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July 19, 2007

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wow.

as usual, you've summed it up perfectly.

"Why did so many people choose to listen instead to the likes of Michael Ledeen and Jonah Goldberg?"

That's pretty unfair. Condemn them as you wish, but plenty more people listened to Ken Pollack and Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke and Thomas Friedman and the WashPo editorial staff and Paul Berman and Kanan Makiya and a long list of Democratic Senators, and the like, who all favored the war, or at the very least kept any opposition silent for a very long time. I sure haven't forgotten that Bill Clinton overtly and repeatedly supported the invasion, and that was a significant factor in muting my misgivings to the point of staying on the fence for far too long.

That may be far worse -- I think a pretty good case can be made that these sort of more mainstream or even liberal hawks were responsible for the war than the extreme loonies, and that their guilt is therefore far greater than the Goldbergs and Ledeens -- but I believe it's far more accurate than asserting that most Americans were taking their personal counsel from the ilk of Goldberg and Ledeen.

The indictment for the responsibility for the war goes much more to much of the mainstream midlle-of-the-road establishment than it does towards the fringe right. Anyone want to argue that?

"This was, if memory serves, a pretty standard move back in 2002: the fact of someone's opposition to the war was taken to be conclusive evidence that that person was not serious about the war on terror, and their supposed lack of seriousness meant that their arguments did not have to be taken seriously."

I also have to argue with the passive voice conclusion here: this makes invisible a huge number of people who thought that there were good arguments on both sides, and that it wasn't an easy call either way. Call us idiots and condemn us, if you like -- I see an excellent case for agreeing -- but dismissing us as non-existent just gets it seriously wrong.

There were a huge number of people doing what you say: those comfortably and thoroughly on the right, or those who comfortably or thoroughly aligned with them -- but lots of people who weren't in convinced opposition to the war before it began did no such thing. There's a huge excluded middle in your presentation, Hilzoy.

cleek: "as usual, you've summed it up perfectly."

So I have to disagree with that. On the other hand, as usual, I agree with everything else Hilzoy said so admirably.

Interesting, but the word 'media' does not appear in this post. I agree with Gary's point that it wasn't just the usual idiots, there were a number of people who we should have counted on to raise an alarm, and I certainly accepted the notion of WMD but thought that the invasion would be followed up by actual competent nation building activities and I have to think that the media's complicity in all this is an important factor. It certainly makes discussions of 'fairness' in mass media have a little more edge.

Gary: true enough about the politicians. I was thinking of pundits. I don't think of Goldberg as a member of the fringe right, just as someone who's in way, way over his head and says a ot of dumb things.

The passive in the next point you made was because I really was relying on memory. And I didn't mean to dismiss the people who thought there were arguments on both sides; though I do think that the scorn heaped on those who predicted that bad things would come of this -- on such fools as Scowcroft and Webb -- made their views easier to dismiss or discount across the board.

So I have to disagree with that.

as you wish.

as one of the people who didn't believe any of it, for a second, and didn't believe that even if it was true that Iraq deserved invasion for it (an act which i, an ignorant civilian informed only by watching and listening to the arguments BushCo was making, correctly predicted would lead to civil war, increased anti-American sentiment and thousands of new al-Q recruits), i find Hilzoy sums up the period quite nicely. it is as it was.

i was called all those names for questioning the rationale and wisdom of invading Iraq, when we hadn't finished the job in Afghanistan and didn't really look like we were going to. i was called all those names for thinking the evidence was absurdly thin. i made all the standard anti-war arguments, and was called all the standard names in return. hooray for dissent! (which i was told needed to be turned down is such serious times)

i wrote my senators and congresspeople and got boilerplate in return. i wrote letters to the editor and got anonymous threats in return. i posted on forums and blogs and was mocked by all those well-spoken, completely wrong fence-sitters and bloodthirsty idiots.

Hilzoy did a fine job of summing it up for the people who were right, and who are still mocked, to this day, by the people who were completely wrong then, and every fncking day since.

i wish to a god i don't believe in that i could make a living being completely fncking wrong, every day, for 7 solid years, like Hanson and Goldberg. decent arguments? they're making the same idiotic arguments today that they made back in 2002! what does it take to get on that bus?

/rant

(not necessarily directed to you personally, Gary)

Got to agree with Gary here. There has to be a price for cowardly complicity. Put more succinctly: Obama '08.

I tend to agree with both cleek and Gary on this one. The problem, in terms of what Gary said, is that most of the voices that were raised up to question what was happening were condemned pretty loudly, and those condemnations were spread more prominently by the media.

I was personlly dismayed by what was coming from the mouths of people like Clinton, and I lost a lot of my respect for him at that time.

My next comment isn't a quibble but more of an addition. You wrote, "The looting of Baghdad, for instance, probably destroyed for good the idea that America was powerful enough to provide security to the Iraqi people."

That may well be true, but I have heard from a couple sources I very much trust, who have had contact with Iraqi civilians, that the looting, particulalrly of the museum, indicated to the Iraqis that we really didn't care about them or their culture. That was the moment that disillusionment started to set in.

It was also at that point that Sadr stepped up and offered rewards for the return of the stolen items, which was an act that endeared him to many Iraqis. It was alos what we should have done.

Otherwise, you have pretty well hit the jackpot.

i wish to a god i don't believe in that i could make a living being completely fncking wrong, every day, for 7 solid years, like Hanson and Goldberg. decent arguments? they're making the same idiotic arguments today that they made back in 2002! what does it take to get on that bus?

You've got to serve the right interests.

Gary – OK, really I am going to sleep. But not before I say your comments here are spot on and I agree with you 100%.

Ahhh. That is so much more pleasant than disagreeing with you. Now I can sleep restfully. ;)

It's a pretty good, thought-provoking list. It would have been even better without #3. There is this mythology that "free speech was banished," ... a point usually made in juxtaposition with comments about the vast numbers of people here who demonstrated against the war. Is Sean Penn in jail or anything? You mention the Dixie Chicks; I'd never heard of them, before they were "silenced."

Nope.

Otherwise, your points are well-taken and worth remembering.

Do you have others?

Never get involved in a land war in (near) Asia (Minor)?

Hilzoy,

When you wrote:

"When the rest of the world thinks you're crazy, it's worth entertaining the possibility that they might be right. We should not defer to their judgment mindlessly, but we should have what Jefferson called "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind...
It seems to me that our country went slightly crazy after 9/11, and one of the manifestations of that craziness was a tendency to say, about anyone who suggested stopping to think about much of anything, that that person just hadn't absorbed the lessons of 9/11, hadn't been there, hadn't fully grasped how horrific it was. Anyone who has even the slightest iota of this tendency should, I think, engrave on his or her forehead: When something truly awful happens, and you find yourself in the presence of real danger, it is more important than ever to stop and think clearly about what you are about to do. The temptations to do something stupid are much greater than usual, and the risks are much higher."

it was as if you had taken the words right out of my mouth. But sadly, you had really taken the words from the mouth of someone who wrote them over 230 years ago, Alexander Hamilton, writing in Federalist 63:

"An attention to the judgment of other nations is important to every government for two reasons: the one is, that, independently of the merits of any particular plan or measure, it is desirable, on various accounts, that it should appear to other nations as the offspring of a wise and honorable policy; the second is, that in doubtful cases, particularly where the national councils may be warped by some strong passion or momentary interest, the presumed or known opinion of the impartial world may be the best guide that can be followed. What has not America lost by her want of character with foreign nations; and how many errors and follies would she not have avoided, if the justice and propriety of her measures had, in every instance, been previously tried by the light in which they would probably appear to the unbiased part of mankind?"

While I'm sometimes embarrassed by the fetishization of the founders of our nation, I'm often struck by just how wise they really were. How tragic that that wisdom wasn't heeded in this case.

And on your point #5, this is at least the SECOND time these people have been shown to be completely wrong. Remember Team B and the Committe on the Present Danger?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_B

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committee_on_the_Present_Danger

Well, fortunately that time, as you allude to, their views were not *seriously tested*, inasmuch as they weren't acted upon to actually start a hot war. Nevertheless, their pronouncements bore about as much resemblance to reality as their predictions about Iraq this time around.

Since hilzoy asks, let me propose a lesson: who is in charge of our government (and hence our military forces) is important. This is perhaps implicit in hilzoy's other points but I think it's worth making explicit. I recall Rudy Giuliani, for example, once saying (in reference to 9/11) something like "thank God George W. Bush is President." In my view this is one more example of his poor judgement.

Events since 9/11 have spurred me to become more politically active. My voice is small and unlikely to have much influence but I feel it's necessary, even vital, to do what little I can.

As for being on the fence about Iraq, I was close to it because I believed the portrait of Saddam Hussein as a monster was likely true. James Fallows' article in the Atlantic was quite vivid, and there was plenty of other corroborating material. I came down on the anti-war side (and marched in the SF protest) because I didn't trust the Bush administration to handle the aftermath. Little did I know at the time how right that was.

If I had to pick one lesson as most important I would say it's hilzoy's (1). In particular,

When something truly awful happens, and you find yourself in the presence of real danger, it is more important than ever to stop and think clearly about what you are about to do.
Let me add that in my experience those who panic in a crisis are often the very ones who most loudly condemn those who stay calm.

"i was called all those names for questioning the rationale and wisdom of invading Iraq"

I wasn't and wouldn't in the least deny it.

The Commissar:

It's a pretty good, thought-provoking list. It would have been even better without #3. There is this mythology that "free speech was banished," ... a point usually made in juxtaposition with comments about the vast numbers of people here who demonstrated against the war. Is Sean Penn in jail or anything? You mention the Dixie Chicks; I'd never heard of them, before they were "silenced."
However, Hilzoy didn't engage in that mythology here, so your response is misdirected (it's fairly directed at others, I agree).

What she wrote in 3 was:

Before we went to war, there were people who were trying to shut debate down by marginalizing or slandering or, in some cases, threatening those who disagreed with them.
This is an accurate statement of fact. Hilzoy did not write "Before we went to war, there were people who shut debate down by marginalizing or slandering or, in some cases, threatening those who disagreed with them."

If she'd written that, your criticism would be applicable. But she didn't, so it isn't. People did try to discourage/shut down debate -- but Hilzoy didn't assert that they succeeded.

hilzoy --

Great post. The one thing I think you've left out in your analysis is the "Hulk smash!" dynamic, which would probably fall generally under bullet point (1).

Many folks were just happy to blow something up, and were less interested in exactly what that was, or what relationship it had to 9/11.

Republicans were speaking, and they talked about a whole range of horrors that would happen if we withdraw.

Here's the funny thing.

I was opposed, strongly, to the invasion, for the usual reasons. Crappy evidence, no credible threat, other fish to fry. I'm putting it somewhat cavalierly because to state it with my true feeling would involve either crying, puking, or yelling at people who probably don't really deserve it.

In spite of all of that, I'd be in favor of remaining in Iraq if we would commit to what it would take to bring about a reasonably good result. I make that to be something like putting two to three times the current troop levels in country, get the armed private contractors the hell out, and plan on staying there for a 5 to 10 year occupation until a basic level of security can be established. Move concretely toward handing over all control of oil contracts and revenues to the Iraqis. Give development contracts to Iraqi businesses.

We broke their country, sorry as it was to begin with. We owe them.

That would mean a draft, a lot of money, handing over significant control of Iraqi development (and Iraqi oil) to the Iraqis, and pissing off the oil companies, for starters.

Any takers? The sound you hear is the sound of crickets chirping.

When one member of government or the punditry is willing to step up and call for what it will actually cost to make whatever pony is still possible appear, I'll listen to their crying about all the bad things that will undoubtedly happen when we leave. Short of that, they can talk to the hand as far as I'm concerned.

Thanks -

Actually, I'm going to add one a little more seriously:

Don't assume that anybody is going to view you or your country as virtuous no matter how pure your motives are.

This may just be a restatement of Hilzoy's point about abusive spouses. During this occupation, I've heard a lot of puzzled bitterness how, well, resentful the Iraqis are, as if they didn't realize how much we're trying to help them. And a lot of anger at how, well, mean the rest of the world is being about Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and so forth, as if they didn't realize that these were necessary evils or at worst missteps by basically good people.

Guess what? They don't. They don't give us the benefit of the doubt, they don't assume we are trying to do good, they don't forgive us as quickly as we forgive ourselves -- and there is no earthly reason to imagine that they would. Even if we really were as wonderful as we like to imagine, nobody else is going to take our word for it, and most people will never notice it. And frankly, we're not even close to that wonderful, judged on our DEEDS. Not our words, not our oh-so-beautiful souls, but our deeds. That is all anybody is going to look at, and we're lucky if they even go that far.

Shorter version: don't think you're going to be able to piss on people and tell them it's raining. People other than the voters in this country, anyhow.

trilobite: agreed.

russell: "In spite of all of that, I'd be in favor of remaining in Iraq if we would commit to what it would take to bring about a reasonably good result."

-- I would too, if I thought that there was such a thing at this point. I think that we have let things get bad enough that I honestly don't see a way out, though I do see ways of ameliorating particular problems. (Fixing this bridge, training that group of non-corrupt, non-militia police officers.) But in general I think that the civil war has gone way too far, and we spent much too long doing things that just alienated people whose support we need.

I would too, if I thought that there was such a thing at this point.

My immediate reaction to this was, "then we should step back and let somebody else step in who can get the job done".

The problem is I don't think there is any such entity. And I agree, even if we were willing to mount our best effort, it's probably beyond our grasp as well at this point.

Some folks think it will take a generation before the true genius of George W Bush is revealed. IMO it will take a generation to understand how deeply he has harmed this country, and the world.

Thanks -

"Be very wary of extrapolating from the last few wars"

While this is a fair point, if we had actually extrapolated from Kosovo, we might have realised that we needed a hell of a lot more troops to prevent disorder and maintain a 40-1 civilian/peacekeeper ratio or thereabouts.

Um, did this administration take ANYTHING from past powers, other than how to use military power to destroy objectives?

For all hilzoy's list of lessons that should be learned, I can bet pretty well they won't be. I figure we're in for another round of Republican "Stab in the back" hysteria, and 20 years from now we'll have "Conservative" hawks who avoided Iraq trying to get into office and invade some other country just to prove how tough they are.

I marched in DC twice, even though I knew at the time it was largely pointless. Because George W. Bush wanted his war, and no matter how many people said it was stupid or opposed it, no matter how they said it, he was gonna get it.

Nobody learned anything then, and nobody's learning anything now. This is how empires die.

Man, that was a depressing post.

The indictment for the responsibility for the war goes much more to much of the mainstream midlle-of-the-road establishment than it does towards the fringe right. Anyone want to argue that?

Yes. The Bush administration is fringe right, and it stampeded the nation into war. Middle-of-the-road establishment was complicit in going along without much reflection, but it would not have happened but for the fringe right people running this country.

All of hilzoy's points are excellent; it remains to be seen if those Lessons Learned will actually be learned.

After all, we were supposed to have "learned something" from Vietnam. Yet the people who got us into Iraq were very well aware of what had happened there - but had built up a revisionist view of it all. The problem wasn't, in their minds, getting involved in someone else's civil war, nor propping up an ineffectual and unpopular regime, nor attempting to graft a democratic, capitalist nation-state on people to whom those were alien concepts, nor a failure to win hearts and minds, nor the difficulties of fighting an insurgency with "regular army" tactics. No, they convinced themselves that the "lessons of Vietnam" were primarily a matter of will and resolve.

The people who are still pro-Bush, pro-war are already busy on the revisionist front. They're saying now - and they'll spend the next 20 years saying - that the occupation wasn't brutal enough; that the media, Democrats, and liberals were all traitors who aided and abetted The Enemy; and that we gave up on the very eve of victory.

If people still, now, believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks... if people still, now, believe he had WMDs... if people are already, now, falling for the same alarmist rhetoric aimed at Iran that they fell for when it was aimed at Iraq... if that can happen now, with the failures and lies and manipulations still fresh in memory, still unfolding before our very eyes... how can we expect the lessons learned to actually be learned the next time some President decides to cook up a war for dubious reasons?

I've been reading _The Assassin's Gate_ (as well as the rumination that's been going on lately in the media), and what strikes me is the weird confluence of all the elements needed for us to make the worst possible decisions in Iraq. The neoconservative ideas about pre-emptive war from people like Wolfowitz and Perle, the "small-footprint" ideas of Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's reticence about nation-building as a reaction to the Clinton administration's adventures, the information blackout that caused us to rely on exiles who hadn't been in Iraq for decades, etc., etc. These ideas and forces come from all over the place, and ideologically, there's no way to fit them together sensibly. But the whole thing lines up as if there were a big magnet sitting over it, pulling it all in precisely the wrong direction.

I'd only add one "lesson" to your thought-provoking post: We need to become much more thoughtful and careful about how we select our leaders. Our next president should be someone who is visibly hungry for information -- and visibly passionate about communicating it. Basically, a wonk.

"This is how empires die."

But on the bright side: bread and circuses for everyone!

"Yes. The Bush administration is fringe right, and it stampeded the nation into war. Middle-of-the-road establishment was complicit in going along without much reflection, but it would not have happened but for the fringe right people running this country."

Yes, but it also wouldn't have happened without the active and passive collaboration of the middle-of-the-road establishment. It took both the right and much of the center to do this. It couldn't have happened without either.

To not emphasize this is to let the center establishment, the major media and the politicians and anyone who gave them credibility, including me, off the hook. It's to say that they should be listened to in the future as if it had never happened. It's to say nothing should change. It's to put the blame all off on the obvious crazies.

That will have nothing but bad results if we let it happen.

And yes, I'm for Obama for President, although only a few shades past Edwards, and I wish I didn't have to choose.

well done -- i mean, too much to say, but one thing you're right on is the idea of being more careful when you're mad ("don't drive angry!").

it's also why things like habeas and due process are so important -- they're precommitments that prevent us (odysseus to the pole-style) from acting in moments of weakness, hate, etc.

Be very careful which local groups you choose to arm, train and ally yourself with.

They almost always bite you in the ass later(see: Viet Minh, Contras, Taliban).

CaseyL: After all, we were supposed to have "learned something" from Vietnam. Yet the people who got us into Iraq were very well aware of what had happened there - but had built up a revisionist view of it all. The problem wasn't, in their minds, getting involved in someone else's civil war, nor propping up an ineffectual and unpopular regime, nor attempting to graft a democratic, capitalist nation-state on people to whom those were alien concepts, nor a failure to win hearts and minds, nor the difficulties of fighting an insurgency with "regular army" tactics. No, they convinced themselves that the "lessons of Vietnam" were primarily a matter of will and resolve.

Absolutely right, but not just coincidental. I was teaching courses on the Vietnam War during the period 1975-1981, and so was trying to keep up with the "lessons" we (the American public) were supposed to have learned from it. There was, just over this short span, a steady increase in those whose mission it clearly was to deny the obvious "lessons" I would have thought most of us - except the Republican White House - had just learned, lessons you have ably summarized above.

In less than a decade after the end of the war, we had pretty much "unlearned" everything Vietnam might have taught us, and were back into the same Cold War / counter-insurgency paradigm that had got us into it in the first place. The academic analyses (e.g., Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam) were supplemented - or supplementary to - artifacts of popular culture such as the quasi-fascist The Deer Hunter and the "Rambo" series (starting with First Blood, though that's actually the least objectionable of the lot).

Consequently, and sadly, I was completely unsurprised that twenty years later we didn't know the lessons of Vietnam. Call it the triumph of the memory hole.

Beyond emphasizing the complicity of the center, we should figure out what makes for such a complicit center. I'm not sure of the answer, but I think it has to do with ideology. There was a lot of drift after the cold war, and the U.S. became unsure about its identity. Neoconservatives, with their "moral clarity", were ready to take charge at a time (9/11) when their ideas seemed to make a sort of nightmarish sense to people.

The silver lining (if there is one), is that the neoconservative philosophy got its moment in the sun and was seriously discredited. To avoid future "center complicity", there have to be strong ideas to replace the ones that failed so badly. I hear politicians talk about "restoring our nations credibility in the world". This is good, but it's not enough. They need to be talking about how and why interdependence works, and what the U.S.'s role should be in the world (hopefully without using the term "moral authority").

I dunno that the neocon stupidity's been discredited. All of the Republicans for president are running on stuff like "double Gitmo" and "Bomb Iran" and other equally mind-numbingly stupid ideas. And they've got a sizable block of voters who ALREADY blame the "stab in the back liberals" for "losing" Vietnam. Ready audience and echo chamber for the latest round of back-stabbity blame fun!

The U.S. has rarely been good at learning from past mistakes. Check out the fine book 'America's First Battles' some time; it talks about the first major engagement the U.S. fought in from the Revolution to (I think) Vietnam, and there's a strong theme there of U.S. units consistently getting stomped early because they had learned the wrong lessons from prior wars.

On the other hand, while it is probably true that Iraq is on the off ramp to defeat at this point, I will buck the consensus and humbly suggest that the war may just yet not be lost. I cannot prove that, and I do not expect to convince anyone of it, but from where I stand things are not quite as grim as seems to be commonly believed (though I note I may also be misreading the consensus).

It is not good that it took the U.S. four years to learn how to fight COIN again, but it does not necessarily follow that because it took that long, the war is already lost. Insurgencies are by definition fought from a position of weakness, which gives the COIN forces the advantage of being able to make mistakes but recover from them. If what has happened in Anbar repeats itself in Diyala (and this is far from certain, please note), then the war will look very different. It will not be won, but nor will it have been lost.

Okay, maybe not discredited in *everyone's* eyes. But who's answering the phones at PNAC? I think the last update to their web-site was in 2005.

The "bomb Iran" sentiment is out there, but there's no philosophy behind it -- and it's really the philosophy that's important. Conservatism will always be around, and will always be especially strong in times of danger. But neoconservatism (at least the foreign policy part) is pretty much on a respirator.

I'd be pretty surprised if we end up preempting anything or spreading any freedom anywhere until I'm safely in my grave. We forget important lessons, without a doubt. But it usually takes us thirty or forty years.

"...and there's a strong theme there of U.S. units consistently getting stomped early because they had learned the wrong lessons from prior wars."

Simple knowledge of history tells us this. Revolutionary War, Civil War, Kasserine Pass....

"On the other hand, while it is probably true that Iraq is on the off ramp to defeat at this point, I will buck the consensus and humbly suggest that the war may just yet not be lost."

It probably wouldn't be healthy for you to think otherwise, under the circumstances. May you turn out to be right.

But it won't be won until the Iraqi government wins it, not us. We can't win it for them. Or so it seems to me. You?

"I will buck the consensus and humbly suggest that the war may just yet not be lost"

I'm not ready to lose hope either. But reading Petraeus' "minimum 20 counterinsurgents per 1000 residents" figure in the counterinsurgency manual gives me a chill. There's a lot of "stepping up" to be done. And Gary is right that the Iraqi government is going to have to be doing the stepping.

Gotta go with Gary and cleek on this one.

The problem of the war is the same problem in its nature as Hilary's candidacy. It's the problem of George Tenet. There were enough people who knew better, and they could have taken action, but they simply refused to make any personal sacrifice for it. Now some (Scrowcroft, Clarke) did and were trashed. This includes people in the media, politicians, people in government, and pundits. This includes Hillary, who simply couldn't risk the possibility of opposing a possibly successful war given her presidential ambitions. She wasn't going to stake her whole political future and all her life's work for Iraq! This kind of decision was made hundreds and hundreds of times by people who the power to influence but preferred to keep mum, Iraq not being any skin off their backs. In short, it's our collective cowardice, indifference, and greed that gave us this stupid war.

It's the same selfishness that's giving us Hillary's candidacy in '08. Why are the Democrats lining up behind the candidate with the largest liabilities? Why oh why? Because the Clintons control the party machine and -- win or lose -- it won't hurt you within the party to back Hillary. Again, people are putting their selfish interests, their agendas, and their careers before their better judgements and the country's interests, which is going to lead to a catastrophic result.

We have bad institutions all around us, and they thrive on our selfishness and our indifference to doing what's right.

*Applause*

Gary,

Yes, students of history are well aware of those battles. But, as I'm sure you know, many people are not students of history, and fewer are students of military history. Things like 'Task Force Smith' may evoke very specific knowledge in a select few, but I'll wager that their is a nontrivial number of people even on this blog who are not familiar with the particulars of the Battle of Long Island, Kasserine Pass, and so on.

And you are correct that my position and work may well be influencing my view of the war. I am aware of that possibility and I will do my best to prevent it, but it would be foolish not to consider that possibility in my assessments.

In the long run, yes, only the GoI can win the war. However, Coalition units can help to establish the conditions in which they can succeed. I suspect you know this already, but I'll point out that a large part of success in the COIN fight is legitmizing the host nation government, and helping to provide security can do this.

That having been said, it is quite possible for the Coalition to improve security conditions in the country and the GoI to still fail to come together and take advantage of this. (Please note I am not attempting to blame the Iraqis as a people for any defeat in the war.) There are a lot of variables out there, but not all of them lead inevitably to defeat.

There are still questions that must be asked about whether or not the chances justify continued Coalition presence in Iraq, etc. I personally hope to see the Coalition and Iraq come together and bring this to some nominally successful conclusion, but at the same time I do worry that if such an outcome were reached, many would use it to justify the war (and future wars). From a strictly American standpoint, losing this war the right way might be the best thing for the future of our country. The problem being that I don't believe the U.S. will bring out the thousands of Iraqis who have risked all to try and improve their country out, and I suspect that no matter what happens the U.S. public will not absorb the right lessons.

Seconding Ara.

We saw the same dynamic with Kerry in '04. But at least back then, Dean let us dream a little before the party establishment was able to force their man to the top.

Don't expect people to be grateful after you've dropped thousands of tons of bombs on their country killing thousands of their countrymen.

I agree with Gary and Ara. And this post by hilzoy is weak, IMO, precisely because of the neglect of the centrist responsibility. It's easy to pick on Jonah Goldberg, but when America does something really stupid and evil, like Iraq or Vietnam, it's often with the enthusiastic support of Serious People. To Gary's list I'll add another name--John Lewis Gaddis. Below I've attached a link to where Gaddis clearly sees that the invasion of Iraq might lead to another Vietnam, but it doesn't seem to bother him too much. Sure, it's risky, he seems to be saying, but that's part of the game.

Gaddis

Don't put power mad ideologues in charge of your democracy who think like this.

Iraq's economy has been destroyed, probably irretrievably; it's professionals are leaving the country en masse; its infrastructure is in shambles; the lawmakers can't pass a law; but some people think the war can be won if a few hundred Al Qaeda wannabees get killed in Anbar. Good luck with that.

Ara has it right. Too many people profitted from Iraq War I; they didn't want to miss out on the supposed new bonanza.

And this post by hilzoy is weak, IMO, precisely because of the neglect of the centrist responsibility. It's easy to pick on Jonah Goldberg, but when America does something really stupid and evil, like Iraq or Vietnam, it's often with the enthusiastic support of Serious People.

the center long ago lost its support for the war, but the Serious People and the government are still for it. so we still have it. and we will still have it when Bush leaves office. so, doesn't that say something about how much effect the center's support really matters ? does it also hint that maybe the center's support didn't matter much back in 2003, either ?

is there any evidence Bush has ever given a flying fig about what the citizens think of his policies ?

Bush's approval right before the Iraq war was in the mid 50's, and had been trending sharply downward ever since 9/11. the war gave him more support after he started it, but in the run-up, his support was diminishing, fast. the more he pushed for the war, the lower his approval rated. so, i have to wonder: how deep was this "centrist" support ? and again, did it matter at all ?

To not emphasize this is to let the center establishment, the major media and the politicians and anyone who gave them credibility, including me, off the hook.

Well, Gary, you convinced me not to let you off the hook. ;)

Plus your initial point was to lay reponsibility much more to the center mainstream than with the fringe right. I agree they are culpable in the sense of aiders and abettors, but they provided very little of the force that made it happen. Their failing was to go along so willingly -- dumping normal restraints and sanity in favor of the fringe right's warmongering.

"I will buck the consensus and humbly suggest that the war may just yet not be lost"

One of the odd things about this war is that "winning," "losing" and "victory" have very fuzzy meanings.

If "losing" means we will not achieve the goals for which this war was allegedly fought, then it is lost. There is no way we are going to have a more stable Middle East with Iraq as a secular democratic state not hostile to US intersts. We inevitably are going to have a far more dangerous region, with Iraq going theocratic, desoptic, not our friend, and Iran-lite -- if we are lucky, the locals will kick out the nutsy jihadi types and just be unfriendly, but not exporting violence.

If "losing" means being beaten on the battlefield -- no, it has not and will not happen. We could stay in Iraq forever and not suffer such a defeat. And people who think this way (Bush) see leaving as losing, and see advocates of withdrawal as snatching defeat from victory by such advocacy.

Inevitably? Really? There is no way that Iraq could come through this without a theocratic despot at its head? I mean no offense, but a prediction of that magnitude strikes me as requiring extraordinary evidence to be taken at face value.

As to the question of what I am defining as victory, I mean leaving Iraq with a reasonably-functional, nominally representative government. So I will certainly concede that I do not see the more grandiose goals once offered as reasons for the war as coming true, and so by that standard, one can still call the war a loss and I'll not argue. But I disagree that your prognosis is inevitable.

Before we went to war, there were people who were trying to shut debate down by marginalizing or slandering or, in some cases, threatening those who disagreed with them.

I guess this lesson hasn’t been learned very well. ;(


WASHINGTON, July 19 (AP) — A Pentagon official has told Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton that questions she has raised about how the United States would withdraw from Iraq feed enemy propaganda.

The stinging wording of the message, from Under Secretary of Defense Eric S. Edelman, was unusual, particularly because it was directed at a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Edelman’s July 16 message, in response to questions Mrs. Clinton raised in May, was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

“Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq,” he wrote, “reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.”

No one here is likely to accuse me of being an HRC supporter, and I think this is out of line.

OCSteve,

What that represents is desperation. And it isn't desperation on the part of the Pentagon.

But here's a question. What response, if any, should come from Sec. Gates regarding this?

What response, if any, should come from Sec. Gates regarding this?

What should be the response? Something along the lines of a 2x4 up side the head reminder that the pentagon works for those nutty civilians over on the hill.

G'Kar: Inevitably? Really? There is no way that Iraq could come through this without a theocratic despot at its head?

I'd point out that what dmbeaster actually said was that inevitably the Middle East was going to be "a far more dangerous region, with Iraq going theocratic, despotic, not our friend, and Iran-lite".

As to the question of what I am defining as victory, I mean leaving Iraq with a reasonably-functional, nominally representative government.

Such as Iran now has? You'd count that victory?

I think you've just agreed with dmbeaster.

(I'd point out, too, that any representative government Iraq achieves, any time in the next twenty years, is absolutely going to be at least nominally hostile to the US: the US has set itself up to be the easy hate-object for Iraqi politicians to attack for popular support, assuming Iraq achieves the kind of functional government where politicians make speeches and promise policy in order to be elected.)

I appreciate G'Kar's optimism. I'd just add that the more Democrats ratchet up credible threats of withdrawal, the more pressure there is on the Iraqi government to achieve the happy result he seeks. People like Ambassador Crocker can credibly cast the Democrats in the role of "bad cop" in their attempts to leverage the Iraqi politicians. I don't know that it will work, but it's pretty clear the Iraqis were convinced they had a blank check under the old order.

OT (kind of) - Wow.

I should note that there's some NSFW language in my link to the video above, but the video is fine (to the extent it doesn't cause to put your fist through the wall).

Jesurgislac,

dmbeaster: a far more dangerous region, with Iraq going theocratic, despotic, not our friend, and Iran-lite.

G'Kar: Inevitably? Really? There is no way that Iraq could come through this without a theocratic despot at its head?

I am baffled as to how you came to the conclusion that my response somehow did not address dmbeaster's claim.

Steve,

Let me be clear: I am not optimistic about the future of Iraq. I merely do not think it is yet written in stone. And while threats of withdrawal may pressure the Iraqi government to get its act together, it is already pushing a lot of Iraqis into staying on the good side of the insurgents because they want to survive after the Coalition pulls out. I certainly do not blame them for this, since they do not always fully understand American politics (although the Iraqis I've met do see to be far more politically engaged than most Americans I know) and often believe that when Congress says we're getting out, we're getting out for sure. But this does undermine our COIN strategy, which ultimately depends on the population kicking the insurgents out. Please note that in no way am I suggesting or implying that those who think the Coalition should get out should not speak their mind. Nor are hawks justified in claiming that discussions of a pullout help the enemy; while they may (I am in no position to know the relative effects of political debate in the U.S. on the Iraqi government) or may not, it would not be an issue if we hadn't gone into this war when we should not have done so.

As hilzoy and others have noted, this discussion really should have occurred before the war and would have, in all likelihood, preempted the war, but since it did not there's no reason not to have it now. As I noted, I do hope that America does learn some things from the last six years, though I am pessimistic that it will.

The consequences Timothy Garton Ash describes -- or at least, consequences broadly like them -- were predictable at the time.

And Timothy Garton Ash failed to predict them. Take a look at this uncritical regurgitation of DC elite conventional wisdom from December 2002.

Late in the column Ash referred almost obliquely to the reality that there were other points of view being expressed, but apparently considered them so marginal that he didn't trouble himself to convey any of those arguments.

And while threats of withdrawal may pressure the Iraqi government to get its act together, it is already pushing a lot of Iraqis into staying on the good side of the insurgents because they want to survive after the Coalition pulls out.

That's a very interesting point. But unless there's a prospect of ultimately wiping out the insurgency - which I really don't see happening given politically acceptable time frames and troop levels - I'm not sure we can ever do any better. At some point, yes, we're going to abandon the Iraqis to work these things out on their own.

What does a political reconciliation mean, after all? It means at least one side is sufficiently concerned about the prospect of violence from the other side that it agrees to work out a reasonable power-sharing compromise. At the end of the day, the reason the Shiites have to give up some amount of power to the Sunnis is because there's going to be violence from the Sunnis if they don't, and it's better for everyone to cut a deal and live in peace.

I wish this sort of thing could take place under US stewardship, to avoid the worst-case scenarios from playing out, but I just don't see how that is ever going to happen. And it sounds like you don't believe it's likely, either, just that it's possible. As I said, I certainly hope you're right about that.

G'Kar,

The Shia political leadership were not reading the Federalist Pappers and Adam Smith, when they were in exile in Syria and Iran.

All of the major players on the Shia side all have theocratic credentials. Even the Quietists resemble moderate theocrats.

Steve,

Again, I'm not suggesting for a second that people shouldn't argue in favor of a Coalition withdrawal. I was only presenting that as a counterpoint to the possibility the Iraqi government will begin to act with the realization their time with U.S. support is running short.

As for political reconciliation, the Shia are unlike to concede anything, as they are holding the whip hand in this relationship. If the Coalition does withdraw, the Iraqis will most like implement an Iraqi solution to the problem, and a lot of Sunni will die. Yes, many Shia will die as well, but the numbers favor the Shia in this contest.

That doesn't address what the Saudis might do in such a case, however.

Hilzoy: There are also cases in which we can get away with assuming that we will not need [an exit strategy]. (Grenada.)

As a neutral point of analysis about the relative powers in play, yes. But I hope this sentence doesn't imply blithe acceptance or approval of U.S. intervention in cases where it is supposedly "low cost" enough.

someotherdude,

Sadr's only theocratic credential is his father. Sadr himself is not an Ayatollah or even close to it; his power base is based on populism and thuggery. And he certainly qualifies as a major Shia player.

I am baffled as to how you came to the conclusion that my response somehow did not address dmbeaster's claim.

I am baffled how you could think that your response addressed the current reality of the situation, as DMbeaster described it. The Middle East is a far more dangerous region now, and Iraq is going theocratic: various despots have arisen (the US's original plan was to put a despot of the Bush administration's choice in control): it looks more and more like Iran-lite: and the notion that the US, after all it has done to the Iraqi people, could have a friendly relationship with Iraq (assuming Iraq even exists as a coherent nation in five years time) is unreal.

Your response was on the lines of "And a pony!" It addressed none of the issues: you merely stated what you would like to have happen, without any hypothesis about how Iraq is going to get there, let alone how the US occupation could permit Iraq to achieve it.

G'Kar

You are right, sort of. Inevitable is overkill as to some components. I think it applies to the region being more dangerous.

As for theocratic, despotic, not our friend, and Iran-lite, the odds strongly favor those outcomes (and in my opinion, was the likely predictable outcome pre-war), and there is precious little the US can do about it. Some form of representative government is not possible in a country in which all power devolves to the militia, and political killing is routine. Theocracy is the dominant force in the country for the same reason that since time immemorial, power has cloaked itself in religious respectability, and the theocratic forces in Iraq swamp the secular ones. Not friendly to the US? -- the country hates us, and political success will be defined by an anti-US posture. The dominant Shiite forces in the country are already closely aligned with Iran (I would say closer to Iran than to the US). The faction least friendly to Iran is Sadr -- and then only because of a strong streak of nationalism that is very hostile to the US.

Something that I think is frequently overlooked is the extent to which 4 years of US occupation hell has utterly changed this country. Whatever forces were present in Iraq in 2003 with which we could have worked to further our goals are now completely gone. In its place is tribalism, religious civil war, theocracy, anarchy and lawlessness. The Iraqi middle class and secular moderates are gone -- I would bet those elements of Iraqi society are a big part of the huge number of refugees now out of the country.

Your faith in COIN is badly misplaced. It cannot work in a country in which most of the populace hates you. It cannot work when the primary dynamic is factional civil war. This is not a matter of winning hearts and minds (unwinnable now, anyway) -- its about whose side are you on. To the extent Iraqis support US actions, it is because it is perceived as favoring their side. It is madness to think it represents favoring US interests.

One of the most nonsensical stories making the rounds is the implication of Sunnis in Anbar colluding with US forces to throw out crazy jihadi outsiders. This is depicted as some sort of success, and in a very small way, it is since jihadi crazies are being driven out. But as soon as that task is accomplished, the same Sunnis are going to be killing us.

We do not need more "victories" like that.

Jesurgislac,

You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.

It appears Sadr’s status within his confessional hierarchy, does not limit his appreciation for a theocratic government. As a matter of fact, from what little reading I’ve done…Iraq is going theocratic and the Shia will be debating what type of theocracy it is going to become.

If there is a violent civil war, it will be a brutal theocracy if it’s a softer civil war it may look like Iran.

G'Kar,

It appears Sadr’s status within his confessional hierarchy, does not limit his appreciation for a theocratic government. As a matter of fact, from what little reading I’ve done…Iraq is going theocratic and the Shia will be debating what type of theocracy it is going to become.

If there is a violent civil war, it will be a brutal theocracy if it’s a softer civil war it may look like Iran.

I want to support Gary's point as forcefully as possible within the bounds of posting rules.

The liberal interventionist pundits and calculating "liberal" politicians who knew better but failed to ask the hard questions, (or address the hard questions anti-Iraq war politicians and policy advocates raised) are the ones responsible for the lack of a serious debate.

Corporate media outlets played a huge role in marginalizing even the most 'credentialed' anti-Iraq-war views (Zinni and Webb, who'd been regulars on the cable networks, suddenly couldn't get on). But if Tom Daschle and Carl Levin and Dick Gephardt had stuck to their original hard line -- no vote on an Iraq resolution until after the November elections -- the debate inside and outside Congress would have been very different.

One of the odd things about this war is that "winning," "losing" and "victory" have very fuzzy meanings.

That's because it's not a war, it's an occupation. If you think of the situation in Iraq as a "war", there's no way of "winning". There's no "enemy army", there's no "enemy capital", there's no "front", and the concept of "combatants" is fuzzy at best.

I think of an occupation as heavily-armed babysitting; we're trying to keep the kids from wrecking the place until the adults take over and we can go home. And it's unfortunately obvious that we can't commit the resources to do this.

G'Kar: [The threat of withdrawal] does undermine our COIN strategy, which ultimately depends on the population kicking the insurgents out.

"The insurgents" are Iraqis resisting the occupation; they aren't going to get 'kicked out' by anyone. The only kicking-out that might happen is foreign fighters; for the rest, the resolution is going to come from more war, and some internal negotiation -- which will only happen after the various factions conclude they cannot defeat the others, or that their particular faction faces absolute defeat and extinction unless a deal can be made.

You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.

And you are, of course, entitled to pretend that the facts about what is happening in Iraq are just my opinion.

dmbeaster,

I think the odds are probably in favor of not a friend of the U.S. and despotic. I think the probabilities for theocratic and Iran-lite are less than 50%.

I apologize for not addressing the question of whether or not Iraq would end up a friend of the U.S. earlier. I concur that this strikes me as highly unlikely regardless of what the outcome is in Iraq. I will note, however, that there are many nations that are not friends with the U.S. that the U.S. still manages to coexist peacefully with, so I still count that end state as a pretty good one.

Despotic, as I said, is probably a pretty good bet, although it is difficult to tell simply because there are so many power players already in existence in Iraq, and none of them alone are capable of seizing control even in the absence of Coalition forces. That is the general trend in this region, however, so while I'm not certain how it might come about, possibly after a long and rather unpleasant civil war, I'll grant that I believe you would probably be safer betting in that direction.

Theocratic and mini-Iran, however, simply do not fit well with most Iraqis. Even the 65% of Iraqis who are Shia are by no means all fans of either theocracy or Iran. It is important to note that, to Shia, Iraq is a far more important nation than Iran because Iraq holds the two most important Shia shrines in Najaf and Karbala. (Sunni make the Hajj to Mecca; Shia go to Najaf and Karbala.) Iraq's Shia do not, as a rule, have any interest in becoming Iran-lite or a satellite of Iran. They want their own country, and many of them have no particular interest in that nation being theocratic a la Iran.

The Sunni are certainly not interested in going along with a theocratic regime, given both their former position as the leadership of Iraq and the religious differences, and barring some major ethnic cleansing they are strong enough to prevent such a result. And the Kurds are, for the region, a pretty secular people. They're not going to go along with a theocratic Iraq either. So I think that the evidence does not support your conclusion here.

If you believe that COIN involves winning hearts and minds, I advise you to pick up a copy of FM 3-24 (available from the University of Chicago Press, I believe) and take a look, as you are terribly misinformed.

As for Anbar, you are correct that the possibility exists that the Sunni tribes there will return to trying to kill Coalition forces now that AQI has largely been driven from the province. We will know more in the coming months, as the province has become remarkably quiet of late. It is important to note, however, that recruiting for the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police has jumped by more than an order of magnitude since the 'Anbar awakening,' indicating that the tribal leaders may be willing to work with the GoI.

Sadr himself is not an Ayatollah or even close to it; his power base is based on populism and thuggery.

Here's a memorable anecdote about Sadr's thugs. You tell me if it sounds more like theocracy or populism. The man has a fatwa against soccer!

G'Kar,

Most Iranians never supported an Islamic theocracy, but the “law and order” crowd (The Pragmatists, if you will) always will settle for “strength” if there is no other alternative.

And that alternative must have the ability to establish law and order.

And let us not forget the Theocratic Monarchy of Saudi Arabia is much more brutal than the Republican Theocracy of Iran.

Please add me to the list of those praising Ara's comment upthread.

Gary and G'Kar -- I agree that a lasting solution has to come from an indigenous government, but I don't see that happening before a basic level of security is achieved on the ground.

I'd be curious to know your, or anyone's, thoughts on whether that is achievable, and what it would take to achieve it.

Thanks -

For clarity's sake, I'd like to point out that I have never said that I believe it is likely that the war in Iraq will be won, only that I do not believe that it is already lost.

Nell,

"The insurgents" are Iraqis resisting the occupation; they aren't going to get 'kicked out' by anyone."

One, this is a vast oversimplification of what is happening in Iraq. There are a mix of insurgents, criminals, and terrorists struggling for various goals. There are foreign fighters, former regime elements, common criminals (Saddam emptied the jails shortly before the invasion), theocrats...the list is quite long, and their goals are quite varied.

Two, when I use the words 'kicked out,' I do not mean physically removed from Iraq, I mean only separating them from the Iraqi population at large. The various elements in Iraq that are fighting the Coalition are only a small fraction of the total population, with a larger fraction (less than a majority) supporting them. The majority of Iraqis are fence-sitters, committing themselves neither to the 'insurgents' or to the GoI. If the GoI can force the insurgents out of a given area, keep them out, and provide vital services, the population (as a whole, obviously not as a unified bloc) will move towards the GoI and the insurgency dwindles.

Now, the long pole in that tent is the GoI stepping up and closing the loop, which is why I am not optimistic about the situation.

I appreciate G'Kar's optimism. I'd just add that the more Democrats ratchet up credible threats of withdrawal, the more pressure there is on the Iraqi government to achieve the happy result he seeks. People like Ambassador Crocker can credibly cast the Democrats in the role of "bad cop" in their attempts to leverage the Iraqi politicians. I don't know that it will work, but it's pretty clear the Iraqis were convinced they had a blank check under the old order.

This assumes that Iraqi perception of the likelihood and timing of US withdrawal will have a major impact on how Iraqis behave. I think this is a seriously flawed assumption.

I would posit that all factions of Iraqis expect the US to withdraw at some point in time, and all are willing to play a waiting game for that inevitability to occur. In the interim, all factions engage in a slow moving civil war -- jockeying for the best positions as the US occupation comes to an end. They are all itching for that moment when they are freer to take action. No faction worth its salt worries about a US withdrawal. Factions whose strength depends on continued US occupation are doomed, and these are the only ones who might change their tune under the threat of US withdrawal.

Withdrawal is a wise policy not because of the effect it may or may not have on Iraqis. It is the wise policy because we have run out of any options whereby our continued occupation improves things. And our continued presence makes a lot of things a lot worse. We are wasting lives, treasure and our prestige and stoking the forces of Islamic fanaticism. The true dead-enders are the US war advocates.

The notion that continued occupation prevents Iraqi chaos and bloodshed is also sadly wrong. What is the functional difference between thousands of Iraqis being slaughtered in a few months of pitched civil war after withdrawal, versus thousands being slaughtered in a US managed civil war during another two years of occupation? If anything, a case can be made that 4 years of botched US occupation has resulted in more Iraqis being killed than would have been killed per the Iraqi solution without US supervision.

One of the very strong arguments against withdrawal, in my view, is the notion that having broken it, we have the obligation to fix it. Except it is not within our power to do so any longer. Yes, withdrawal is admitting that the mission was a complete screw-up and failure, which is why so many resist it with the same fervor of an addict not willing to admit to an addiction.

The other strong argument is that leaving only brings worse consequences, so we have to stay anyway. This is a more difficult judgment call. I think it is wrong, and I expect the warmongers to hype whatever goes wrong after withdrawal as proof that we should have stayed. But one who reaches this conclusion has to answer how our continued presence will improve anything. Continuing a failed policy because you fear the consequences of what will follow simply puts off for tomorrow those consequences if there is no meaningful plan that will reverse it. Unfortunately, a "meaningful plan" includes 1 in 10 longshots for those addicted to this continued war.

It is time to get out completely in an orderly manner over the next year. We can use whatever remaining scraps of influence that process might give us to nudge the Iraqi process of resolving itself. But that is the only influence we still have over events.

Steve,

That's a fascinating story, particularly as Sadr is not authorized to issue fatwas under Shia law. This obviously doesn't mean he isn't necessarily doing so, only that he risks overstepping his bounds. The Shia take a more rigid and hierarchical view to Islam and the Sunni.

someotherdude,

Valid points, but I suspect that the odds are still better that Iraq ends up with a more secular than theocratic government when the dust settles.

russell,

I think that a basic level of security can be reached, but that it will take more time than the American public is willing to give it. Let me point out here that the blame for this rests squarely on those who pushed for the war and the military that failed to fight the war properly for much of the first four years and not in any way on those who disagreed with the war. The American public is, I believe, justifiably tired of claims that victory is just around the corner and so the administration finds itself in the position of the boy who cried wolf.

This assumes that Iraqi perception of the likelihood and timing of US withdrawal will have a major impact on how Iraqis behave. I think this is a seriously flawed assumption.

You're welcome to think that, but I think you're dead wrong. Consider the average Iraqi. He knows that he may have to choose one side or the other (simplifying the situation here; there are lot more than two sides). He likes the idea of an Iraq with a representative government, but he doesn't believe the GoI can hold together without American support. He further realizes that the U.S. Congress keeps talking about pulling out of Iraq very soon. It seems quite natural to me that his reaction to any overture from the Coalition is going to be to keep them at arm's length, since he well knows that if the U.S. does leave, those viewed as collaborators with the U.S. will face death. The idea that this knowledge won't affect behavior suggests a very different view of human nature than what I am accustomed to.

I'd also like to note, since I suspect some commenters believe otherwise, that I do not have a position on whether or not the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq. At times it seems like a good idea to me, at others, less so, so I do not pretend to know what is best.

G'Kar: Theocratic and mini-Iran, however, simply do not fit well with most Iraqis. Even the 65% of Iraqis who are Shia are by no means all fans of either theocracy or Iran.

Nor are many Iranians, which I see someotherdude has already noted. Nor, I suspect, are many Saudis. Nor, evidently, were many Afghans. Nor, indeed, are many Americans.

When a despotic government enforces its own religious beliefs on the population, it does not require the general population to be a fan of theocracy: it merely requires that they should be unable/unwilling to overthrow the government.

G'Kar

The majority of Iraqis are fence-sitters, committing themselves neither to the 'insurgents' or to the GoI.

The majority of Iraqis self-identify with some faction of Shia, Sunni or Kurd, and the various sub-groups within them (God help those small minorities that fall outside those groups). They are not going to change that allegiance to the GoI unless their faction controls it, or they otherwise perceive it as not hostile to their faction's interest. They are not fence-sitters in the true sense of the word.

I'd also like to note, since I suspect some commenters believe otherwise, that I do not have a position on whether or not the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq. At times it seems like a good idea to me, at others, less so, so I do not pretend to know what is best.

I respect that, btw. Just thought I'd mention it.

dmbeaster,

You are assuming that it is wholly impossible for Shia, Sunni, and Kurds to get along in a common state. (Also, minor nit, Kurds don't 'self-identify' with being Kurds; they are an ethnic group.) Shia and Sunni are not bound by religious compulsion to fight one another, therefore it is far from impossible for them to get along enough to coexist under a single state.

The Kurds are a different issue, and it will be interesting to see what happens with the Kirkuk referendum this November.

G'Kar, there's not going to be any 'kicking out' as you define it either (separation from the population).

And, given that I've been insisting in comment sections including ObWi's since 2005 that a complex, multi-party civil war and resistance to occupation has been underway that U.S. troops can do nothing to quell, I take exception to being accused of oversimplifying. Your list leaves out or mischaracterizes major elements fueling the conflict -- not least the occupation forces themselves.

The government of Iraq is a Shia government, with Kurdish support (that will bolt the moment the Kurds are asked to sacrifice anything -- such as Kirkuk -- for a united Iraq). As such, it is never going to be able to separate Sunni insurgents from the Sunni population.

The Shia militias likewise will remain tied to the Shia population, as well as dominating the Iraqi security forces. Whenever U.S. trooops engage in "counterinsurgency" operations in Shia enclaves, those militias kill U.S. troops as readily as do Sunni insurgents in Anbar and Diyala and the 'triangle of death' south of Baghdad.

Nell,

I apologize, but I do not have the time to go back through all of the comment sections to see what people's past positions have included. The way you phrased the issue, in my opinion, blurred some important lines, so I attempted to clear that up. No offense was intended.

As for your specific claims, I'm not certain that you are correct. Insurgent forces have largely been forced out of Baqouba after Arrowhead Ripper. Sunni from Anbar are signing on to join GoI forces. While it is true that the Shia dominate the Iraqi Police, efforts continue to clean them out and your claim that that cannot be done is your opinion. The IA is becoming a less-sectarian force, and is hardly a Shia force, holding as it does significant Kurdish and Sunni elements.

As for Anbar, have you been watching to see how many attacks there are on Coalition forces there of late? The trend is down almost to nonexistence. I noted above that it is possible that the Sunni tribes will take up the sword against the Coalition once more, but at the moment they are not.

A few comments: first, Nell: "I hope this sentence doesn't imply blithe acceptance or approval of U.S. intervention in cases where it is supposedly "low cost" enough."

-- No, it doesn't. It only meant that if we were going to invade Granada, then we could probably get away without having worked out, in detail, what to do if we somehow failed, since that was so completely unlikely. The question whether we should have is a different matter entirely.

Second: I agree with what everyone has written about the responsibility of the center. But I wasn't meaning to deny that, exactly. When people tried to shut down dissenting voices, for instance, they could only have the effect they did because there weren't nearly enough people who said: wait a minute, whether we agree with those dissenting voices or not, shutting them down is a disservice to the country, and an invitation to disaster. So I would have thought that points 1-3, for instance, were addressed to the center as well.

I should probably have added: no one, just no one, gets to send people off to fight and possibly die, to incur the enormous costs to any country we decide to invade, etc., etc., etc., for the sake of their careers, or because it's the "safe" thing to do (for whom, exactly?). There are situations in which I think it makes sense not to dissent publicly for the sake of one's career, though I think it's also important to keep yourself honest about stuff like that. But surely no one's career is important enough that it outweighs the costs of going to war wrongly.

G'Kar: Thanks; and I really hope you're right. I should say that my pessimism has more to do with the Iraqi government than with the military.

G'Kar: While it is true that the Shia dominate the Iraqi Police, efforts continue to clean them out and your claim that that cannot be done is your opinion.

You mean like cleaning the Catholics out of the Royal Ulster Constabulary? I'm sorry, where did you think it was a good idea to ensure that 65% of the population have no representation in the police? South Africa, perhaps?

As for your specific claims, I'm not certain that you are correct.

You think it's possible to treat every city in Iraq like Fallujah, all at the same time? Because Nell's right: the notion that the Iraqis taking part in the civil war can all be driven out of Iraq and then there'll be peace is a "And a pony!" fantasy. Do you think that the US Civil War would have ended peacefully if the goal of the Northerners had been to drive out of the US, or kill, every man who took up arms on the Confederate side? Do you think this would have worked any better if there had been a foreign army on the Confederate side determined to drive out of the US, or kill, every man who took up arms on the Union side?

"Winning" in a civil war is always arguable. For a foreign occupation to think it can win a civil war by taking sides is an unhappy fantasy.

hilzoy,

There are many reasons to be pessimistic about the military as well, although I would concur that the Iraqi government is the weak link.

Again, I am pessimistic as well. I don't think that losing is guaranteed, but if I were to have to put money down on an outcome, that is where I would bet. Fortunately, no one is asking me to bet money on it.

You mean like cleaning the Catholics out of the Royal Ulster Constabulary? I'm sorry, where did you think it was a good idea to ensure that 65% of the population have no representation in the police? South Africa, perhaps?

My apologies, I was imprecise. When I say 'cleaning them out,' I do not mean removing all Shia from the police. I was referring to ongoing attempts to develop a professional force that is devoted to the rule of law rather than to the advancement of their sect.

Because Nell's right: the notion that the Iraqis taking part in the civil war can all be driven out of Iraq and then there'll be peace is a "And a pony!" fantasy.

I cannot argue with this, but I have never made such an argument.

Jes: the Narnian Ambassador can speak for himself, but speaking for myself, I think that when someone, especially someone of demonstrated good faith, says something that might be interpreted either as saying that 65% of the population should have no representation in the police force, or more charitably as an elliptical way of saying that actual militias and death squads claiming to represent that 65% should be cleaned out, it would be generous (and more helpful to civil discussion) to acknowledge the latter possibility.

"the Narnian Ambassador can speak for himself"

And lo, he did!

You've missed not a few lessons there in your 10-point list of lessons learned.

(1) The US did not go "slightly crazy" after 9/11. This had been building since 1993, when the election of the Clinton Presidency caused no small amount of "empassionment" of national politics. It became more acceptable in that era to pillory an opponent over what once were considered perfectly reasonable disagreements and to shout down opponents rather than resolve matters through civil debate. Media bias became more prevalent as well, trying to shut down discussion from the conservative side of the public--and this was coupled with the rise of conservative media who took the passions of conservatives and amplified them. Once you get to the 2000 elections which were hard-fought and narrowly-won, you end up with the phrases "Bush Derangement Syndrom" and "Selected not elected." It is an article of unshakable faith among Bush critics that the 2000 elections were stolen and no amount of facts to the contrary can shake that. 9/11 was neither a turning point nor a watershed in the insanity of the nation's political class.

(2) It was also a pretty standard move in 1984, 1988, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and so forth. And you have to remember that following 9/11, there were many Americans and others in the world that thought that America deserved what it got. Combine this with the aforementioned BDS, and there were a lot of the political class that were unserious about the war even to the point of treason. Witness the NYT publishing security leak after security leak, Dan Rather relying on fabricated memos, and many out and out lies published in the media. But don't question their patriotism.

(3) Don't mistake pissing off your audience with censorship. The two are not equivalent. What the Dixie Chicks did was to basically take political views dearly held by their audience and treat those views (and their audience members) with contempt. Tim McGraw and Toby Keith are anti-war Democrats, but much more respectful of their audience. While Natalie Mains may have become a cause celebre among the anti-war crowd, there was certainly no small amount of slander (Cindy Sheehan, Tedd Rall, Markos "Screw 'em" Moulitsas) being directed in the opposite direction.

(4) There is a lesson in diplomacy that "everone's got an angle." A continual thread on many discussions on foreign affairs was that the United States needed to be taken down a peg or two--in fact, the decline and fall of the American Empire is an article of faith on Anti-American sites who would turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses of China, or the Middle East, or Russia in order to prop up entities that have the political and economic power to challenge the United States. When the rest of the world thinks you're crazy, ask yourself what is their angle for saying so--and do not presume that altruism is their motivation, because it usually isn't.

(5) The problem with your analysis is that Reagan cannot be ignored. Reagan's policies worked very well on the macro level, while the Carterian, Bushian, and Clintonian foreign policies were abject failures. Carter's response to Soviet Expansionism was to boycott the Olympics. Bush Sr. took the advice of people advocating an interventionist foreign policy where peacekeeping was put by the wayside in favour of peacemaking. Clinton continued the interventionist policies and ended up with disasters in Kosovo and Somalia and and emboldening of Al Qaeda. Reagan, on the other hand waged an economic and political war that was targetted at the weaknesses of the Soviet Union and waged it so successfully that the Soviet Union ceased to exist a few years after Reagan left office.

(6) Again, while the Cuban Missile Crisis may seem to be a counter to the argument of Munich, the lesson of Kennedy is not that moderating a hawkish response works--but that a resolute response is effective. By creating the conditions that allow for both sides to recognize that each is serious and not merely rattling sabres or a "paper tiger", you end up with a situation where both sides are more inclined to pursue peaceful resolutions. If one side in a conflict does not believe that the other will fight to defend its interests, there is a greater incentive to use military actions rather than diplomatic actions.

(7) Soldiers are not magicians, but there certainly were a lot of politicians who forgot that in the 1990s when they deployed troops around the world in order to quell conflicts. Their job is to break things and kill people and ideally, they are so good at it that they never need to be called upon to do that. Politicians have to know how to use a military option and when to call in a civilian option. There are many politicians who are too eager to send in the troops--and then too eager to send in the civilians before the soldiers' jobs are done.

(8) It must be nice to be able to pick and choose wars that you can win. Real life, however, rarely gives that option. Wars are often forced upon people and at that time, you do everything in your power to win. But war is a risk. There is no such thing as a war that you are certain to win--and the danger of believing that you can go to war and win is what brought about the most monumental stupidities in the first half-century in Europe. Once you go to war, there is a always risk of defeat. The adaptive nature of warfare ensures that. If there is a failure in the war in Iraq, it will not be President Bush's failure--it will be the failure of the American People who a) entered the war with unrealistic expectations and b) were all to eager to end the war when they got bored with it--or saw an opportunity to score political points.

(9) Warfare is an adaptive exercise. That means that when you fight, your style of fighting changes because your opponent's style changes. As each side grapples for victory, they try new things--some work, some don't. Successes are repeated and built upon. Are there do-overs in warfare? Absolutely. The question is how many lives did the last failure--or last success cost?

An occupation is warfighting. As US strategies changed, so did Al Qaeda's and the Insurgents. At this point, can Al Qaeda win in Iraq? No. They are defeated, and have the dead-enders still trying to forment unrest and grab headlines.

I don't accept the notion that for every insurgent you kill, you start a blood fued with his family. That's rather simplistic and does not account for all manner of social elements such as social standing, local custom, pride, honor, desire for peace and prosperity, as well as more prosaic matters such as whether the family actually liked the insurgent.

(10) You make the incorrect assumption that diplomacy stopped because of the war. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both Syria and Iran, which you mention in your post, have more interests in seeing a US defeat in Iraq than they do in helping stabilize Iraq. You have to look at the diplomatic offensives in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, and Libya before you characterize diplomacy as being ineffective.

G'Kar:My apologies, I was imprecise.

I jumped to conclusions a bit rapidly - thinking about it, I should have given you the benefit of the doubt.

I cannot argue with this, but I have never made such an argument.

No, sorry - you were arguing that the Iraqis fighting the civil war - aka the insurgents - could be physically separated from the rest of the population - somehow! - and that this would - somehow! - make peace.

it would be generous (and more helpful to civil discussion) to acknowledge the latter possibility.

It would, and I should have.

I prefer the Narn Ambassador, if you please. When people call me the Narnian Ambassador, I suddenly am deluged with questions about C.S. Lewis and someone called 'Aslan.'

A very interesting post, but the author leaves out the nuclear WMD argument for the war. Sure, I remember that we found none, but quite a few national intelligence agencies, pre-war, supported a continuing covert Iraqi program, not just the US.

That, to me, was the only justification for this war: that a nuclear Iraq , free of UN sanctions, might (underline) be containable, but that the inevitable daisy-chain of proliferation among the ME nations would probably not be containable to the nation states in the region, meaning a great risk of undeterrable islamic radicals or covert state actors with access to nukes.

I don't remember Scowcroft or others addressing or countering the argument that this war is the first, and probably not the last, counter proliferation war that will be fought.

Cleek wrote--

"the center long ago lost its support for the war, but the Serious People and the government are still for it. so we still have it. and we will still have it when Bush leaves office. so, doesn't that say something about how much effect the center's support really matters ? does it also hint that maybe the center's support didn't matter much back in 2003, either ?

is there any evidence Bush has ever given a flying fig about what the citizens think of his policies ?"


It's not a question of whether Bush cares what others think, it's a question of whether serious opposition by mainstream politicians and pundits could have made the difference in 2002-2003.

I'd say the "serious" center only turned against the war sometime after the 2004 election, possibly as late as 2006. Kerry wasn't an antiwar candidate in 2004. And by turning against the war, I mean only admitting that getting into the war was a bad idea. If by turning against the war one means trying to get out of it now, by facing the fact that we can't fix the mess we've made and so we should pull out, that's only become a respectable centrist position in mid-2007. The NYT editorial page finally endorsed this just a few weeks ago.

If the vast majority of centrists had been against the war instead of supporting it, then there's a good chance it wouldn't have happened. Once you have troops fighting in Iraq, politicians and even pundits and journalists feel more vulnerable to the charge of not supporting the troops if they oppose it, plus some well-intentioned types thought that we had a duty to stay in Iraq and fix the mess we'd made. So now, five years later, we've finally got the level of mainstream dissent openly expressed in this country that might have done some good in September 2002. I don't think we can blame Jonah Goldberg for this.

And anyway, I also don't think that America getting involved in stupid immoral adventures overseas is anything new. It wasn't, and that's why it shouldn't be surprising that the center and some liberals were cheerleading the Iraq War. It was perfectly normal for Americans to think that when we kill people it's all for the best. Bush's incompetence on every conceivable level--that's what's been new and that's what has caused the center to turn against the war. (If Bob M were still around, he'd say that's not a bug, but a feature, but I think it's a bug. Imperialists like to be seen as competent.)

No, sorry - you were arguing that the Iraqis fighting the civil war - aka the insurgents - could be physically separated from the rest of the population - somehow! - and that this would - somehow! - make peace.

No, this is not my argument, either. There is no magic involved in this. I am not certain why it seems so implausible that the insurgents, a relatively small number of Iraqis, can be separated from the majority of Iraqis I should note that this does not mean that every single insurgent is physically removed from the presence of every Iraqi. But you can, if you do it right, push most of the violent insurgents out of a particular area. There will still be insurgents there, but sufficient security forces will cause them to go to ground. During that period, you can then build local institutions and the local economy, drawing the local population into the orbit of the government. If this is done, and that is a big if in Iraq, then eventually the external security forces can leave and the people of the area themselves will keep the insurgents out because they do not want that violence in their community. This is not 'somehow,' there are a number of things that must take place, and as many of them rest on the shoulders of the GoI, I remain pessimistic as to the probability of their occurring. But this is not a military version of 'steal underwear--?--profit.'

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