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August 19, 2005

Comments

Huh? Where was Kevin's "gotcha"? This post makes no sense.

"I've also laid out what I think we should do in order to give us a better shot at victory."

Um, no you haven't. As pointed out when you made the other post, other than increasing the size of the army (a proposal of the Kerry and not the Bush campaign last year), you've created a list of statements of our will, not a series of policies to further that goal.

Huh? Where was Kevin's "gotcha"? This post makes no sense.

I put in another sentence (re)stating the obvious, but if you still can't see that Kevin's query is begging a key question in dispute (i.e., it's a gotcha -- damned if you do, damned if you don't), I can't help you.

where terrorists were manufacturing them by the truckload

Cite, please.

Let's wait, at the least, until we've actually lost.

care to define what a loss would look like, so we can hold to it, should it happen ?

We may yet win -- even if Bush merely "stays the course....

...The United States is facing the moment for which we foreign policy realists endlessly prepare: the moment when there are no good options. When there is only bad and worse. We may very well be in a quagmire in Iraq; we may continue to lose young lives and still lose the war. But the other option -- pulling out -- is worse.

Strange you're making the first point and then claiming, a few graphs later, to be a foreign policy realist. We're not going to be winning a war of attrition in Iraq anytime soon.

As far as pulling out being the worst thing we could do: I don't pretend to speak for everyone advocating withdrawal, but bankrupting our economy and wrecking our military trying to stay the course would be far worse than your scenario.

The calls for increasing troop strength are entirely justified, but I've yet to hear any reasonable method for accomplishing this task (there's already been pay raises and increased bonuses). Let alone creating the capacity for training and equipping them (a problem we're having with just the current troop levels).

In short, a foreign policy "realist" would have understood that you can't impose a democracy through force of arms in the first place.

...so we can hold you to it...

Dan, demonstrating our will to continue to stay in Iraq is a key part of the strategy.

Cite, please.

This is why I find our commeteriat so annoying, sometimes. Tim, please just follow the link. It's the part that's underlined and in a purplish color.

In short, a foreign policy "realist" would have understood that you can't impose a democracy through force of arms in the first place.

Yes, Bobzilla, that was my position before the war: That democracy promotion was not a job for the military.

In answer to the question, "how will we know we've lost": A civil war would certainly be a good indication.

Dude, the part that's underlined and in a purplish color uses words like "alleged", "unidentified", and "suspected". Surely if you know that terrorists are manufacturing chemical weapons by the truckload, you must have better info than this B.S. Let me give you a hint, you might want to actually look at a picture of the crap they found.

I agree with you Von.

I think Bush's policy can be summed up, ignore what is going on and stay; and the leave now crowd's policy can be summed up, ignore what is going on and leave.

We can't afford to lose in Iraq. A civil war in Iraq will grind the world economy to a halt. Think $125+/barrel of oil.

Perhaps the more pertinent question Kevin Drum should be asking war supporters is this one: what does losing look like? What does the situation look like, Von, when you can no longer say that pulling out, cutting and running, is no longer worse than staying? Or do you believe that that can NEVER be the case?

I understand that you wouldn't want to give in to that sort pessimism, but if we are at the point of "no good options" are we not losing? Isn't the point no good options also the point where we decide how best to cut our losses? It is no answer to say that the pulling out option is worse unless you are willing to say that there may be a point where it isn't. If you don't recognize that, than you just aren't thinking about this clearly.

To answer the inevitable question to me, I think you go to war with the administration you have. I don't think these guys are up to it. They've certainly given no reason up to now to think they can do it. So get out.

Tim, the article reads:

BAGHDAD -- US troops raiding a warehouse in the northern city of Mosul uncovered a suspected chemical weapons factory containing 1,500 gallons of chemicals believed destined for attacks on US and Iraqi forces and civilians, military officials said yesterday.

The early morning raid last Monday found 11 precursor agents, ''some of them quite dangerous by themselves," a military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Boylan, said in Baghdad.

Combined, the chemicals would yield an agent capable of ''lingering hazards" for those exposed to it, Boylan said. The likely targets would have been ''coalition and Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi civilians," partly because the chemicals would be difficult to keep from spreading over a wide area, he said.

Those are some pretty definite statements -- most stated as fact. Yet, bowing to your concern that I overstate my case by claiming that these 1,500 gallons of precursor agents to chemical weapons ("some quite dangers" by themselves) constitute a chemical weapons factory, I've slightly modified my description. I presume that you're now satisfied.

"demonstrating our will to continue to stay in Iraq is a key part of the strategy."

It is certainly a part, but as you pointed out in the other post, merely doing that is also likely to keep us on a course where we have less chance of winning than a course where we made changes which increase our likelihood of winning. That's what I asked for there, and that's why saying that you've laid out what you think we should do to increase our chance of victory seems incorrect.

von-

"It is too early in the day to declare defeat."

This strikes me as true, on grounds of epistemic humility if nothing else.

Life is weird, the world is weird. Maybe tomorrow the insurgents will just get bored and go home, and the Iraqis can begin to build a civil society, and McCain can cruise the strip from the airport to the city and back all day in peace. It's hard to know stuff. It's even hard to be reasonably sure of stuff.

(And I agree that, if not a complete metric for success, McCain's is at least a minimal, tangible goal. The trouble is, it is far *too* minimal. That stretch of highway was very driveable under Saddam. It would be very safe under an Iraqi Taliban--I have read that they did a good job suppressing banditry in Afghanistan, or at least keeping a monopoly on it. So this metric says nothing about democracy, much less secular, non-theocratic, western-leaning democracy. It just says Iraq will be lucky to get back to where it was when Saddam was in power.)

But suppose that more than the McCain minimum were a feasible, realistic goal, provided we just stayed the course. Suppose that a democratic, federal govt that respected the rights of religious minorities would be established, provided that we just stayed there for the next five years, at an average rate of 1000 US soldiers killed and 5000 wounded per year.

5000 dead, 25000 wounded. We would be looking at a slow-motion version of a battle that is far from unprecedented in US history. Somewhere between Omaha Beach and Chancellorsville, dragged out over five years.

I think we would be right to stay and do it. I certainly think we would have been willing to create a beacon of democracy in the ME if it had meant a few quick Omaha beaches. And the difference in dragging it out is only the difference between slow and fast band-aid removal. Excruciating and agonizing for the families involved and for the troops going over to face it. But if slow was the only way, then the mere slowness would not be an argument against.

The trouble is, the argument from epistemic humility works both ways. We cannot know, at this stage, that defeat is certain. But we also cannot know that five years of 6000 casualties a year would get us even one *inch* closer to McCain's cruise-fest, much less a beacon of democracy worth spilling our soldiers' lives for.

What we need to see are reasons to think that we are making progress. That's all. Just evidence that we are moving towards a goal that is worth fighting for. Not merely a safe strip for cruising--McCain could have done that under Saddam. A real democracy.

Unfortunately, what it looks like we are moving towards is not a beacon of democracy, but another Iran. Or perhaps a bloody civil war, followed by partition into West Iran, East Turkey, and LongLiveSaddamistan.

It's just not clear to me that we can hold the centrifugal forces together very long, whether we are there or away. Even if we stand up a constitution, stand up a central government, and withdraw our troops in good order and not under fire, I worry that the next month or year, it's going to fall apart.

If *I* knew that the favored outcome was going to happen, and patience was all it took, I would advocate staying.

If *you* knew that civil war, partition, chaos, and theocracy was the outcome, whether we stayed or left, would you still advocate staying?

Blue Neponset:We can't afford to lose in Iraq. A civil war in Iraq will grind the world economy to a halt. Think $125+/barrel of oil.

A bold prediction, considering that there's minimal oil being produced in Iraq now. More to the point, if our economy is wrecked chasing this holy grail how are we going to be able to afford $65 a barrell oil?

As part of the leave now crowd, I can assure you I'm not ignoring what's going on. To me it's not a matter of what we should or should not do. It's a matter of what we can or can not do. What we can't do: indefinitely maintain a sizable military presence in Iraq. Win a war of attrition with a dispersed and persistent enemy. Ignore pressing domestic issues to pour money down the drain "staying the course".

Think $125+/barrel of oil.

It's already going to hit $125/barrel without an Iraqi civil war.

And I think alot of people, when they think of "victory", are thinking in terms of "American victory". Something which seems awfully close to being able to pull the troops out without using helicopters landing on rooftops.

There have been many things done wrong in the execution of this war. Many things. But really at it's heart, the concept itself was inherently flawed and doomed from the outset. Proper execution only makes it a matter of when the experiment fails.

I always get confused, when asked what we should do in Iraq, about the amount of control I am supposed to have. Do I get to propose plans, and then implement them? Propose plans, and then let Bush et al implement them? Just wonder: given a choice between whatever Bush will do if he decides to stay and whatever version of pulling out he will go for if he doesn't, which should I advocate? I think that in fact he is going to start drawing down our troops in a fairly serious way in 2006, unless things in Iraq truly go to -- well, not to hell, they're already there, but to a dramatically worse circle of hell -- between now and then (and maybe even if they do.) If someone put a gun to my head and asked me to choose, I'd probably say: well, he might well mess things up even worse if he decides not to, and this way we will have only severely damaged, not actually destroyed, our military. But this is a choice between two horrible, horrible options.

Things we could do: for a start, renounce any intention of having permanent bases. If we're not willing to have a draft, then put in place some really enormous bonuses. (Even this, though, would take time to have a serious impact, time we don't have.) What else -- pray? I mean, we have the following problems: (a) a serious breakdown in law and order, affecting everyone. (b) armed militias and death squads roaming around with apparent impunity. (c) a constitution that, if agreed on, will have dubious legitimacy, owing to its having been created by groups with no obvious commitment to actually living together, while we hold a gun to their collective heads. (d) the insurgency, which shows no signs of ending those interminable 'last throes'. (e) Iranian influence throughout. (f) a country which, by all accounts, is so full of explosives and ammo dumps that anyone can be an insurgent at will. (g) neighbors (Iran and Syria) which we have given every reason to try to bog us down there. (h) a completely dysfunctional infrastructure, after all this time and money. (i) a climate in which no one in their right mind would want to try to invest. -- I could, of course, go on. The time to deal with these problems was two years ago. Now, I frankly can't imagine how to do so, especially given our troop constraints.

Of course, leaving would be a nightmare too. I won't do the full a-z treatment of it; I'll just say that it would in all likelihood be a complete horror as well, and no one who proposes leaving should doubt this.

Which is why we should not have gone in to start with, and if we had to go in, we should have made sure we did it right. I just hope no one ever lets any of these clowns near our national security ever again.

Von, Kevin's point is particularly relevant to you as all of your suggestions are NEVER going to be implemented by this administration. Please give us a *plausible* scenario that isn't merely saying "buck up" because we can't *afford* to lose. "Will" won't win this war. Attitude won't win this war. Actual trained soldiers on the ground will, and we simply don't have them. We never had them.

Getting yourself into a situation where there is no good way out - which is what the anti-war left (and the President's father, as well) predicted would happen - is a rather sad state of affairs, and one that is going to severely damage this country.

But that's why you don't do stupid things in the first place. Sometimes there is no way out of it and you will simply have to live with the consequences.

That said, I'd like to know when you are volunteering to go over to Iraq and fight the good fight.

Or are you just going to stay over here with a cushy, safe job and plead for others to do it?

Talk is cheap.

hilzoy,

"I just hope no one ever lets any of these clowns near our national security ever again."

I've never before accused you of wishful thinking, but I need to now. If Iran-Cotra could not make John Poindexter and Elliott Abrams radioactive, then I do not see how our political system can be adapted to keep anyone out, no matter how much harm they do to our country.

Tad:If *you* knew that civil war, partition, chaos, and theocracy was the outcome, whether we stayed or left, would you still advocate staying?

I know this will not make me popular, but I am not sure that the things you mention are necessarily bad outcomes.

In the long run partition may be the right answer. It could easily be argued that partitioning is the source of many problems in the middle east. I'm not sure that Sunni's, Kurds and Shia need to be in the same country. Look at all the problems in Africa with tribalism. Better partitioning may have resolved many issues. I'm not sure that its not in our best interest to let them partition themselves.

We had a Civil War in the US and I think we are a better country and people for it.

Theocracy is the real rub for me, but I am not sure it is our place to tell them what kind of government they can form. We can wish, we can guide but in the end what will work for them is what they choose.

I found the status quo unacceptable. The outcome maybe worse, but I am certainly the kind of person that believes its better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.

Or tried and failed than never try.

Von, Kevin's point is particularly relevant to you as all of your suggestions are NEVER going to be implemented by this administration.

Hal, my point is that it is better to continue doing exactly what we're doing now in Iraq -- inadequate as it is -- then announce (per Kevin) that we're going to withdraw by date X.

Bobzilla: A bold prediction, considering that there's minimal oil being produced in Iraq now. More to the point, if our economy is wrecked chasing this holy grail how are we going to be able to afford $65 a barrell oil?

You are just plain wrong about Iraqui oil production. Right now Iraq is producing 2 million barrels a day.

Oil production is already close to full capacity in the rest of the world. Depriving the world market of 2 million barrels a day will be very problematic.

Note his key assumption: "[w]hat Bush is doing now obviously isn't working" and will inevitable result in defeat in Iraq.

Yes. That is your key assumption too, last I heard. That was, indeed, one of the key points of the November 2004 election: if Bush lost, there was hope for Iraq: if Bush won, no hope. Bush won. So there can be no changes in Iraqi policy till 2009, so the US has lost. I know it must be hard to accept, but that's the situation as is: by 0.5%, those who voted in November 2004, voted for US defeat in Iraq.

dantheman: not wishful thinking, just wishful hoping, which I think is slightly more acceptable.

DDR: If partition happened in a nice, painless way, it probably would be the best option. Even if it happened in a not so nice way, but the non-niceness just involved Iraqis sorting out the borders, it would be bad, but might conceivably be counterbalanced by the eventual benefits of not having to try to hold the country together. The ethnic cleansing of Kirkuk would not be pretty (and the parts that have already happened have not been pretty), but it would not be a full-bore cataclysm.

A full-bore civil war among Iraqis would be worse, of course. But the real disaster scenario involves the intervention of Iraq's neighbors. And that would be a catastrophe.

Well, sorry to put a crimp in your fear hype, but you might want to look at this.

CNN

The list of chemicals included glycerin, sodium hydroxide and ethanol sulfate, he said.

Yeah, if you spread glycerine around it would have lingering dangerous after effects. Someone might slip on it.

Dantheman, I agree with what you're saying here, but feel bound to point out that Poindexter and Abrams have been appointed to posts that don't require Senate confirmation, exactly because the Geiger counters still go off when they're around.

Cheney and Rumsfeld ought to be the radioactive ones. Stone cold killers, space war and oiligopoly promoters -- and their stripes haven't changed since the seventies (except, in Cheney's case, for the worse).

DDR--

I don't think that putting in a good word for partition makes you a pariah in this debate, not at all. In fact, lots of folks have argued that putting those three areas into one country is the original sin of Iraq (usually blamed on the Brits). And maybe long-term stability in that area will only emerge when the Shia play with Shia, the Sunni with Sunni, and the Kurds with the Kurds.

But between here and that long term, there is some *awfully* ugly terrain to cross, like Turkey coming in and stomping the Kurds, the combined Iran/Shiraq using nukes against Saddamistan, and so on. Really ugly. In fact, it's very hard for me to imagine anyone saying that those outcomes are not *worse* than Saddam's slow devastation of his own country, and his being a diplomatic thorn in the side of the US for another decade until his final heart attack. (And maybe the dissolution would have happened then anyhow--all speculation).

Anyhow--being for or against partition is a *really* different question from the question of whether the *US* should have gotten involved, and whether it was okay to begin that involvement with inadequate preparation, inadequate understanding of the forces on the ground, and inadequate information of the voting public.

I mean, it's just not good enough to get to this late in the day and say "oh well, it's all going to hell now, but it would have been nice if it worked, and it's better to have loved and lost". That's only good enough now, if it would have been good enough for Bush to stand up before the war and say "I've got a really crazy idea--it might not work, it may kill a lot of our troops, and I'm not willing to invest much in it, but what the hell, are you with me?" If he had sold the war on those terms, then we could now excuse him on those terms. He did not, and we cannot.

Sorry, hilzoy, I've got to agree with Dantheman - not letting "these clowns" anywhere near the levers of power in government is certainly, IMHO, a worthy goal: but, real-life and history tend to show that even the worst buffoons can always find ways to get back in: usually by the simple expedient of just waiting a few years for a change of Adminstrations. Unfortunately, having set the terms-of-definition for any and all discussions of Iraq policy in simplistic Good-v-Evil, win-or-lose metrics, the Bush circus has probably
ensured (as was, I think, their purpose) that any future policy regarding Iraq will have to be debated/implemented solely on their terms: i.e. with domestic political effects the primary motivation.

blue:You are just plain wrong about Iraqui oil production

"During December 2002, the United States imported 11.3 million barrels of oil from Iraq. In comparison, imports from other major OPEC oil-producing countries during December 2002 included:

Saudi Arabia - 56.2 million barrels
Venezuela 20.2 million barrels
Nigeria 19.3 million barrels
Kuwait - 5.9 million barrels
Algeria - 1.2 million barrels

Leading imports from non-OPEC countries during December 2002 included:

Canada 46.2 million barrels
Mexico 53.8 million barrels
United Kingdom 11.7 million barrels
Norway 4.5 million barrels"

cite
I'd consider 2 million barrels a day minimal compared to the past production and our overall imports. YMMV.

The outcome maybe worse, but I am certainly the kind of person that believes its better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.

Or tried and failed than never try.

Jeebus. Homilies of the world unite to form a foreign policy. Who knew GWB read blogs?

bobzilla,

You are aware that 2 million barrels per day is approximately 60 million barrels per month, aren't you?

In answer to the question, "how will we know we've lost": A civil war would certainly be a good indication.

and what would constitute a civil war? specifics please. i want to know when the line has been crossed.

and, would anything else constitute losing ? how about : inability of our troops to complete their assigned tasks - ie. we've lost control. would that count?

Dantheman,

Thanks for the catch. That's what happens when you're distracted at work.

We can make a good guess, however, what will happen if we withdraw... It will more likely involve the government collapsing, and Iraq slipping into anarchy.

How is this not happening now? How are we averting this anarchy? We have no set goals to accomplish in Iraq, besides the patently absurd and impossible one of "kill all the insurgents." You talk as if chaos is some dark possible future for Iraq. Chaos is the reality of Iraq right now. The only difference is how much it'll cost America in the meantime. Do we pull out gradually in 2006, or will we be chased off the roof of the Baghdad embassy three years from now?

bobzilla,

You are comparing a month with a day. Iraq now produces 2 million barrels of oil each day. That translates to 62 Million barrels over 31 days.

Also, I am talking about the global oil demand not just the US oil demand. And even if I was only talking about US oil demand, losing 5% (11 million out of 230 million barrels) of the oil supply would be a hard pill for the US economy to swallow.

Still: "Million-barrel-per-day producers in the Middle East are Saudi Arabia (8.9 million barrels per day in 2004), Iran (3.9 Mb/d), the United Arab Emirates (2.4 Mb/d), Kuwait (2.4 Mb/d) and Iraq (1.8 Mb/d)."

and: World oil production grew from 64.7 million barrels per day in 1999 to 71.2 million barrels per day in 2004.
2nd, more relevant, cite

That's less than 10% of the oil from the M-E alone. Considering overall levels, I'd think it unlikely that a disruption would result in a doubling of price per barrell.

With deep reluctance I'm inclined to think we have to stay until Iraq has some kind of stability, . Having said that, I also think Kevin's question is a very good one becasue it forces accountablity on Bush for something more than blathering slogans. I don't think the question assumes defeat; it assumes that victory has to be defined and pursued with actual plans.
Right now the war is a failure. It's a failure if you measure results against the stated and implied goals. If the goal was to get rid of Saddam, fight terrorism, spread American influence, find WMD's, establish a secular regime in Iraq, establish permenent bases in Iraq, and prepare to destabiiize Iran, then the war is a failure on all counts except the getting rid of Saddam part. The "create democracy" goal is the latest in a long series of goals, tacked on after the Iraqis made it clear that they would settle for nothing less.
One of the reasons for the failure is that Bush and the Republican leadership have never honestly explained to the voting public what they actually wanted to achieve. We have to guess based on reading stuff from Pearle and people like that. "Stay the course" "fight terrorism" even "create a democracy" aren't definitions of victory, just spin and slogans.
So Kevin is right: define victory and this time be honest about it.
If we know where we are going we can predict the costs of getting there. Part of the reason why defeatism is coming out of Republican mouths (like Rumsfield) is that "staying the course" to achieve stability in Iraq is likely to mean a long commitment and more troops. That means a draft, the expense of incentives, or some major apologies and begging to the UN for help.
Bush has always operated more in the world of slogans that policies. He has always had the "clap louder" approach. That same kind of refusal to face facts permiates his administration. However the career military people who are trying to carry out administration policy, whatever that policy might be this week, are telling Rumsfield facts, whether he likes it or not. His response is that we need to redefine victory. Bush's response is to go on vacation. The rightwing blosphere's response is to cry that the Dear Leader will stay the course.
My guess is the reality that we don't have enough boots on the ground to achieve anything, combined with a lack of real guts on the part of the administration and the subsequent refusal to ask for a draft, combined with the administration's inability to distinguish spin from policy will result in a delaration in the next year or so that Iraq is stable enough to fend for itself and that we have won a great victory by establishing democracy there and hurray for the Republicans , the troops are coming home.
And Iraq will descend into anarchy and the Bush administration will take no responsibility at all.
There's never been any accountabilty or honest declaration of policy out of them before so I don't think it will happen now.

Von, "my point is that it is better to continue doing exactly what we're doing now in Iraq". Unfortunately, if we continue to do what we're doing without a huge increase in our troops to accommodate this, then we're going to destroy our army. That's what the generals are saying.

So, what you appear to be saying, Von, is that it is better to destroy our own military than to leave Iraq. You know the president isn't going to order a draft. You know that, no matter how much money they offer for recruitment, we are not going to have enough troops to prevent this.

So, you are either pushing a pipe dream - which is what Kevin's point is all about - or you are pushing for the destruction of our army.

We can't simply "stay the course" without a heck of a lot more troops which simply don't exist.

Again, what's your suggestion for getting more and why aren't you over there now (along with Bird and Holsclaw) if you believe it truly is as important as you claim.

Von~

Kevin asks an important question of those who support current policy in Iraq: what do you mean by "win"? Your post did not respond to that question. You discuss why withdrawal would not result in victory, but you never define your terms. At this point in time, what does victory in Iraq mean? If it only means be able to drive from the airport to the Green Zone without getting shot at, my bet is that US troop withdrawal stands a reasonably good chance of achieving that objective. Hopefully, it means something more to you and to the Administration. I would really like know what that is.

Jesurgislac:So there can be no changes in Iraqi policy till 2009, so the US has lost.

Now you are just being offensive. Last time I checked the US had a pretty good record when it comes to war. Do you have some historical proof that the US does not win the wars it wages?

A full-bore civil war among Iraqis would be worse, of course. But the real disaster scenario involves the intervention of Iraq's neighbors. And that would be a catastrophe.

Not really disputing that point. But look what our catastrophe of a civil war did for our country. I don't know what it would mean for Iraq. It is impossible to predict. Unfortunately, sometimes war is the only effective option for change.

Tad:if it would have been good enough for Bush to stand up before the war and say "I've got a really crazy idea--it might not work, it may kill a lot of our troops, and I'm not willing to invest much in it, but what the hell, are you with me?" If he had sold the war on those terms, then we could now excuse him on those terms.

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 19, 2003

President Bush Addresses the Nation


...A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.

Seems honest enough to me.


Kevin asks an important question of those who support current policy in Iraq: what do you mean by "win"?

I thought I answered that question with my quote from McCain (in the piece).

Seems honest enough to me.

it's pretty clear, from BushCo's actions and statements, that they weren't talking about multi-year occupation.

DDR,

Are you suggesting what we are doing in Iraq is working?

Tim, I'm chemically illiterate---does "glycerine" play any role in "nitroglycerine"?

Must reluctantly side with Hilzoy and Von; we can't plead our incompetence as an excuse to break their country and then walk away whistling. Announcing a plan that renounces bases & ties our pullout to the provision of a New Model Iraqi Army is the best I can see at this point.

DDR: Do you have some historical proof that the US does not win the wars it wages?

What on Earth does that have to do with it? You cannot win present or future wars by looking back and counting up the number of past wars won.

Nitroglycerine is hardly an explosive these days. It's way too unstable and not nearly as powerful as is needed to blow up 21st century armored vehicles.

You might as well be worried about gun cotton.

But you can find out all about it on the wikipedia.

Anderson--

yeah, my illiteracy was caused by chemicals, too. Glycerine is a feedstock for all *kinds* of things. Not likely these folks were setting out to make nitroglycerine, as there is an abundance of explosives freely available in Iraq. And if it was nitroglycerine they're after, that would not really count as a "chemical weapon", except in the sense in which, say, gunpowder is a chemical weapon.

I think hilzoy and von may divide a bit. hilzoy (if I understand her stance) says: we have a responsibility, in light of our previous actions, to do *whatever* it is that will lessen the damage to Iraq and make the best of a bad situation. If staying will cause least damage, we should stay; if going, we should go. Not clear which it is yet.

von seems more confident that it is clearly staying which will most effectively fulfill our responsibilities.

... nitroglycerine ...

Anderson, the short answer is "yes," but I don't advise trying to make it. It's a little dangerous.

I don't understand "We should do A to achieve B, which requires C (as attested to by McCain at the above link), which we can't do, but since we want B let's do A anyway." I'm beginning to agree with the ad hom argument that if those who advocated the above enlisted we could in fact do C. Otherwise von's post refutes itself.

You can make nitroglycerine from anhydrous nitric acid, glycerine, and a little hydrochloric acid. From nitroglycerine you could make guncotton or dynamite, which would be about half as good as the explosives they already have. And if they tried it with with the equipment shown in the picture, they would get halfway thru the first batch and blow themselves up.

The only product that comes to mind that is made from glycerine, sodium hydroxide, and ethanol sulfate is soap.

it's pretty clear, from BushCo's actions and statements, that they weren't talking about multi-year occupation

Hmmm...Google is your friend.

Slart, we have a sustained commitment to all sorts of things. Ditto "a sustained commitment from many nations". Pity about the modifier.

If you can google up a statement from Bush about our sustained commitment to permanent bases in Iraq, I'd be grateful.

In his formulation, our choice is thus between staying and losing or going and losing: now, choose, friendly hawk-o-sphere.

False dilemma, to be sure.

I don't think that's the choice he's offering. Say you're fighting a fire by urinating on it. It's not working. The choices before you are more than just "keep urinating" or "let the house burn down."

I'm no more interested in losing the war in Iraq than I am in losing another 2,000 soldiers there. What I'd like to know, and what I thought Drum was asking, is "what are we going to do differently to win?"

What's the firehose? If there's no more plan than "keep doin' what we're doin'", I'd rather we just leave.

And for the record, I think this is a question for our leaders, not our citizens.

Slarti, i know they can stay on message, i don't need Google for that. but, "sustained commitment" is vague - purposely, i assume.

maybe you could show us where they said they planned to be conducting combat operations two, three, or more years after the invasion.

Do we pull out gradually in 2006, or will we be chased off the roof of the Baghdad embassy three years from now?

That's a really bad Vietnam analogy, especially because it implies that the Ba'athists/Jihadis grip over parts of Iraq is tightening and continuing to expand. For all of the badness coming from Iraq, that's not happening.

The insurgency was much closer to just winning last summer, when the insurgents were in control of Samarra, Fallujah, most of Al Anbar, the towns to the south of Baghdad, and Haifa Street a few blocks from the Green Zone, as well as taking over a police station every couple of weeks.

As of now, the Ba'athists are loosely holding down parts of the western Euphrates valley but that's about it. Even Salman Pak in the notorious "triangle of death" is close to being pacified by a combination of Iraqi and U.S. troops.

The above is *not* to say "Hooray, Iraq is all rainbows and sunshine!" It is rather to note that the military situation is not one of an insurgency going from strength to strength. What needs to be done is to get enough well-trained Iraqi forces in the Baghdad metro area and Mosul that the bulk of the U.S. military can be concentrated on Al Anbar and Salah Ah Din provinces.

*If* that course is followed (which I think is the plan in Washington), there's at least an above average chance that a drawdown of U.S. forces will not result in the Iraqi government falling apart like cheesecloth.

If, OTOH, the Bush administration begins scaling back military activity for the 2006 elections in a replay of the summer of 2004, then, well, we're hosed.

Anderson, the short answer is "yes," but I don't advise trying to make it. It's a little dangerous.

Understatement. A LOT dangerous.

From nitroglycerine you could make guncotton or dynamite

No, you could make dynamite from nitroglycerine; to make guncotton all you need is cotton and the acids. It's not nearly as destructive, pound for pound, as dynamite, but it's a lot easier and a lot less dangerous to make.

If you can google up a statement from Bush about our sustained commitment to permanent bases in Iraq, I'd be grateful.

Conversely, if you're a fan of the theory that those bases are in fact permanent, I'd be grateful if you could cough up the same Google search.

Slarti, you're right. Somehow, blsting gelatin came out guncotton.

Oh brother, "blasting". I should quit now.

Here are the things I--admittedly not a military strategist--worry about with regard to any expansion in Iraq (and I have to say that any rhetoric which describes an expansion as 'staying the course' is completely misleading and cannot begin to call itself 'realistic'. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.)

We cannot afford to 'just stay put', and none of your suggestions are even close to being 'just stay put'. What you are talking about is a major commitment to expanding the military--though how we do that remains to be determined--and somehow not just solve our supply problems, but expand our supply capabilities on a very short time scale. To be clear, this means either trying to entice more volunteers (the CB plan) through incentives or a draft. This also means not just a commitment to put 'boots on the ground', but a plan to put green troops on the ground with inferior equipment.

This will mean putting more troops in harms way, and given the other factors mentioned above also likely means a sizeable increase in casualties. So we are likely not committing to a method of making current losses sustainable (which they currently are not), but rather a way to increase the size of the military to meet a higher level of casualties when we finally commit to the security and rebuilding of Iraq.

Third, we are committing to a new approach to foreign policy in the rest of the world--to ignoring genocide in Darfur (Charles) and (quite possibly) nukes in Iran and North Korea because, really, what the heck can we do about either of those when we are fully committed in Iraq (and probably in Afghanistan as well, unless you want to give up on Osama). All of which means that we have made our bed and will have to start trusting the UN and PRoC to keeping the world safe while we commit to our bloody experiment in nation building.

The problem with big sticks is that you can only whack one enemy at a time with them, and the enemy is really good at whack-a-mole. They do not have to escalate at all in order to achieve any of these results, and our escalation will pretty much ensure their ability to recruit and to sustain at current levels while giving them even more opportunities to increase their body count. It *may* also make it harder for them to operate, but only once we get past our initial learning curve with the escalation, and then it is time to reevaluate everything once again.

How do we deal with these likely additional factors along with our current millstone?

Tim--

ya see? more chemically-induced illiteracy.

Slarti, i know they can stay on message, i don't need Google for that.

The griping that you hadn't been warned is a little misplaced, then?

I thought I answered that question with my quote from McCain (in the piece).

I'm sorry, von, but that's simply not an acceptable definition of "winning" in my book. Consider:

"[t]he day that I can land at the airport in Baghdad and ride in an unarmed car down the highway to the green zone is the day that I'll start considering withdrawals from Iraq."

There is a world of territory unaccounted for in that definition, and there are some pretty ugly possibilities in that territory--possibilities which are not all that improbable. The quote says nothing about how free or representative the government of Iraq is--an American-friendly Saddam-lite strongman is not acceptable to me. It says nothing about the state of the rest of the country--circling the wagons even more tightly around Baghdad to create an oasis of safety while giving lip service to the rest of the country a la Afghanistan is not acceptable to me. And it says nothing whatsoever about the quality of life for the Iraqi people, whose country and infrastructure we and the insurgency have devastated--leaving it the way it is certainly isn't acceptable to me.

McCain's definition, while pithy, is about as useful as saying that we'll have won in Iraq when we can secure its borders. It's a great fantasy, and I'd arguet that achieving it is necessary for "victory", but it's not the whole picture, and presenting it as such is really just a way of not admitting that neither you nor any other conservative I've read has advanced a realistic definition for victory in Iraq that is quantifiable, based on something other than platitudes and catch phrases, and--most importantly--achievable by this Bush administration given their demonstrated limitations and incompetence.

Slart, the top hit for you - but my point was precisely the vagueness of the admin policy - ditto why your other snark above misses the point.

I guess "permanent" means something different to rilkefan than it does to me. Not all that surprising, that.

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 19, 2003

President Bush Addresses the Nation


...A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.

Seems honest enough to me.

The question had to do with how the war was sold. This statement was made literally on the eve of the invasion. Whatever its merits, at that point its intention was not to sell the war.

The selling of the war emphasized that it was going to be relatively easy, quick, and painless.

Oh, and I'm not sure which other snark you're talking about...could you be less vague? There's so MUCH of it, after all...

I think most of the weapons they (the US Military) find... are not for American soldiers but for the coming civil war.

There is a civil war coming...and all sides are getting ready.

Jesurgislac,

DDR: Do you have some historical proof that the US does not win the wars it wages?

What on Earth does that have to do with it? You cannot win present or future wars by looking back and counting up the number of past wars won

Fair enough. Then it really isn't fair or accurate of you to say:

So there can be no changes in Iraqi policy till 2009, so the US has lost.

Afterall, we are still in the middle of fighting it.

BTW, past wars are an indicator of the level of effectiveness of our current military and our overall ability to place a team on the field.

Rilkfefan,

Do you agree with Hilzoy in requesting that Bush renounce permanent bases in Iraq?

nous_athanatos: The problem with big sticks is that you can only whack one enemy at a time with them, and the enemy is really good at whack-a-mole.

Sounds like you and Rumsfeld agree on the need for military transformation.

McCain's definition, while pithy, is about as useful as saying that we'll have won in Iraq when we can secure its borders.

I think McCain's pithy remark is more an indication of our failure so far. It's more than two years after the fall of Baghdad and the most important road in the country is still unsafe.

It gives me no pleasure to point this out.

von, I'm reminded of the Social Security "proposal" of the Admin -- use worst case scenarios to describe the status quo, best case scenarios to describe the outcome of the proposal. (Specifically, different growth figures for the economy).

You are correct that we cannot know how things will look in Iraq a year from now if we do nothing but more of the same. We also cannot know what will happen if we de-escalate.

The government might collapse, sure, but this would hardly be in the interest of either Kurds or Shia. So 80% of the population is going to just give up: 'George Bush doesn't have the will to go on, why should I'?

When one spins out the nightmare scenarios, surely one should take into account (a) the lack of an NVA; (b) obvious splits within and between the insurgencies; (c) the effect on the population as a whole and our clients specifically of our dialing back occupation.

A couple small points: we didn't have a successful election, nor will we get a constitution. WRT the election: although it's fine, I guess, to say that an election is a "success" if it comes off, this glass is no more than half full -- from the outsider perspective -- (because the major faction that is not our client participated at very low rates) and for those hoping for a secular US-interests-friendly state well less than that.

If 'victory' can be redefined to mean 'better than the worst imaginable result,' I think it very nearly inevitable. If it means that on any day one need not fear violent attack on the way to the airport: you're looking for a state of affairs that does not obtain in either London or Tel Aviv. Surely the minimal measure of victory is not the requirement that Iraq be more secure, internally, than the UK. We didn't get through the 1996 Olympics without a terrorist attack. You want Iraq to be safer than Georgia?

Finally, Neodude, I don't know whether a civil war is coming. I do know that the best way to get a negotiated settlement is to be ready to go to trial, and expect that various Iraqi factions should be arming themselves, in hope of being able to work their way out of it without a long, drawn out struggle.

DDR: Then it really isn't fair or accurate of you to say:So there can be no changes in Iraqi policy till 2009, so the US has lost.Afterall, we are still in the middle of fighting it.

Again, what on Earth does that have to do with it? You were trying to argue that because the US (with the big exception of Vietnam) has won wars in the past, it will win this one. Now you're trying to argue that it's unfair and inaccurate to look at how the US is trying to fight this war as a means of judging whether it's won or lost.

The Bush administration has made many catastrophic errors in the invasion/occupation of Iraq. The Bush administration does not acknowledge or attempt to learn from or try to fix its errors: it just goes on. Therefore, the Bush administration cannot hope to win the war in Iraq (except, of course, by the useful means of redefining what "winning" means): and as the Bush administration is in power till 2009, and by 2009 I think Iraq will be unwinnable by any means, the war in Iraq is lost. It's just a matter of when (or whether*) the Bush administration will shift the goalposts, declare that the current situation is victory, and pull out.

*I consider it equally likely that the Bush administration will continue to kill people in Iraq till 2009, making gung-ho speeches all the way, and leave the situation for the next guy.

BTW, past wars are an indicator of the level of effectiveness of our current military and our overall ability to place a team on the field.

But says nothing of the effectiveness of the current military in the situation they are in. It's no surprise that the US military can beat Grenada's military, for example.

Without the blueprints in my hands, I can't know if the Iraqi bases are built on rock or shifting sands. I can look in Bush and Cheney's faces, and at the souls behind (and wish them to the Hague), or try to read Don Rumsfeld's mind, or check the price of Halliburton stock. But that's all vague, and sand is made from rock.

The griping that you hadn't been warned is a little misplaced, then?

please show me where they explicitly said we should expect many years of active combat - if you really think that's what they meant by "sustained", of course.

Without the blueprints in my hands, I can't know if the Iraqi bases are built on rock or shifting sands. I can look in Bush and Cheney's faces, and at the souls behind (and wish them to the Hague), or try to read Don Rumsfeld's mind, or check the price of Halliburton stock. But that's all vague, and sand is made from rock.

Kudos, Rilkefan. That's lovely, and very clever.

DDR:Sounds like you and Rumsfeld agree on the need for military transformation.

Um, no. Rumsfeld's theory was for a lean, mean high-tech fightin' force. That combined with a few big sticks, anyway.

The kind of war we're in now is going to need many boots on the ground (which is what Shinseki, et.al. were saying from the get go). After all, it took Saddam's hyped 500,000 man army to maintain order when he ruled the country.

Tim: "The only product that comes to mind that is made from glycerine, sodium hydroxide, and ethanol sulfate is soap."

Aha! The insurgency is planning to shampoo us to death!

Without the blueprints in my hands

Objection, irrelevant. Building something a little more substantial then a tent doesn't in any way indicate an intention to make an indefinite stay of it. You said permanent and cited an article that doesn't support that claim. For all of me, we could build nice, orderly, structurally solid bases in Iraq, use the hell out of them, and then gift them to the Iraqi military on the way out.

On the other hand, if you're arguing that it's not temporary because no one said it's not permanent...well, I sure hope not.

please show me where they explicitly said we should expect many years of active combat

I'm sorry, this is slightly different from your initial it's pretty clear, from BushCo's actions and statements, that they weren't talking about multi-year occupation. Certainly you could argue that it's not clear what they had in mind, exactly, but that's a little different from what you said.

Just my two cents: Saying "We can't afford to lose this war" does not, in fact, have anything to do with the question "Can we win this war?".

Yes, yes, we can't afford to lose in Iraq. That being said, obviously it would be even WORSE to lose Iraq and have our Army slowly ground to dogmeat in the process.

So looking around here, I see certain facts on the ground that indicate that regardless how little we can afford to lose, it appears we are doing exactly that.

The utter inability of anyone to describe what a "win" would be -- coupled with the inability to describe any sort of realistic path there -- doesn't help.

It'd be lovely if I could fart rainbows over Iraq and turn the country into a peaceful utopia. But it's not really a plan, is it?

"It'd be lovely if I could fart rainbows over Iraq..."

Morat, you should apply for a grant.

Certainly you could argue that it's not clear what they had in mind, exactly, but that's a little different from what you said.

And its still not clear, judging from the lack of message control over the past few weeks. I'm loathe to don the Karnak hat, but I think cleek might be referring to the repeated references to being welcomed as liberators and showered with rose petals (and other such nonsense).

While those statements didn't explicity rule out a long term stay, it sure implied to the general public that they could expect this to be "easy".

"The kind of war we're in now is going to need many boots on the ground (which is what Shinseki, et.al. were saying from the get go). After all, it took Saddam's hyped 500,000 man army to maintain order when he ruled the country."

Which, of course, would cost a lot of money, as well as "political capital". In the mean time, when Congress reconvenes next month, I believe you will find that their top priority is ...

Permanent repeal of the estate tax. Big surprise.

The problem here is your naive assumption that the White House will CHANGE ANYTHING.

This is how you define insanity: Refuse to change, expect different results.

You see, the current disaster is their doing, and they are incapable of admitting they've made a mistake, so they will "stay the course" no matter how bad it gets.

I'm sorry, this is slightly different from your initial 'it's pretty clear, from BushCo's actions and statements, that they weren't talking about multi-year occupation.' Certainly you could argue that it's not clear what they had in mind, exactly, but that's a little different from what you said.

i'm saying that what they suggested would happen, and what they apparently planned for (a relatively short and painless "decaptitation" (their words) followed by the installation of a govt of exiles (their attempted action)), with minimal fighting and damage, is not what happened. so, if you're going to continue to try to convince me that what they meant by "sustained comittment" was "multi-year occupation with sustainted active combat and the loss of tens of thousands of lives", i'm gonna need some real evidence.

Without the blueprints in my hands

Slarti, read it aloud. rilkefan, why did you omit the line breaks?

The problem here is your naive assumption that the White House will CHANGE ANYTHING.

No they will stick their finger in the wind in about February and see which of (a) staying the course or (b) withdrawing will play better with the electorate in November, and then do that, regardless of whether (a), (b) or some other (c) is the best course of action. Based on current trend lines, it's looking like (b).

From rilkefan's link:

From the ashes of abandoned
Iraqi army bases,
U.S. military engineers
are overseeing the building
of an enhanced system of American bases
designed to last for years.

[line breaks added]

jeez, rilkefan, that is *really* impressive.

I mean, it's neither here nor there on the political issues.

But I sure admire your ability to versify.

You've got to go easy on the rest of us--grammatical English is as much as I can hope for, on the good days.

FYI, all: I'm reading everyone's comments (to pick just three, Jes, CharlieCarp, and Morat make good points [though I obviously disagree with aspects of each's critique].) Sadly, I suddenly got busy at work, which means a lot will go unrebutted. Which is fine, since most of you ain't buyin' my rebutals no more.

Hmm...on the one hand, actively planning for presence in Iraq for more than a year is an insidious attempt to maintain a permanent US presence in Iraq, while on the other hand "sustained effort" implies something more fleeting.

Irony, anyone?

Slarti, read it aloud.

You know, I can read it without even moving my lips. Stand in awe of me, lip-movers!

Unfortunately the part where it says we're going to stay in Iraq for the indefinite future doesn't show up on my version of IE. Maybe if you cut and paste it in plaintext...

Hmm...on the one hand, actively planning for presence in Iraq for more than a year is an insidious attempt to maintain a permanent US presence in Iraq, while on the other hand "sustained effort" implies something more fleeting.

looks like you're conflating your conversations.

i'll make it simple: when you heard their speeches in 3/3, did you assume they meant we'd be there 2.5 years later, losing dozens of soldiers every month ?

Stand in awe of me, lip-movers!

That was funny, channeling Giblets?

Wow, thanks for all the nitroglycerine tips. We obviously have a fearsome potential insurgency ready to go, if Canada decides to invade us & destroy our WMD's.

hilzoy (if I understand her stance) says: we have a responsibility, in light of our previous actions, to do *whatever* it is that will lessen the damage to Iraq and make the best of a bad situation. If staying will cause least damage, we should stay; if going, we should go. Not clear which it is yet.

I'm sure you're right about Hilzoy, but here's my point:

(1) We should do what causes the least damage and the most good.

(2) Staying until Iraq has a decent army & police force, with suitable renunciation of bases, etc., would plausibly answer that description.

(3) True, the morons running our occupation offer little prospect of executing (2).

(4) However, that doesn't make the answer to (1) "we should leave now before the morons do worse." The answer remains "we should do what's best." The fact that the morons won't do it is, I think, sadly irrelevant to what we ought to do.

Picking up our toys and going home is unarguably bad, and I don't think there's a supercomputer in the world that can crunch the utilitarian calculus on whether muddling along as we've been doing is "better" or "worse."

i'll make it simple: when you heard their speeches in 3/3, did you assume they meant we'd be there 2.5 years later, losing dozens of soldiers every month ?

I had this conversation with Charles at Redstate a while back (y'know, before I was banned). I didn't get anywhere either.

Just to help out, here's how I'd address the questions:

1) What's winning? That's hard, because I'm not even sure why we're there in the first place. I mean, if Saddam had had WMDs, "winning" would have been "getting rid of them". However, by the time we actually invaded, it seems our reason for invading was "Saddam Bad, Iraq unhappy" and some nebulous assurances of 'fixing it'. (By the time we entered Iraq, it was pretty clear that whatever Saddam Hussein was, a threat to America wasn't one of them).

So how do we win? We can't tie it to "why we invaded" because we really don't have a coherent reason for invasion anymore. We never really did. Since that sort of admission is a bit painful for governments, we decided to claim it was all for "freedom" or "stability".

So how can we define freedom there? Well, at a bare minimum, replacing Hussein's government with ANYTHING slightly less totalitarian than a military dictatorship and having the new government able to provide the bare basics of law and order would be a "win".

So, at this point, I'd have to admit an Iran-style theocracy with enough soldiers to keep the riots down would probably be a "win". A pretty far cry from freedom and democracy.

Of course, for obvious reasons, no one in the US is going to want to sell the "1800 lives, 4 years, and hundreds of billions of dollars gets your Iran version 2.0!" to the American public.

It appears -- once again -- that the "pragmatic win" and the "political win" are at odds, which explains the utter inaction.

2) Can we win? Yes. If we sent in another 350,000 troops for a year or two, we could probably kill enough insurgents and -- through sheer manpower -- create enough stability for an Iranian-style Shiite theocracy to assume control of the country, and prevent the following attempts at succession.

3) Do we have 350,000 spare troops? No.

In short -- we need three times the manpower we have in Iraq, and we can't even keep up our current levels past next summer. There will be no draft. No amount of incentives will even keep the military numbers even, much less increase their numbers five or sixfold (the minimum needed to get another 350,000 troops in there 24/7 for two years).

Our Army isn't big enough for the job. There is absolutely NO WAY ON EARTH it will magically become big enough. Therefore, we are unable to create any sort of stability in Iraq. Within the next year, we will become unable to even create a vague appearance of stability, which is what we've had for the last two years.

Since we cannot win in Iraq, by even the pragmatic definition of "win", and we most certainly cannot win by the White House's most important definition (politically), we gain absolutely nothing by keeping the Army there.

"We broke it, we bought it" is a lovely saying, but some things just can't be fixed.

Do you grasp this? We lack the military capacity to stay in Iraq. We can't keep up the numbers we have NOW, much less increase them.

So if your argument involves "more troops", you're already moving into fantasyland. There are no more troops. No other nation wants to stick their foot in this door. It is a mess, it's going to be a mess, and no amount of "political will" is going to change reality.

Why blind yourself to reality? Bush certainly isn't -- despite the bold words now, I have no doubt they're preparing the 'declare victory and come home' scenario now, secure in their belief that the media will not cover the aftermath.

I'd imagine that quite a few of the liberal hawks, eager to burnish their credientials as a "take no prisoners" hard-ass, able to protect America, will end up somehow holding the bag for a war that had no influence on whatsoever. Now that's politics.

Bush starts the war, Bush screws up the war, and manages to ensure the Democrats are eagerly waiting to accept all the blame for it, because the liberal hawks -- desperately trying to refight the supposed lapses in their Vietnam policies -- don't see a bloody catasrophe that's obvious to anyone with half a brain.

rilkefan: I am awed.

Thanks for the kudos, but writing like that's easier than it maybe appears.

ral, I skipped the line breaks because 0) it's a fun surprise 1) that's some linebacker-weight rhyming, which linebreaks would only leaden 2) verse looks like poetry which looks like you're putting yourself in the game with Swift and Shelley and Auden, and I was just trying to startle Slart out of snark-mode for a moment.

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