« Richard Cohen Doesn't Get It (Special Falafel Edition) | Main | Today's Reason to Smile »

October 22, 2004

Comments

The only world in which this doesn't matter is a world in which someone has to rationalize the profoundly tin ear the Bush administration has for foreign policy, and their willingness to sacrifice long-term goodwill for short-term pettiness.

There are no small number of Bush supporters who simply cannot abide the cognitive dissonance of acknowledging that Bush makes mistakes and makes bad decisions. Incompetence, for these people, must be rationalized and the only way to rationalize the apparent lack of concern or understanding this administration has for the long-term effects of exacerbating anti-Americanism is to pretend it doesn't matter.

As I just remarked over at Kevin Drum's:

The issue isn't negotiation with Zarqawi; the issue is negotiation with the people who can shut down his finances, or the people who can undercut his networks or, God willing, the people who can give you his head on a plate. Those are the people we need to have on our side, and those are the people whom the Bush Administration is almost wilfully pissing off.

So, um, yeah: I agree.

Well, at the risk of sounding like the sterotypical Kerry-supporting Democratic elitist (which of course, I am, as long as the definition of "elite" includes me! ;)
I would posit that, to the bulk of the American public, President Bush's actual policies, and their effects, are far far less important than how those policies LOOK,and how they can be spun, (by the Administration and its lapdog media) to create a Bush-friendly narrative. In its simplest reduction, it comes down to: Bush= good: tough, strong, kick-ass - and its political corellative: Kerry=bad: wimpy, peacenik, sell-out-to-the-French, etc.
For those to whom the post-9/11 "War on Terror" is about dealing realistically (and long-term) with the threat of Islamic-radical terrorism, Bush's policies have been (to put it mildly) a misguided disaster post-Afghanistan.
For those who see the so-called "WoT" as mainly about wreaking violent, bloody revenge for the 9/11 attacks, the Bush policies show up in MUCH better light.
As to which viewpoint will prevail in dorecting our future course of action: only Nov. 3 will tell.

"In what possible world can the fact that large and growing numbers of people in the Middle East hate us not matter?"

In a world where in order to prove to those support people that support for terrorists is painful to the lives they want to live we must take action which proves that they can't win (or can't support terrorism without serious/deadly consequences). In some cases that will mean taking the war to them and risking causing anger among their relatives and neighbors.

OK, it's clear from this article that Stephen Hadley is a @%$#%^#%^#^#%^#% moron.

People don't stop supporting something just because they think it can't win. Look at the Red Sox! Seriously, convincing people in Palestine that Hamas et al can't win doesn't decrease popular support for them.

And you know the question isn't whether we can win half a population to our side, or even 75%. We have to reach a state where there is insufficient support for the AQs of the world for them to be able to operate. You can't get there just with a stick, there's got to be carrots.

And whether "large and growing numbers of people in the Middle East hate us," we have the conclusive proof that we're not doing well enough in the carrot department.

(And I do not mean merely material "carrots." Thius is not just about money.)

Oh, please, Sebastian, the "taking the fight to them" justification applies better to a sporting event than the Iraq war. Most of the people we killed during the first phase of the war were probably conscripts whose only connection to terrorism was that they served in the army of a corrupt and dictatorial leader who bribed the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Most of the people we killed in the second phase were probably not connected to terrorism at all before we invaded, still less 9/11. There are also no small amount of innocent civilians killed & imprisoned & sometimes abused. War is a blunt and unproven instrument for spreading freedom, particularly when led by political leaders who kids themselves as much as this crowd does.

For God's sake, the neocons and Bush at least need to get their story straight on whether hearts and minds matter. I thought the whole reason for invading Iraq was to make democracy flower as part of a forward strategy of freedom that would change people's beliefs about the U.S. for the better? But when that fails, demonstrably fails, public opinion polls don't matter because we are keeping our country safe.

Yes, safe from a threat that has now been proven not to exist. Well done.

In some cases that will mean taking the war to them and risking causing anger among their relatives and neighbors.

...which promptly increases the number of people who support terrorists. As we see in the Israel/Palestine situation.

The idea that there is a finite number of terrorists, and a finite number of people who support terrorists, and once they're killed everything will be okay, so it doesn't matter how many innocents you kill/maim/torture on your way there, doesn't work. Consider that this finite number is... well, something less than 6 billion.

"Most of the people we killed during the first phase of the war were probably conscripts whose only connection to terrorism was that they served in the army of a corrupt and dictatorial leader who bribed the families of Palestinian suicide bombers."

Maybe we shouldn't talk politics until after the election. Because that is just a silly response. "Most of the people we killed in the first phase of the war were probably conscripts whose only connection to the Third Reich was that they served in the army of a corrupt and dictatorial leader who was silly enough to declare war against the US in support of his Japanese allies" is also true and just as uninformative. The existance of conscripts in armies doesn't get anyone off the hook at any time in any war.

"For God's sake, the neocons and Bush at least need to get their story straight on whether hearts and minds matter. I thought the whole reason for invading Iraq was to make democracy flower as part of a forward strategy of freedom that would change people's beliefs about the U.S. for the better?"

Hearts and minds matter--long term goal. Killing terrorists and destroying their support groups--even more important short term goal. Very easy to explain, and I know you have at least heard it even if you profess not to understand it. And to have such a gross mischaracterization of the 'whole reason' is just throwing bombs instead of talking. I know you aren't happy with the prosecution of the war in Iraq, but being grossly unfair to the arguments doesn't help anyone. I answered the question of 'in what possible world' and I'm getting slammed for things I have not said and simplifications that you know full well I do not hold.

Furthermore the question applies EQUALLY if not with even more force to Afghanistan. Liberals would do well to remember that they supported that, and might want to draw distinctions in their theoretical constructs which allow for the invasion of Afghanistan--unless you have changed your minds about getting rid of the Taliban. In a war there are at least two major steps. First, the killing until your enemy surrenders. Second, the rebuilding. You barely accept the need for the first in super-limited amounts. You don't seem to care about the surrender part. You want to skip straight to the rebuilding. Violent conflicts don't work that way. If you want less killing the long run, you have to get to the surrender part. (Sometimes you get to the part where both sides surrender out of exhaustion) We aren't anywhere near either of those.

Whenever possible you conduct war with the hearts and minds goals in view. But you can't sacrifice the efficient killing part and the forcing of surrender part to the hearts and minds part. It is a subordinate goal. If it becomes the preeminent goal you are unlikely to succeed because the people trying to kill you are killing you and making the situation unstable.

It isn't that hard of a concept to understand, I've mentioned it before, and unlike your view it has at least 4000 years of history behind it. So, it isn't completely off the wall. If you want to discuss it, fine. If you don't want to discuss it, fine. But being insulting about it doesn't suggest nearly as much about me or the 'neocon' view as you think.

Sebastian: a few points. first, you write: "in order to prove to those support people that support for terrorists is painful to the lives they want to live we must take action which proves that they can't win (or can't support terrorism without serious/deadly consequences)." This is not an explanation of why anyone would think that whether or not people in the Middle East hate us doesn't matter; it's an explanation of why one might think it is outweighed by something else that matters more. There's a difference. If you believe, as you say, that hearts and minds are "a subordinate goal", you're disagreeing with the administration official I quoted, who claims it doesn't matter at all.

Second, this cannot be the motivation for Iraq, since the people there were not supporting terrorism. Even their government was not supporting any terrorists who were active against the United States. For this reason your response to Katherine about German conscripts and their connection to the Third Reich is wrong. She said that the people we killed in the first phase of the war had no particular connection to terrorism. Pointing out that they did have a connection to Saddam Hussein does not in the least counter her point.

Third, in your last post you make several claims about "liberals". I don't know who you have in mind, but as a liberal I'll take them as directed to me. I have absolutely no problem explaining why I supported the invasion of Afghanistan but not Iraq. It starts with the fact that the Taliban were harboring al Qaedaa, who attacked us, and Iraq was not. I also have never been particularly unwilling to acknowledge that war kills people, and that this killing is sometimes justified. That's obvious, and I'm not sure who you think is forgetting about it.

Fourth, if anyone can justifiably be accused of wanting to skip the part about the enemy surrendering, it's Bush. Al Qaeda has not yet surrendered. Bin Laden and Zawahiri have not been captured. We haven't even managed to prevent them from financing their operations with Afghan heroin. And yet despite this rather manifest failure to finish the job, we went haring off into Iraq, one of the very small number of countries in the Middle East where al Qaeda was not operating.

I'd tack on a fifth there, if I may: Sebastian, you seem to be operating under a Clausewitzian paradigm in which the goal is to force the surrender of a state which has declared war rather than on a stateless organization. The key distinction IMO is that a state can legitimately be regarded as a polity: everyone within the state is, de facto, supporting it if they are not actively acting against it; therefore, one's tolerance for civilian casualties can accordingly be higher.* For stateless actors, though, those in the same geographic region as the organization can actually attain neutrality relative to the actor: they may neither be supporting them nor hindering them. As such, civilian casualties take on a heightened valence as a) they need not even implicitly support the stateless actor, and b) the intermediary, neutral position means that we can both coax them to, and drive them from, positions amenable to our aims.

This, to me, is the fundamental flaw in calling this the "War" on Terrorism (as distinct from the fundamental flaw in calling this the War on "Terrorism", of which far too much has been written): by phrasing things as a war, with the usual Clausewitzian overtones, we omit the subtlety that's crucial for victory in this conflict, however named.

* No disclaimer *should* be needed here, but I'll make one available upon request.

Sebastian said:
"'Most of the people we killed during the first phase of the war were probably conscripts whose only connection to terrorism was that they served in the army of a corrupt and dictatorial leader who bribed the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.'

Maybe we shouldn't talk politics until after the election. Because that is just a silly response. 'Most of the people we killed in the first phase of the war were probably conscripts whose only connection to the Third Reich was that they served in the army of a corrupt and dictatorial leader who was silly enough to declare war against the US in support of his Japanese allies' is also true and just as uninformative."

hilzoy replied:
"Second, this cannot be the motivation for Iraq, since the people there were not supporting terrorism. Even their government was not supporting any terrorists who were active against the United States. For this reason your response to Katherine about German conscripts and their connection to the Third Reich is wrong. She said that the people we killed in the first phase of the war had no particular connection to terrorism. Pointing out that they did have a connection to Saddam Hussein does not in the least counter her point."

Actually, I think Sebastian's point is even weaker than hilzoy does. Sebastian's point can only make sense to me if one assumes that Iraq was an ally of Al Qu'eda, so that attacking Iraqi soldiers was useful in fighting Al Qu'eda. Hopefully, no one still believes this, right?

Sebastian:

in light of the available evidence, i suggest that it is the administration, not the liberals, which wanted to go straight to the (outsourced) rebuilding step, avoiding the killing-until-surrender phase. tora bora? all the stories about Karzai being the mayor of Kabul? the fallouja brigade? the story today about 1/2 of a new samarra force defecting?

we liberals, i'll remind you, didn't want the Iraq war at all. but if we are going to fight, i'll take the Powell Doctrine over the Rumsfeld Doctrine.

i'd like a pro-west liberal democracy in Iraq. can i have a pony also? [ref. to a crooked timber thread of a while back.] bush now apparently believes that a theocracy is ok, so long as it reflects the will of the majority. we fought this war to replace an athiesitic thug with a new Iran? Back to 1980 we go. ooops.

"Hearts and minds matter--long term goal. Killing terrorists and destroying their support groups--even more important short term goal."

In all seriousness, i'd love to hear your analysis of the Israel / Palestine conflict in light of that statement. Many people have said that that conflict cannot be resolved until a Palestinian leader emerges who is willing to make a deal. I tend to agree, although the settler problem is a little more complicated than that.

What guarantee do we have that the Shia will produce a leader willing to lead them into a government which reflects their minority population status? At the rate things are going, isn't it far more likely that Sadr will end up being a new Arafat?

The israelis are home; they have no choice but to keep fighting. As the colonial powers in Africa and southeast asia discovered, they are not home but the [insurgents / terrorists / ??? ] are. Leaving is an option, even if the country collapses.

Key question: Who is more likely to become exhausted first: the occupier trying to smoke out [insurgents / terrorists / value-neutral term of choice] or the native population?

Historical evidence suggests that unless the occupier is home too, the occupied have been winning in the last 100 years. You may be willing to endure 2-a-day fatalities [plus about 4-a-day combat casualties] for the indefinite future, but I don't see you persuading a majority of the American people of that position.

Francis

Al Qaeda does is not the only important enemy. Just as Japan was not the only important enemy in WWII and North Vietnam was not the only important enemy in the Vietnam war. Our ability/willingness to go after all the important enemies is one of the key distinguishing characteristics between our successful wars of the last century, and our unsuccessful ones.

Enemies in the same war do not have to be working closely together. They may or they may not. Once again, Japan and Germany did not have very many close operational coordinations. They had similar goals, and were both enemies, and helped each other out when possible, but they were not hand-in-glove operational partners. This is in contrast with Italy and Germany, which conducted much closer operational work together.

See also Cuba, which was operationally close to enemies in Angola, a bit further with Communist forces in Chile, and not working closely at all with Communist China. Note also that our unwillingness/inability to deal effectively with Cuba (due to our unwillingness/inability to directly confront the USSR) led to much more difficulty in dealing with Communists in other places in Latin America.

In any case, I have written extensively about why I think defeating Saddam was crucial to any long-term success in the War on Terrorism. You don't accept my reasons, but not accepting my reasons doesn't mean that I don't understand the hearts-and-minds concept (it is in fact crucial to my reasoning because I do not believe that the US could have had an effective Middle East policy against terrorism with Saddam-as-hero consistently showing how ineffectual our power was). It is a matter of priorities. When it comes to killing or subding enemies, hearts-and-minds does not matter so long as the enemies are particularly strong. It is only after they have been subdued that you can have effective rebuilding.

A lack of attention to that order is what has caused problems in Bush's handling of Iraq, and that error is even further pursued in Kerry's every attempt at articulating a strategy.

And it is constantly being repeated here. It is a very attractive mistake to think that we can rebuild while in the middle of the war, but once that idea begins to interfere with the prosecution of the war it becomes a very awful mistake indeed.

Any time you can choose between two effective means of killing or subding the enemy where one means is in line with hearts-and-minds concerns and the other is not, you should should the one that is in line with hearts-and-minds concerns. But unless the conflict between the two goals is very slight, you must choose the operationally effective. Because if you don't, you tend to dramatically prolong the war, which is far worse for hearts-and-minds than almost anything else.

Bush has made some errors in that direction. But the Democratic Party has embraced the error whole-heartedly.

Sebastian,

"Enemies in the same war do not have to be working closely together. They may or they may not. Once again, Japan and Germany did not have very many close operational coordinations. They had similar goals, and were both enemies, and helped each other out when possible, but they were not hand-in-glove operational partners."

And which of these (other than calling them both enemies) apply to the relationship between Iraq and Al Qu'eda? Did they have similar goals? Did they help each other out at all? The point many of us have made is that they simply are not part of the same war at all.

From my (and many other) points of view, we responded to an attack in one war by starting another. They are related now, simply because the people fighting in the first war have taken advantage of our troops being within their reach by being on the field of battle of the second war. But had we not started a war of choice in Iraq, and instead prosecuted the war on Al Qu'eda to its completion, that would have been far closer to your concept of how to successfully prosecute a war, as hilzoy pointed out in her 4th point.

I do not believe that the US could have had an effective Middle East policy against terrorism with Saddam-as-hero consistently showing how ineffectual our power was

This always leaps out at me as a central part of many arguments for taking out Saddam, and there are two main problems with it.

The first is that Bush's war in Iraq has not only demonstrated our military's limitations, but imposed new ones by tying up a substantial part of our armed forces in occupation. Saddam might well have been a hero and an inspiration, sitting in Baghdad thumbing his nose at America and the UN--but I'd argue that the damage is worse this way, with our inability to retask the majority of our military to any serious invasion or nation-building effort elsewhere, and the vivid demonstration of our strengths and weaknesses. We may well have proven that we mean business, but that is meaningless--worse, it weakens us--if in the process we render ourselves incapable of doing the same thing to someone else. We are like the man who kicks a mean dog to show he's tough, and pulls a muscle while doing so. Worse still, we have provided al Qaeda and like-minded groups with an effectively unlimited supply of easily accessible US troops against which they can practice tactics at will: a brutal training ground for tomorrow's terrorists, in which the weak and foolish are weeded out and the strong and cunning live and learn how to teach others to kill Americans. It is a training ground provided at the expense of the Iraqi people and the US military, and anyone who thinks the supply of terrorists is somehow finite is simply not dealing with reality.

The second problem with this reasoning is that it rests entirely on the assumption that the benefits of removing Saddam, presumably a hero and source of inspiration to those who want to stand up to America, are greater than the costs of providing the same individuals a new source of inspiration and recruitment. Between the aforementioned demonstration of our limitations, the regularity with which terrorists are learning how to better kill American troops, and the incalculable harm of things like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, I find it bewildering that anyone can fudge the cost/benefit ratio until it points in favor of this invasion.

"You don't seem to care about the surrender part.." surrender? And who exactly will be carrying that white flag? Who says; 'I surrender"..I mean really..this will never happen while death is the reward.

"Seriously, convincing people in Palestine that Hamas et al can't win doesn't decrease popular support for them."

Actually, it has been, as measured by polls and many anecdotal news reports. Not that they "can't win," precisely, but more specifically that firing rockets from Gaza is counter-productive; more and more Gazan Palestinians have been getting into fights, sometimes shooting fights, with Hamas and Al Aqsa members trying to set up tubes, and speaking out against the practice.

Not that this is any kind of simple issue, in which one philosophical approach is "right" and the other "wrong." But sticks aren't always simply counter-productive, any more than they, alone, are always simply successful. Like most things in life, It Depends.

"What guarantee do we have that the Shia will produce a leader willing to lead them into a government which reflects their minority population status?"

Probably quite a while, given that the Shia are the majority population (not even plurality; majority).

Possibly you meant "Sunni"?

"It is a very attractive mistake to think that we can rebuild while in the middle of the war, but once that idea begins to interfere with the prosecution of the war it becomes a very awful mistake indeed."

Perhaps I'm late to the debate on this blog, but who has been arguing that we should have been rebuilding in the middle of the war?

As far as I can tell, the argument has been that we messed up by not establishing basic security and law & order in the first weeks of the occupation. How did we mess this up?

1. By not providing enough troops.
2. By not having a plan.
3. By claiming that it was the Iraqis' responsibility to maintain law and order in their own country.

No one -- other than Rumsfeld -- has argued that this should have been accomplished by anyone other than the occupying forces. That's not rebuilding.

(And I do not mean merely material "carrots." Thius is not just about money.)

So what is it all about? What kind of carrots do you think we should be offering that are not economic?

Literal carrots. Iraqis love them.

My understanding is that the 'get out of Abu Grahib free' card didn't make it as a carrot. Back to the drawing board.

I think the real reason is in this quotation,"The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

That's from the Suskind article in the NYT Magazine, and it explains why the attitudes of the people in the Middle East are unimportant, reality is what they make of it.

It sounds simplistic (on my part, for believing they believe it) but it fits the facts.

It's why they didn't need to plan for the aftermath of the war... it was going to be the way we wanted it, because we get to make it up as we go along.

The only problem is the world doesn't work that way.

TK

Gary: You're right about Hamas, and I should have said "eliminate" rather than "reduce." Unfortunately, even a hopeless and hopelessly counterproductive cause will have supporters, unless they can be turned to some kind of rational and hopeful alternative.

Crionna: I think we could be doing a much better job on the public diplomacy front at showing respect for Islam and Islamic values. I think we should be trying hard to avoid humiliation at our hands. (This obviously is utterly incompatible with Sebastian's total war plan).

At this point (and for the last year), the war in Iraq has not been about us. It's about them, and we ought to be doing everything we can to make them see that we think this is so.

"I think we could be doing a much better job on the public diplomacy front at showing respect for Islam and Islamic values."

Which values are you talking about? The Islamic tradition of winning wars? I don't think we dare respect that one. The Islamic value of jihad? We are going to have crush that as it applies to us. Is this a general platitude or do you have something in mind?

I wouldn't say we dare respect a Zarqawi victory, but I think we have to hope for a Sistani victory.

The idea that WE can CRUSH any tenet of someone's religion is just untenable. Wish for it all you want, you simply can't have it. The best you can do is that within the community one interpretation of the term prevails -- one that is benign to offensive attacks on us in our home. And I don't think you're going to get it by reinforcing the folks who are making attacks against us in their homeland, by waging your total war. WE are making the jihadis into Robin Hood, and no amount of support for our Sheriff of Nottingham, or collective punishment of the peasants who succor the Merrie Men will help us.

Sebastian: Which values are you talking about? The Islamic tradition of winning wars? I don't think we dare respect that one. The Islamic value of jihad? We are going to have crush that as it applies to us.

Are these really the only things you can think of when you think of Islam? Honestly?

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad