.

And, if anyone else has been to Japan, one can see how terrible a message that was and at a truly inhuman cost.

There's a lot to admire about Truman, but that ain't one of them.

Sunday, September 17, 2006 3:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

I suppose that’s true, but it’s not the yardstick I believe we should use for success, or for setting goals … Charlie, Tommy Franks is the guy that was brought to the fore because he would toe the Rumsfeld line, after Shinseki got canned for speaking what he believed to be the truth. Again, not the standard I would choose to use. Again, not the standard I would choose to use. Not the standard I believe we should be applying

I guess we have different standards, Paul. I don't mind it if a President wants to go with guys he thinks will support his plan. What makes Shinseki the brilliant General? As regards the troops situation. Somehow I think most of those complaining about the lack of said troops would be the first to complain there were too many (Vietnam all over again). Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt it.

I think this view ignores the fact that we have created a large number of the Al Qaeda members at whom we are now getting “cleaner shots”.

I don't see the problem, brother. So long as they plant themselves where we can whack them, it's fine by me. The more the better.

after Shinseki got canned for speaking what he believed to be the truth.

You place an awful lot of faith in that one general. Why is "his word" gospel? We had the dissenting generals discussion here in the past and I just don't buy into the retired generals' opinions … if they were so worried for their troops, they should've spoken up at the risk of their liberty and pension. Just because somebody doesn't agree, doesn't make his (or her) opinion right.

There is a huge gradiation of commitment between conventional warfare and resorting to The Bomb.

Paul, you're the one who brought up Japan vs. Iraq, buddy. Please, spare me your estimates (and Washington Post links and I'll spare you my Wall Street Journal ones) … the boss of any operation has the right to dismiss whomever he chooses. You can't fight wars by committee, brother. Eisenhower put the kibosh on Patton … Truman dismissed MacArthur … it happens. And nobody brandished atomic weapons as the only method. I was merely pointing out to you that your comparison to Japan (the five years you stated it took us end that war) had more to do with "how" we ended it than any mobilization. Not to mention we were sometimes losing thousands of soldiers "a day" in the Pacific.

Iraq would never have happened if the supposedly “liberal media” weren’t parroting Bush Administration talking points almost verbatim. (The afore-cited Judy Miller is a perfect example.)

Are you seriously implying that the media (in general) isn't more liberal than conservative? If Judy Miller is your barometer, it's a weak one.

War kills people, ruins lives and changes the world, and to my mind, it ought to be subjected to the most vigorous critical appraisal possible.

And sometimes war is so necessary (for survival) and, in fact, saves people (WWII--for one) … but I think we just differ greatly on how or when it should be utilized.

As a professor of mine drilled into me: Either own the data that supports your case, or be prepared to fail.

The last person in the world I want making decisions about my survival are professors … thanks, but no thanks. I turned 50 this year and I'm still waiting to find one that can exist (survive/thrive) outside of a classroom (where his/her audience is captive and all too adoring).

We are not failing because the holes in our assumptions, our research and our execution are being made apparent. We are failing because those holes have been left open by poor leadership, and blaming the messenger isn't going to solve anything.

And maybe, just maybe, you're making things worse than they really are. I've heard comparisons to Vietnam ad nausea but the numbers just don't come close (not for another 12 years could they) … some of us see it not only as finally taking a stand, but also where we finally get to kill some of AQ on a safer ground than 42nd Street or Wall Street or Main Street USA.

I think the real difference in opinion has to do with the theory you prefer (that we're creating more terrorists) and the one I prefer (it's moot because the mentality has been brewing for decades, if not centuries, and we're not going to change it overnight … or fast enough to make a difference) … mine is based on what I believe is a pointless assumption that we can change the minds of fanatics by what I see as kissing their asses. I understand your theory and it would make sense if I believed there was a chance of it happening. I just don't believe it for a second.

And I know we didn’t bomb Portugal; it was a reference to being hit by Afghanistan/Pakistan-based al Qaeda members from Saudi Arabia and deciding to invade Iraq.

Except you're forgetting we went to Afghanistan first. I'm not buying into the administration's war rhetoric. I have my own theory about why the Iraq war was necessary. We just don't agree.

Sunday, September 17, 2006 4:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Excuse me if there are 2 responses (not sure if the 1st went through)

I suppose that’s true, but it’s not the yardstick I believe we should use for success, or for setting goals … Charlie, Tommy Franks is the guy that was brought to the fore because he would toe the Rumsfeld line, after Shinseki got canned for speaking what he believed to be the truth. Again, not the standard I would choose to use ... Not the standard I believe we should be applying

I guess we have different standards, Paul. I don't mind it if a President wants to go with guys he thinks will support his plan. What makes Shinseki the brilliant General? As regards the troops situation, somehow I think most of those complaining about the lack of said troops would be the first to complain there were too many (Vietnam all over again). Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt it.

I think this view ignores the fact that we have created a large number of the Al Qaeda members at whom we are now getting “cleaner shots”.

I don't see the problem, brother. So long as they plant themselves where we can whack them, it's fine by me. The more the better.

after Shinseki got canned for speaking what he believed to be the truth.

You place an awful lot of faith in that one general. Why is "his word" gospel? We had the dissenting generals discussion here in the past and I just don't buy into the retired generals' opinions … if they were so worried for their troops, they should've spoken up at the risk of their liberty and pension. Just because somebody doesn't agree, doesn't make his (or her) opinion right.

There is a huge gradiation of commitment between conventional warfare and resorting to The Bomb.

Paul, you're the one who brought up Japan vs. Iraq, buddy. Please, spare me your Washington Post links and I'll spare you my Wall Street Journal links … the boss of any operation has the right to dismiss whomever he chooses. You can't fight wars by committee, brother. Eisenhower put the kibosh on Patton (and Roosevelt didn't stop him) … Truman dismissed MacArthur … it happens. And nobody brandished atomic weapons as the only method. I was merely pointing out to you that your comparison to Japan (the five years you stated it took us to end that war) had more to do with "how" we ended it than any commitment/mobilization. The commitment was measured in lost lives, with rates of loss up to thousands a day. I believe Truman did the right thing. I wish he were around today, brother.

Iraq would never have happened if the supposedly “liberal media” weren’t parroting Bush Administration talking points almost verbatim. (The afore-cited Judy Miller is a perfect example.)

Are you seriously implying that the media (in general) isn't more liberal than conservative? If Judy Miller is your barometer, it's a weak one.

War kills people, ruins lives and changes the world, and to my mind, it ought to be subjected to the most vigorous critical appraisal possible.

And sometimes war is so necessary (for survival) and, in fact, saves people (WWII--for one) … but I think we just differ greatly on how or when it should be utilized.

As a professor of mine drilled into me: Either own the data that supports your case, or be prepared to fail.

The last people in the world I want making decisions about my survival are professors … thanks, but no thanks. I turned 50 this year and I'm still waiting to find one that can exist (survive/thrive) outside of a classroom (where his/her audience is captive and all too adoring).

We are not failing because the holes in our assumptions, our research and our execution are being made apparent. We are failing because those holes have been left open by poor leadership, and blaming the messenger isn't going to solve anything.

And maybe, just maybe, you're making things worse than they really are. I've heard comparisons to Vietnam ad nausea but the numbers just don't come close (not for another 12 years could they) … some of us see it not only as finally taking a stand, but also where we finally get to kill some of AQ on a safer ground than 42nd Street or Wall Street or Main Street USA.

I think the real difference in opinion has to do with the theory you prefer (that we're creating more terrorists) and the one I prefer (it's moot because the mentality has been brewing for decades, if not centuries, and we're not going to change it overnight … or fast enough to make a difference) … mine is based on what I believe is a pointless assumption that we can change the minds of fanatics by what I see as kissing their asses. I understand your theory and it would make sense if I believed there was a chance of it happening. I just don't believe it for a second.

And I know we didn’t bomb Portugal; it was a reference to being hit by Afghanistan/Pakistan-based al Qaeda members from Saudi Arabia and deciding to invade Iraq.

Except you're forgetting we went to Afghanistan first. I'm not buying into the administration's war rhetoric. I have my own theory about why the Iraq war was necessary. We just don't agree.

Sunday, September 17, 2006 5:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

But the war with Japan was won and would have soon been over whether we dropped the bombs or not. The bombs were dropped primarily to send a message to Russia.

And, if anyone else has been to Japan, one can see how terrible a message that was and at a truly inhuman cost.

There's a lot to admire about Truman, but that ain't one of them.


You stand corrected … we ended the war sooner rather than later to save American lives. (A continued war was expected to cost another 200,000 American lives by the way). Truman made the decision to save American lives. And you make my point for me by pointing out it that it was a mostly civilian population who suffered the consequences. You further make my point by pointing out that the ensuing 40 year cold war was better than nuclear war.

Thanks, Joshua.

Sunday, September 17, 2006 5:41:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

Charlie, with all due respect, you seem to be trying to pick nits with my points rather than actually addressing them.

Shinseki-as-lonely-voice-in-the-woods only washes if you can off-handedly ignore the voices of a good-sized number of retired generals who believe Rumsfeld should be gone. You are apparently prepared to do just that, but given past conversations with you that indicate an understanding of the military, your statement that you can’t understand why there wasn’t some sort of general rebellion while they were still serving strikes me as disingenuous.

Disregarding the finding of the Iraq Survey Group because I happened to link to it via The Washington Post rather than some other publication of which you approve doesn’t really address the content of the citation, which comes from the government, not the Post. And by all means, please feel free to cite all the reportage in the Wall Street Journal you want to bring into the conversation. Fact-based argument is always welcome, and I have been widely known to concede points to arguments based on data. I will steer clear of citing editorial pages however, and hope you will, too.

Finally, attempting to paint the words of my professor as somehow beneath contempt because they come from an academic, while denegrating my choice to quote him as naive and "worshipful" is more than a little insulting. It so happens that he put the sentiment concisely, but I have personally gotten variations on the theme from my father, a successful entrepreneur who also served in the Navy, as well as Sensei Kiyoshi Yamazaki, the chief instructor for Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai, who has spent the last 55 years of his life steeped in the martial arts. Do either of those sources work better for you? How about talking about why the substance of the words is off-base, instead? I can't imagine that you truly believe poor planning and a failure to button up the prerequisites for action comprise the right path, but maybe I'm wrong.

You’re right, we do disagree, and like you, I would never argue that you are anything but entitled to your own opinion. That said, if defense of said opinion is formed upon a dismissal of inconvenient facts, cheap shots at people you've never met or read or heard, disproportionate and insubstantial focus on minor elements within counter-arguments, and attacking the messenger rather than arguing the message, further conversation on this topic is unlikely to be productive with me or with anybody else.

That being the case, and since the tenor of this discussion has taken a turn I don’t care to follow any further, I think I'll take a break for a while.

Catch you next time,
Paul

Sunday, September 17, 2006 8:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Charlie, with all due respect, you seem to be trying to pick nits with my points rather than actually addressing them. Shinseki-as-lonely-voice-in-the-woods only washes if you can off-handedly ignore the voices of a good-sized number of retired generals who believe Rumsfeld should be gone. You are apparently prepared to do just that, but given past conversations with you that indicate an understanding of the military, your statement that you can’t understand why there wasn’t some sort of general rebellion while they were still serving strikes me as disingenuous.

Paul, I’m as sincere as can be regarding the above. It seems too disingenuous to claim the war plan was a disaster, then lead your troops into one anyway, then criticize after your pension is secure. There are at least an equal number of generals who didn’t have the same problems. I’m not a military strategist, so I really don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong. Personally, I would’ve rather seen no boots on the ground and some devastating air strikes (but the kind that are very unpopular on blogs, but tend to win wars sooner rather than later).

Disregarding the finding of the Iraq Survey Group because I happened to link to it via The Washington Post rather than some other publication of which you approve doesn’t really address the content of the citation

My rhetoric was too abrasive (I admit). My point was that we can both link to others arguments forever and I just don’t trust them. I apologize for dismissing your point.

Finally, attempting to paint the words of my professor as somehow beneath contempt because they come from an academic, while denegrating my choice to quote him as naive and "worshipful" is more than a little insulting.

Again, I was probably too abrasive. I apologize … but you’ll have to excuse my preference to not take someone you quote as gospel on any subject.

It so happens that he put the sentiment concisely, but I have personally gotten variations on the theme from my father, a successful entrepreneur who also served in the Navy, as well as Sensei Kiyoshi Yamazaki, the chief instructor for Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai, who has spent the last 55 years of his life steeped in the martial arts. Do either of those sources work better for you?

I’ll listen to your father’s points (he’s got creds I can admire) way sooner than a martial arts expert or a professor. I’m a street guy. I’m not impressed by the martial arts (sorry).

You’re right, we do disagree, and like you, I would never argue that you are anything but entitled to your own opinion. That said, if defense of said opinion is formed upon a dismissal of inconvenient facts, cheap shots at people you've never met or read or heard, disproportionate and insubstantial focus on minor elements within counter-arguments, and attacking the messenger rather than arguing the message, further conversation on this topic is unlikely to be productive with me or with anybody else.

At this point I stop apologizing. I don’t know what you’re driving at here. Because … disproportionate and insubstantial focus on minor elements within counter-arguments … some of your arguments, especially when quoting some of your choices, I found insubstantial as well. No offense intended.

That being the case, and since the tenor of this discussion has taken a turn I don’t care to follow any further, I think I'll take a break for a while.

Peace, brother. I'll break, too.

Sunday, September 17, 2006 9:57:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

I've turned back a few posts on this thread because I didn't care for the tone. A shame, too, because underneath the vitriol and stridency there were some good substantive points. If you tried to post something and don't see it here but want to try again, please feel free to rewrite your post with an eye toward persuading the other party, not toward protecting or gratifying your ego. Not an easy thing to do for any of us, but otherwise what's the point of posting? Thanks.

Monday, September 18, 2006 6:18:00 PM  
Blogger Joshua James said...

Having posted a couple of those, I must say that to me, it doesn't appear to my eye that you're holding mr stella to the same measure as everyone else - I don't have an ego on whether or not i get a post up or not, but I don't have much patience the willfull igorance regarding iraq and what's happened to new york city.

If you don't call him on his bull, why hold it against someone else who does?

And if I cannot hold him accountable for the ridiculous statements he's consistantly made, you're right, what's the point in posting?

Monday, September 18, 2006 8:08:00 PM  
Blogger Joshua James said...

I'd also like to add that Mr. Stella has consistantly said that he will not be persuaded, no matter what points someone makes, he's deliberately trying not to be persuaded, so what's the point of anyone trying to do so?

Monday, September 18, 2006 8:11:00 PM  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Charlie, my apologies for dropping the ball on a response.

You raise good points from the devil's advocate position. In terms of what's ethical and what we can live with, such an act could be debated endlessly.

Ultimately, I don't see it as brainwashing. Perhaps because the "perception" in Canada is that we're more supportive of people retaining their cultural identity when they come here - we're the cultural mosaic, America is the melting pot. But I do think that unless we can bridge the gaps, particularly amongst youth, we can't hope to really win the war on terror. It's an unending cycle. In fact, it's been going on for decades already, we just treated it differently when it was Libya, for example.

Times have changed and attitudes have shifted there. What we need is to seek moderate allies. Tunisia is a solid example, a country I've been to, and that was right after 9/11. People were so grateful to us for still going there, for not blaming them. They understood the power of perception, to temptation to blame all, and in Egypt and Morocco the tourist industry was hit hard. But a country like Tunisia could be neutral ground for presenting a less constrained view of the Muslim faith. In my opinion, it isn't any different than taking someone out of a cult here and putting them in a moderate Christian environment to help them see things can be different without abandoning your faith.

Just thoughts. As always, no perfect answers, just ideas born from the hope that one day, we might see some lasting peace.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 6:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Joseph K. said...

Just to clarify a point that was incorrectly made above, during WWII the Japanese were ready to surrender. They sent word through the British that they wanted the thing over.

Truman decided to drop the bombs to send a message to Russia, not save any American troops. The troops never would have had to be sent in if Japan had been allowed to surrender.

Besides, when did any American president do anything to save troops?

Thursday, September 21, 2006 11:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Sandra: Valid points. I only hope we have the time to see it through. I tend to doubt it (the patience of both sides to the issue).

Joe K: I suggest you do some more reading on Truman's decision and the facts (such as ... as late as July, the Japanese refused an unconditional surrender).

Sunday, September 24, 2006 12:58:00 PM  

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