Friday, November 24, 2006

Richard Clarke: Why We Should Leave Iraq


I'm still not convinced, and I don't think all of Clarke's arguments here are good...but some of them are. His judgments, however, carry significant weight with me even when I disagree with them.

Which does, in fact, raise the question: why the heck does it matter what I think, anyway? Answer, of course: it doesn't. I sort of watch the arguments go by and comment on them. I don't have any power or any what the heck am I doing, and why do some people get so pissed about it?

Dunno. Funny set of phenomena, really.

Seems perfectly obvious to me that nobody knows what the best thing to do is. The arguments on each side are about equally strong...the situation is so FUBAR'd that nobody really knows what we should do. As far as I can tell, we're close to the point at which flipping a coin would be a reasonable decision procedure. Yet the partisans of the various answers continue to shriek and pound the keyboard and accuse the other side of willful stupidity and intellectual turpitude.

It's not just that disaster threatens--the disaster's already happened. And even greater disaster will probably follow close on the heels of whatever it is that we do next. We're most of us arguing--passionately yet from the depths of an information deficit--about small points for and against various plans that might just maybe maybe bring about mere continued disaster rather than a godawful nightmare.

Point any of this out, though, I've discovered, and the partisans of the various sides will each frothily accuse you of covertly supporting the other. Or accuse you of indifference. Or whatever. The internets are all about accusations and ad homina, anyway, so why we all waste our time here is unclear to me.

Doesn't matter what I think, and thank all the various deities for that. 'Cause I sure as hell don't know what's going on.

The only thing that still seems even semi-obvious to me is this: that our irresponsibility as a nation allowed our irresponsible administration to turn a terrible situation in Iraq into a nightmarish one. And that means that it's our responsibility to try to fix it, pretty much whatever that entails.

As a nation, we have not tried very hard yet in Iraq. A very, very few Americans have been trying very, very hard, many of them dying as a result. The rest of the nation hasn't even broken a sweat. But you don't plunge a nation into chaos and then casually quit the scene. Or, rather, good nations don't.

What am I suggesting? I'm not suggesting any course of action in particular. What I'm suggesting is that we make sure we have done basically everything we can before completely giving up. That may mean, for example, pulling in troops we'd rather not pull in, and spending money we'd rather not spend. It might even mean instituting a draft, though it's probably too late for that to help in the case at hand.

If pulling out really is the best thing for the Iraqis, then we should pull out. But that had better be our reason. We'd better not quit just because we're tired or disheartened or bored or not willing to pay the cost to clean up our own mess.

But anyway, as to my disagreement with Richard Clarke on points of strategy...well, I certainly hope I don't have to tell you which of our opinions you should weigh more heavily.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And that means that it's our responsibility to try to fix it, pretty much whatever that entails.

As they say, "you and what army?". In case you haven't noticed, the Iraqis are now 60% approving of attacks on the coalition. Apparently, our efforts at building a security force are laughable. The insurgency is transforming itself into a disciplined, well trained fighting force. And then there's the fact that it's just plain spinning out of control already.

Still, comfort yourself in the fact that you're one of the serious and not one of the dirty hippy left. You got that going for you still.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

It's been pointed out to me before that, no matter how careful one is to clarify and qualify, it's impossible to make one's writing idiot-proof...

Thing about writing a blog is: you either just let this stuff go by, or you end up repeating yourself endlessly.

Since in this case and in light of what I wrote above, it's not really clear what the heck this guy is trying to say, I think I'll opt for the former in this case.

We did everything we possibly could, Anonymous. Why, heck, we kept shopping and everything.

You just keep telling yourself that. I'm sure you won't lose a wink of sleep over it.

Behold the level of discussion on the internets...

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not calling you out by saying this but... "We'd better not quit just because we're tired or disheartened or bored or not willing to pay the cost to clean up our own mess." is the exact paint the administration and the righty media are trying to paint the position of the left.

As I see it, we don't know who we're training or where our $$ are going so more funds doesn't seem a likely answer; We are not protecting anyone from anyone else, so staying in as a firewall to a bloodbath doesn't strike me as realistic; Throwing more troops in the fight when we don't know who we're fighting and have no specific goal is a waste of time. We would need roughly two to three times the available troops to seal off the country and keep the peace. Its a crap shoot even at that rate. All we have left is the hope that we outlast the opposition or get out.

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Winston, looks like we're either with the cut-and-run crowd or with Bush. At least, that's the way it appears sometimes reading blogs.

Having tried to keep up with events in Iraq over the past few years--mainly by reading the papers--my opinion is that more troops poured into Baghdad would help. But then again, all I've done is read the papers. And again, I just have an opinion. So you're absolutely right that no one knows what the solution is. If I know anything in this debate, it's that. The level of certainty that people who argue for getting out have reminds me of the level of certainty Bush and co. had about WMD and the war being a cakewalk nearly 4 years ago. If we should have learned anything by now, it's that international politics is fraught with uncertainty. Any major decision--eg, going to war, continuing a war, or giving up on a war--are going to have major unintended consequences that we can't foresee.

But at the same time, Winston, I think that this debate is fruitful. It has certainly made me think about my position more carefully. It's worth mentioning, I think, that the quality of information we have (i.e., relatively informed citizens) about the situation in Iraq and what we should do, is probably about the same as everyone has. It just seems that nobody knows what should be done--not even the smartest military commanders in Iraq right now, not even Wes Clarke.

I'm glad that we're finally having a serious debate about what to do now instead of constantly rehashing Bush's decision to go in. Maybe ordinary citizens aren't doing enough to contribute to this war effort, but I'm occasionally reassured to find serious debate about a very tough but important issue like this one. Ok, back to shopping!

9:10 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I agree with a lot of this, Jared, but I'll just pick out one point for right now:

The Get Gone folks (mostly on the left) currently remind me very much of the Go In folks on the right before the war. Many of them quickly become wide-eyed and spittle-flecked, screaming that it's all so obvious, the only possible choice... Hell, in my current state of confusion--now as then--I'm half tempted to agree with them just because...well, they sounds so goddang *certain*...

Anyone who thought we shouldn't go in was a terrorist-loving anti-patriot, and now anyone who thinks we shouldn't get out is a Bush-loving warmonger.

It's a damn puzzling state of affairs, the whole thing.

To avoid the inevitable cranky responses: I'm not saying that the usual denizens around HERE are like that (just the occasional Anonymous). But that's the kind of thing you hear with great frequency slumming around the internets.

And, note: none of this a snide argument against sane arguments for leaving, like those offered by, say, Matthew C. It's just an observation about dogmatism under conditions of objective uncertainty.

9:41 AM  

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