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June 28, 2005

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» The Iraqi Insurgency from Neurath's Boat
Von at Obsidian Wings criticizes Kerry for arguing that we need a specific timeline for pulling out of Iraq. [Read More]

» The Iraqi Insurgency from Neurath's Boat
Von at Obsidian Wings criticizes Kerry for arguing that we need a specific timeline for pulling out of Iraq. [Read More]

» Stupidest Post of the Day Award from Fables of the reconstruction
Testosterone intoxication here. [Read More]

» John Kerry , same-o lame-o from Mark in Mexico
That would be about the same as the LAPD incorporating the Hell's Angels into its anti-street gang campaign. After the 'Angels had gleefully help wipe out the opposition, who has to handle the last remaining, suddenly omnipotent, street gang? [Read More]

» John Kerry , same-o lame-o from Mark in Mexico
That would be about the same as the LAPD incorporating the Hell's Angels into its anti-street gang campaign. After the 'Angels had gleefully help wipe out the opposition, who has to handle the last remaining, suddenly omnipotent, street gang? [Read More]

» Kerry's Bad Advice from THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH
John Kerry, in today's NYT, has some advice for Bush in advance of his speech tonight. It's quite poor, in the main. Kerry: He [Bush] should also say that the United States will insist that the Iraqis establish a truly... [Read More]

» Kerry's Bad Advice from THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH
John Kerry, in today's NYT, has some advice for Bush in advance of his speech tonight. It's quite poor, in the main. Kerry: He [Bush] should also say that the United States will insist that the Iraqis establish a truly... [Read More]

Comments

Well said, von. It's insulting that Kerry would presume to try to put words in Bush's mouth, not to mention opportunistic and not a little arrogant. Boy, am I glad he's not president.

"choose your own overblown historical analogy and drop it in."

I predict we are in for another round of gulag comments.

Charles, I think you need to reacquaint yourself with the actual meaning of "putting words in [another's] mouth".

von, I'll see your Treaty of Versailles and raise you an Israel-in-Lebanon and an America-in-Vietnam.

The two related points that this "no lifelines to terrorists" bit does not address are:

1. Ought implies can. It is not clear that the situation in Iraq is indeed fixable, still less so that it is fixable at a cost the electorate is, or should be, willing to pay. Insisting that "the only acceptable outcome for Iraq is success" when success is not an option is lunacy, and will result in the throwing away of additional thousands of troops' lives and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.

2. The insurgents are going to try and wait us out whether we specify a timetable for withdrawal or not. There is no reason to suppose they have less patience or staying power than we do, nor to suppose that setting a timetable will significantly increase their staying power. To expand on the first of the analogies above: Hezbollah waited out the Israelis successfully despite the wait taking *eighteen years* and despite Lebanon being right on Israel's border, not thousands of miles away. If the Iraqi insurgents can hang in there that long-- or even for ten years, which you and Rumsfeld alike admit is within the plausible range-- they are going to force us out, timetable or no.

Yes, failure in Iraq will have bad consequences. As Jim Henley said: we should have thought of that before we left home.

It seems a shame that just about the only advice Bush is willing to listen to on Iraq is, well, the advice to cut and run.

At least, that's the impression I get from what's coming out of Rumsfeld's mouth right now.

Sorry, von. In the world of project management, not having a schedule set up and achieving success are mutually exclusive. Otherwise you're just trying to get by on PR and nothing ever happens.

Shorter von and Charles: "If we don't mention how bad things are in Iraq, the bad will go away. Therefore, patriotism requires keeping your mouth shut."

A firm deadline virtually guarantees that withdrawal will occur too soon.

Well, when that day comes when we finally do leave, what do you suggest we do then, sneak away in the dead of night?

I agree Kerry is stupid for pushing for a withdrawal date. That is a mistake. But until Bush steps up to the plate and provides some real leadership and clear communication withdrawal is going to become increasingly appealing to people wondering what to think about Iraq. What's lacking on Iraq is leadership, and nature abhors a vaccuum.

von: I basically agreed with Kerry's piece, except for two things: first, the deadlines, and second, I'm not sure about using the pesh merga et al. It could work if they were used only in their home areas, and if they were in some way subject to central command; it could not work, for obvious reasons.

That said, I think it's important to note one reason why people are talking about deadlines. Suppose you were in Congress, and you thought it was important both to signal to the Iraqis that we do not intend to occupy their country in perpetuity and to try to put pressure on the administration to get things right in Iraq, as quickly as possible, and to work as hard as they can to get things stabilized before our army actually breaks apart. What would you do?

In a normal administration, one that consults with Congress rather than treating even Congressional Republicans as lackeys while ignoring the existence of Democrats entirely, you could do all sorts of things. Also, in a normal administration, you could assume that if they said they were really going to work hard at something (to you, a Congressman or Senator, in private), they would; and also that they were basically competent, so that their intentions would have a decent shot at being translated into action.

With this administration, none of those things is true. I really don't think anyone in Congress has any reason to trust them, at this point. I don't think anyone can assume that they are competent in Iraq. Moreover, they are truly not interested in what anyone else has to say.

That leaves Congress with three options. First, do nothing and let the administration continue to do whatever it wants. Second, threaten to cut off the funding. This would be a true disaster, but I think it's important to see that it's one of the few ways of affecting policy that this administration has left open. And the third is to establish some sort of timetable. The point of a timetable would be precisely to not have to rely on this administration's word that it would (for instance) try to wind things down 'as quickly as possible, consistent with stability in Iraq', or something, because their word cannot be relied on. No pledge that doesn't have very definite markers could possibly work. And I think that's behind a lot of the timetable talk.

Myself, I oppose timetables, for all the obvious reasons. But, as I said, I think it matters to see how few other options the administration has left members of Congress.

I also think that while doing Iraq right is the only acceptable option -- I mean, I really am completely with you on this one -- there's a point at which it ceases to be among the options available to us, because our continued presence is not a means of bringing it about. (Compare: every parent should wish his or her child to be secure and happy. But if you completely mess up your child's life, a point may come at which making her secure and happy is no longer something you can do. It takes work to get there, but in Iraq we are at best well on the way.)

You gotta act on it. You gotta fix it. You gotta offer something other than cut and run.

And had Kerry won in November, we might well see that. Since Bush won, no doubt we'll see no action and no fixing - more and more of the same kind of thing - until finally some administration acknowledges that the indefinite and unwelcome presence of the US occupation in Iraq is doing more harm than good.

No. Setting a deadline for withdrawal is sheer lunacy.

Except that it's also what the majority of Iraqis who voted say they want. Don't they deserve to be heard?

Charles: Boy, am I glad he's not president.

Again, since you seem to prefer not to answer specific points in the thread you started:

So what should the president say tonight? The first thing he should do is tell the truth to the American people. Happy talk about the insurgency being in "the last throes" leads to frustrated expectations at home. It also encourages reluctant, sidelined nations that know better to turn their backs on their common interest in keeping Iraq from becoming a failed state.

The president must also announce immediately that the United States will not have a permanent military presence in Iraq. Erasing suspicions that the occupation is indefinite is critical to eroding support for the insurgency.

He should also say that the United States will insist that the Iraqis establish a truly inclusive political process and meet the deadlines for finishing the Constitution and holding elections in December. We're doing our part: our huge military presence stands between the Iraqi people and chaos, and our special forces protect Iraqi leaders. The Iraqis must now do theirs.

What, precisely, do you object to about these words?

... sneak away in the dead of night?

The Fafblog guide for how to get out of Iraq. Don't forget the wiggly fingers, they are very important.

Shorter von and Charles: "If we don't mention how bad things are in Iraq, the bad will go away. Therefore, patriotism requires keeping your mouth shut."

Shorter CaseyL:

If Bush doesn't communicate about Iraq to the American people. Other people will. 30 minute televised speeches full of "turning the corner", "staying the course", "last throes", and "hard work" aren't going to cut it. He needs to do a Q and A session and deal with some real questions and concerns that American people have about Iraq.

When what your opposition says more closely resembles the truth, people are going to believe them over you. The president needs to regain some credibility with the American people.

Insisting that "the only acceptable outcome for Iraq is success" when success is not an option is lunacy

Success is not an option?

Don't complain when somebody makes statements that left-liberals don't really want to win the WOT, then.

Pretty much everything I've heard says that the insurgency won't be defeated by the current levels of American troops. It also won't be defeated by the Iraqi troop training program as it currently exists, which led the Secretary of Defense to issue his "dozen year last throe" prediction with the corollary that the Iraqi security forces would have to deal the last blow.

If Bush plans more happy talk before a sympathetic audience with no new initiatives, then I honestly don't see what the problem is with proposing getting the rock out of Dodge (nor would I see why any news network would even bother covering Bush's speech tonight). Would we really have to wait until 2009, another 3-4 years of security failure and the recruiting pools drying up while hot spots flare up elsewhere across the globe?

Funny, I would think that a serious approach to the WoT wouldn't want that as an outcome.

DaveC: first, the quote you cite was about Iraq, not the WoT. And second, everyone here wants to win both. But most people here also recognize that there are things the administration can do that place winning beyond our grasp. (Much more true in Iraq than in the WoT.) Plainly, IF it has done those things, AND our presence is counterproductive, THEN we cannot win, however much we want to. The strength of our desires has nothing at all to do with it.

Don't complain when somebody makes statements that left-liberals don't really want to win the WOT, then.

Just because I can't fly by flapping my arms doesn't mean I want to hit the ground...

Don't complain when somebody makes statements that left-liberals don't really want to win the WOT, then.

No, it's more like we're complaining that that the current buffoons are busy losing the WOT, and that sets out teeth on edge.

DaveC--

The statement "success is not an option", in that context, did not seem to me to express the author's desires. It was an estimate of feasibility.

I really, really want to win the WOT. Many people who really, really want to win the WOT are estimating the feasibility of a good outcome in Iraq as very, very low. I think Rumsfeld's recent comments that we, i.e the US, will not defeat the insurgency put him into this camp. Success used to be defined as the US Army and Marines defeating the insurgency. Now Rumsfeld is saying that success is not an option.

(I myself am still holding out hope that Iraq *is* winnable, and by us, but I have no cunning plan.)

When people make statements that left-liberals don't really want to win the WOT, I will continue to say that they are maliciously attributing treasonous motives to us, and that they have no honest grounds or evidence for doing this.

There's a real difference between setting a single withdrawal date, and a set of milestones. As for the latter, there are plenty of things I think the Admin has done wrong in Iraq, but I don't think setting deadlines for the 'turnover' of sovreignty, election of an interim parliament, drafting of a constitution, vote on the constitution -- a process and timetable we are trying hard to keep to -- was or is a mistake.

I don't see Kerry suggesting anything other than proposing for the security side the same kind of framework we've got for the political side.

And although you can bet that the insurgents will try to disrupt the smooth operation of the schedule, there's a benefit from their failures to do so -- as those Congressmen with purple thumbs at the SOTU would surely tell you.

No one is suggesting that we adopt a timetable for setting up Iraqi security that cannot possibly be met. Having a schedule, though, and meeting it, would be a better demonstration of progress -- for all that that is worth -- than another 6 months of Dick Cheney's happy talk.

Incidentally:

von: The strategic sins of the Bush Administration have been of omission, not commission.

This is just silly. Disbanding the Iraqi army? Sending underqualified Heritage Foundation spawnlings to oversee one of the most complex nation-buildings in history? Heck, the deliberate (i.e. not "omitted" but rather "committed") strategy of trying to win the war on the cheap (too few troops, too little aid, too much ideology) qualifies too. The Bush Administration has failed copiously in both its actions and its inactions and there's no evidence to suggest that its instincts are sound in either direction. I respect that you're trying to find something salvage from the trainwreck of their Iraqi policy, but there's nothing there worth rehabilitating.

Don't confuse the real War on Irag with the psuedo War on Terror. They are not the same. If we stick to the principle of judging man's intent by his actions and not his words you can see that Bush never intended to fight terrorism. His military efforts have been aimed at the conquest of Iraq. The funny thing is that Iraq under Saddam was a country also targeted by Osama bin Laden's qroup for destruction.

Secondly, can anyone explain why the US staying in Iraq is essential to our national interests? What is the worst that can happen to us if we just declared victory and got out? The worst, as I see it, is loss of face. Well so what? It is better to swallow a little pride than to continue wasting our national treasure in the quagmire of Iraq.

One last thing, I promise:

von: The only acceptable outcome for Iraq is success. There are no other routes to a happy ending.

In all seriousness, what does "acceptable" mean, "acceptable" to whom, and what price -- not just in direct costs like lives and money but in indirect costs like North Korean nukes, genocides in Sudan, a rise in global terrorism, and the like -- are you willing to bear to make this come to pass?

And in all seriousness, what makes you think there is a happy ending at all?

I can't resist: ThinkProgress has unearthed this statement, from Bush, on Kosovo:

“I think it’s also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn.” (George W. Bush, 6/5/99)

I spent a long time composing a comment only to find that CharleyCarp expressed virtually identical thoughts. I'll just point out in support of his thesis the statements that followed Kerry's "deadline" sentence quoted above:

"The plan should be shared with Congress. The guideposts should take into account political and security needs and objectives and be linked to specific tasks and accomplishments." (emphasis mine)

Kerry seems to be using "deadline", "milestone", and "guidepost" more or less interchangeably. It is, as Tim suggested, the language of project management. And Kerry is suggesting that the administration share this plan with Congress, not the general public. Not that I have ultimate faith in that body, but I'd feel more comfortable knowing that someone outside of the administration was in on the plan and was ready to hold them accountable for it.

Shorter von and Charles: "If we don't mention how bad things are in Iraq, the bad will go away. Therefore, patriotism requires keeping your mouth shut."

Shorter CaseyL:

Posted by: Charles Bird | June 28, 2005 11:48 AM

Gotta admit, Charles, that's one of the best refutations of the "Shorter - " form of blog dialogue I've ever seen.

Can I say, here and now, that while I have been guilty of committing this sin in the past, I regret it, because I feel it never leads to higher quality dialogue: and I'd like a bipartisan agreement that we avoid it here.

In all seriousness, what does "acceptable" mean, "acceptable" to whom, and what price -- not just in direct costs like lives and money but in indirect costs like North Korean nukes, genocides in Sudan, a rise in global terrorism, and the like -- are you willing to bear to make this come to pass?

"Acceptable" means a stable regime that is an ally to the U.S., or a democratic regime that is at peace with the U.S. Note that this distinguishes me as a realist, not a neocon.

And in all seriousness, what makes you think there is a happy ending at all?

Frankly, I tend to think that there's a good chance it'll all go to crap. But that's immaterial; we must always strive against the crap.

Von: "The Speech The President Should Give..", not presumptuous at all, is he?"

You must see that Charles' post and your back-to-back post (yours having the virtue of being straight-ahead argument without the tasty rhetorical red meat) are also described precisely in that opening sentence.

But, to answer the post. Kerry went easy. The children in the White House must have their toys locked up and then they should be sent to reform school.

You write.... "To do so would be a tragic mistake, for which our children and grandchildren will pay for years to come".

This is sincere and perhaps right. But the current corrupt Administration does not get my permission to do it. Until they are gone and prohibited (you can't believe how presumptuous I'm going to become) from public life, I'm going to make sure my wife and I preserve samples of my son's sperm, so that we might meet our grandchildren.

"Acceptable" means a stable regime that is an ally to the U.S., or a democratic regime that is at peace with the U.S. Note that this distinguishes me as a realist, not a neocon.

Yes, a neocon would have said that they want a democratic regime that is an ally to the US. Von, the realist, notes that this may now be a logical impossibility.

Can anyone define success in Iraq for me? The key issue seems to be permanent bases. Has anyone in the admin stated clearly that we do not intend to have a permanent presence in Iraq?

The low-level murmurings coming from Iraqi blogs indicate that nobody believes the US when they say they're not staying for a decade or more.

The experience with Isreal's thirty year occupation of West Bank is proof that the insurgency in Iraq can and in all likelyhood will last a long, long, long time. Longer in fact than any reasonable American would want to contend with. After all, what is in it for us to forever remain an occupying power a country that is up in arms against us?

Really, why not just set a timetable to get out on our own terms sooner instead of being driven out later?

"Acceptable" means a stable regime that is an ally to the U.S.

Note that under this formulation the 1980's Saddam regime was acceptable.

so: stay the course and according to the last post, if we don't succeed it's the Iraqis' fault?

Sorry. "Success is the only option" is silly posturing, especially when you yourself have admitted it's not necessarily possible.

I don't know enough about the internal politics of the government or the insurgency to take much of an educated guess about exactly what we should do. But look, if and when we draw down troops, they're going to know it.

I don't think a timetable makes sense before we have an Iraqi government fully in place and know what situation they're taking over in. But I'm not convinced it's a bad idea afterwards and forevermore.

God, WHY did we wait so long for elections?

And, indeed, Saddam in the 1980's was an acceptable regime. Bush et al. were perfectly happy to do business with him, rape rooms and all.

If Saddam hadn't invaded Kuwait, he'd still be a client of ours.

I don't think the business about deadlines is at all the key point in Kerry's op-ed. I think it's one item on which the usual suspects will focus attention, ignoring the rest of the article. What he is mostly saying is that the Administration needs to think, plan, and talk seriously and honestly about Iraq. It has thus far not done this.

I agree with von that it would be unwise to announce that on such-and-such a day we will withdraw all our troops, regardless of the situation. But it would be a good idea to establish milestones, with time targets, and realistic objectives. This puts pressure on to meet the targets, and improves accountability. It's a fairly standard part of planning.

Kerry:

The administration must immediately draw up a detailed plan with clear milestones and deadlines for the transfer of military and police responsibilities to Iraqis after the December elections.

Von:

No. Setting a deadline for withdrawal is sheer lunacy.

Apples and oranges.

Kerry is a little more specific, he attempts to establish certain goals with which to measure progress toward an ultimate solution.

'Stay the course' simply doesn't cut it any more.

Italics begone!

what is in it for us to forever remain an occupying power a country that is up in arms against us?

ken: I'll give you a hint....you put it in your car.

Bernard,

Exactly right.

What I'm getting from both Von and Charles is that both of them like what Kerry had to say, give or take a few nitpicks.

What I think is driving them both to madness is that it is undoubtedly more sane and practical and honest and just, on all counts, better, than anything Bush will come up with tonight. Von at least can say that he didn't want Bush to win, though he wasn't sure how good Kerry would be: but Charles wanted Bush to win, though it appears, like Sebastian Holsclaw just after the November elections, the President he would really like is Bush somehow transmognified into acting and speaking like Kerry...

I think the War in Iraq is the same as, or a large part of the WOT. We are fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. So we have a fundamental disagreement here.

Here are links to Chrenkoff and Yon, as a reference to my general point of view.

Von!!!!!!!
Charles!!!

You're back!!!!!!!!!!

I hope that you didn't suffer; we were worried about you. There was a post a bit back about how US troops were denied adequate equipment, due to the Bush administration. Since we know from your AI and Durbin posts that both of you are fanatical support-the-troopers, we figured that your absence meant bad things had happened to you.

I'm glad to see that you're both back, tanned, rested and ready!

DaveC: We are fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. So we have a fundamental disagreement here.

Yes. The Iraqis who think they are fighting an unwelcome US occupation would fundamentally disagree with you. But I don't recommend you go tell them that they're really al-Qaeda.

What's in it for us may be preventing Zarqawi from becoming the new bin Laden and Iraq from being the new Afghanistan. Of course it is possible that ourcontinued presence is doing more to drive recruiting than defeat the insurgents--there aren't big camps for us to bomb like in Afghanistan--but it isn't clear that that's so--even if our presence was the original driver for recruting the recruiting may continue to do just fine after the presence is gone. See: Afghanistan.

We need to drive a wedge between murderers and thugs like Zarqawi and the Sunni population. That's why I don't like to take the easy shot about "negotiating with terrorists" based on recent reports about negotiating with insurgents -- it all depends which insurgents.

I think Kerry should've focused more on changing our reconstruction approach, away from private U.S. contractors and towards Iraqis, than on a timetable. Seems unfair to expect them to get shot at in the guard, but save the less deadly employment and the profits for the foreign contractors.

At some level I wonder why we're even talking about this--why I feel obliged to have a position when anything I or anyone else thinks is going to be so completely disregarded by the people actually making policy.

oh, and the Democrats should focus on veterans benefits, combat pay, etc. as they have been, but they need to sell those policies as not only what we owe the troops, but also as a necessary means to deal with a recruiting shortfalls--and if we have to raise taxes we have to raise taxes; it's a small enough sacrifice compared to theirs. That's an easy issue, both right and resonant, and they need to pound on it.

I think the War in Iraq is the same as, or a large part of the WOT. We are fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. So we have a fundamental disagreement here.

Of interest may be Robert Scheer's latest This is iranian election related, but given that AQ is Sunni and Iran is Shi'a, I think (pray?) that we are faced with a situation, if not similar in dynamics, at least in final outcome as Vietnam, in that we will rend garments over 'losing' Iraq, but if we do make concrete steps to withdraw and get out of there, in 20 years, things will be fine. If the Sunni population wants to try and disrupt a (future) Shi'a state of Iraq, I'm thinking that it is best if the Shi'a handle this problem rather than being the policeman and end up taking all the flak.

Katherine the Isrealis have been fighting an insurgency for thirty years as occupieres of the west bank and gaza. They have finally realized the folly of this approach and are in the process of pulling out of gaza completely and walling off the west bank from their populations.

Zarqari may be a murderer, but he is not our problem. We have enough murderers right here at home we need to deal with by driving a wedge between them and their populations (think gangs in the inner cities) Why are our murderers less important to deal with than are the Iraqis murderers?

he might become our problem.

I don't know. I simply don't know. I had a clear position before the war and a clear position for a good year afterwards, but since then it has only been increasing uncertainty. And as a ridiculously risk averse person I tend to focus on things that would definitely be changes for the better, like taking some basic neglected steps regarding the army's recruiting problem and troop strength, and on issues I'm fully informed about.

Hilzoy, this is off topic but--if this op-ed makes some people glad Kerry's not the President, this newsletter makes me wish Clark was.

Ken--

I tend to side w/ Katherine on this one.

Before Bush invaded, Iraq did not represent either a direct or indirect threat of terrorist attacks on US soil. (I thought it did, because I believed the lies about WMDs, and so I tentatively supported the invasion).

But now that Bush has given Bin Laden a series of propaganda triumphs, as well as a training-ground for a new generation of terrorists, Iraq currently presents a very, very direct problem. The 9/11 attackers did not come from Iraq, but their successors may. That frightens me, a lot.

Here I have to agree with DaveC: Iraq is now central to the GWOT. (Though I still think DaveC is giving Bush an unearned pass by not mentioning the fact that it is solely Bush's fault that this is so. Got that? If there is another attack on American soil, it will likely be the result of Bush's irresponsible decision to attack a country that had no connections to Al Qaeda).

So I reluctantly side with those who think that we have to do a lot more to make Iraq into a functioning society before we leave.

A lot more.

Massive reconstruction efforts, and a draft, as much as I hate to say it (and yes, I have children).

I also think that one essential step in turning this war around, indeed the best single action that Bush could take for the good of the country, would be for him to resign, taking the top tier of his failed administration with him.

In any other democratic country--UK, Japan, Canada, etc.--a prime minister who had presided over a series of scandals, crimes, bunglings, and nation-threatening blunders of this scale would have done the decent thing and resigned long ago.

If Bush cared about the good of America--if he had ever cared about the good of the nation--he would resign soon, and take his gang with him.

Then the hard work of winning this war could begin in earnest, with vastly greater chances of success.

As previously posted on "...Occasional Communicator"--

...we cannot maintain our military presence in Iraq indefinitely. It is costing too much money, we are running out of supplies, people are being held in the service who want to leave, and recruitment is at a real low point.

It may be that we need to maintain in order to overcome. Withdrawing may be a bad move for the future of the region. But staying there is going to ruin the economy and make it impossible for us to deal with problems in other parts of the globe, and it will cripple our military. That is the cost of this venture as it is being conducted right now. Another ten years of military presence on current terms will either mean huge deficits and no ability to fight anywhere else or increased taxes and a draft.

This is the crux of the matter. It's not about will, it's about having overreached in the first place and needing to find our balance again. We cannot continue as is.

But, as we have seen from the Administration's domestic energy policy, the short term PR benefit drives the policy rather than any long term analysis of whether a particular course of action is sustainable and will have any positive effect aside from bolstering public opinion behind a rigidly predetermined policy.

Whata ya bet if we got out of Iraq tomarrow the violence would stop. Car bombings, assasinations, all of it would just stop. A short, violent civil war then slow peace and renewed relations with the U.S. If it's worth it to the Iraqi's democracy will rise to the top.

Fog: Can anyone define success in Iraq for me? The key issue seems to be permanent bases. Has anyone in the admin stated clearly that we do not intend to have a permanent presence in Iraq?

Rumsfeld has, but "clearly" isn't a word I associate with his statements. Not to mention that he'll say just about anything, then deny he said it months later.

When Bush and Cheney say it, then I'll be closer to believing it. But deeds, not words, are the thing. Those bases are being built.

Von:
"Kerry's Op Ed notes this, of course. But noting in passing that the aftermath of the Iraq war (and here I use Djerejian's phrase) was "something of a pretty significant cluster-f*&k" ain't enough. Using it to score a political point ain't enough. You gotta act on it. You gotta fix it. You gotta offer something other than cut and run. "

Von, I understand that politics is complicated, and I certainly don't consider myself an expert, but I thought that you guys had the Presidency, the House, (mostly) the Senate, the Supreme Court, one news network (with another auditioning to join the harem), AM radio (motto: facts are objectively anti-american), a whole load of warbloggers, two whole veterans' organizations, several sects of the GOPtist Church (formerly: Protestant Christian), a chunk of the Catholic church, quite a bit of underserved fawning and servitude from the remaining media, the support of a lot of countries for anything which wasn't batsh*t crazy, Sagans of dollars, the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the world, and a boatload of totally undeserved popularity from a scared American people.

With all that, actual performance (not speeches, not plans which disintegrate on contact with reality) isn't too much to ask, is it?

I mean, really?

The only acceptable outcome for Iraq is success

"They may agree that failure isn't an option, but this does not mean they will necessarily avoid it."

-David Manning, Blair's chief foreign policy, March 14, 2002 after meeting with Condoleezza Rice. What's changed since then? Other than the most incompetent members of the administration being promoted, I mean.

Nell is right about the bases think, and Barry is right that it is perfectly appropriate to criticize the administration for it's clusterf*cks even if you can't magically fix them. First of all, there is no plan one could offer that could unmake the mistakes made years ago. Second, Kerry is a Senator, not a president. He does not have access to all the intelligence Bush has nor does he have any ability at all to command the troops nor does he have the ability to communicate with soldiers in the field or the Iraqi government nor does he have any chance at all of getting Congress to pass legislation according to his ideas. To have HIGHER expectations and make MORE demands on him than Bush is ridiculous.

Katherine, thank you for the Wes Clark link.

Hearing the truth would be a nice change, though as far as I am concerned the credibility of the US government is ...... errr.... less than optimal.

may I recommend the parting words of someone who was a republican for 25 years?

We're poisoning our planet through gluttony and ignorance.

We're teetering on the brink of self-inflicted insolvency.

We're selfishly and needlessly sacrificing the best of a generation.

And we're lying about it.

While it has compiled this record of failure and deception, the party which I'm leaving today has spent its time, energy and political capital trying to save Terri Schiavo, battling the threat of single-sex unions, fighting medical marijuana and physician-assisted suicide, manufacturing political crises over presidential nominees, and selling privatized Social Security to an America that isn't buying. We fiddle while Rome burns.

Enough is enough. I quit.

Tad and Katherine:

You both seem to be conceding the argument that the US is now committed to nation building in Iraq. Further you seem to believe that a functioning democracy can be created in Iraq with US military support.

You are wrong. The only thing the military is good for is to kill people and blow up things. It is a destructive tool not a nation building tool. The military can be used to create a repressive police state but it never will be able to create a free and open society.

As long as we are in Iraq the military will do what it does best: ie kill people. This will lead to more resistance not less and unless we are willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people who want nothing but their own freedom we will eventually lose.

Further, and this is more important, even if Iraq returns to a state that is vehemently anti-american it would pose no danger to us. Militarily it can be contained. The threat of terrorism is best dealt with with co-ordinated police action between all western democracies. Our way of life is not threatened by al queda. If we had the political will to deal with international terrorism as a police problem we could stamp them out just like the red brigade was stamped out thirty years ago.

No wonder Wes Clark trounced the alternatives in Kos's poll! This kind of leadership on thorny issues is sorely needed. Thanks for the link, Katherine.

Setting a deadline for withdrawal is sheer lunacy.

Note that Kerry said no such thing.

von,

please remember that the liberals who post here do not seek america's defeat. mostly we are tremendously frustrated by the lies we have been told, and are tremendously concerned that an administration with a track record of deception does not have the ability to assist the iraqi government in establishing a country ready to join the community of nations.

we (i, at least) want what is best for iraq, because we believe that a stable iraq, even without a US presence there, is in the long-term best interest of the US.

but wanting isn't enough. we need an understanding of the process that will achieve our communal goals. And far too many righties are dismissive of legitimate arguments that a radically different process is required.

One legitimate argument is that the US presence is and always will be more of an irritant than a solution. If correct, immediate withdrawal is the best process because (a) it removes the irritant and (b) it forces the iraqis to determine for themselves, immediately, whether or not they truly want civil war.

A second legitimate argument is that the US's refusal to commit to withdrawal upon the achievement of certain specified goals is the major irritant. If correct, the best process is a public commitment to withdrawing not by a date certain but by the achievement of certain goals, like for example the successful training of X thousands of iraqi soldiers. Bush's speech could then remove part of the irritant, and a public withdrawal of some troops could also ease irritation.

and so forth. gotta go.

Katherine: just got back and found both Clark's email and your mention of it. I'll post on it now. Thanks.

"Frankly, I tend to think that there's a good chance it'll all go to crap. But that's immaterial; we must always strive against the crap."

von, do you play poker, and if so, when/where?

Seriously. Is there a worse strategy to have than, "Yes, it was a stupid investment, but we should pump even more money into the company, because, given our prior bad investment, now it's imperative that the company succeed." Welcome to the end of the dot-com boom, foreign policy style.

Seriously. Is there a worse strategy to have than, "Yes, it was a stupid investment, but we should pump even more money into the company, because, given our prior bad investment, now it's imperative that the company succeed." Welcome to the end of the dot-com boom, foreign policy style.

I don't know, this is the only strategy that is guaranteed to succeed in roulette. Everytime you lose, double your bet. That seems to be the thinking here.

"Seriously. Is there a worse strategy to have than, "Yes, it was a stupid investment, but we should pump even more money into the company, because, given our prior bad investment, now it's imperative that the company succeed." Welcome to the end of the dot-com boom, foreign policy style."

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim

You forgot the part, "and make sure that we keep the same leaders who made the bad decisions, implemented them badly, and lied to everybody, including us - and give them more power, so that they can scr*w up on a grander scale".

Ken--

You may well be right. Given that the administration is almost certainly **not** going to do what is necessary to win the war (their efforts to date are more oriented towards blaming defeat on "liberals"), I certainly hope you are right. For America's sake, I hope the costs of Bush's failures will not be too high.

If we pulled out tomorrow, would everyone over there just, get along? Maybe so. But it doesn't seem much like a strategy. Seems more like the kind of brain-dead fantasies that the Bush administration specializes in--e.g., just topple a tyrant and let the free market reconstitue the civil society.

I know you're not claiming that our departure would instantly bring peace to Iraq. And I myself am inclined to think that **some** of the support for the insurgency would erode with the US out of the picture. But what would replace the current chaos in Iraq is anybody's guess--a full-scale civil war? Partition between Turkey, Iran, and who knows? Blowback onto our own shores? I just don't know.

What I do know is that the architects of the New Deal, having united nearly every segment of America behind them, were able to stabilize Europe and Japan, using the same techniques of nation-building that had worked in America--keep people employed, rebuild the infrastructure, don't be afraid of government intervention, focus on quality of life, provide electricity and services, and so on.

Nothing shocking or revolutionary, just common sense--unless you are a Reagan/Norquist small government ideologue, who ignores everything the Pentagon and State Department tell you about reconstruction and staffs the Green Zone with Heritage Foundation interns.

How bout we pull out in such a way that we seriously advantage a particular bearable strongman over his rivals then negotiate with him after he imposes order on the country? I propose Chalabi.

SomeCallmeTim--

""Yes, it was a stupid investment, but we should pump even more money into the company, because, given our prior bad investment, now it's imperative that the company succeed." "

I don't disagree with your comments here, not directly. But I think we may arrive at different conclusions, because we are substituting different entities for the "company" in your little parable about investment strategies.

If the "company" = the Rove/Bush/DeLay administration, then I am happy to cut them off right now. They have made appallingly bad decisions, and I have no desire to see them succeed. Indeed, the more they succeed, the more damage they do. So the sunk-cost argument, when applied to that entity, leads me to agree with you about the right attitude towards that bunch of incompetents.


But to my mind, there's another "company" whose fate is at stake: America. And I just can't pull the plug on it, no matter how badly its current leadership has treated it. If more investment will guarantee America's success, then I am willing to invest it.

I would, of course, be even happier to continue investing in America's success if there were a thorough change of management in the "company". But the mere fact that we are in a sunk-cost situation doesn't make me think I can cut my losses in Iraq.

You see, true to his cowardly, wimpy, irresponsible past, Bush's mouth wrote a check that his hands couldn't cover. He got himself in over his head, once again, and just like all the other times, he has to wait for someone else to bail him out, because he has no idea of how to do it, and not enough courage even to admit how inadequate he is.

The only trouble is that this time he dragged all of us with him. He didn't simply risk his own good name, or other people's money, as when he frittered away Harkin oil and the other companies he gutted and then abandoned. Nope, this time it is our own country that he has put on the line.

There will be time, later, to make sure that he is held accountable. But right now, we all need to think about what's best for the country. If our country has been lied and tricked into making a bad investment, and if our country's success depends on making further investments with the hope of recouping the initial losses, are you still unwilling to do it?

We need to redefine our objectives at this point, to work towards a success that is achievable. At the bottom line, our objective should be an Iraq that has a functioning central government and is not a haven or staging area for Al Qaeda-like terrorist groups. I.e., basically what we are now trying to achieve in Afghanistan. This version of success in Iraq pretty much requires a much lower profile for US military forces, relinquishing any optimistic plans for permanent bases. The important point is that "drawing down" or changing the deployment posture of US forces is not only an impediment to a realistic vision of success, it is an essential precondition.

damn. that should've been "is not only not an impediment. . ."

Tad: I don't know about SCMT, but I have always been willing to stay or go, as our country and Iraq require it. I am much, much less concerned with Bush than with our two countries.

I am honestly torn about what I think we should do (not that anything depends on my making up my mind.) In favor of staying is everything you just said. In favor of leaving is the thought: but everything we do will be decided on by the exact smae bunch of idiots who have screwed everything else up. -- I mean, if (as would have happened in any sane world) Rumsfeld had resigned, either because of failing to plan for the occupation or because of Abu Ghraib, things would be different. Someone else would be in charge, and at least whoever it was wouldn't be invested in Rumsfeld's policies; and besides, whoever replaced him would have a hard time being worse.

But it's the same people, with the same flaws, the same absolute conviction that they are right and that they don't need to consult with anyone else, who will be managing everything we do.

On some level, I think the best thing for all concerned might be for us to declare victory after the Jan. elections and leave. If that happens, I will not say any of the things that will leap to mind; I'll just hold my tongue and hope for the best. But I will be miserable, because we owe the Iraqis and our country so much more. But I'm really not sure we haven't screwed things up so badly that we don't have it in our power to make things right any more.

Tad--If our country has been lied and tricked into making a bad investment, and if our country's success depends on making further investments with the hope of recouping the initial losses, are you still unwilling to do it?

It's that second 'if' clause that is not clear. This is part of what the President needs to start talking about. What are the implications of a US withdrawal? What are we investing in? Is the fate of the US tied to the fate of Iraq in any meaningful way? If so, how? If not, then what are we doing there (as opposed to all those other potential human rights causes, or--just to throw this one out there--Afghanistan)?

I get that we have pride and face invested. I'm not sure that a loss of that will harm us, and it ranks a lot lower on my scale than the lives of our troops. What are the other costs?

And it sickens me to frame this in this way, since we had leverage before the war that we could have used to help the average Iraqi. That is gone now along with their infrastructure and many lives. If we leave, we will leave the country worse off in all but leadership, but I'm not sure that we will make matters any better, or even maintain the status quo, by staying.

What are our options?

Hilzoy--

Yup. I agree with most of that. Especially the unqualified support for what's best for America, combined with deep uncertainty about what *is* best, and a well-founded conviction that it will never be done by the current gang of incompetents.

"But I'm really not sure we haven't screwed things up so badly that we don't have it in our power to make things right any more."

Our power at least as modified by our willingness to exercise it. I mean, it seems to me that there are many avenues to success in Iraq that are well within our power. We could deliver real aid to the people of Iraq, turn around the state of their infrastructure, and start rebuilding civic society. It would cost a massive amount of money, and require a doubling, tripling, or more, of the number of troops on the ground.

Clearly we **could** do it, i.e. we have the population and the GDP, and if the Bush administration had ever actually **believed** its own rhetoric about the GWOT being as important as WWII, we would have done it this way from the start. Think about the Berlin Airlift; we could have been flying generators, purifiers, and other infrastructure equipment into Baghdad from the day the statue fell. We could have had enough troops in place so that the ammunition dumps had never been looted, the borders were secure, and the chaos had never broken out to begin with. But, no--Rumsfeld had to do it on the cheap, and Rove had to do it in a way that would divide the country, not unite it.

But it still could be done. In fact, a public commitment to making Iraq safe and prosperous is still one option that is within our power. (And we owe the same debt to Afghanistan, too).

I also think that it would be an excellent gesture, in order to show that we were turning over a new leaf, if the top level of the Bush administration were to resign en masse. It would show that they really put the good of America first, for once.

Tad, you make some interesting points but like all of us we are just speculating as to what the immediate consequences will be like if we stay in Iraq or if we pull out of Iraq.

But I am pretty sure if we just up and pull out today and leave Iraq to its own fate just like we left VietNam that thirty years down the line it will be as irrelevant to us as VietNam is today. Sure it could be a tradegy for those we leave behind but then life is full of tough choices. On the other hand if we stay and continue to occupy Iraq we will have no more success than Isreal has as an occupier in the West Bank. The paradigm for occupation is no longer Germany or Japan it is Palistine. That is what we would be getting into.

The only thing the middle east has that if of national interest to us is oil. Big deal. They cannot consume it all domestically. Whoever owns it must sell it and whether they sell it to us to another party matters little since it is a perfectly fungible commodity. Before the War on Iraq middle east oil was selling for about $20 per barrell. Today it is around $60, a threefold increase. So this war has done nothing to stabilize oil supply to us.

I say let's cut our losses and get out now. Put Bush and company on trial for the crimes they committed and hope this is enough for the world to realize it was not America that was at fault but it a group of criminals who took advantage of our legitimate fears to wage an illegal, immoral and untimately futile war.

Tad: if I had the slightest hope that your proposal would be adopted, I'd be leaping for joy. (The one thing: we don't have the troops now, and instituting the required draft, training soldiers, etc. would take time.) I think we do owe it to them: I really believe Colin Powell's pottery barn rule, in a pretty full-bodied form.

This was actually what I wanted to do in Afghanistan, and one of the reasons I didn't support the war was watching the administration blow it there.

Nous--

I have no cunning plan for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. And perhaps those of you who think it isn't worth it are right to say that the defeat wouldn't cost us that much. (I'm just not sure: it's easy to belittle "pride and face", but for one thing I think more than pride and face may be involved, and for another thing I think that pride and face are not trivial elements in foreign affairs. Isn't our reputation a crucial element in our "soft power"?)

If I had to devise a cunning plan, I would begin by dusting off the very plans that the Bush gang brushed aside: the plans devised by the people who actually knew something about these things, in the Pentagon and in the State Department. They were professionals, based in reality and experience, not ideologues, and they actually did put some thought into it. (You can see why they were ignored by the Bush gang).

So: go back to the kind of troop structure that Shinseki envisioned as necessary for stabilizing the country--and then probably double it, since Bush's blunders over the last two years have cost us so much progress.

Look at the State Department's plans for developing structures of governance--and keep in mind that Chalabi was never State's boy. Oh, and enlist the allies, while we're at it, after we have acquired some once again.

Nope--I don't have any easy answers. But there are people out there who do--people like Richard Holbrooke, for instance. That's why I voted to throw out the incompetents and get a fresh team of realists.

von: "Acceptable" means a stable regime that is an ally to the U.S., or a democratic regime that is at peace with the U.S. Note that this distinguishes me as a realist, not a neocon.

Two subquestions:

1) As noted above, Saddam's was a stable regime that, prior to 1991, was an ally of the US. Would you consider the installation of Saddam Mk 2 in Iraq to be an "acceptable" outcome of the war?

2) You didn't answer the third part of my original question and since it's so important I'll ask it again: what cost, as precisely as you can, are you willing to bear for this to come to pass? In addition to the list I offered above -- "direct costs like lives and money", "indirect costs like North Korean nukes, genocides in Sudan, a rise in global terrorism, and the like" -- let me add another completely unfair one:

Would you be willing to accept another 9/11 in exchange for a stable regime in Iraq?

hilzoy: I think we do owe it to them: I really believe Colin Powell's pottery barn rule, in a pretty full-bodied form.

I used to. [And before it was called "Colin Powell's pottery barn rule" too, dagnabbit!] Sadly, the Bush Administration has convinced me otherwise, or at least convinced me that there's a vital missing clause: if the options are leaving the country in tatters v. messing it up even further -- which, given our present course, seems to be the alternatives -- I think withdrawal is the lesser of two evils. You have no idea how much it pains me to say this.

We do have strategic interests in the fate of Iraq beyond the oil market. Quite simply, it would be extremely dangerous for us if Iraq failed as a state and became a terrorist sanctuary in the heart of the Persian Gulf. Granted, our continued involvement does not guarantee that this will not happen anyway. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that we don't have a real national security interest in suppressing Al Qaeda-type radicals in Iraq.

This, however, is the critical point: if we are to achieve success, in these terms, we must make clear that we are restricting our objective to preventing Iraq from becoming another late-90s Afghanistan. If we insist on bringing freedom and democracy and peace and love to Iraq we will fail; likewise, if we restrict ourselves to trying to prevent Sunni areas from becoming terrorist havens while going around saying that we're really bringing peace and love and democracy, we will also fail, because it will be obvious that we aren't achieving what we say we're after. We should be narrowing our vision what we're after, based on a realistic assessment of what is possible, and then get serious about going after it.

All:

My apologies; I don't have time to respond to specific counterarguments, claims, etc. I will read every comment, however.

von

As far as escalating, or going back to planning made and rejected or ignored before the war, these are non-options. They're not going to happen so there is not much point in talking about them. We've been through all that. The point now is to figure out what we can do, decide to do it, and do it.

Anarch: I agree with you. That's the side of me that thinks we should withdraw. Maybe the Anarch codicil to the Powell Rule is: but just because you own something, that doesn't mean that the best course of action, for all concerned, might not be to give it to someone else, or lay it under a tree somewhere and walk away, or whatever. And the hilzoy sub-codicil is: when this happens, it is to your shame as a country, and you should never forget it. Reaching this conclusion means that you assumed an enormous responsibility and then failed to meet it.

Which is just to say: it pains me too, Enormously.

Tad:

I think a crucial difference between your perspective and mine is that I vehemently disagree with the following two points:

(a) our country's success depends on making further investments with the hope of recouping the initial losses; and

(b)I think that pride and face are not trivial elements in foreign affairs.

The thing that has bothered me most about the prosecution of the war is the (to my mind) floppy way we've gone about defining the all the importants pieces of the analysis. "WMD" are not scary; nukes are. Democracy in the MD would be nice; it's neither necessary nor a guarantee of good results. And so on.

If we walk out of Iraq tomorrow, throwing the keys in the air and yelling, "Ollie, ollie, oxen free!" we will still remain, by a substantial margin, the strongest, scariest military on earth. No one is going to be confused about what happens if they attack our country rather than its interests. "Face" and "pride" might have been arguably important when the other side (USSR) had a similar scary hand to play; that's simply not true anymore. Moreover, I note that we ultimately lost Vietnam to the Communists and still muddled through pretty well.

That said, there are clearly better and worse ways that Iraq can be addressed. I think that democracy, as we understand it, is pretty much out, mostly because we don't care that much, and we aren't going to be able to trick ourselves into thinking we should care. I'd like to leave a stable, less brutal, Iraq behind. I suspect that means a strongman. I'm OK with that because I thought that was always going to be the most palatable resolution. But what I really want is some clarity from those thinking the problem through about what our real national interests are. I can accept that friendly control of much of the oil is an interest. I can accept that the absense of a prize (i.e. Iraq) that draws in neighboring countries in a big way is an interest. (And so on.) All of these things can be dealt with in a number of ways, and at various costs. But we've got to stop pretending that Iraq (or foreign policy in general) is an all-or-nothing deal.

An unwillingness to see the world as it is has been the biggest character flaw of this Administration. I'd rather we corrected this.

Tad--it's easy to belittle "pride and face", but for one thing I think more than pride and face may be involved, and for another thing I think that pride and face are not trivial elements in foreign affairs. Isn't our reputation a crucial element in our "soft power"?

I agree with that when it comes to the type of pride and face that give a country "soft power". I'm not convinced that the type of pride and face we are concerned with are the same type that give us that power. I think a measure of humility and "we screwed up" would go a long way if tied to some moral shoring-up on torture and rendition and the like. I think that sort of thing would give us more "soft power" than more stubborn refusals to accept the reality we have built for ourselves by trying to go all gung-ho on Saddam with no plans to rebuild and no exit strategy.

Tad, the problem with making an 'additional investment' is that our only agent is the Bush administration. Which has strove mightily for new records in corruption, incompetance and unwillingness to learn, in all areas save their own power and wealth. And for new records in total willingness to scr*w over the USA in pursuit of said power and wealth.

If we put more money into Bush's hands, it will be pissed away.

About 'face': I seem to agree with everyone. I think that other people's views of our power and resolve are important, which is (to me) a very good reason not to undertake military action if we aren't prepared to do it right. I think it was a huge mistake to demonstrate the limits of our military power as we did in Iraq. I also think that if I could see a way to defeat the insurgency at some not wholly unreasonable cost, I would be for it, both for our sake but also for the Iraqis'.

On the other hand, I do not think it's smart to get hung up on not leaving because it would be humiliating. Frankly, that seems like exactly the sort of possibility one should think about very seriously before committing oneself; once one is in, however, avoiding this sort of exit may no longer be an option.

One of the things I remember vividly from Vietnam was the sense that one aspect of it was something I, as a kid, could completely understand: that my country seemed to have gotten itself into one of those situations in which you say you're going to do something without really thinking about what you're getting into, and then find yourself painted into a corner, unable to back down even though you know your situation is disastrous and that you should never have gotten into it in the first place.

I always thought: in one of those situations, you obviously have to swallow your pride and admit your mistake. It's hard (at least, it always was for me, so I often didn't act on this knowledge), but you have to, at least if you ever want to get out of the mess you've gotten yourself into. The costs of doing this are higher when you're a country,the lives of kids who are just trying to do their duty and serve their country, and deserve better than that their country should sacrifice their lives in order not to admit a mistake.

On the other other hand, though, I think that earning the respect of other people is extremely important to our national interests. But you do that by doing the right thing, not by throwing your weight around. OR so it seems to me.

It's idiotic, counterproductive, and will ultimately cost more American lives. Treaty of Versailles, Peace of Nicias -- choose your own overblown historical analogy and drop it in. The shoe freakin' fits.

So when are you enlisting? Which branch are you going to go for? Army or Marines?

Loss of face may be important, but it's not the most significant consequence of withdrawal. Several other considerations are more important and are sufficient to make withdrawal a bad option:

1) Iraq would become a save haven for jihadists to train, recruit, and organize, like Afghanistan before 2001. This is bad. Iraq would be a base for jihadists to attack US representatives and facilities in the Gulf and around the world. Again, bad.

2) The ensuing security vacuum would make full-scale ethnic and sectarian civil war much more likely, which would be the end for democracy and maybe even for a unified Iraq. Very bad, especially from a humanitarian perspective. Ethnically mixed areas like Kirkuk would succumb to violence and warlords would gradually take over power on the local level. For those who see Iranian influence as a bad thing, it would become much more widespread.

3) The military and security services would become one of the best organized and most powerful forces in the country. A military coup that promised to quell the chaos could have the support of the population, and could return a Saddam-like dictator to power.

Regardless of what you think about the relative significance of losses to US credibility and prestige, these are the factors that we should be thinking about when considering solving the Iraq problem by complete withdrawal of US forces.

SCMT, Ken, et al.

Looks like one thing that controls our respective prognoses is the question: if we walk away, will Iraq go the way that Vietnam did when we walked away, or the way that Afghanistan did when we walked away?

To my mind, the fact that the Vietnamese have shown a uniform lack of interest in recriminations, accusations, and reprisals, has been nearly miraculous. I have to attribute their forbearance and grace to their long Judeo-Christian tradition without which, as we all know, there can be no moral virtue.

Far the more common human reaction, when someone has come across the ocean and stomped all over your country, is to wish them harm in return.

There are many points of difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam, and most of them, I'm afraid, incline me to think that Iraq after we walked away would be more like A and less like V.

I'm still waiting for Edward's regime to rescue us all.

In my last post, I wrote this: "The costs of doing this are higher when you're a country,the lives of kids who are just trying to do their duty and serve their country, and deserve better than that their country should sacrifice their lives in order not to admit a mistake."

Somehow, a clause got deleted. (I think I know who deleted it, since just about then my cat walked across my keyboard.) It should have read:

"The costs of doing this are higher when you're a country, but so are the costs of not doing it. They include the lives of kids who are just trying to do their duty and serve their country, and deserve better than that their country should sacrifice their lives in order not to admit a mistake."

1) Iraq would become a save haven for jihadists to train, recruit, and organize, like Afghanistan before 2001. This is bad. Iraq would be a base for jihadists to attack US representatives and facilities in the Gulf and around the world. Again, bad.

This assumes that the average Iraqi wants to make Iraq a safe haven for jihadist. Currently, while Iraq is not a safe haven, it is a Darwinian training ground, so that the next generation of jihadist will be able to compare their battle scars. Is it really a possibility that Iraq, with the number of ex-pats, its geography, and its oil wealth, would choose to become like Afghanistan?

2) The ensuing security vacuum would make full-scale ethnic and sectarian civil war much more likely, which would be the end for democracy and maybe even for a unified Iraq. Very bad, especially from a humanitarian perspective. Ethnically mixed areas like Kirkuk would succumb to violence and warlords would gradually take over power on the local level. For those who see Iranian influence as a bad thing, it would become much more widespread.
This whole Iranian influence thing presupposed that the mullahs are some crazy, completely irrational group that are getting the bomb so they can give it to Hezbollah so they can turn Tel Aviv into a radioactive wasteland. Take a deep breath and ask yourself if you really think that. It seems to me that Sistani has stepped up when he had to in order to prevent the sort of thing you are suggesting. However, in the current situation, no person or group can step forward because doing so would identify themselves as serving the interests of the US.

3) The military and security services would become one of the best organized and most powerful forces in the country. A military coup that promised to quell the chaos could have the support of the population, and could return a Saddam-like dictator to power.

First of all, if we accept that Iraqis have that innate desire for freedom, this won't happen (and this is not directed at you Travis, but for those of you who now claim that Iraqis don't have the right stuff, why didn't you complain when all those people were holding up purple fingers?) Second, it is far better to have a dictator who has a fixed address than it is to have a stateless cell like organization that could choose to commit terrorist acts all over the globe.

It is clear to me that as long as the US is there and anyone trying to fix the problems of Iraq is going to be identified with US interests, we can't win. Note that this is different than cutting and running: we have to pledge a certain level of support, and we are going to have to pledge it with no strings, and we are going to have to let someone else administer it. (we should also do the same for Afghanistan) But as long as we keep troops in Iraq, there is no possibility of a positive outcome.

Travis--

1) Iraq would become a save haven for jihadists to train, recruit, and organize...

2) The ensuing security vacuum would make full-scale ethnic and sectarian civil war much more likely, which would be the end for democracy and maybe even for a unified Iraq...

3) The military and security services would become one of the best organized and most powerful forces in the country...

Okay, some brass tacks at last. First off, I agree with what LJ says (as usual). I also agree that your first point is a possibility, but don't see that this is all that different a possibility under current circumstances.

As your first point relates to your second, does a full scale war make for a better training ground or a worse one? Does civil war mean that they will be more likely fighting amongst themselves for power or exporting the violence? Are we in any greater danger in this case than we are now?

Point 3...how many American soldiers are required to keep the Iraqi military in check? What does the Iraqi government have to do in order to establish their own authority so that the military will listen to them? And most important, does our presence there and the current government's need for our presence cause the very crisis of legitimacy you mention here?

LJ:

1) Did Afghanistan choose to become like Afghanistan? It became that way because there was no one to stop it. In the absence of a central government that can effectively police the country, areas like Anbar will become havens where jihadis can operate freely. It is likely that a significant portion of the populations of these areas will either support or be intimidated against resisting such activity, but in any event the wishes of the population would be irrelevant: the point is that an authority empowered to sustain law and order will not exist.

2) I'm not sure what part of what I wrote in #2 you are responding to; my point is just that Iranian influence, already significant, will be greater and put to greater use in Iraqi society in the event of a withdrawal. I'm not necessarily saying this is a bad thing. Furthermore, the important point is the one you didn't address: withdrawal makes sectarian and ethnic civil war more likely, with disastrous consequences for the people of Iraq and for the future prospects of democracy and a coherent Iraqi state.

3) Don't you think the Iraqis have an "innate desire for freedom" that was operative the first time around, when the Baath took over in the 60's? Sometimes coups happen, regardless of what the aggregate wishes of the people might be for their government, for the simple fact that there is nothing there--no civil society, no rule of law--to prevent the military from stepping into a power vacuum. Again, maybe this doesn't have to be "bad" in the sense of "the worst possible thing"; a future Iraqi Tito could be better than an Iraqi Pinochet. Nevertheless, when US troops leave, the chances of the Iraqi national forces to sustain the Iraqi government will be greatly diminished. However, the army doesn't necessarily go away when the government falls; in fact, it may just find itself the best-organized player in town and move accordingly.

I agree that long-term success depends on the legitimacy of the Iraqi government not being compromised by association with the US. Promoting that legitimacy while simultaneously giving Iraq a chance at security doubtless requires greatly reducing the US presence there. However, they're going to need us to train Iraqi troops and police, and we're going to need to be there to keep tabs on the next Bin Laden. A drawn-down force is the least bad option that gives us the best chance of achieving realistically diminished objectives in Iraq.

nous:

Regarding the safe haven issue, you're right: to have a chance of preventing Afghanistan-like safe havens in Iraq, we'd have to adjust our strategy. This would probably involve removing ourselves as a target (the draw down) and communicating to local militias and political leaders that we'll help those who are against jihadist fighters, and we'll help the rivals of those who support the jihadists. We'll also attack jihadist strongholds where and when we can, but we won't be running convoys through ambushes to draw fire and flush out guerillas, or in a futile effort to show force. Again, success is not guaranteed, but the limited goal of repressing jihadis is more likely to be accomplished with this approach than by staying the course.

Regarding civil war, the important concern is not what jihadi guerillas could gain from being in one, but what the Iraqi people and the greater Middle East will certainly lose if one goes off. Will Turkey intervene when Kirkuk turns into an ethnic killing field? Iraqi national security forces would be too weak to stop a civil war, and would face tremendous pressure to defect from a national government and join regional, ethnic, or sectarian interests. With US troops helping to sustain the strength of national forces, and with diminished US objectives potentially alleviating local fears about our intentions, we may just be able to help Iraq avert a civil war. The terrible consequences such a war would have make this worth doing.

Regarding legitimacy, the best thing we can do to bolster the legitmacy and viability of the national government is empower it to take political and security responsibility for the country, while demonstrating that we can't control it. Substantially fewer troops (maybe a combat division plus advising/special forces units and intelligence) will be able to train Iraqi national forces to sustain nation-building, but will be too few and too low profile to dominate the country. It's a delicate balance and by no means am I saying it's a guaranteed success. However, it's better than what we've got going on now. Withdrawal may mean nobody can undermine the Iraqi government by pointing to its US support, but at that point that will be the least of the national government's worries. The consequences of withdrawal for Iraq (NOT for us) are too bad to take lightly.

My problem is that I agree with everyone. I agree with Travis' points, except that I think that Iraq is pretty clearly a training ground now, and we need to figure out whether it's a better training ground now than it would be then. (Very different types of training: now, we are training them to fight against troops and in cities; later, they might take advantage of a vacuum the way they did in Afghanistan, but would not have the same opportunities to train in battle. On the other hand, more of them get killed now. But I am completely agnostic, for lack of evidence, on the question: does increased mortality make up for the increased lethality of those who survive, or not?)

Travis' 2 is clearly right, and worth really, really worrying about. And never forget the likelihood of Turkey entering if Iraqi Kurdistan secedes. 3 I'm less sure of, though it's clearly a danger.

But, I keep wanting to scream at the President, these were among the many reasons not to do this in the first place. It is by no means clear to me that we have a good way of preventing them now. Certainly, if you consider this war strictly from the point of view of its effects on the War on Terror, it seems to me that we would have been vastly better off not invading. The one thing Iraq was not, under Saddam, was a terrorist training ground. Once we had knocked out al Qaeda's training grounds in Afghanistan, had we stuck around long enough to prevent their return, they would have had to find another failed state in which to set up shop. Why did we have to provide one? I have no idea.

As for (2), ethnically based oppression was obviously a problem under Saddam, but open civil war was not. Whether civil war would be worse is an open question -- I mean, you have to work hard to be worse than Operation Anfal and the destruction of the marshes -- but it's a real possibility. And (3) obviously doesn't mark out a way in which things could get worse, just a way in which they could turn out to be a lot more like what we replaced than we might have hoped. Although we and the Iraqis would have to be pretty unlucky to get someone as purely dreadful as Saddam. On the other hand, I really don't think it will have been worth the cost in American, coalition, and Iraqi lives if what we end up doing is replacing Saddam with an Iraqi Pinochet.

But now that we have well and truly screwed things up, what on earth do we do? If I get to determine everything -- including not just the answer to this question, but also the answer to questions like, will Rumsfeld stick around? -- I might stick it out. But if I have to say what I think should happen on the assumption that this administration, which as far as I'm concerned has proven its incompetence beyond all doubt, -- well, I don't know. But I will not be trying to make Bush's life hard for him if he tries to withdraw. Let him take the victory. Let him claim the credit for finishing a job he won't have finished. Fine. Just get him away from that country.

Make that: on the assumption that this administration will carry out my choice --

LJ - I don't know, this is the only strategy that is guaranteed to succeed in roulette. Everytime you lose, double your bet. That seems to be the thinking here.

Not to derail all the quibbiling, but I wouldn't try this at home, folks. Debunking (and a lot of fun stats)here

In reverse order, so I can blow off some snark

Thanks Fledermaus, very cool link. But, as the link says,

The problem is that it is easier than you think to lose several bets in a row and run out of betting money after you've doubled it all away.

Very true, (snark) but I see no awareness on the part of the administration or those arguing for a 'stay the course' that the betting money will ever run out. Unless, of course, it is embezzled (or the line of credit is falsely maligned) by (some) liberal traitors. (/snark)

Thanks, I feel a bit better. Thanks to travis for responding, my apologies if it felt like I was making it personal, I promise it wasn't. I think the points you make are serious, so any shorthand on my part shouldn't be taken as dismissing them lightly

Did Afghanistan choose to become like Afghanistan? It became that way because there was no one to stop it.

I disagree. Afghanistan became like Afghanistan because we chose to use it as a proxy and then, when the Russians pulled out, we did as well, leaving the country awash with weapons. I don't know if we could have done it better, but I don't think it was liberals who were being photographed with Taliban (rather inflammatory, but I pass it on because the picture is worth 1000 words)

About your point two, I guess I was responding to the long musings concerning the problematic nature of the Iranian regime and their elections rather than anything you wrote. Furthermore I recall (again, not by you) the demonization of Sistani as an Iranian puppet, (with everyone noting that he was even born in Iran and was still an Iranian citizen) yet it was he who reined in Sadr and it was he who was the one who seemed most responsible for making the election a success by saying that it was a religious obligation to vote. His suggestion of a regionally based electoral system rather than a national one offers a possible out for sectarian violence. But if the US does not get out to give him the space to work, he can't. Perhaps he will become just another Iranian hardliner and turn Iraq into an Iranian province and we will have gotten suckered yet again. But to me, this seems a much safer bet than to imagine that continued occupation of Iraq is going to work out anywhere near as well.

Don't you think the Iraqis have an "innate desire for freedom" that was operative the first time around, when the Baath took over in the 60's? Sometimes coups happen, regardless of what the aggregate wishes of the people might be for their government, for the simple fact that there is nothing there--no civil society, no rule of law--to prevent the military from stepping into a power vacuum.

I believe that the Iraqi people showed us in no uncertain terms that they didn't want a dictator immediately after Gulf War I, but we didn't give them the support they needed. As long as we are there, we get blamed, regardless of our motives or intentions. I have my own view of our motives and intentions, but setting that completely aside, I could believe that we are being the essence of altruism and it still wouldn't work out. It just seems to me that comments about staying the course flirt with a notion that Iraqis cannot be responsible. Hindsight is 20/20, but earlier elections would have made a huge difference. Less meddling in the constitutional process to guarantee a secular nature would have made a huge difference.

However, they're going to need us to train Iraqi troops and police, and we're going to need to be there to keep tabs on the next Bin Laden. A drawn-down force is the least bad option that gives us the best chance of achieving realistically diminished objectives in Iraq.

I'm not completely disagreeing with you, and the macho posturing of this administration makes it unimaginable that a course like the one I think is best would be followed, so a draw down might be the only possible option. But if we wouldn't go around declaring Iran on the Axis of Evil and making noises that we will freeze the assets of anyone who deals with their national energy ministry, we might find common ground in tracking non-state Sunni actors like Bin Laden.

All this is a huge gamble, but in order to allow people to succeed, you have to give them the freedom to fail. It is just unfortunate that we have raised the price of failure to such high heights.

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