Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Invading Iraq: The Rube Goldberg Argument (from Steven Den Beste)

Don't get me wrong--I kind of like Steven Den Beste, and admire his attempt to set out a reasonably complete attempt to justifiy the invasion of Iraq (as part of the GWoT (or G-SAVE (or P-FUNK (or whatever it's being called these days)))). In order to evaluate the reasons in favor of the policy, it's important to lay them out as clearly as possible. It would, of course, have been better if we'd had the rationale set out in this form by the administration ahead of time, but better late than never. Den Beste's done an admirably clear job of hypothesizing about and trying to clarify the reasons for invasion.

Praise is being lavished on the argument in the rightosphere (it's even being suggested that Bush's new Iraq strategy owes something to Den Beste's argument). The praise for Den Beste's interpretation/reconstruction is justified. But the argument itself is far from praiseworthy.

One reason it's important to formulate reasoning in this textbook fashion is that it's easier to identify errors that way. And this argument is no exception. In fact, once the argument is reconstructed in this form, it's...well...breath-takingly awful. If the argument had been presented to Congress or the American people in this way prior to the invasion, I can virtually guarantee that the invasion would not have happened. It doesn't take much study to see that the argument is a rickety structure made up largely of wild speculation and wishful thinking.

Anyone who knows anything about doing anything should be able to tell that this argument is a blueprint for disaster. The attempts to justify the invasion of Iraq look like they were put together by Rube Goldberg. It's not that there's no case at all--there were, as I've noted before, at least some good reasons for invading. It's just that good reasons and non-speculation play far too small a role in the argument.

The first thing this argument reminded me of (well, after a Rube Goldberg machine, that is) was Yamamoto's battle plan at Midway. But even more baroque. Well, I thought as I read it, if you're right about everything and everything goes exactly as planned, then there's a non-zero probability that this will work. But the one thing you can be sure of when undertaking a project of this kind is that you're not right about everything and not everything will go exactly as planned. That's why a certain amount of modesty and realism is required in cases of this kind. I'm a philosopher and Den Beste's some kind of engineer; he must know that better than I do. (Though, again, to be fair he's just reconstructing the argument not necessarily endorsing it; though his endorsement seems implicit.)

I don't have the time (nor the patience) right now to go through the argument in detail, but--and readers of this blog won't be surprised by this--I think the thing really starts to go off the rails at VI.B. It's really striking how thin the case is there--or, rather, it would be striking if it hadn't been so clear all along that the decision to abandon Afghanistan in order to go after Iraq was such a bad one. The reasons Den Beste states for switching from Afghanistan to Iraq are pathetically weak and speculative. They are, to be precise:

1. The human and cultural material we needed for reform did not exist in Afghanistan.
and
2. The "Arab Street" would not have been impressed by successful reform in Afghanistan or in Persian Iran.


My God. Those are supposed to be the reasons why we let up, let bin Laden go, and plunged into the hornet's nest of Iraq? It almost makes you want to weep. If the reasons had been set out this clearly ahead of time, none of this would ever have happened. Is it possible that we really did abandon a clear, valuable, and achievable goal on the basis of whimsical, half-baked speculation about how the "Arab Street" would view our achievement of that goal?

Oh, the humanity.

[Instapundit has informed me that the den Beste piece is, in fact, a couple of years old and is now experiencing a revival. I guess this shouldn't matter, but I find it even more depressing that at least some on the right believed ahead of time that this was the strongest version of the argument. Too bad that the administration didn't formulate the official version of the argument as clearly as den Beste formulated his version.]

71 Comments:

Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Aw, screw it, WS. I don't want to be quarrelsome, or entirely predictable.

But it was pretty good, and thanks for the inspiration. I'll post it on my own blog tomorrow.

Never mind. Carry on. :-)

1:09 AM  
Blogger Steven Den Beste said...

Just wanted to set some records straight:

My Strategic Overview was written in July of 2003. During that summer I revisited it a few times, added a couple of items, and included some links to supporting items.

But I decided not to keep working on it, and instead left it alone for the historical record.

It is not really correct to say that it is "experiencing a revival". It's gotten linked -- and loaded -- at a steady rate ever since I originally posted it. At this moment it's been loaded almost 73,000 times from my site. (There's another site somewhere which has a mirror of it in PDF form, and I have no idea how many times that one has been loaded.)

If I were to revisit it today, there are several sections I'd significantly rewrite, and new items I'd add. For instance, we now understand those who have been fighting against us a lot better than I did in July of 2003. Perhaps even more important, in July of 2003 the Oil-for-Food scandal hadn't broken open yet.

Recently Tigerhawk did revisit my overview and try to update it. I don't agree with everything he said but I think he did a pretty good job.

In terms of your particular comments, my biggest disagreement is this: we didn't "let up" in Afghanistan. We've had on the order of one division of troops there since shortly after Kandahar fell.

I think the primary disagreement you and I have is about the actual goal of the GWOT. It is not to find and destroy al Qaeda, though that is one of the things we're attempting to do.

The goal of the GWOT is to eliminate the conditions that cause people to create and join Islamist groups like al Qaeda. It is not enough just to eliminate al Qaeda as an effective organization; we must also try to make it so that no comparable successor arises to take al Qaeda's place. Attacking Iraq had little to do with eliminating al Qaeda, but everything to do with trying to prevent a successor from appearing.

Attacking Iraq and kicking out Saddam was necessary so that we could establish a liberal democracy in Iraq afterwards, in hopes of inspiring reforms in the other nations of the region.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I don't see it, Steven, but, as I've said, I admire the clarity of your piece, and very much appreciate the comment/clarification.

The point about the date on the piece and whether or not it's been consistently popular or has experienced a revival doesn't seem to matter much to me.

I very much agree about the importance of eliminating the conditions that allow terrorism to flourish, but very much disagree that the invasion of Iraq was a plausible course of action to take in order to accomplish that goal. I think that subsequent developments support my position on this, but, of course, it'll be years before we can adequately assess the relevant policies.

Given the information currently available to us, I think our best guess has to be that the invasion has made things worse. But, again, the jury is in large part still out.

Thanks again. A pleasure to have you on-site.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Oh, though one more thing:

We did, in fact, let up in Afghanistan in order to invade Iraq. There were marines available for use at Tora Bora that were, instead, held back so that they could be used in Iraq. Special Forces units were also pulled out. Instead we relied on unreliable local forces and that is most likely why OBL got away.

This point is crucial and, even if we ignore all the other flaws in the policy and the argument, constitutes sufficient reason to reject both.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Steven Den Beste said...

That point is only crucial if you think that capturing bin Laden was critical.

I don't. The point was to cripple his organization. While I wouldn't in the slightest have minded if we'd gotten him, the fact is that it was less important and not worth sacrificing the underlying strategy of inducing reform just to try to get him.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I did put up the post I was threatening, which, predictably, mostly gets Mr. Den Beste's back.

However, in the context of this blog, I must point out that my understanding of why bin Laden slipped away in Afghanistan was a) the daunting logistics of sending more troops to a landlocked and high-altitude plateau to chase b) someone we weren't the least bit sure was still in Tora Bora.

It is clear in retrospect that the US trusted its local Afghani allies too much, since they apparently let bin Laden escape to Pakistan, but by the same token, permitting the Ba'athist/Saddamist Iraqi military to disband seems in retrospect wise, not foolish.

Perhaps each was a 50/50 deal and we guessed wrong in both cases. But such is the nature of coinflips.

I cannot agree that whacking bin Laden, in principle, was not a priority.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, this is an interesting and, to my mind, worthwhile development in the discussion. And, let me note again that it was Mr. Den Beste's formulation of the argument that facilitated this step forward--if that, indeed, it is.

I'm not sure whether we have officially agreed that resources were diverted/withheld from Afghanistan and sent to Iraq, but I believe that's a matter of public record. I'll assume it for the purposes of this post, subject to future correction.

So the question becomes: how important was it to destroy the al Q core in Afghanistan?

Note that this is very different from the question "how important was it to kill OBL?" I believe that killing OBL was of fairly to very important. It probably wouldn't mean the end of al Q, but it would be a hard blow against them. (I do want to note in passing that folks on the right often assert that Islamic culture is very symbol-oriented, and often write of the importance of doing things for symbolic reasons, but neglect the symbolic importance of killing OBL. Of course there were more direct, practical reasons for doing it as well, not to mention moral ones; he is, after all, a mass murderer.)

At any rate, OBL was important but not the main reason for going into Afghanistan. The main reason was that al Q was strong in Afghanistan, the Taliban was evil, the world was behind us, and we could have brought fiery fury down on our enemies with the backing of the world and the American public, showing ourselves once again to be terrible when unjustly attacked. We would have inflicted terrible if not fatal damage on al Q. Then with the resources we have wasted in Iraq we could have rebuilt Afghanistan, helping out a people who have suffered terribly and, again, reaping the good will of the world, including much of the Arab world (despite the fact that Afghanistan is not an Arab country).

That good will would have gone farther toward fighting al Qaeda than anything that has been done in Iraq.

These goals were simple, achievable, and would have paid great rewards. Instead we squandered lives, resources, good will, and opportunities to gamble on a highly speculative undertaking; and undertaking such that its rewards are uncertain, and such that we still do not know whether it is achievable.

We're analogous to someone who finally comes into a bit of money and instead of buying a house goes to Vegas and bets it all on red.

Even if we get lucky, we're still foolish.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Er, sorry to ramble on...perhaps a new post is needed...

But we *do* seem to be disagreeing in part about whether this should have been a war against al Q or against terrorists in general. I think the former, many on the right seem to think the latter.

I won't comment now on the strengths and weaknesses of the various positions, but think it is important to make sure we are agreeing about what we're disagreeing about, if you take my meaning.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Steven Den Beste said...

Rebuilding Afghanistan (snarky comment: how can you rebuild something that was never built in the first place?)

...ahem... Rebuilding Afghanistan would not have had the effect you think, because "good will" is not the point.

The point is to bring about reform in essentially all the governments in the middle east. Rebuilding Afghanistan would have made essentially no contribution to that end.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Steven Den Beste said...

How, for example, would rebuilding Afghanistan have had any effect on the spread of Wahhabism in the Islamic world?

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, for one thing, the opium production would not have skyrocketed as it has.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, right--snarky point accepted with gratitude and amusement:

What we should have done was *build* us one-a them there Afghanistans...

Perhaps Disney could have helped...AfghanistanLand or somesuch...

On break from class, more on the substantive point asap. But I don't think I have anything to say that hasn't been said a thousand times before by others smarter and more qualified than I.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve,

Like Winston, I was impressed with the detail and thoughtfulness of your plan, but like him I disagree with you on the substantive strategy. The crucial point is in your statement here:

"The goal of the GWOT is to eliminate the conditions that cause people to create and join Islamist groups like al Qaeda. It is not enough just to eliminate al Qaeda as an effective organization; we must also try to make it so that no comparable successor arises to take al Qaeda's place. Attacking Iraq had little to do with eliminating al Qaeda, but everything to do with trying to prevent a successor from appearing."

You see, I just don't understand the logic behind this strategy. I don't think anyone would argue that our enemy made itself obvious to us on 9/11, though it was pretty obvious in some quarters (cf. Richard Clarke) before that. That enemy was Al Qaeda AND GROUPS LIKE IT.

So the problem I see with your argument is that it relies on supposition upon supposition to arrive at a conclusion that invading Iraq would somehow reduce future terrorism. I just don't understand how this is supposed to work exactly. There is no evidence in fact which would favor such a thesis.

Let's consider the case of Iraq itself, which should be useful since you maintain the invasion was designed to "eliminate the conditions that cause people to create and join Islamist groups like Al Qaeda". I could be wrong, but it seems to me that almost no terrorism took place in Iraq prior to our invasion, nor did Iraq produce many terrorists, particularly for Al Qaeda. And Al Qaeda had no real presence in Iraq prior to our invasion. My impression is that most of the anti-West terrorists originated in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Morocco, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran and Somalia. If reform *anywhere* was going to mitigate this problem, I would submit that it is those nations where it's most likely help.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2004_09/004766.php

As far as an example to potential terrorists and terrorist organiations in other nations, I don't see how invading Iraq would do anything to persuade them from their previous beliefs and inclination to act thereon. In fact, if anything, I believe it motivates them more. We do have prima facie evidence of this in the marked increase in worldwide terrorism since the invasion. The belief that somehow what we're doing in Iraq (or would be doing, I suppose, if it had been done competently) would decrease terrorism in the future does not enjoy the benefit of any empirical evidence whatsoever. As such, it seems to me to be at best what Winston called "a highly speculative undertaking".

I think that the belief that "state actors" or "state sponsors" of terrorism are our greatest threat is what Clarke referred to when he said it was like the neoconservatives were "preserved in amber", enamored of a Cold War mentality that only a rogue nation could threaten us.

In fact, what Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have proved is that it is specifically non-state, international, loosely organized groups that pose the biggest problem. They need only hide in western, free nations like Germany and Spain, where the 9/11 attacks were largely planned. The crucial point to understand is that it is the IDEOLOGY that is the enemy that must be combatted, because it's easy for adherents of it to exist in sinecures of even the most advanced and free nations in the world.

Which is why I also have to disagree with this:

"That point is only crucial if you think that capturing bin Laden was critical.

I don't. The point was to cripple his organization. While I wouldn't in the slightest have minded if we'd gotten him, the fact is that it was less important and not worth sacrificing the underlying strategy of inducing reform just to try to get him."

I think that the capture or killing of Bin Laden is VERY important because it's only the kingpins of terrorism for whom threat of death or imprisonment might conceivably pose some deterrence. They have shown no willingness to die for their cherished beliefs in snake oil. As far as the foot soldiers who are indeed prepared to die for their "cause", I see no hope of actually deterring them since they're obviously not afraid to die and presumably not afraid of prison; but I do hold out hope that the proper strategy (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?userid=UN32SLACE9&isbn=1586483064&itm=1) could make Bin Ladenism and its ilk less attractive to them.

I don't pretend to have all the answers; far from it. But I do know that there is no evidence that our current strategy in Iraq is working. Nor is there any evidence that it will ever work.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Steven Den Beste said...

You're taking much too short a view.

Invading Iraq will begin a process which will probably take 40 years, at the end of which the conditions which spawn terrorism will largely be gone.

This is not a problem which can be solved in five years.

The basic idea is that if we establish a successful liberal democracy in Iraq, and if as a result the people of Iraq become happy, healthy and prosperous, then the other Arabs will start asking their leaders why the same thing isn't happening in their own nations, and will begin to agitate for change.

When you're in a war, it is often necessary to do things which cause increases in casualties and conflict in the short term, in the interests of reducing casualties in the long run. It's true that there's more terrorism in Iraq now than before we invaded, though it's not clear that there's more overall violent death. After all, Saddam's rule was not exactly benign.

But even if there's more violent death now than before, if things go according to plan there will be less in five years, and much much less in 20 years.

And in the mean time, we are already beginning to see dominoes falling. Qadaffi gave up his WMD program and exposed the Khan nuke network. Kuwait has held, and the UAE will soon hold, elections in which women are permitted to vote. Jordan is moving towards constitutional monarchy (away from traditional monarchy). Lebanon finally booted out the Syrians. The Syrian government is looking distinctly shakey. The people of Egypt are beginning to demand real elections with real choices. It's a slow start but a real one, and a lot more is coming -- as long as the experiment in Iraq doesn't fail.

The one way to prevent all that from coming about is for us to bail out of Iraq too soon.

Why will this reform help us? The basic idea is that people who believe in their own future and are engaged in working to make their own future better have more important things to do than to expend themselves in suicide terrorism.

However, there's more to it. As this reform takes place, al Qaeda and the other terrorist groups are increasingly targeting the Arab world itself. When al Qaeda was attacking America, Arabs generally thought pretty highly of it. Now that al Qaeda is doing things like blowing up wedding parties in Amman, suddenly the majority of Arabs are beginning to think that terrorism ain't such a good thing after all.

It's true that there's been a lot of terrorism in Iraq. That a dual victory for us. First, those terrorists were not attacking us (civilians here at home). Initially they were primarily trying to attack our troops, but our troops are much better prepared for that kind of thing, which is why two and a half years of it still hasn't managed to kill as many Americans as terrorists did on one day four years ago in September.

And as it's become clear to the terrorists that attacking American soldiers is a losing proposition, increasingly they're attacking Arabs in Iraq, and that is also a victory for us, because it's alienating the legendary "Arab Street".

All of your objections only make sense if you're looking at the situation in the very short run (6 months or a year). You have to take the long view, because this is a very long term plan.

And in my humble opinion, it's the only plan we can use that gives us any chance of really winning (i.e. permanently getting rid of the threat) without committing nuclear genocide.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Though, once again, I find myself pressed for time, I want to express my agreement with LC--well said.

A big meta-point I want to mention quickly is, however, that this profitable discussion has allowed us to advance to a point at which we can identify the real points of disagreement. I think SDB wants to argue for the following proposition:

The invasion of Iraq was (at the time of invasion) more likely to decrease the number/effectiveness of terrorists than was the killing of OBL et. al. and the (re)building of Afghanistan.

LC seems to think that this is the wrong proposition to be arguing about, and I have some inclination to agree, but am persuadable on the issue.

Hastily: there is at least some empirical evidence that bears on this proposition. We (er, in the sense of 'they', in the sense of experts) do know something about who and how people become terrorists.

There is evidence to suggest, for example, that poverty is (contrary to what many on the left think) not a significant contributor. So there may very well be evidence relevant to the question at issue, i.e. whether the invasion of Iraq is the kind of think likely to increase or decrease the supply of terrorists.

Must run. Sorry about the slap-dash nature of the above.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Steven Den Beste said...

The invasion of Iraq was (at the time of invasion) more likely to decrease the number/effectiveness of terrorists than was the killing of OBL et. al. and the (re)building of Afghanistan.

I agree with that if I may permitted to revise it slightly:

...more likely to decrease the number/effectiveness of terrorists in the long run...

where "long run" is measured in decades, not in months. We are fighting this war for our grandchildren, not for ourselves. For us to choose a strategy which decreased the danger for ourselves and instead bequeathed that danger to our grandchildren would be the height of immorality and irresponsibility.

3:41 PM  
Blogger playah grrl said...

It truly amazes me that people that know absolutely nothing about military strategy feel free to make these specious arguments. Do you know anything at all about threat matrices, classified intel, adversary doctrine analysis, games theory or wargames sims?
Thought not.
From what I know, Den Beste's analysis is spot on, and you are a clueless ignorant partisan layman.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve,

Thanks for the thoughtful response.

Still, I have three main problems with your points.

The first, and most important, is that there is no indication that giving people the right to self-determination will result in any less terrorism or the rise of tolerant, liberal governments. They are just as likely to elect backward-looking, Islamist-inspired people, like in Algeria and Egypt. This is why I feel a change in the culture, a la 'soft power' FIRST is more likely to lead to peace and prosperity in the long run. The internalization of democratic principles in nations' national psyches should precede a change to representative government if you want to get a representative government that is respectful of things like religious and civil freedoms and the rule of law.

Second, you tie together a lot of events which in show no causal connection. If you research it, you'll see that Qaddafi agreed to give up his illicit arms and terrorist sponsorship before the Iraq war, and mostly because he was running out of money. And the ejection of Syria from Lebanon flowed mostly from the Syrians overreaching.

Third, when you say:

"It's true that there's been a lot of terrorism in Iraq. That a dual victory for us. First, those terrorists were not attacking us (civilians here at home). Initially they were primarily trying to attack our troops, but our troops are much better prepared for that kind of thing, which is why two and a half years of it still hasn't managed to kill as many Americans as terrorists did on one day four years ago in September."

You invoke the right to arrogate to ourselves the right to commit Iraqis as cannon fodder in this experiment. They didn't choose this course, nor did they request that we do it. Much as I MAY PERSONALLY think it an admirable goal, I don't feel I have the right to dictate that they be put through this for what I hypothesize will be a better outcome for them in the future. I know that life for many Iraqis under Saddam was miserable, but don't you think it's up to them to decide that several years of bloody chaos (which was predicted beforehand by many) is a worthwhile price for what we're promising (and still just hoping) will be be a better life for them in the future?

I do think you bump up against a crucial point here though:

"However, there's more to it. As this reform takes place, al Qaeda and the other terrorist groups are increasingly targeting the Arab world itself. When al Qaeda was attacking America, Arabs generally thought pretty highly of it. Now that al Qaeda is doing things like blowing up wedding parties in Amman, suddenly the majority of Arabs are beginning to think that terrorism ain't such a good thing after all."

This is crucial because I believe what we're witnessing is largely an internal battle for the soul of the Islamic world. The forces of dogmatism/fundamentalism are at war with the more modern, progressive majority in Muslim nations. I believe you err in believing that this is some new phenomenon, though. Over the past fourty years, I would hazard a guess that far more Muslims have been killed by terrorists than non-Muslims.

That being said, I don't think that tyrants like Saddam, as vicious and inhumane as they are, are what drove people to terrorist ideology. I agree with Winston that it's not necessarily poverty and destitution which drove people to embrace things like AQ ideology; I believe that one should never underestimate the importance of dignity, or it's counterpart, humiliation, particularly in Arab society.

Saddam, if anything, fed a sense of Arab pride. What contributed to a sense of humiliation was seeing leaders like the Saudi and Kuwaiti royal families, in the eyes of deranged fanatics, kowtowing to western interests. Add in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is extremely complicated in its own right, and you have a situation where charismatic and manipulative front men like bin Laden can convince young disenchanted Muslims to view terrorism as an honorable alternative.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It truly amazes me that people that know absolutely nothing about military strategy feel free to make these specious arguments. Do you know anything at all about threat matrices, classified intel, adversary doctrine analysis, games theory or wargames sims?"

No, but this guy does:

http://www.generalzinni.com/

And he called it a "brain fart".

So does that make his assessment correct?

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what I know, Den Beste's analysis is spot on, and you are a clueless ignorant partisan layman.

Den Beste himself is a "layman" (a practicing engineer without a college degree), as far as I'm aware. And as someone who read Den Beste's site fairly regularly, I never saw much to suggest that he ever had more than a (very well-read) layman's knowledge in the things you mention.

More to the point, if Den Beste himself finds Winston's critique worthy of civilized response, shouldn't you, "playah grrl"?

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...more likely to decrease the number/effectiveness of terrorists in the long run...

where "long run" is measured in decades, not in months. We are fighting this war for our grandchildren, not for ourselves. For us to choose a strategy which decreased the danger for ourselves and instead bequeathed that danger to our grandchildren would be the height of immorality and irresponsibility.


I rather think Winston's earlier comments are appropriate here:

But the one thing you can be sure of when undertaking a project of this kind is that you're not right about everything and not everything will go exactly as planned. That's why a certain amount of modesty and realism is required in cases of this kind. I'm a philosopher and Den Beste's some kind of engineer; he must know that better than I do.

I can't think of any US policy that's successfully been carried out over decades - even our Cold War policy saw significant shifts both between administrations and within a given administration. The idea that we have the political will to keep fighting in Iraq as we currently are for even the five-year timeframe you've described is questionable, at best. (And that doesn't even get in to the question of if there wasn't some lower-impact way of leveraging the US's non-military assets to change the "root causes" much more effectively... say, by flooding friendlier Middle Eastern countries with American goods, business investment, and skills training.)

5:05 PM  
Blogger Steven Den Beste said...

This is crucial because I believe what we're witnessing is largely an internal battle for the soul of the Islamic world. The forces of dogmatism/fundamentalism are at war with the more modern, progressive majority in Muslim nations. I believe you err in believing that this is some new phenomenon, though.

It isn't a new phenomenon. What's new is that it's become our problem, and we have to bring about a solution.

It's been a struggle for a long time, but until now the Arab modernists haven't been winning. Now we must make sure that they do.

I don't think anyone ever claimed that this was a sure thing. I sure as hell haven't made any such claim. And it's absolutely certain that it isn't going to go according to plan and that we're going to have setbacks.

But it's the best plan I think is available to us.

It's entirely possible that the entire thing will ultimately collapse in failure. I sure hope not, because in that case it's virtually certain that many cities in the world, ours and theirs, are going to be converted into radioactive craters, one way or another.

Other comments: I apologize for "Playahgrrl"; she's a stalker of mine who's caused me trouble before in other fora. (She thinks she's supporting me here by being rude and derisive, but that kind of help I don't need.)

What "right" have we to get the Iraqi people involved? That question isn't really important in my opinion. We have the need to do so, and that's why we're doing it. But the idea of asking them first is fatuous; do you think Saddam would have permitted us to run an election there to see if they wanted us to invade?

Once a true elected government exists there (about three weeks from now), then if they ask us to leave, we will. But they won't. I expect us to have a significant military presence in Iraq for the next 30 years, with the consent of the Iraq government.

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless I missed it, the chronology seems to have been set aside, to the detriment (I think) of the debate. Iraq was a problem before Kuwait -- when SH invaded Kuwait, he became a problem too big to ignore. After Kuwait, Iraq/SH was /still/ a problem, at near-boil. He was allowed to remain in power ONLY on certain conditions - by which Iraq/SH never abided. For those reasons, Iraq needed attention (beyond containment).

Now, this is separate from claiming that Iraq is allied with terrorism. I don't dispute this; I merely note that SH, while reportedly in some sort of communication with OBL, is perhaps not directly accountable for /all/ of the major incidents which are generally regarded as reasons for turning up the heat on the GWOT.

SH was the de facto man as far as the Arab street (such as it is) was concerned. He represented the mostly highly-thought-of Arab military, and had some street cred for NOT being religiously isolationist. Don't forget the comments of non-Iraqi arabs after the invasion -- they were shocked that Iraq/SH fell so fast -- they were demoralized. This is what we needed -- for the Arab street to lose faith in leaders who make hay out of opposing the US (I know that sound Imperialistic - but I don't have the same way with words, as do others who have posted).

The case against invading Iraq seems weak only from the standpoint that it is not necessarily a slam-dunk on the evidence as regards alQ, direct terrorism, and such. Seen in context, though, it would hard to propose a more effective target, in terms of affecting the power/PR base which was so important in backing militant Islam and terrorism. And as they say in Texas, "He [SH] needed killin'"

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll warn up front that I'm in a little over my head here--while I like to think that I grok the topic, I'm *not* that effective at expounding on it. Apologies in advance.

First, I'd like to clear up a timeline issue raised earlier. Regarding troops not being available for Tora Bora because they were in/preparing for Iraq, I would point out that there was close to a 15-month gap between the two. Yes, Tora Bora should have been (in retrospect) handled differently, but it was fought the way it was fought based upon operational (mostly loggie) issues within the theater. Remember that we have never had much more than a full division inside the country, partly because it's just so dang hard to support them. Tora Bora happened when we still had minimal force sustainment capability and most of that was needed in Kabul/Kandahar and surroundings, which had *just* been taken faster than most had expected.

Now, for the main course. SDB's argument is based on the assumption that a) fighting directly against AQ must be done, but is not sufficient by itself given the nature of our enemy and the support that it requires from the broader Islamic populace, and b) the best way to remove the long-term existential threat is to turn the broader Islamic populace mostly against any such groups, no matter what names they may go by. Arguments against those assumptions really need to be split out from the others and denoted as such, because otherwise we'll wind up talking past each other and not getting where the other is coming from.

Once you make those assumptions, then the question becomes "How?" What high-level strategy will cause the broader Islamic populace to fight a force that many support out of admiration and/or fear?

I have seen arguments that poverty is the cause and massive aid is the solution; but given the richness of many countries due to their oil, and the fact that such aid has led to less than successful efforts in Africa, I have never been convinced that aid alone would work.

Freedom, however, just might. We can't be certain that it will. It's more or less worked for Europe so far as well as Japan (but to quote Alton Brown, that's another show). If the cultures that produced storm troopers and samurai and operated under tyrannical, aggressive, statist regimes could, given a little freedom-enforced-by-Americans, turn out in a few generations fairly peaceful, free populations generally unwilling to make war on us, then why couldn't the same strategy work with the Arabic/Islamic cultures?

It's not a perfect solution. But it's the best one that I've seen. To fail, or to do nothing, leads ultimately to the destruction of our nation and culture as we know them (over the course of years)--or the annihilation of our enemies and countless millions of innocents when we reach our breaking point and switch to more common historical methods of dealing with existential threats. I don't want to go there. I don't want to let it get to that point.

This post is really getting too long already, so I'll gladly give up the mic now.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Wow. I know this excuse must be wearing thin, but I'm just not in a position right now to put in the kind of time on this thread that I'd like to, so please to excuse humble self. End of semester. No sleep. No time. Trying to hire new people. Wiped out.

But if I might just make another meta-point: I think we're making progress here, and I want to thank all the participants, especially our esteemed guest Mr. Dem Beste, for posting such thoughtful and enlightening comments. (Note that he even took the supererogatory step of apologizing for his groupie. It's hard for me to resist the urge to agree with him for that alone.)

Quickly, I want to acknowledge SDB's important point that he is arguing for a strategy that is expected to pay off only in the rather long-term, and I want to acknowledge that I am more interested here in a short-term strategy. Of course the long-term is more important, but, for reasons I've alluded to earlier, I'm inclined to adopt a short-term strategy in...well...the short term. Or, rather, in the case in question.

I have some (sadly here I must agree with playa grrl...(winces)) layperson's ideas about long-term strategies, but they tend to be non-military ones.

I'd hate to see this discussion die out. I've rarely seen fruitful exchanges on this issue. I really think that what we need is a wiki, perhaps based on SDB's formulation of the argument, on which we could examine these particular points in some detail, with links to evidence and so forth. I'm willing, of course, to post something new if that won't kill the momentum.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once a true elected government exists there (about three weeks from now), then if they ask us to leave, we will. But they won't. I expect us to have a significant military presence in Iraq for the next 30 years, with the consent of the Iraq government.

Er... except Iraqi leaders ARE asking us to leave.

This is the problem I have with a lot of Den Beste's argument: it makes a lot of grand assumptions (proving things to the "arab street", staying in Iraq for 30 years) that simply don't seem to have come to pass. And without those assumptions, the entire thing falls apart.

And based on the failure of many of his existing assumptions, how seriously are we supposed to take stuff like this:

It's entirely possible that the entire thing will ultimately collapse in failure. I sure hope not, because in that case it's virtually certain that many cities in the world, ours and theirs, are going to be converted into radioactive craters, one way or another.

I'm reminded of many people who said that leaving Vietnam would inevitably lead to Russia taking over the entire world. The idea that invading Iraq was "the best plan available to us", and that it's success in Iraq, or nuclear death in the US, seems inherently flawed and unrealistic to me: in the real world, just as there are billion ways to fail, there are a billion ways to succeed.

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your sentiments Winston; at this point I think it's obvious that Steve has put a lot of thought into his position, and his intentions are honorable.

That being said, I have to agree with the last comment by anonymous, which echoes one you made before. Namely, there are two general factors to decison-making based on expected outcomes. One is likelihood or odds, whatever you wish to call it. The other is potential payoff (into which may also enter potential adverse incidental consequences). In my opinion, Steve's formulation is geat on the second (potential payoff) and not so great on the first (likelihood). This is what I believe you were alluding to with your roulette analogy upthread.

Steve,

I think the comparison with Germany and Japan has a couple of shortcomings. One, both of those nations had a history of democracy prior to WW II. And two, they weren't nearly as riven with ethnic, religious and sectarian bitterness as Iraq is; they were considerably more homogeneous in that respect.

I don't know if these are fatal differences in terms of useful comparison, but they are at least significant.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please note that while Russia did not take over the world, thousands upon thousands of South Vietnamese were killed or enslaved, thousands more fled into exile (many to here), and a million Cambodians were slaughtered, by communist governments. Russia then proceeded to spread its power across many places, including, later, the invasion of Afghanistan.

I consider that non-optimal.

Now, if there's a better solution to our current situation, I want to know about it; but this is the best that I've heard so far. That doesn't mean it'll work exactly as planned, and it doesn't even guarantee success.

As for the Iraqi leaders "asking us to leave"... please note that the first paragraphs identify it as a statement made in a Sunni/Shiite conference to placate Sunni factions that really don't want us around. Will they get everything that they want? No, because part of what they want is control of the country, and the Shiite and Kurdish factions won't let them have it. So, will they get us *completely* out? I doubt it.

If we're asked to pull every last soldier out, we will, but I expect that we'll be kept around to keep the larger peace between and serve as arbiters for the major factions, and ultimately to protect the country from invasion. Note that the *last* elements of the ISF to be built are any sort of large-scale mechanized or air combat formations. This is partly because those aren't as useful against the insurgents and terrorists, partly because neighbors like Kuwait wouldn't be crazy to see a large mechanized Iraqi army, and at least in a small part because it forces the Iraqi government to at least think about keeping us around to keep Iran or Syria (or even Turkey) from just marching across the border in 5-10 years. Most likely, I guess that we'll wind up with a DIV+ force that amounts to 30,000-50,000 across all branches.

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Please note that while Russia did not take over the world, thousands upon thousands of South Vietnamese were killed or enslaved, thousands more fled into exile (many to here), and a million Cambodians were slaughtered, by communist governments. Russia then proceeded to spread its power across many places, including, later, the invasion of Afghanistan.

I consider that non-optimal."

True, but there is no commensurate risk here attributable to not invading another sovereign nation that was effectively neutered and posed no risk to us or its neighbors. Nor is there a risk of nuclear annihilation based on geostrategic miscalculation, provided we keep our eye on the ball of countering nuclear proliferation, forming a united western front for inspections where necessary and securing any loose nukes left over from the former SU.

The coming treatment of Iran will provide a good acid test as regards the inspection/non-proliferation issue. So far the west seems pretty united, although Russia is clearly a problem.

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's take a moment, dust off the old scientific process, and see if we can apply it to the arguments flying around here.

To start, we need to know what is causing these people to resort to terrorism (by commonly accepted definition rather than Webster's or SDB's, the use of violence specifically targetting noncombatants for a political cause), if we are to end it. The reasons given by the terrorists themselves are really not helpful in determining this, as modern terrorists have demonstrated that addressing any of their grievances only encourages them to commit more attacks, rather than fewer (as the Palestinians did following the Camp David accords). It must be presumed that terrorist organizations that either make impossible demands (imposition of a successful worldwide caliphate, annihilation of another nation or race, etc.), or continually change their demands, are actually lying about their true reasons for committing acts of terror.

Eliminated by cursory analysis as well are many social factors, such as wealth, education, and (importantly in the context of this discussion) freedom. Terrorists have come from societies both democratic and tyrannical; the suicide bombers in London had grown up in a free democratic society, yet turned against that same society for... what, exactly? Their compatriots claim it was Britain's role in the Iraq war, but again their words alone can't really be trusted, especially as their actions make little sense in that context; it's highly unlikely they truly believed that killing themselves and dozens of innocent commuters would inspire the UK to pull out of Iraq.

The most common thread is Islam, but even that is not certain; eco-terrorists, IRA terrorists, and Basque terrorists are seldom Islamic, but continue to launch attacks against others.

My untested hypothesis is that the common thread among the supporters of all these disparate terrorist groups is a disproportionate sense of entitlement. They feel they are entitled to a perfect existence, by a variety of definitions (with common definitions deliniating the boundaries between the groups), and rather than seeing it as their duty to work toward it, they believe it should be given to them, as a prize for gracing the world with their existence. When the world fails to do so, they respond with outrage that, in organized groups, is quickly focused on violent attacks against anyone that does not give them what they want, no matter whether they are actually capable of supplying it or not. Since unprepared noncombatants are easier to assault than soldiers prepared for combat, the attacks are naturally more focused on them. These attacks are not intended to win any war or even accomplish any political end, they are only intended as an expression of rage at a world they believe has wronged them.

Again, this is just a hypothesis, and I welcome refinement of it.

11:41 PM  
Blogger AnechoicRoom said...

"One reason it's important to formulate reasoning in this textbook fashion is that it's easier to identify errors that way."

"It doesn't take much study to see that the argument is a rickety structure made up largely of wild speculation and wishful thinking."

O.K. ......the textbook was discontinued, and sold off of the remaindered table. I get it.

You now, I'm starting this read ...... and I sez to myself, what's the point? You've already made up your mind. You have no intention of changing. Yes, sure, more than half the blogosphere would disappear if people stopped arguing. Myself, I find it boring (unless I can get a laugh out of the deal).

Centrists like to believe in good things, fine. And, believe they are good because of such. Yet, they stay in the middle, rarely deciding. never doing,. Just in the way. It's a kind of permanet smugness. I'm not knocking centrists for doing nothing. It's just in this grok, nothing is accomplished. Possible failure can be possibly predicted. Something had to be done. Whatever that may have been. Doing nothing Is Not a Plan. Doing nothing would have been a criminal enterprise.

In mechanical terms, you view the war as entirely elective. We on the other hand, see beneft in it. Whether we succeed, or fail in trying. We tried. To gain a benefit. In the immediate post 9/11 environment, it was simply the only decision to be made. Making a decision. Holy moley!

Myself, generally, largely SDB's writing is beyond my neural switchery. I'm simply not qualified to comment on it. Saddam no longer presides over Iraq. He and his snuff infrastructure, the French, and the U.N. no longer deposit their billions of filthy petro dollars into private accounts. And millions no longer flow into Gaza for the contract killing of other human beings and the celebration of murder.

The concept of a free and democaratic society has been planted in the minds of tens of millions of human beings. Will we triumph in Iraq? Will the blood drinkers be defeated? It makes no difference. None. For this day, this age, we stand in the face of evil. There is no math required. Right is right. Wrong is wrong.

Who needs a book?

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to Lewis Carroll for providing a satisfactory response on the Vietnam question.

Now, if there's a better solution to our current situation, I want to know about it; but this is the best that I've heard so far. That doesn't mean it'll work exactly as planned, and it doesn't even guarantee success.

This seems rather unfair: SDB is presenting a bold plan based on many dramatic assumptions about the true nature of the "arab street" and our ability to change "root causes"... but success won't be evident for 30 years, and may not ever happen. Given such odds, it seems like hanging back in Afghanistan, as suggested by Winston, would be the prudent option.

As for the Iraqi leaders "asking us to leave"... please note that the first paragraphs identify it as a statement made in a Sunni/Shiite conference to placate Sunni factions that really don't want us around. Will they get everything that they want? No, because part of what they want is control of the country, and the Shiite and Kurdish factions won't let them have it. So, will they get us *completely* out? I doubt it.

Perhaps, but the fact that they made the statement as all isn't encouraging - I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Kurds and Shias believe they can protect their own turf without our help. (Certainly the recent stories about the Kurds negotiating their own oil deals doesn't suggest they have a great deal of use for a central government.) And again, we return to the fact that the entire Iraq strategy seems based on several large assumptions, the latest being that we won't get kicked out by the newly elected government and Iran won't extend their hegemony into the region.

1:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AnechoicRoom-

In mechanical terms, you view the war as entirely elective. We on the other hand, see beneft in it. Whether we succeed, or fail in trying. We tried. To gain a benefit. In the immediate post 9/11 environment, it was simply the only decision to be made. Making a decision. Holy moley!

Two points:

1) The question was not "doing something" vs. "doing nothing". Pursuing Al Qeada and rebuilding Afghanistan was not "nothing". The question was whether we should tie up our military forces for years in a risky gamble to change the Arab world.

2) This is not the Special Olympics. "We tried" gets you no gold medal, and the self-esteem you feel over being better than the "do-nothing centrists" doesn't really matter. Defeating evil IS the key thing here, but if our actions in Iraq lead to a failed or hostile state in the Middle East, then the war wasn't worth it, even taking your smug moralizing into account.

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lewis Carroll said...
"True, but there is no commensurate risk here attributable to not invading another sovereign nation that was effectively neutered and posed no risk to us or its neighbors."

Effectively neutered?
* France and Russia were in his pocket. Even moreso than we knew at the time.
* The sanctions were dying, had been slowly falling apart for years.
* The ISG after the war found considerable proof (released in their report) that he had the capability and plans to start building chem within months of the sanctions failing (I don't normally count the truck convoys to Syria, because while I have my suspicions, there is to my knowledge no solid evidence about that).

He also posed a considerable risk to his neighbors... how many times during the 90s did we ship multiple brigades to Kuwait when he drove a few divisions out to the border?

There's also the matter of the terrorists (like Abu Nidal) that he hosted, and the contacts (since confirmed) with AQ (not saying they loved each other, but they were more than willing to kill us first before turning on each other).

I concur that Iran is a big deal. I don't have a lot of confidence that it will be resolved well. We have roughly a gnark's chance in a supernova of getting sanctions passed, no matter how blatant Iran is (they can't get much more blatant now). We're unlikely to go it alone because of international pressure, unless Iran really goofs up and is caught red-handed committing "acts of war" against Iraq (and they ask us for help). It's more likely that Israel will try something, but they'll have a hard time sneaking across Iraq with us guarding it, and we can't be seen looking the other way. Odds are good that Iran is going to get a nuke in the next 5 years. Then, things get interesting, because I don't think the mullahs have twigged to the concept of MAD and realized what Israel will do if a nuke, any nuke, goes off on their soil.

I'd like to say that the Iranian people, who seem to be fed up with it, will revolt, but Iran has some pretty nasty internal police and no organized opposition.

2:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris said...
"The question was not "doing something" vs. "doing nothing". Pursuing Al Qeada and rebuilding Afghanistan was not "nothing". The question was whether we should tie up our military forces for years in a risky gamble to change the Arab world."

I suppose we could have just sat in Afghanistan, kept a division of troops there indefinitely (it's hard to support more than that there, even if you're not invading anybody else), and just waited... but SDB did a better job than I could of outlining the downsides of just sitting there.

Also, Qadaffi would never have flipped, which means that not only would he still be a (lower-level) threat, but we would never have found out about AQ Khan... making it much more likely that a couple of countries would have nukes in a couple of years.

Anonymous said...
"My untested hypothesis is that the common thread among the supporters of all these disparate terrorist groups is a disproportionate sense of entitlement."

Actually, when it comes to the hardcore terrorists, I concur with this. See the old "9/11 as theater" essays from a few years ago. Also, see the AQ 7-step plan, and remember that the last step is basically "Take Over the World". It doesn't matter if *we* think that they could ever pull it off, they'll keep fighting as long as *they* think that they can pull it off.

However, the odds of us ever convincing the hardcore to give up are fairly low. What we're trying to accomplish is to remove their logistical base and their concealment--the millions of arabs who are only loosely interested in the ressurection of the caliphate, but tacitly or actively support the Islamist movements out of fear or dislike of the West or (in the case of some governments) simple danegeld.

As is proving the case in Iraq, when the vast majority of fence-sitters actively turn against the terrorists, it gets a lot harder for them to survive, let alone operate--how many senior officers has Zarqawi gone through this year? The ultimate goal is for the billion average, non-jihadi muslims to side with us against the terrorists. Offering them the lure of political and economic freedom is the current strategy by which to do this.

To that end, the free elections in Iraq have definitely raised some eyebrows across the region. If Iraq can prosper as a free nation, then we might just start a global movement of our own.

2:54 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Can't agree with you, Big D.

This is--as LC or someone else--pointed out, a false dichotomy. The options aren't (a) sit there with a division in Afghanistan and (b) invade Iraq. The other option was to send enough troops into Afghanistan to finish the job, kill OBL, completely crush the Taliban and the Afghan(i) contingent of al Q, slap the warlords and druglords into line, and establish a stable, liberal democratic ally in that part of Asia.

This would strike a blow against al Q in many ways, destroying their main contingent and killing their most important leader. (more on this in an up-coming post).

This would do more, I believe, in the long-term to hurt al Q as well by establishing a liberal democractic ally on the borders of Pakistan. Mr. Den Beste posed the question earlier (roughly): how would a stable Afghanistan undermine world terrorism? Two answers, to be elaborated on soon: (1) by smashing an important element of al Q and base of operations for them (2) by giving us leverage against Pakistan, one of al Q's biggest allies. By doing the right things in Afghanistan--e.g. establishing secular schools--we could draw off students from Pakistani Madrassas. Many students go to such schools because they're the only option they have. We'd also be able to get out of bed with Pakistan and force them to quit harboring al Q; something we haven't been able to do to this point (that, of course, is probably where OBL is hiding).

Furthermore, we would have kept the good will of most of the world instead of alienating them. Mr. Den Beste doubts that this is important; I believe that it is *of the utmost importance*. This is a question we should examine in greater depth.

One can worry about the logistical problems we faced in Afghanistan, but those were overcome. Sending troops to a harder-to-reach but more important target is better than wasting effort on an easier-to-reach but less important one, e.g. Iraq.

Finally--and, again, more on this in a future post--the long-term strategy against terrorism is primarily non-military. Building schools, achieving energy independence (something Carter tried to get us to do 30 years ago), pressuring the Saudis to stop funding Madrassas, and pressuring the autocrats and olicrats (and oil-o-crats) in the ME to liberalize their governments in part in order to prevent their presses from using the U.S. as a target for outrage that has as its real target those very repressive governments we support (and, again, which Carter tried to get us to *stop* supporting.)

Some say that violence never solved anything. That's absurdly false. But you have to carefully separate out the problems that can be solved by violence from those that cannot. The short-term, immediately-important goal was to smash al Q and kill OBL. Worrying about terrorism generally was a long-term problem that had no military solution at the time of the invasion.

On last point here: by taking our eye off the ball in Afghanistan we allowed OBL to escape and this in and of itself constituted perhaps al Q's greatest victory to date--greater, perhaps, than 9/11. In conjunction with 9/11, OBL's escape forms part of a powerful set of recruiting tools for al Q: he struck the great Satan a mighty blow *and survives to this day*. Humiliating for us, invigorating and energizing for them.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Effectively neutered?
* France and Russia were in his pocket. Even moreso than we knew at the time.
* The sanctions were dying, had been slowly falling apart for years.
* The ISG after the war found considerable proof (released in their report) that he had the capability and plans to start building chem within months of the sanctions failing (I don't normally count the truck convoys to Syria, because while I have my suspicions, there is to my knowledge no solid evidence about that)."

Yes, Big D, for what we needed to concern ourselves about, he was. Specifically, nukes and the ability to project power against his neighbors. The "WMD" thing was a purposeful conflation of a much bigger threat with two lesser ones. CW and BW are very unstable and hard to use except in localized battle areas. Nukes on the other hand, are a different story.

I'm not saying that there didn't need to be some shoring up of the united front against Saddam; and the sanctions, inspections and no-fly zones were not a perfect long term solution. But there was certainly no pressing need to go rushing in as we did. The lifting of sanctions required the unanimous consent of the SC, which we could effectively veto. And judging by how degraded Saddam's army was, and the presence of inspectors in the country, I don't see any of his neighbors needed to fear him at the time or in the near future. Yes, Saddam would ultimately needed to have been dealt with. Wesley Clark's testimony before the HASC was a good summary, I believe.

As for this:

"Also, Qadaffi would never have flipped, which means that not only would he still be a (lower-level) threat, but we would never have found out about AQ Khan... making it much more likely that a couple of countries would have nukes in a couple of years."

I think Qaddafi actually flipped before the war, as a result of negotiations that had been going on for a couple of years. Sanctions were killing him and he was running out of money. One of the diplomats involved in those negotiations wrote an op-ed about it a few years ago I think.

And Winston, I'm right there with ya on the energy independence/renewable energy. As far as 30-50 year plans go, I think that has more to recommend it than the attempted remaking of the ME.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also add that we can all agree to at least some extent with the perceptive comments by Anonymous re: terrorist motivations.

So while we may disparage their delusions of grandeur about returning the caliphate and realigning the world, to throw a hail mary as if our backs are against the wall accords their delusions a measure of regard they don't deserve. Why should we act like they are an existential threat against our lives if that's true only in their own minds?

I'm not saying don't take their threat seriously at all and ignore it, but instead take realistic view of the threat they actually pose.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I don't mean to clog things up with 'amens', but I'm again very much in agreement with LC.

Qaddafi's change of heart was, according to the non-partisan experts I've read, not because of the invasion of Iraq, though the administration continues to argue, *post hoc ergo propter hoc*, that it was.

But most of all I agree with LC about the desperation of the strategy. The invasion of Iraq strikes me as an act of near panic, bad (among other reasons) because it empowers our enemies by making them seem more powerful than they really are--making them seem that way to themselves as well as to us. At a time when we needed cool heads, dispassionate reasoning, and rational strategies, we got instead muddled thinking, desperation, and almost aimless lashing out. And we've ended up hurting ourselves about as much as we've hurt our enemies.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

In retrospect, that 'muddled thinking' comment sounds like a veiled insult directed at SDB's formulation of the argument. That wasn't the intention.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winston, I'll definitely give a big 'amen' to your last comment. Part of my problem with the Bush administration is that, though they're ostensibly tasked with devising strategies to enhance our security, SDB has apparently put a hell of a lot more thought into his formulation of a strategy than they have.

The possible exceptions could be the contingency plans General Zinni, while CC, kept in his files for a required invasion of Iraq, and the 'Future of Iraq Project' developed at the State Department, neither of which seems to have been paid much heed.

Notwithstanding the fact that I don't think we should have invaded in the first place when we did, if they were going to charge ahead, you would think that they would have taken the time to apply the designs undertaken by experts ahead of time.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Amen, once again. There's a decent chance that I'd have been a defender of this war if we'd have (a) done it for humanitarian reasons and (b) put a decent amount of effort into doing it correctly.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Demosthenes said...

Perhaps, Winston, but I still wouldn't have been. As is usually the case, Den Beste's arguments here and back at his own site make a fundamental assumption that most people would find odd at best: that engaging in foreign policy through military methods cannot backfire, has no negative side effects, and is infinitely flexible in its utility.

Take the "30 years in Iraq". The claim is that it is necessary for "creating a secularized, liberated, cosmopolitan society" in Iraq. The question of whether it is even possible to do so is not addressed; there is certainly precious little historical evidence that it's possible, and even less that it's likely.

(No, Germany and Japan don't count. This should be obvious, and is to anybody who doesn't look at modern international relations through the prism of WWII, like Steven.)

It is far more likely that the presence will breed resentment on both sides of the conflict: among Iraqis who want to determine their own destiny, and Americans who have little patience for the "ingrates" in Iraq and who don't want to spend blood and treasure in a doomed venture. We're already seeing this: it's not going to get better.

Aside from that, does anybody seriously believe (VII. F) that "Anti-American rhetoric is rapidly going out of style in the region. It's no longer fashionable to advocate picking a fight with us?" Yes, this was written in 2003. That Steven admits to editing the piece, and yet never fixing this ludicrous assumption, implies that he still believes it.

Also, the claim (VII.B) that "The situation in Iran is very fluid and difficult to predict" is just funny. It's not fluid: they now essentially control Iraq, and played the United States for fools. It's not difficult to predict: they aren't going to be touched, because the United States doesn't have the manpower to invade and bombing will be of limited utility at best.

But honestly, the biggest clue that Steven is clueless is that he didn't mention colonialism once in that whole long article. Not a single time, including when he was discussing the problems that the region has.

This is a terrible omission. No region apart from Africa has suffered more from the depredations of colonialism, and it lives at the heart of regional resentment of the west, but Steven doesn't even touch it. This despite an argument that wouldn't seem out of place coming from the mouth of a Victorian.

If it's a deliberate omission, then he's disingenuous.

If it's not deliberate, he's made an enormous error of judgement.

Either way, I'll take the NSC's talking points over this in a nanosecond.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, as one of the general presumptions made by Mr. Smith is that "Republicans can do nothing right and Democrats can do no real wrong," the condition "put a decent amount of effort into doing it correctly" actually translates to "there must be a president from the Democratic Party in charge." Partisan politics is rather insidious that way.

In any case, even as a military outsider, I find no real fault with the prosecution of the War in Iraq. It is an extraordinary success compared to literally all other US military actions from Vietnam onward that were committed with the full sanction and oversight of the UN. It may only tangentally contribute to the GWoT, but the execution itself is characterized primarily by its lack of flaws, resulting in its opponents being forced to make ridiculous statements like "The events at Abu Gharib were clearly torture" and "The war was not a cakewalk, as the Bush Administration promised."

4:01 PM  
Blogger Demosthenes said...

Really? No real fault? None at all?

Amazing.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not so amazing, when you realize that most members of the human race have much lower standards than "unattainable perfection."

But I'm sure perfect beings such as Demosthenes can't comprehend such a thing, so it looks like we'll just have to talk past each other.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Uh, the amount of ignorance it would take to think that I believe that Democrats can do nothing wrong (and Republicans nothing right) is pretty astonishing. My guess is that you're new to this blog and just assume that anyone who criticizes Mr. Bush is a partisan who can't possibly have good reasons for their beliefs. I lay out my reasons in some detail. Since I do put some effort into that, it seems only fair that you direct your criticisms at the reasons themselves rather than making silly charges against me. I mean, I don't care what you think about me, but it's annoying to work through the arguments with relative care only to have some numbnut come around making knee-jerk charges of partisanship.

The Democrats don't really do anything anything these days, so they get little of my attention.

Re: Demosthenes:
Although I agree with the substance of many of your points--think some of them are excellent in fact--I don't think that Mr. Den Beste is "clueless". I know that's relatively mild language, but, still, wouldn't 'wrong' or 'very wrong' suffice? (I know I just called somebody a 'numbnut', but...er...I'm bad.) I think Mr. Den Beste understands what's going on about as well as I do, and I'm fairly sure I'm not clueless...though I'm far from being an expert.

Re: Anonymous's charge against Demosthenes: I don't see him demanding unattainable perfection. We've in general been talking about *reasonble likelihoods* and suchlike around here.

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But honestly, the biggest clue that Steven is clueless is that he didn't mention colonialism once in that whole long article. Not a single time, including when he was discussing the problems that the region has.

This is a terrible omission. No region apart from Africa has suffered more from the depredations of colonialism, and it lives at the heart of regional resentment of the west, but Steven doesn't even touch it

Because "colonialism", for all its faults, is not the cause of the problem. If it were, the middle east wouldn't be the source of the problem; as you yourself state, Africa would be a significantly bigger concern. How many suicide bomber attacks have we seen in the Congo? In Zimbabwe? While we see significant corruption, tyranny, and despotism in the likes of Chad, Kenya, Mozambique, Niger, and, oh, pretty much any African state you care to name, we do not see attempts to conquer and displace the west. If anything, African despots are eager for the west to become more successful, because they can then demand bigger handouts.

Colonialism was, and is, a problem. But it's not a cause/effect relationship with respect to terrorism.

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

William,

Just hazarding a guess, but couldn't it be that colonialism is a sufficient, but not necessary motivator of terrorism? That is, other conditions need to exist as well, but colonialism can be A strong motivational factor, even if not THE motivational factor.

I still refer back to Anonymous' comments upthread about the mindset of terrorists, and it seems that some of them are just manipulative types with delusions of grandeur, who will sieze on ANY grievance, real or merely perceived, to justify their 'cause', such as it is.

I do think it's important to distinguish between this species of terrorist, and that of some others (cf. Palestinians) who I would admit have a leigitimate grievance, but nonetheless act on it in an unjustified, immoral way by committing acts of terror.

I guess the short version would be, not all terrorists are alike, since terrorism is, at the end of the day, usually just a tactic, although sometimes an end in itself, as Anonymous implied.

To my admittedly limited knowledge of it, Arab culture puts a great deal of emphasis on dignity and humiliation, and the effects of these sentiments should not be underestimated. As someone pointed out upthread, most of the 9/11 actors came from middle class and even privileged backgrounds, so the rule that it's only privation and poverty that can cause terrorism seems disproven by that example. I recall the post-9/11 exploration of those terrorists' pasts mentioned a lot of alienation from the societies they grew up in and much anger at how they felt Arab nations had become subservient to the west.

Likewise, as William points out in the African example, it can't be a simple cause/effect thing with colonialism. Apparently it's never a simple cause/effect thing with ANY one particular factor, be it poverty, despotism, colonialism etc., but rather a more complicated etiology.

Such as one would expect when assessing the origins of a TACTIC. It's as if someone said kidnapping or extortion or torture could only be attributable to a single cause such as colonialism or rampant poverty.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I think this thread may be getting too long for Blogger comments or something, but haven't been able to post a comment in awhile.

I was going to (a) welcome Demosthenes to the discussion, and (b) suggest that he might express his disagreement with Mr. Den Beste without calling him 'clueless.' I disagree with him quite markedly, but I don't see how he can reasonably be accused of cluelessness.

Anyway, I'm gonna check out of this thread now and try to put up new posts concerning points that came up here.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also submit that this is not an insignificant question.

To the extent we have identified Islamist-inspired terrorism as our main enemy, I think it is important to try to get a handle on the "root causes" of it. This is important because I think that everyone agrees with the strategic triage assessment of going after active, training terrorist operations and those who harbor them, a la Afghanistan/Al Qaeda/Taliban.

But it's at the "root cause" level that we seem unable to agree. The Bush administration, attributing it the most generous interpretation (that, I believe, SDB has formulated in a lucid way), sees the forceful imposition of a democratic state in the heart of the Muslim world, supported militarily over a long period of time if necessary, as the answer. I don't agree, but I think that's a fair basic explanation of their plan.

I also think that a distinction that I made earlier is important, though - that between the terrorist 'mastermind' like Bin Laden, and that of his foot soldiers. I think that the first, who has shown no willingness to sacrifice himself for the 'cause', is more vulnerable to deterrence and threats than the foot soldier who has already sworn to give his life.

Moreover, whether they are deterrable or not, the Bin Ladens of the world would see their influence and monstrous potential greatly diminished if they were more hard pressed for recruits. This is especially important considering that they might be the manipulative, nihilistic creature Anonymous mentioned above. This is the case because while changing political or societal conditions would not deprive the 'mastermind' of his fodder for manipulation (he will always find SOMETHING to exploit), it would probably have a genuine effect on the appeal of his exhortations to his minions.

This is where "root causes" become so important. If you can identify what in those volunteers that makes them persuadable, and alter the dynamics of how they perceive the message, I think you would have a good chance of success.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just hazarding a guess, but couldn't it be that colonialism is a sufficient, but not necessary motivator of terrorism?

It could be, but it isn't (IMO, of course).

It's an excuse, not a motivator.

If you consider the colonial period to be that time during which the various western powers (British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, etc.) expanded throughout the world (ie. disregard the Crusades, which is a separate issue altogether), the middle east was actually one of the least colonized areas of the world. When compared with Asia, Africa, South America, or Latin America, it was relatively unscathed. The western powers came, looted, and left, rather than set up shop an remake the region to their liking. Compare Baghdad to Singapore, or Cairo to Manilla, to see what heavy-handed colonialism looks like.

I still refer back to Anonymous' comments upthread about the mindset of terrorists, and it seems that some of them are just manipulative types with delusions of grandeur, who will sieze on ANY grievance, real or merely perceived, to justify their 'cause', such as it is.

Yes, and it's effectively the "root cause" of terrorism. The militant Wahhabists are not trying to reform the west, or come to terms with it, they are trying to replace it. Issues of colonialism, Palestine, Israel, and the like are excuses to fire up the troops, but if they didn't exist, they'd find other ones. bin Laden himself was quite up front that Andelusia and Timor were his motivators, not the Kyoto accords.

To my admittedly limited knowledge of it, Arab culture puts a great deal of emphasis on dignity and humiliation, and the effects of these sentiments should not be underestimated. As someone pointed out upthread, most of the 9/11 actors came from middle class and even privileged backgrounds, so the rule that it's only privation and poverty that can cause terrorism seems disproven by that example. I recall the post-9/11 exploration of those terrorists' pasts mentioned a lot of alienation from the societies they grew up in and much anger at how they felt Arab nations had become subservient to the west.

The Arab and Persian cultures both place considerable emphasis on pride and shame. Unfortunately, this has reached a level in some segments where it's pathological. The Arab world is awash with problems: poverty, despotism, religious strife. But dealing with those problems requires acknowledging them, and acknowledging them requires admitting previous failures. Since that's unthinkable, they must find another scapegoat, whether it be the Jews, the Americans, or other Arabs. Given that this world view is reinforced by the Koran (at least in the view of Wahhabist mullahs), many Arabs see their history as a glorious golden age, right up until Vienna, anyway, followed by defeat, betrayal, and humiliation after humilation. Obviously, someone is to blame, and since the Koran states that Muslims are destined to rule, it must be some other evil force. Hence the term "Great Satan".

What's going on in Iraq is an attempt to derail that mindset. It's a generational change, as was the civil rights movement. If Iraq succeeds in becoming a viable, democratic state, then the Wahhabists lose one of their strongest arguments, the idea that Arabs are being held back.

Such as one would expect when assessing the origins of a TACTIC. It's as if someone said kidnapping or extortion or torture could only be attributable to a single cause such as colonialism or rampant poverty.

True. The war on terror is a misnomer, because "global war on Islamic terrorism" is politically incorrect, even if accurate. From a military standpoint, the progress has been quite effective. From a political standpoint, it's been a mixed bag. It's nowhere near as bad as the critics claim, but neither is it the unmitigated success that the US government has claimed. Partially, that's because there are a lot of people who are trying to maintain the status quoa, and partially because the government is incredibly inept at public relations.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, I know no any more about Arab culture than the next FoS blogger, but enough tyranny and humiliation can ignite the crazies in almost any group. And it's clear that the ME has been full of tyranny, much of it supported by the U.S. It'd be interesting to see what Islam would look like under different conditions...and what Christianity would look like under ME-type conditions.

I'm too ignorant to speak on this really, but Islam--like Christianity--strikes me as rather a Roschach test. A mixture of peace-talk and murder-talk, from which you can, with the right Gestalt-shift, extract pretty much any view you want. Depending on the background conditions the doctrines are plunked down in, you're likely to get very different dominant interpretations.

It's clear that OBL & co. hate modernity, liberalism, secularism...but that's not all that's going on there. Does anyone really deny that our policies--in particular our support for tyrannical regimes--has played a large role in producing our current problems?

Far righties want to make it out to be all about the insanity of Islam; far lefties want to make it out to be all about our badness. I don't know enough about Islam to guess how much is the fault of the doctrine...but there's no doubt that we have helped to produce conditions that would bring out the worst in any group or any creed.

It's an unfortunate but apparently natural human reaction to look for scapegoats. Thing is, they are to some extent RIGHT that we've done them dirty. And even if they're wrong, we're in a position (9/11 notwithstanding) to be gracious. We have everything. They have nothing. We stand astride the world like a Colossus. They haven't achieved much of note since the middle ages. Surely we can humble ourselves a bit and put some effort into helping them help themselves up.

This is one of the reasons why I prefer my strategy here to Dem Beste's. In this case an invasion is just one more humiliation to them.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Incidentally, William, very helpful comments. Thanks.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm too ignorant to speak on this really, but Islam--like Christianity--strikes me as rather a Roschach test. A mixture of peace-talk and murder-talk, from which you can, with the right Gestalt-shift, extract pretty much any view you want. Depending on the background conditions the doctrines are plunked down in, you're likely to get very different dominant interpretations.

That's true enough, but it's rather academic. There are certainly Christian sects that are just as violent and virulent as Wahhabist Islam; the Ku Kux Klan is a classic example. However, those sects of Christianity play a marginal role in terms of Christianity at large. If the KKK represented the official church of the United States, the comparison would be apt.

It's clear that OBL & co. hate modernity, liberalism, secularism...but that's not all that's going on there. Does anyone really deny that our policies--in particular our support for tyrannical regimes--has played a large role in producing our current problems?

It has played a role, but it is not the central role. The wars between tribes in Arabia and Persia predate the existence of the US. The Iran/Iraq war can be traced back to a land claim that predates Christianity for example.

That's not to say that the west is completely blameless, but the mess in the middle east isn't the result of US or UK policies. If it were, the entire contintent of Africa, which was subject to pretty much the same policies, only harsher, would be equally hostile to us now.

The difference between the middle east and Africa is not how the west has treated them (both have been taken advantage of over the years), but how they react to it. Viet Nam, for example, has suffered far worse at the hands of first the French, and later the Americans, than Iran and Iraq have at the hands of the western powers. The difference is that Viet Nam's reaction to it has been completely different.

Far righties want to make it out to be all about the insanity of Islam

Speaking as one of those on the right side of the aisle, I should point out that it's not Islam that is the issue, it is the virulent strain of Islam, Wahhabism, that is the primary issue. There are others, but it's the primary instigator. And it's not insanity; it's a clash of cultures. Wahhabism holds that it is the responsibility of all Muslims to re-establish the Caliphate, and that kuffirs (non-believers) must either convert or be put to the sword. Osama bin Laden can be likened to Cotton Mather quite handily.

We have everything. They have nothing.

What makes you think they have nothing? Name the only country in the middle east which does not have billions in oil reserves. Now name the most prosperous country in the middle east. The answer to both in Israel. In terms of natural resources, Israel is poor compared to her neighbours, yet it is the only nation in the region which can be considered prosperous. The difference is not the resources available to it, the difference is the culture. Israel is not hobbled by the cultural limitations that the other nations impose upon themselves.

We stand astride the world like a Colossus. They haven't achieved much of note since the middle ages. Surely we can humble ourselves a bit and put some effort into helping them help themselves up.

That in fact is what we are doing. A belligerent dictator has been removed, a democracy is being established, and the infrastructure for a functioning society is being built. It will take time, and mistakes will be made (and have been), but this is our best chance to defuse a third world war from happening in 20-30 years.

This is one of the reasons why I prefer my strategy here to Dem Beste's. In this case an invasion is just one more humiliation to them.

That's where I think you're wrong. We're dealing with a respect- and shame-based culture. Winning breeds respect. Appeasement (as we are seeing in France) earns nothing but contempt.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This is one of the reasons why I prefer my strategy here to Dem Beste's. In this case an invasion is just one more humiliation to them."...

That's where I think you're wrong. We're dealing with a respect- and shame-based culture. Winning breeds respect. Appeasement (as we are seeing in France) earns nothing but contempt."

I don't think that's true. Winning might breed respect, yes. But not winning by invasion and occupation by the world's sole superpower. I think it only serves to reinforce Muslim feelings of insufficiency that they needed the United States to "liberate" them, if that is in fact what it turns out to be.

Khomenei is revered as a near God in Iran because he led the deposing of the oppressive American puppet who for years had ruled with an iron fist, stifled dissent and murdered and disappeared thousands. That goes a lot further, strictly in terms of stoking Muslim pride, than does any US intervention on Muslims' behalf.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think that's true. Winning might breed respect, yes. But not winning by invasion and occupation by the world's sole superpower. I think it only serves to reinforce Muslim feelings of insufficiency that they needed the United States to "liberate" them, if that is in fact what it turns out to be.

Some will perceive it that way, certainly. But the reality is that they did need help to oust Hussein, otherwise they would have already done so themselves. Also keep in mind that the US betrayed them back in 1991, promising help in overthrowing Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War, only to renege at the last second. The Kurds and many Marsh Arabs were left holding the bag for that, and many were slaughtered as a result of trusting the US in the first place. That's why the US has to make good on their promise this time, to show that they are not totally faithless.

While shame is a powerful force, so too is gratitude. While many political forces oppose the US presence, the great number of Iraqi people are just grateful that Hussein is gone. Obviously, not all, because there are those who are in worse shape now than before, just as there were Germans in worse shape when the Nazis were deposed (and not all were Nazis or Nazi sympathizers). But more have been helped than harmed, which is the best we can hope for.

Khomenei is revered as a near God in Iran because he led the deposing of the oppressive American puppet who for years had ruled with an iron fist, stifled dissent and murdered and disappeared thousands. That goes a lot further, strictly in terms of stoking Muslim pride, than does any US intervention on Muslims' behalf.

I deal with a number of Iranians on a daily basis, and while they are expats, and therefore obviously not necessarily good indicators of what the Iranians at home think, the majority seem to 'revere' Khomeini (and Khalkali) in the same way that the Russian's 'revered' Stalin. In other words, when the police are (believed to be) around, it's good sense to talk of the sainted Khomeini. And many do revere him still, but many also blame him for the 8 year war with Iraq.

11:19 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thanks again for the excellent and enlightening comments, William. Apparently you know some actualy, you know, *facts* about the Middle East...

In a hurry again, but just wanted to throw a few things out quickly:

Many of your arguments support the moral case for war, which I've long admitted was fairly--though perhaps not sufficiently--strong.

The post above was about the less-important strategic/prudential case for war.

And as for the invasion-as-humiliation question: I do see your point, but, again, am baffled by a U.S. policy that is based on simultaneously (a) supporting humiliating/dehumanizing tyrannical governments and (b) removing others by force and without UN approval. It's not that I'm against using force against tyrants--rather, I'm all for it, and have been baffled by the Republicans' impassioned arguments *against* humanitarian use of our military over the past 30 years.

What doesn't make sense here is that the FIRST step should rather obviously be to stop SUPPORTING tyrants. Then if that doesn't do the job, we can take to removing them by force.

But this weird bi-polar strategy seems to be the worst of both worlds--support the evil Saddam until he does something we don't like, then invoke the rhetoric of human rights to remove him, while simultaneously supporting much more dangerous tyrannical regimes.

Again, I recognize that there are complications here, but I worry that those on the right have lulled themselves into believing that our current strategy is reasonable because if you squint really hard and spin things a bit it can look non-crazy under certain lighting conditions.

I don't deny that it has a certain allure...it just seems to be fairly far down on the list of options a reasonable country would consider.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winston,

I would also add that while I concur with William that the Bush I administration did a reprehensible thing when it encouraged the Shia to revolt without providing any support, that foolish and immoral act does not justify the current strategy, which I feel hurts a lot more than it helps, for many reasons we've already discussed.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Demosthenes said...

William: You're both right and wrong about the effects of colonialism. Yes, Africa and Asia were more profoundly affected, but that does not mean that the damage done during the "looting and leaving" (and that is a VERY questionable description of the effects of late 19th century-early 20th century colonialism in the ME) isn't enough of a contributing factor as to be profound important. To claim that it is an "excuse" is to beg the question of where the line between "excuse" and "reason" should be drawn, considering this conflict is (as even Den Beste noted) based on perceptions of both the west and of the Arab world itself.

Besides, "left"? Nobody "left" the middle east. Mossadeq wasn't overthrown by Iranian hands alone.

As for Asia and Africa... Africa is dying from AIDS and is of no strategic importance to the west (outside of natural resources), so the creeping influence of islamic fundamentalism there may not be seen as being so importance....but as for Asia, colonialism caused a blowback there too in the form of the People's Republic of China. That doesn't bode well for the "excuse" theory- if a reaction to colonialism is legitimate in Asia, why not the Middle East?

The claims of varying "political" vs. "strategic" success is also immaterial. The conflict is political, case closed. Soldiers cannot kill Islamic fundamentalism- the victory must be political and ideological, with the military element contributing to that. Disagreeing over *how* it is to be done does not change that.

Finally, I'd be very, very wary of essentialist arguments like that "Persian and Arabian tribes are fighting" bit. For all its faults, Iranian civilization is very, very old, and the argument smacks of the worst kind of Orientalism.

Winston: I stand by my comments. While Den Beste's breakdown may fit the Bush administration's, I find little in it that isn't either erroneous, overblown, or actively dangerous: in its oversimplification of complex political issues, its Orientalism, its American exceptionalism, and its tendency to treat foreign policy and international relations like the bastard children of a Tom Clancy novel and a game of Civilization.

(Among other things, he should probably acquaint himself with the idea that modern Iranian cinema features some of the most highly regarded films in the world. His claims about their political and cultural importance of the region would be laughable, were they not so dangerous.)

However, for the record, I called him clueless because that's the name of the site, and it seems rather...appropo.

1:51 AM  
Blogger Demosthenes said...

Oh, and by the by... Appeasement does work, contra Den Beste. It didn't work in WWII, but there was a formal study done a few years back, and it actually tends to succeed more often than not.

That it famously didn't work in WWII against Germany doesn't mean that "appeasement doesn't work", it's that it didn't work against HITLER.

Retconning of every opponent of the United States into Hitler aside, most dictators aren't actually Hitler. Oddly enough.

1:57 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

LC,
I agree with your agreement with William. I, however, also think this gave us a special reason to intervene. Not sufficient,though.

D,
More excellent points. Re: the rather trivial 'clueless' comment; I get it, but just think its very important to be kind to our reasonable conservative guests--they do us a lot of good arond here--and it seems unfair to use Mr. Den Beste's admirably self-effacing blog title against him. That's a minor point, and it pales in comparison to your contributions here...but I'm obsessed with civility in these matters.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Demosthenes said...

Perhaps this is simply a matter in which we'll have to aimiably disagree, Winston. I've believed for a very long time that the attempt by liberals to be "civil and respectful" to their conservative counterparts has been anything but repaid in kind.

At best, it's been exploited to move the goalposts and add "even the liberal..." credibility to conservative arguments.

In the case of theories' like Den Beste's, that gift of credibility is literally dangerous.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And as for the invasion-as-humiliation question: I do see your point, but, again, am baffled by a U.S. policy that is based on simultaneously (a) supporting humiliating/dehumanizing tyrannical governments and (b) removing others by force and without UN approval.

There's not much baffling about it. The US is a democracy that changes governments, and policies, on a regular basis. Carter's foreign policy and Reagan's were diametrically opposed. The Bush-Clinton-Bush sequence was also a change of priorities and assumptions. While they may agree on basic beliefs, the two parties are opposed on opproaches of how to achieve them. Even within a party, there are significant differences about how to do it - a President Powell would be completely different than a President Bush, even though they are both Republicans, as would a President Kerry be totally different than a President Lieberman.

It's not that I'm against using force against tyrants--rather, I'm all for it, and have been baffled by the Republicans' impassioned arguments *against* humanitarian use of our military over the past 30 years.

It depends on which timeframe you're talking about, but certainly Reagan had little reluctance to use them. Part of the reluctance in the past, in both parties, came from the Soviet/US dynamic. There was both a concern that use of force could be a provocation to the other side, and that allocating forces would weaken the defence against a Soviet attack. Those arguments are not really relevent any more, but since the USSR fell apart at the end of Reagan's tenure, it wasn't until 2001 that a Republican took office in a post-USSR world.

What doesn't make sense here is that the FIRST step should rather obviously be to stop SUPPORTING tyrants. Then if that doesn't do the job, we can take to removing them by force.

That's true. The problem is that historically, the US has supported tyrants in exchange for support, in order to keep them out of the USSR sphere of influence. That argument no longer holds, so there is little reason to do so.

Of course, the problem is that you cannot simply pull out the rug without thought of the consequences. The US boosted the Shah for years, but when he collapsed, he was replaced with a theocracy that arguably is a lot worse, both for America and Iran.

But this weird bi-polar strategy seems to be the worst of both worlds--support the evil Saddam until he does something we don't like, then invoke the rhetoric of human rights to remove him, while simultaneously supporting much more dangerous tyrannical regimes.

It's not bipolar, it's realpolitik. In other words, he's a bastard, but he was our bastard. The reasoning was that he was the best of a bad lot, and the fear of Iran fostering an Arabian/Persian theocracy was the bugaboo that looked worse in comparison.

I don't deny that it has a certain allure...it just seems to be fairly far down on the list of options a reasonable country would consider.

What options would you consider higher on the list?

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To claim that it is an "excuse" is to beg the question of where the line between "excuse" and "reason" should be drawn, considering this conflict is (as even Den Beste noted) based on perceptions of both the west and of the Arab world itself.

Well, given that I wasn't claiming it was an excuse (I was challenging the claim), I'd agree with that. And you are right, it is an issue of perceptions. We are dealing with fundamentally different belief systems because we have fundamentally different cultures. The war with Japan was similar: our mindsets were diametrically opposed.

Besides, "left"? Nobody "left" the middle east. Mossadeq wasn't overthrown by Iranian hands alone.

True, but I was thinking in terms of the lessening of focus. The British walked out of Yemen and a number of other places, and the French dropped their presence a lot, too. They are still there, but the influence is not what it was around the turn of the previous century. The idea that the middle east will become a bunch of British and French potentates and vassals is long gone.

As for Asia and Africa... Africa is dying from AIDS and is of no strategic importance to the west (outside of natural resources), so the creeping influence of islamic fundamentalism there may not be seen as being so importance....but as for Asia, colonialism caused a blowback there too in the form of the People's Republic of China. That doesn't bode well for the "excuse" theory- if a reaction to colonialism is legitimate in Asia, why not the Middle East?

Actually, the AIDs issue is seen to be of significant importance. The major concern is that AIDS (along with Hepatitis B and Polio) will be Africa's next gift to the first world is the reason for the $25 billion being spent to combat that. The Catholic church also takes the Islamic spread seriously; most of the advances of Islam in the continent have been at the expense of the Catholic church.

The difference is that the African countries are not looking to physically conquer and destroy the west; they are looking for handouts. That will change as Islam becomes more prevalent, but at the moment it's taking second place to the middle east in terms of priorities.

The claims of varying "political" vs. "strategic" success is also immaterial. The conflict is political, case closed. Soldiers cannot kill Islamic fundamentalism- the victory must be political and ideological, with the military element contributing to that. Disagreeing over *how* it is to be done does not change that.

Soldiers cannot kill fundamentalism, but soldiers can kill the environment that fosters that fundamentalism. In 1940, the Japanese revered the Emperor as a living diety, and heeded his commands to go forth and conquer the gaijin. Whether they were fellow Asians like the Koreans or Chinese, or occidentals like the British and Portuguese, it did not matter.

The Americans and Australians did not destroy that mindset by force of arms, they destroyed the idea that the Imperial Japanese Army was invincible by defeating it. And that defeat broke the mindset that the Emperor was infallible, because, after all, he had failed. By defeating the army, the Allies defeated the Emperor, and by defeating the Emperor, they defeated the cultural basis of infallibility.

That defeat did not result in the Japanese rejecting their belief systems overnight. Many WWII era Japanese went to their graves still believing that Imperial Japan would rise again somehow and defeat the Allies. Some believe it to this day. But it is no longer the general belief. And as generational change took place, the next generation of Japanese rejected their parent's beliefs, because those beliefs were at odds with what they were seeing with their own eyes.

That is the same sort of approach that is being attempted now in Iraq. This isn't simply about knocking down a tyrant and replacing him with another, it is about replacing the cultural idea that a tyrant is inevitable with the idea that democracy and Islam can co-exist in the middle east. And that's not an approach that can be proven correct or incorrect in the short term; it's going to take a generational shift to see results.

Finally, I'd be very, very wary of essentialist arguments like that "Persian and Arabian tribes are fighting" bit. For all its faults, Iranian civilization is very, very old, and the argument smacks of the worst kind of Orientalism.

Perhaps so, but the Persian/Arab war (ie. Iran/Iraq) is very new, within living memory.

Oh, and by the by... Appeasement does work, contra Den Beste. It didn't work in WWII, but there was a formal study done a few years back, and it actually tends to succeed more often than not.

If it's the study I'm thinking of, the results indicated that appeasement worked for a short period of time, and usually when the aggressor could be diverted to a more desirable target. I can't stop a committed thief from stealing my car, but if I park next to a more desirable car, I can distract him. The question is whether he really wants my car or not. If he does, appeasing him is just delaying the inevitable. If he's only looking for a car, then appeasing him resolves the issue (for me).

Retconning of every opponent of the United States into Hitler aside, most dictators aren't actually Hitler. Oddly enough.

No, but in terms of dictators who are similar to Hitler, Hussein was one of the closest. Similar visions, similar tactics. Whether a pan-Arabian empire or a Reich, their goals were very much in line with one another.

10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At best, it's been exploited to move the goalposts and add "even the liberal..." credibility to conservative arguments.

I'd hardly describe that as a uniquely conservative trait; it happens equally on both sides of the aisle.

In the case of theories' like Den Beste's, that gift of credibility is literally dangerous.

There are two issues I have with that statement. First, how is Den Beste's credibility a "gift"? Either his arguments have merit or they don't. If they are credible, it's because they deserve to be, not because of any "gift". Secondly, how is a valid argument dangerous? Because they can't be dismissed out of hand? I fail to see how postulating a theory can be "literally dangerous", unless someone can actually be harmed by the existence of a counter-argument.

10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No, but in terms of dictators who are similar to Hitler, Hussein was one of the closest. Similar visions, similar tactics. Whether a pan-Arabian empire or a Reich, their goals were very much in line with one another."

In his own mind, perhaps. But don't make the mistake of thinking that Germany and Iraq were in any way similar in ability. Why should WE buy Saddam's delusions of grandeur?

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In his own mind, perhaps. But don't make the mistake of thinking that Germany and Iraq were in any way similar in ability.

They weren't, but not for the reasons you think. Hussein's Iraq was much more capable than Hitler's Germany was at the outset. Hussein managed to wage war against Iran for 8 years, and still successfully conquered Kuwait. When Hitler originally sent his troops in 1939, they were ordered to retreat if they encountered any resistance. Fortunately for him, France didn't call his bluff, and he went on to establish his Reich (for a time).

Why should WE buy Saddam's delusions of grandeur?

For any number of reasons, the most significant one being that he was laying down the groundwork to carry it off. We already have one nuclear loose cannon in North Korea, we don't need a second. And a nuclear Iraq would be much more serious (as will Iran be) than North Korea, because Pyongyang's goals are more limited: the reunification of Korea, while Hussein dreamed of establishing a Pan-Arabian empire.

12:51 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

William,

Too many points to respond to here, but let me say, again, that I find many of them interesting.

Quickly:
I think you try to finesse the point about Republican support of tyrants. Reagan did NOT, in fact, show any willingness to use force against tyrants on humanitarian grounds. As you note later, what's mostly in play is realpolitik...and that's the problem. We support the bastards because they are our bastards, and then when they are no longer useful to us, we put on our moral outrage and invade them.

Realpolitik is the *problem* not the solution. We become bastards to fight the bastards and then we're bastards too. Other people notice that, unsurprisingly, and anti-Americanism not only gets a boost but probably deserves a boost. To ignore this point is to ignore the nature of human psychology; as the toughest, brashest, and most prosperous kid on the block, we must bend over backwards to show that we're good at heart or *ressentiment* will produce new enemies for us at an unmanageable rate. Again: good will is crucial, not only morally but prudentially. It would be easy for us to have and display our good will, but this administration has been a humiliating failure in that regard. And now, in effect, everybody hates us. It is uncontroversially true that that is not in our national interest.

Furthermore: if we're bastards when it suits us and good when it suits us, then we're just bastards who use appeals to justice as a stalking horse. This is not a subtle point, and everybody in the world suspects us of this.

The difference between Carter and Clinton on the one hand and Reagan-Bush-Bush on the other is that the former two had genuinely moral motives whereas the latter only did things to better the lot of Americans (except for Reagan re: the arms reduction talks with Gorbachev; there I think something really good did come out in RR).

In fact, Reagan (a) ran away from terrorists in Beirut, and this is now legend among terrorists--he gave us the rep. for having a glass jaw--(b) sold arms to terroristic regimes, and (c) broke the law in order to support terrorists in Central America. He should, as everyone knows, have been impeached, but the dopey Democrats (Jim Wright in particular) wanted to save the country from such an ordeal so close on the heels of Watergate.

Oh...and back to a previous point: we HAVE had opportunities to use force on humanitarian grounds since the fall of the USSR--in the former Yugoslavia. And Republicans opposed the action.

Again: if they really cared about justice they would have supported the action.

(Er, sorry...once again in a hurry...back to previous point: you want to know something about the character of the two parties, contrast the Dems refusal to impeach Reagan for genuine high crimes with the shameful Republican actions during the Clinton impeachment farce.)

I almost brought up the point about ME tyrannies vs. theocracies earlier, and that's one of the points here that I think makes Bush's strategy seem a little better. Immediate direct democratization of the ME would probably result in crazed theocracies. But that suggests another false dichotomy. Before invading indiscriminately we should make it clear to the tyrants that they must liberalize their regimes. It's the liberalism that's important anyway; democracy is just a means to that end.

Re: Saddam and Hitler: I'm not in on that discussion, but I don't much care who's worse. I think William is mistaken, though, in that he compares Saddam at the height of his power to Hitler at his weakest. Yes, if France had squashed him early it would have been easy. But by Gulf War Episode II, Saddam was harmless. This doesn't address the moral point, though. Again: I am in favor of using force to squash tyrants; but only in rational ways. This adventure was ill-timed, ill-conceived, and ill-executed. It was sold to the public with lies, it divided the country and the world, and it'll only work if we're very, very lucky. Why undertake an adventure like that when there are so many more promising things we could do to make the world a better place.

What are those, William asks: I've already laid out a simple plan for the Middle East that's got a much higher chance of succeeding that Bush's plan. Militarily, we're then free to go clean up Darfur and the Congo.

There's actually very little we could have done that would be worse than what we did do.

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention that Saddam fought the Iranians to only a draw with huge US support. And he was roundly handed his head in Kuwait, when his army folded like a cheap suit in the face of the coalition forces.

Moreover, the sanctions had clearly kept him from developing serious weapons capacity. The ISG report indicates that in twelve years Saddam had made NO progress toward a nuke.

Between the sanctions, inspections and no-fly zones (at a cost of several million a year and no US/west casualties, Saddam couldn't fart without being bombed senseless.

There is no evidence otherwise of ANY significant threat at the time of invasion. Don't just take my word for it; read Anthony Zinni's interview in the WaPo. He was privy to all the intelligence on Saddam, and his response was "Where's the threat".

And where was the fear on the part of Saddam's neighbors? Were they clamoring for someone to do something about the incredible threat he posed to the region? It seems to me that the neighbors of a bully are the most sensitive to his aggressive tendencies.

1:38 PM  

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