Thursday, November 16, 2006

As Iraq Disintigrates...

Here's something in today's Post.

This is going to go down in history as one of the worst things America has ever done. And just think about the competition it's up against...

As I understand the most common positions of American conservatives and liberals, they look something like this:

Conservatives: Our strategy is to win by winning! Let's stay the course, because the plan that's destroyed Iraq is sure to work if we just keep using it.

Liberals: Let's leave, because, um...well, it doesn't matter what the reasons are. Let's just leave.

Liberals' attitudes about leaving remind me a lot of conservatives' attitudes about starting the war in the first place: the conclusion is already in place, and anyone who questions it is morally bankrupt or dangerously stupid.

My position, though, is still what it's always been, for better or for worse: since we started this whole God damned fiasco, it's our responsibility to minimize the suffering of the Iraqi people. Nobody seems to know what that entails in terms of a specific strategy, but I get the feeling that many of my fellow liberals have either (a) ceased to give sufficient weight to considerations about minimizing Iraqi suffering, or (b) somehow believe that things will magically get better if we just leave.

I'm willing to endorse whichever strategy has the best chance of unscrewing this pooch. But I haven't seen any convincing evidence that that means quick withdrawal.

Currently I've been wondering about this strategy: let's say we're going to leave in six months or whatever. This may bleed some of the fervor from the insurgency, as well as lighting a fire under the Iraqi government. But when the deadline comes, we ignore it if necessary.

Christ what a mess.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps a better tactic could include bringing humanitarian aid to the people directly. Food and water, at the very least. Winning the hearts of the people who aren't militantly involved against the troops may be the best way to build support for our presence there.

Does anyone else think that required reading for military leaders should include Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War'?

3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what about people who believe that the American presence is NOT minimizing the suffering of the Iraqi people, but is rather exacerbating the violence?

Simon Jenkins, writing in The Guardian:
"To talk of a collapse into civil war if "we leave" Iraq is to completely misread the chaos into which that country has descended under our rule. It implies a model of order wholly absent on the ground. Foreign soldiers can stay in their bases, but they will no more "prevent civil war" than they can "import democracy". They are relevant only as target practice for insurgents and recruiting sergeants for al-Qaida. The occupation of Iraq has passed from brutality to mere idiocy."

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think John McCain probably has the most coherent and well-reasoned position on Iraq right now. We can't let this thing fail unless we've tried everything, and so far we haven't tried the one thing that may be the key: more troops. The Iraqis simply don't seem capable of controling the violence without us. I don't understand the position that I'm hearing from Democrats right now: we should have sent more troops in at the beginning to secure the country, but now the correct strategy is to have less troops. If more troops would have helped control the chaos earlier, more troops will help now. I don't believe it's too late. I also haven't heard a good argument as to why us leaving would make things better--either for the Iraqis or for us.

I'm still in a good mood that the Democrats took back Congress, but if they promote a policy that is both morally suspect and harmful to our security, they are going to be responsible for a disaster that may be even worse than what we have now. They are also in danger of confirming Republican charges that they approach foreign policy from a position of despair and, I hate to say it, weakness.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It could be much worse. If this had happened 2000 (or even 150) years ago, it wouldn't just be a god-awful mess, we'd have lost 90% of those men to death, enslavement, and desertion.

The only reason things are as good as they are today is the advent of mechanized logistics.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

Actually, Alexander's excellent adventure in Messopatamia was perhaps a more accurate analogy; the light brigade was in Afghanistan, not Iraq.

Oh. Right.

- mac

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is, Jared, that if John Abizaid knows what the hell he's talking about, then one of two things must be true.

Either the conditions now are different enough than at the inception of the war that more troops would have made a difference then but can't now, or the damn thing was doomed to failure at the start regardless of the additional troops. Take your pick.

There's also the problem of the lack of availability of more troops, at least for an extended period of time.

Personally I think one of the best things we can do at the least *cost* is to officially renounce any plans for permanent military intstallations in Iraq. Contrary to what many people want us to believe, the insurgents are mostly Iraqis rebelling against the occupation of their homeland and at the same time taking the opportunity to settle ancient scores against each others' sects.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Alexander Wolfe said...

I came to the conclusion only recently that we have one of two options: we can either drastically increase the level of forces in Iraq by instituting a draft and raising taxes to pay for it and more war-fighting, or we can begin to withdraw. What we are doing now is not working; we don't have enough soldiers to exercise any serious control over either the Shiites or the Sunnis who are determined to make war on each other. Since the present course is untenable, we can either do more, or we can do less, and since what we're doing now isn't working out, doing less necessarily means withdrawal, whether in the near or the not-so-near future. Unfortunately, of my two options, the American people are only going to support one. I support the former because I believe we have a moral obligation to fix Iraq, and we simply haven't devoted as much effort as we can to winning (as we must because after all, we broke Iraq.) Unfortunately, I'm probably one of a handful of people who could get behind a draft, and I can say with confidence there is no politician who will say so. So where does that leave us? With withdrawal, now or later.

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the idea that the U.S. presence in Iraq is not minimizing Iraqi suffering but is in fact a significant contributor to it is not even worth mentioning? Why not?

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with Iraq is simple: America refuses to acknowledge what our objective truly is (was?) there: Colonization.

A casual read of the literature authored by every PNAC member and senior Administration official (excepting Bush) states our purpose there quite clearly. The executive office, at the time of the invasion, was interested solely in a military operation that would contribute to the preservation of American hegemony.

As a realist, making no moral distinctions, a succinct solution in Iraq is 1) Understanding that US ambitions in Iraq are tantamount to colonization. 2) Flood Iraq with enough troops (international or otherwise) such that a soldier stands guard on every side of every city block. 3) Enforce strict curfews and demonstrate the willingness to do so even if this means killing. 4) Work feverishly to secularize the country as per Joseph Stalin (Ref: Kazakhstan) by saturating the country with, among other things, alcohol, pornography, and a variety electronic forms of entertainment. 5) Execute 1--4 with fanatical efficiency until the pressures of influence neutralize the spirit of the resistance.

It is cold, immoral, and inhuman to implement these policies. However, if a world power seeks to undertake something as cold and brutal as unjust invasion and war, that same power should be willing to do everything it takes, unjust or not, to win. Our leaders would be wise to take a lesson from Patton. Perhaps they should read his autobiography. War is ugly and, right or wrong, we are in this mess and "if you break it, you buy it."

Both the republican and democratic strategies are sadly mistaken. Burying your head in the sand and resorting to denial a victory does not make. Conversely, I have to agree with Pres. Bush when he says, "Imagine an Iraq where we pull out too early." There are no good solutions, only realist ones.

12:29 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I'm strongly inclined to agree with Jared and Xanthippas. We are responsible for the irresponsible actions of this administration, and have to do pretty much everything in our power to right this terrible wrong.

First Anonymous, however, has a good point, too: many in the military claim that more troops won't help. That's an important data point. One problem is that these claims fromt the military can't really be trusted, since Bush has made it clear that anyone who doesn't toe the line will be drummed out.

Second Anonymous has an interesting point, except, I'd say, for the stuff about colonization. That's irrelevant to the question "what should we do now?" EVEN IF that's what the administration wanted (which I doubt), it's not a goal we should pursue. What we really want is a stable and just Iraq.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it possible that a "stable and just Iraq" is not in the cards? Given the gross immorality of the original invasion and the incompetence that has marked every aspect of this adventure, could it be that an America-friendly, stable Iraq is no longer a realistic possibility?

And if so, then what?

In Baghdad, nearly 75% of residents said they would feel safer if the US and other forces left Iraq. 65% favored an immediate pullout.(

Isn't it a bit odd to claim that Americans in favor of a pullout plan don't care about minimizing Iraqi suffering, when a strong majority of Iraqis WANT the US to pull out?

If you don't consider pulling out to be an option under these circumstances, under what circumstances would you?

1:27 PM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...

Late to the party. Sorry.

My question is--and has been--how do we keep Iraq from turning into another Afghanistan? We helped overthrown the Soviets and then abandoned Afghanistan, and look what kind of government and society they got.

Is the proposal to leave Iraq at this point any better? Who will really assume power in the vacuum once we leave? And if we leave, what do we do if a Taliban-esque government takes control?

It's all good and well to say, "American troops are dying, we've got to get out," but what will replace us? (Never mind the fact that we should continue to be responsible for helping to get the infrastructure working again.)

I heard someone formulate one of the only reasonable solutions I've heard, which is that if we want to leave, we need to get others involved. Iraq's neighbor's don't want to place to dissolve into civil war any more than we do, so why can't we admit that we've bolloxed things up and need help?

Of course this would require Bush to admit that he has made mistakes, and that we need help. Which is why I don't see that plan working.

But I just haven't seen another plan that looks like it could actually make life better for the Iraqi people.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The first recollection I have of recommendations like that was here:

4:29 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


That most folks in Baghdad want us out is another important data point. The question is: are they right? I'm inclined to think that their guess as to what's best for them is pretty good...but not infallible.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Winston, you're showing bad faith in characterizing the views of the "withdraw now or pretty damn soon camp." I'm sure a lot of Americans who want out of Iraq don't give a damn what happens to the Iraqis once we pull out, but I'd be willing to bet that these are largely the same people who supported the war originally due the the WMD/terrorist rationale and never cared about the fate of the Iraqi people. People, such as myself, who opposed the war from the beginning because we believed it would kill more people that it would save and wasn't being waged in good faith and want the U.S. troops to leave now do so by and large because we think that the U.S. presence MAKES THINGS WORSE. Not only have American troops been killing civilians at a shockingly regular clip since the occupation began (at checkpoints, on patrols, at demonstrations, during widespread but under-reported air strikes against residential neighborhoods), but their very prescence in the country is one of the central instigators of insurgent activity. Not only that, but recent events are showing that the U.S. troops aren't even making up for that by curtailing sectarian violence in any sustained fashion. I say we pull out and see what happens. That doesn't mean that we leave the Iraqis to their fate no matter what happens: U.S. troops are still welcomed in the Kurdish north. I wouldn't oppose a phased withdrawl that left a signfiicant force in Kurdistan that would act to arrest any sort of genocide or mass ethnic cleansing that commenced after our withdrawl. I would also publically forsake any notion of permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. That's going to be tough to do with Bush in office, because creating a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq was high on the list of pre-war goals in the administration (and continues apace as a number of bases are being beefed up and expanded in Iraq).

5:41 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


I am not exhibiting bad faith in this matter, and I'll thank you to retract the charge.

There ARE good (though perhaps not sufficient) reasons to withdraw our troops. As usual, you pretend that the decision is easy. As usual, it isn't.

In case it is really somehow unclear, I was painting with broad strokes. I do not think that no conservatives supported the war on the basis of good reasons, and I do not think that no liberals support withdrawal on the basis of good reasons.

What I think is that a huge chunk of conservatives had a predisposition to go to war, so the arguments didn't really matter much to them. And I think a huge chunk of liberals have a predisposition to leave, and so the arguments dont' matter much to them, either.

This does not mean that I think that any individual liberal is necessarily in that relatively mindless group.

If I genuinely thought that withdrawing the troops tomorrow would make the world a better place, I would advocate it in a second. Unfortunately, so far as I can tell, we don't really know what the effects of that would be. It seems extremely unlikely, however, that it would lessen Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence.

Actually, we do agree on one point: I've wondered for awhile now whether there might not be some kind of halfway measure--withdrawal from Baghdad or whatever, just to see what would happen. I think there's enough uncertainty about what the effect would be to make that a sensible experiment.

If you are right, then we should expect the I-on-I violence to lessen. If it does, then praise Jebus. If it doesn't, we move back in.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's an easy decision, and my thinking on the issue of withdrawl shifts on a nearly daily basis, but one thing I do know is that the only consideration that informs my thinking is: what will minimize the suffering of the Iraqi people.

It pissed me off to see that fact called into question by your casual determination to create equivalence between liberals and conservatives, but "bad faith" was probably too strong a term. Broad strokes, you know.

2:10 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Indeed. No real harm done.

But I DO think that liberals are *in danger* of making themselves the moral equivalent of conservatives on this issue by getting hell-bent on withdrawal. Withdrawal COULD end up being the icing on this disastrous cake the conservatives have cooked up.

My worry goes somethign like this: The liberals were right about this war--right that we shouldn't go. But the administration's awfulness about the whole thing got liberals stuck in "don't fight!" mode. Now, after conservatives have screwed things up horribly, this might be the one point in the whole damn thing at which not fighting might be the worst thing we can do.

Not convinced it's so...but worried that liberals are ignoring this distinct possibility.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think they're becoming enamored of the idea "don't fight" because fighting HASN'T WORKED! It's not necessarily knee-jerk. If military forces haven't stopped fighting, maybe it's time to see if removing them takes some of the wind out of the insurgency. You can't argue that U.S. troop presence is not a main source of insurgent hosility. If you removed that inflammatory, it might decrease insurgent support among Sunni civilians. Fewer insurgents mean fewer attacks on Shi'ites. Fewer attacks on Shi'ites mean fewer reprisals killing by Shi'ite death squads, which mean fewer reprisals by Sunnies, etc. etc. Is that a guaranteed outcome of withdrawl? of course not. But at least give it a try; withdraw to the north and see what happens. If violence escalates, move back in. It's not the same as saying "fuck 'em all and let Allah sort 'em out."

4:48 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

"You can't argue that U.S. troop presence is not a main source of insurgent hosility"

It's only clear that our presence is a major source of hostility against US... We don't know whether it's a main source of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence... And that very uncertainty is why you are (rightly) forced to admit that we don't know what'll happen if we leave.

Again: I'm willing to say "let's stay in the Green Zone (i.e. end patrols) for a week and see what happens"...whether withdrawing to the North is a good idea or not will depend on the logistical costs of leaving and returning, which I don't know.

Obviously we don't think *exactly* like the Iraqis, and it's kinda hard to figure them out. That's an argument for experimenting, including with withdrawal, bringing me closer to your position...

On the other hand, I just can't see any reason whatsoever to think that all the Iraqi-on-Iraqi killings, torture, beheadings, kidnappings, etc. have anything much to do with us being there.

Still: if we could leave and then return a week/month later at no significant military or logistical cost, I would be 100% in favor of trying out the experiment. My *guess*, however--and just a guess--is that we're so strapped for men and resources now that we can't really do it that way...sounds like the equivalent of taking a hill, giving it back, then re-taking it again.

Guess we could leave a garrison in the GZ to hold it for reoccupation...which would be a synthesis of your *withdraw* experiment and my *stay in the Green Zone* experiment...

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WS, we're already engaged in this sort of experiment with some differences. That's one reason we're building permanent bases. I would also bet that we've been emphasizing force protection since last spring or summer to hold casualties down. The idea is to stay there but to stop losing soldiers and to keep the beachhead.

Of course, part of the PNAC plan that the neocon Bushists have been executing from the start requires permanent bases in a pacified Middle East client state from which to cow other threats to regional stability. (And we care about regional stability because of oil, Israel, and oh yeah terrorism.)

12:57 PM  

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