« Barack Obama: My Kind Of Democrat | Main | Language Open Thread »

June 11, 2005

Comments

Earth to Obsidian Wings please come in.
Earth to Obsidian Wings please come in.


Houston, it seems we've lost all contact with the blog Obsidian Wings.


"to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier."

July-June-May-April. April is news, previous Blair committment had said June. Historians and biographers will footnote Bush's 2002 speeches with (1)Lie, (2)Lie,
(3)Lie.

Or maybe the histories will say Saddam could have avoided war, the death of his sons, the deaths of thousands of his countrymen, women, and children...if only he had let the inspectors in.

I wonder if mmorgan's IPs match any of smlook's. Sure quacks like a duck.

This article from the Times Online in May covers yet another leaked memo, in which British officials characterize the stepped-up bombing campaign (that began in May or June 2002) as an effort to provoke Saddam into retaliation, providing a casus belli.

U.S. military commanders openly celebrated this intensified air war, called 'Southern Focus', as having knocked out all significant Iraqi communications and air defense facilities by the time the ground invasion began. (See the New York Times July 21, 2003 article by Michael R. Gordon).

Provocation or preparation, it was already 'War On' in summer 2002.

There's also now the Walter Pincus version of the story.

"It may be old news that Bush decided to go to war long before he decided to inform us of that fact, and while he was still insisting that all options were open and that he sought only to disarm Saddam, preferably by peaceful means. But that doesn't mean that establishing it beyond all doubt is unimportant. We need to get completely clear on this once and for all."

I believe it would be more accurate to say that Bush sought to remove Saddam from power because Saddam had proven he would always resist disarming. Considering that the international community seems to have no long term resolve in dealing with people like Saddam, or Kim, or Mugabe that wasn't a good thing. The removal from power was preferably by peaceful means.

I believe it would be more accurate to say that Bush sought to remove Saddam from power because Saddam had proven he would always resist disarming.

What lessons can we draw from the experience in Iraq so far?

  • The combination of sanctions and weapons inspections was effective in limiting Iraq's access to weapons. Even a regime as duplicitous and tyrannical as Saddam Hussein's was kept contained by this effort.
  • Despite our huge military advantage, the United States cannot easily subdue a country such as Iraq, even one debilitated by years of sanctions.

These are practical lessons. I have omitted the cost of what I believe is our abandonment of our ideals, so eloquently described by Hilzoy's earlier post. In the long run, if we fail to uphold the founding principles of the United States, we will lose the battle of ideas. The cost to ourselves and the world will be incalculable.

[Sebastian, re. our earlier exchange, I sent you a letter via e-mail to the kitten.]

I really like ObiWi, and your posts generally, but this is crazy: [T]hat doesn't mean that establishing it beyond all doubt is unimportant. We need to get completely clear on this once and for all.

These issues have been mooted to death. At this point, you are either a true believer in this Administration or you aren't. There is absolutely nothing that could conceivably come out that is going to change a Bush supporter's mind on the basic justice of what the President did or does. There just isn't. Watergate was endlessly analyzed, and there was a fairly standard understanding of what happened. But just recently, Ben Stein told us that the standard understanding was wrong, and that Nixon may, in fact, have been the Messiah. If you want to get any consensus about anything relating to our entry into this war, you're either going to have to give on most of your judgments or commit to the project full time for the next 30-odd years.

"The removal from power was preferably by peaceful means."

I am unsure to what extent serious negotiations about exile were undertaken. I have no real understanding of what form of government would have taken over had Saddam accepted exile (if it was seriously offered);I doubt very much that a different group of Baathists would have been acceptable to the Bush administration, or to the Kurds and Shia. There was no one else capable of maintaining order and services. To leave the Baathists in place, armed quite heavily, strikes me as unacceptable. They would not have, heck still have not, willingly disarmed.

There was enough talk about Saddam & sons as perps of crimes against humanity that exile would seem embarrassing and questioavle, tho Idi Amin was allowed exile. Saddam would have remained dangerous, he still appears to have a base of support amomg the Iraqi Sunni Arabs.

I see very little evidence that a peaceful regime change was possible, desired, or even a good idea save the spoken words of a proven liar in the White House.

Sebastian: I believe it would be more accurate to say that Bush sought to remove Saddam from power because Saddam had proven he would always resist disarming.

That avoids the point, however, that Hilzoy was making: whatever Bush's motivations for invading Iraq, he certainly lied about them, and about when he had decided.

Had Bush run for election in 2000 with the clear intent, should he come to power, of invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein, would he have come even as close as he did to being elected? We'll never know: although it appears from PNAC writings that a powerful element in the Bush administration wanted invasion, we don't know for certain exactly when the Bush administration decided they wanted a war with Iraq: all we know is that at a time when they claimed they were still seeking a peaceful resolution, they lied.

Hilzoy and Nell, thanks for the links to the articles.

One needed not wait for the disclosure of briefing papers to ask serious questions about war with Iraq (as many of you, I’m sure didn’t). The possibility of “a "protracted and costly" postwar occupation” (from the article provided by Gary Farber) was being discussed openly in European papers at least as early as the winter of 2003.

Sebastian Holsclaw: “I believe it would be more accurate to say that Bush sought to remove Saddam from power because Saddam had proven he would always resist disarming.”

Why had Saddam “proven he would always resist disarming”? What were his reasons, that he couldn’t wait to use military force against the US? Does one think this because this is what they would do, or because it is what Saddam would do? Is it reasonably to think that a head of state would want it revealed, especially to potentially hostile neighboring states, that after his then already qualitatively weak conventional forces were decimated in 1991 that his supposed WMD backup was non-existent as well? How long could he then be seen as a credible leader to the Iraqi public or his political competition? How long would it take before another state took advantage of this weak position and attacked? What would one expect Saddam to do, or any other head of state to do in such a situation, stand exposed and publicly stripped of military power? Was there no other way to address this problem?

Where do the factors of China, oil, and the need to maintain a war economy in peacetime fit into this assessment of the Administration’s rationale for war?

In keeping with Ral’s approach (1:42), I would like to suggest the following: Instead of looking at the Administration’s rationale for war and then trying to figure out if the data supports it or not, or if what is going on in Iraq measures up to getting rid of WMDs or spreading democracy – why not approach the problem inductively by looking at the data and asking what it can tell us about these issues?

And Ral, thanks for this comment: “Despite our huge military advantage, the United States cannot easily subdue a country such as Iraq, even one debilitated by years of sanctions.”

And bombing. I really think faith in strategic bombing theory figures into the actions of the US with regard to Iraq over the last 14 years.

Is it possible that the situation in Iraq, both before the invasion and afterward, is not amenable to a military solution? Is it possible that military force was not the right tool for this task? Perhaps unfortunately for the US (and others?), this is the largest, strongest, most expensive tool in the box. And tools like that tend to get used.

Ral: “In the long run, if we fail to uphold the founding principles of the United States, we will lose the battle of ideas.”

Isn’t part of what we are seeing in this war an expression of some of our founding principles?

Ral: “The cost to ourselves and the world will be incalculable.”

Why incalculable to the world? Does this assume that our ideas are better than other ideas? And if not, why incalculable? If they are, why/how are they better than the ideas of country “X”? Or, might American ideas might be better for America and country “X”’s ideas be better for them? (I understand the perception that because we are still around and the Soviet Union is not that some think this proves the validity and durability of the American system, but I’m not sure this logic is accurate – it may be too soon to tell?) How does this ideological expansion of winning “the battle of ideas” (if that’s what it is and as benevolent as it may be intended) differ from the material/power expansion of what many neo-cons have espoused?

Possible solution to winning “hearts and minds”: allow states political autonomy and control over their resources. I understand that this might not be the name of the game, but if such is not possible, can one then expect to win “hearts and minds”? What might be the middle ground here?

Statement of principles: American values and institutions are universally applicable and desirable: everyone wants or should have freedom and democracy. It is in their and America’s best interest. Response by country “X”: We aren’t interested. American rebuttal: Tough, it is in our and your best interests. Question: What do Americans mean by freedom and democracy?

I understand the either/or and other limitations of the way some of these questions are framed and my perceptions in asking them. However, they still seem reasonable questions to ask, not that perfect answers be found. I don’t mean any of these questions rhetorically, and very much appreciate previous responses by others on this blog, especially from those whose viewpoints differ from mine. Generally, I don’t mean to suggest that America is all or mostly good, or all or mostly bad but maybe right in the middle, and that perhaps American ideas are good for America and the ideas of other states are good for them . . . but maybe the world’s gotten too small for that?

SomeCallMeTim,

-“There is absolutely nothing that could conceivably come out that is going to change a Bush supporter's mind on the basic justice of what the President did or does. There just isn't.”

Nick Ut? I realize that many (quite a few who were adults during Vietnam) thought the Abu Ghraib pictures would be the end of the Administration and/or the war, and that didn’t happen. But you never know. It is far harder to control images today than it was even in Gulf War I. While the control of the words may be greater today, images still have the power to trump words. Folks also have a tendency to abandon leadership when its policies no longer work – look at what happened to Democrats in the South in the 1960s.

Bob McManus,

-“To leave the Baathists in place, armed quite heavily, strikes me as unacceptable.” “he still appears to have a base of support amomg the Iraqi Sunni Arabs.”

A British official (I want to say Sir Edward Grey, but I don’t think that’s right) made a comment during the early history of the nation of Iraq. A close paraphrase is: there has yet to be a government envisioned for the nation that does not include Sunni domination. Of course, this was almost a century ago.

SCMT: "There is absolutely nothing that could conceivably come out that is going to change a Bush supporter's mind on the basic justice of what the President did or does. There just isn't."

Hope springs eternal, I guess. Not about Ben Stein, admittedly, but I can't bring myself to give up hope about the entire 43% of the country that supports Bush.

otto
You mentioned that you were teaching a class on Iraq and the recent unpleasantries (I fudge because I can't remember precisely what you said) Could you be convinced to post your reading list/syllabus?

otto:
"In keeping with Ral’s approach (1:42), I would like to suggest the following: Instead of looking at the Administration’s rationale for war and then trying to figure out if the data supports it or not, or if what is going on in Iraq measures up to getting rid of WMDs or spreading democracy – why not approach the problem inductively by looking at the data and asking what it can tell us about these issues?"

This is an excellent idea. Problem is, it abandons the concept of giving the admin the benefit of the doubt. Around here, having a conversation with Bush supporters about these issues would have to include taking the admin at its word.

I believe it would be more accurate to say that Bush sought to remove Saddam from power because Saddam had proven he would always resist disarming... The removal from power was preferably by peaceful means.

No, it wouldn't be more accurate to say that; that's the whole point of these leaked memos.

Just anecdotal, but some Repubs I work with told me that if it were proved Bush made the decision in 2002 then he should be impeached. Now it could be true that there will never be enough proof for them, but I don't think that the cause is hopeless.

Ask them, Tim H. I'd be really interesting in hearing their answers - and if they've changed their minds, I'd like to know why.

And if the memos coming out aren't enough proof for them, I'd like to know what would be. If they claim the memos aren't enough proof, and if you're feeling snarky, you might want to ask them what their threshold definition of "sex" is, as it pertains to impeachable offenses.

Otto,

By our ideals I mean, for example, the idea that the people are soverign, that people have an inherent right to establish their own governments to "promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty."

Not, as in Iraq, to have a government forced on them at the point of a gun, neither by Saddam nor by us.

Why incalculable to the world? Does this assume that our ideas are better than other ideas? And if not, why incalculable?

What follows is my opinion, of course.

Incalculable because there exist nuclear weapons. The world has to come to terms with preventing their use. Like so many Bush administration ideas, there is a tiny seed of truth in the notion that we are endangered by the combination of weapons proliferation and terrorists willing to sacrifice their lives.

Unfortunately, our actions so far seem to have made matters worse rather than better. Iraq, which had no nuclear weapons nor any prospect of acquiring them, has been severly punished. Pakistan, which has developed nuclear weapons, has been rewarded. The lessons Iran and North Korea will draw from this seem clear to me.

I believe the United States standing alone cannot solve this problem. Only with the willing help of many other countries can we begin to address it.

Oh, one other ideal that I want to mention: adherence to the rule of law.

On this one, again just my opinion, I think the Bush administration guiding principle is "might makes right."

Had Bush run for election in 2000 with the clear intent, should he come to power, of invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein, would he have come even as close as he did to being elected?

it should be noted, again and again, that W in 2000 ran on an explicit "No Nation Building" platform.

Cleek: W in 2000 ran on an explicit "No Nation Building" platform.

And since the Bush administration evidently had no plans for nation-building in Iraq post-invasion, he wasn't actually lying...

(See this for further discussion on the Downing Street Memo/Minutes.)

Cleek: W in 2000 ran on an explicit "No Nation Building" platform.

And since the Bush administration evidently had no plans for nation-building in Iraq post-invasion, he wasn't actually lying...

(See this for further discussion on the Downing Street Memo/Minutes.)

Italics begone!

The real reason to nail down the 2002 events is to nail down the fact that this is an administration rooted in deceit.

It may see trite to keep repeating that Bush is a liar and that almost everything this administration does is built around fraudulent statements of policy, but it has to be repeated constantly until 51% clearly believe it.

Because as pointed out above, we will get endless versions of lying to cover up the lying, just as with the recent round on Watergate lying.

And we will also get utter nonsense like this from otherwise reasonable consevatives who, like co-dependents to drug addicts, will do anything to avoid the blunt truth:

I believe it would be more accurate to say that Bush sought to remove Saddam from power because Saddam had proven he would always resist disarming.

"...but it has to be repeated constantly until 51% clearly believe it."

I'd suggest that whether or not 51% believe it is of considerably less import than whether 51% of actual voters in states that add up to 270 electoral votes are persuaded to vote for a good and competent Democrat in 2008, but that's just me. To point out the obvious, even if 99% of the adult population of the U.S. come to believe that G. W. Bush prefers to have intercourse with donkeys, is controlled by our alien master Kodos, and is in fact lying about his name, which is actually "Hitler," he's not going to be running for office again. Historic judgment is very well and good, but I'm a tad more concerned with the pragmatic and the mid-term future, not that I object to establishing while George W. Bush is still in office that he has no credibility. Just saying.

"The combination of sanctions and weapons inspections was effective in limiting Iraq's access to weapons. Even a regime as duplicitous and tyrannical as Saddam Hussein's was kept contained by this effort."

Which is fine if the world is committed to sanctions. In 2002 with respect to Iraq it clearly was not. And the lesson you draw from that is? Apparently nothing.

What I have a hard time following is the logic that argues

1. We need to disarm this regime.

No WMDs/no desire to let aggressive inspections continue?

2. We need to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

He seems somewhat open to an eleventh-hour offer of exile.

3. We need to end Sunni domination over the oppressed Shia and Kurdish populations

What right do we have to undertake such social engineering?

4. We surely can shake things up in the region and have them fall out more positively if we invade. Let's go!

At which point my head always explodes with the tragic fecklessness of such thinking. For most of us opposed to this war since, oh, early 2002, these arguments are intimately familiar, and frankly I think that 1-3 are all feints, that 4 (the hubristic, quixotic argument) remains the most operative. But I don't think the war would have had the support it did if 4 had been the public rationale all along.

While these retrospective debates can become unproductively shrill rehashings, I do think that our current policy in Iraq can't be improved until the US public has a more realistic idea about what goals we can accomplish there.

"He seems somewhat open to an eleventh-hour offer of exile."

Addressing only this point and addressing it in isolation, with no suggestions made as to any possible implications, because that's all I'm interested in asking about here and now, and not because I am asking it in favor of any argument pro or con about the war -- is any of that ambiguous? No? Okay -- do you have any cites for that? I ask because I don't recall anything along those lines any stronger than the vaguest of hints which didn't seem to offer room for hope, but, of course, I could easily either be forgetting or have missed it in the first place. (I do well recall Saddam's emissaries offering a wide variety of other possible concessions; just not that one.)

Gary, good question. I have a distinct memory of it, but attached to the memory is another memory that made it clear that Hussein's offer was likely in bad faith and would never be accepted. I'll see what I can find on Lexis-Nexis by way of citation.

Here's the only article I have so far found that suggests the back-channel diplomacy I remember hearing whispers of. From the FT, March 12, 2003, filed by Roula Khalaf:

The United Arab Emirates was in touch with senior Iraqi officials before it urged the Arab League to adopt an initiative calling on Saddam Hussein to step down and go into exile.

According to sources close to the UAE government, the Iraqi officials had raised questions about the details of the UAE's ideas and inquired about the guarantees of amnesty that would be on offer. The sources suggested that the discussions indicate that the option of exile has not been ruled out by Mr Hussein.

However, they could also be seen as a freelance effort by individual Iraqi officials who might themselves be considering exile.

"They asked what would be on offer if this were to happen," said a source close to the UAE government. "Because of these contacts the UAE was encouraged to go public with the offer."

Iraqi officials have publicly expressed outrage at the UAE suggestion, put to Arab leaders at asummit earlier this month. It called on the Arab League and the United Nations to oversee a transition in Iraq.

It is, however, understood that contacts between the UAE and senior Iraqi officials are continuing. UAE and Iraqi delegates met for about 20 minutes last week on the sidelines of the summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Mr Hussein has dismissed suggestions that he would be ready to relinquish power, insisting that he will die in Iraq. The deep splits at the UN Security Council and the French and Russian threats to veto a UN resolution authorising military action are probably feeding the hope that war, and the removal of the regime, could yet be averted.

The Iraqi officials were figures known to be very close to the leadership, said a source. "The UAE thought that when you break a taboo it makes the issue more acceptable to the Arab street and facilitates the difficult decision the Iraqi leadership would have to take. The Iraqis face an Arab street that would see this (stepping down) as caving in."

I remember seeing something much more specific, much closer to the wire, but my search so far hasn't yielded it. If anyone else has the same faintly glimmering memory--or wants to persuade me to give up searching--please help!

The sanctions could not have been removed without US acquiescence. There's a whole lot of territory between (a) sanctions are removed and Saddam runs wild and (b) US invades and imposes Chalabi at gunpoint. It's not exactly honest to claim that anyone disfavoring (b) is in favor of enabling (a).

I think everyone understood in the summer and fall of 2002 that the persistent claims from the Pres that no course had been finally decided upon were with winks and nods, and that war was inevitable. (There's always a risk to lying, even when the lies are white, and it is that you'll get caught out. Oh well, they took that risk, and now have to take their medicine). I myself don't have that much problem with what went on in 2002 wrt Iraq -- it was worth learning exactly what the state of Iraq's arsenal was, and this could not have been done without an arms build-up, resolution in Congress, and Res. 1441. (I should add, though, that the Admin's playing the build-up as an election issue in the 2002 midterms was despicable, and that by doing this, they forfeited all benefit of doubt.)

The problem comes in 2003, when Saddam more or less called the bluff. Inspectors were let in, and while this should have derailed to push to war, it didn't. We learned enough by then to know that war was not necessary, in the short run, to contain the threat of Iraqi aggression. No one can point to any kind of ongoing genocide in 2003, so the humanitarian claims look more like excuses than reasons.

Will a similar game be played with the 06 midterms? It seems to me that getting to the bottom of the 02-03 business is insurance against it.

Sebastian: Which is fine if the world is committed to sanctions. In 2002 with respect to Iraq it clearly was not. And the lesson you draw from that is? Apparently nothing.

What lesson have you drawn from the reluctance of (most of) the world to continue to impose punitive economic sanctions on Iraq that killed at least half a million Iraqi children? The lesson I drew from it was that there is a reluctance to continue to impose political policies that one can see are killing innocent people when the justification* for them was never all that sound and has long since vanished.

The sanctions intended to prevent Saddam Hussein from resuming his programs to develop WMD clearly worked effectively, as seemed probable well before the invasion of 2004, and would have been definitely proved had Bush not rushed the UN inspectors out of the country in order to commence the invasion on his schedule.

And, going back to the original point, why do you so earnestly not wish to discuss the fact that when Bush claimed to be seeking peaceful alternatives in 2002, he lied?

*The justification for destroying Iraqi infrastructure during the first Gulf War was to make an invasion easier: the justification for imposing punitive economic sanctions at the end of the first Gulf War was to make things so bad for Iraqis under Saddam Hussein that they would be forced to rise up against him in rebellion. Since when they did, the rebellion went unsupported by any outside force and was ferociously punished by Hussein, it was unsurprising that it never happened again.

" but I'm a tad more concerned with the pragmatic and the mid-term future, not that I object to establishing while George W. Bush is still in office that he has no credibility."

Indeed. Pragmatic, practical consequences. Any legislative proposals, budgets, State of the Union addresses, assurances about current policy or future moves must be publicly conditioned by GWB's lack of credibility. His constant lies will of course be supported by the rest of his administration, and much of Congress.

So if Bush says he will not attack Iran or NK, it is useless information. If he says he is open to X deal on SS or the highway bill, he must be presumed to be lying. No foreign leader should count on any promises, assurances, or summaries of intelligence or finding of fact. The Press and Democratic Party should be helpful to foreign leaders, by saying last week, very publicly:

"Mr Roh or Mr Mugabe or Senator Frist, you do realize that President Bush's word cannot be trusted and any facts or documentation he might have shown you are possibly doctored fakes."

Yes, pragmatic practical consequences that make it impossible>/b> for Bush to do his job: to govern, negotiate, persuade, deceive, obfuscate, betray.

tags end end

Bob, you have become shrill. Welcome to the order.

(some side effects such as missing end tags are possible, pay no attention)

"Or maybe the histories will say Saddam could have avoided war, the death of his sons, the deaths of thousands of his countrymen, women, and children...if only he had let the inspectors in."

Posted by: bob mcmanus

He did, Bob. Which has been well documented, and discussed on this very blog.

bob: No foreign leader should count on any promises, assurances, or summaries of intelligence or finding of fact.

I think most foreign leaders, by this time, are well aware of that. (Indeed, I think you'd be hard put to find a foreign leader who wasn't well aware that Bush's promises are piecrust, and that what the current administration says should be assumed to be what it suits them to say, without any relation to actual facts.)


"He did, Bob. Which has been well documented, and discussed on this very blog."

Some people find sarcasm in writing easy to recognize, and some find it inscrutable. Bob was making a point about "Or maybe the histories will say." Or so I read him and am willing to bet a nickel on, anyway.

sarcasm tags are often invisible in html 7.0 beta. Or irony tags, for I am certain the "history" of the Bush administration will be in dispute for a long time.

Many here, including the less shrill, talk of Bush's lack of credibility. And indeed I am sure foreign leaders are cautious in their dealings. Yet there remains a gentlemanly bipartisan agreement not to emphasize Bush's dishonesty to openly or emphatically, so that, although the informed and involved know what's is going on, the kiddies in the heatland don't get upset.

I would like Harry Reid to stand on the Senate Floor and say:

"Mr Kim, or Mr Kim's representatives. I know you may be trying to achieve a settlement of our differences, in multilateral or bilateral talks. I say, as a representative of at least part of the United States, don't bother with this administration. It's words are not worth the breath used to speak them, its signatures not worth the paper and ink they are signed on. I, for one, approached with any treaty negotiated by Bush, will not support it, for I know, even tho their actions be illegal, they would not honor such a treaty, would not abide by it. How can I say the United States can be trusted with such people in power? I can't, tho it be the saddest statement of my political life.

Go home, Mr Kim. Stop talking. It will get better."

Truth, indeed. Political suicide, however. Verbs in the next comment :)

Hal,

Thanks for a great response.

liberal japonicus,

-“You mentioned that you were teaching a class on Iraq and the recent unpleasantries (I fudge because I can't remember precisely what you said) Could you be convinced to post your reading list/syllabus?”

While the syllabus and reading list are too long to post, the following is a condensed version that might be of use (email me if you want the whole thing):

Course Description: The Gulf War is proving to be a defining and pivotal episode in American history, however United States military involvement in Iraq over the last fourteen years is not simply a reaction to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It is a result of historical factors dating back to the emergence of U.S. internationalism at the turn of the last century. Students will study the Gulf War and the history of Western, especially U.S., involvement in the region through an examination of documents, literature, and images from a broad political and professional spectrum beginning at the dawn of the 20th century to the present day. Students will grapple with how this history helps explain the current war and situation in the Middle East.

While this narrative is debatable, one of my pet peeves is the notion that wars “break out,” as if they were the result of random or unknowable factors, or solely the result of the actions of individuals in positions of power – not that these elements are not at work, but they provide an incomplete picture of causation. The class begins with the Spanish American War, British involvement in the Middle East, and the birth of the modern state of Iraq. Where one starts their story about the Gulf War is as important as the story itself, and I was inspired to provide this larger context partly by Jay Garner’s comparison of Iraq with the Philippines a century ago (it is fascinating to look at what many experts and opinion leaders thought of American empire at that time) and partly to address questions about the extent to which historians can deal with current events.

Now for the reading list and other sources. A controversial topic like this requires an extra effort for one to, in hilzoy’s words, not “inflict their religious or political convictions on their students.” ;) For this and other reasons, the reading list offers perspectives from Raphael Patai to Edward Said, from Noam Chomsky to Max Boot. I don’t want students to memorize and regurgitate data of defer to dogma; I want to provide an environment for them to think about this topic and come to their own conclusions.

Required texts:

Sifry, Micah, and Christopher Cerf, eds. The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions. New York: Touchtone, 2003.

Swofford, Anthony. Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles. New York: Scribner, 2003. (My wife, who cares f*** all for military history, sat down and read this personal account cover to cover. I think that is a good indication that students will be engaged by it as well. While Swofford has taken some criticism from military circles for perhaps being a “bad apple” in a poorly-run unit, he is an intelligent and sensitive writer, his account of soldier’s behavior and perspective rings true from my own experiences, and he tackles a topic that academic works and dry historical documents are often less able express: coming to terms with violence and death in war.)*

I also provide a readings packet that relies on Sifry and Cerf’s “The Gulf War Reader” and James Ridgeway’s “The March to War”; documents and papers from the GAO, DoD, DoS, WH, USAID, The National Security Archives at George Washington University, AEI, RAND, and others; interviews with some of the major players (check out University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies’ “Conversations with History” (http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/conversations); and selections from the works of authors listed below.

A partial and somewhat random list of authors whose work is included in the packet (shorter than listing book titles – a good place to check out are the book lists at Amazon):

Ajami, Fouad/Ammon, Royce/Anderson, John Lee/Atkinson, Rick/Blix, Hans/Boot, Max/Boyne, Walter/Brzezinski, Zbigniew/Buruma, Ian, and Avishai Margalit/Chomsky, Noam/Cleveland, William/Cochrane, Alexander/Cordesman, Anthony/Denton, Robert/Dunnigan, James, and Austin Bay/Etherington, Norman/Farouk-Sluglett, Marion, and Peter Sluglett/Friedman, Lawrence, and Efraim Karsh/Fromkin, David/Gordon, Philip, and Jeremy Shapiro/Hersh, Seymour/Hiro, Dilip/Huntington, Samuel/Kagan, Robert, and William Kristol/Karnow, Stanley/Keegan, John (along with Louis Halle one of my favorite historians)/Khalidi, Rashid, and Lisa Anderson/Muhammed Muslih, and Reeva Simon/Lewis, Bernard/Little, Douglas/Makiya, Kanan/Mamdani, Mahmood/Murray, Williamson, and Robert Scales/Prados, Alfred/Purdum, Todd, and Will Shortz/Singer, Peter/Smith, Ray, and Bing West/Tripp, Charles/Warden, John/Yergin, Daniel.

Lastly, are audio-visual sources. I have two films lined up: “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” (2003) directed by Errol Morris, and “Lessons of Darkness” (1992) directed by Werner Herzog. The latter is a documentary on the oil field fires in Kuwait and the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion. It is also a great way to get a feel for that area of the world – wide angle, panoramic shots. By playing with his subject (“Lessons of Darkness” is also part science-fiction), Herzog’s film helps students think about how historical facts get used to tell a story. I’ve collected about 1700 photos and videos for the class and a friend of mine is giving me a collection of shots taken by American soldiers in Iraq (in addition to outlets like CNN and BBC, digitaljournalist.org and crisispictures.org are good places to look).

*I also recommend along this line “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda” by Philip Gourevitch.

Came across a quote today that made me think about the memo discussion:

“It is true that this assembly was called to deal with the preparation to be made for sailing to Sicily. Yet I think that this is a question that requires further thought. Is it really a good thing for us to send the ships at all? I think that we ought not to give such a hasty consideration to so important a matter and on the credit of foreigners get drawn into a war which does not concern us. . . . What I am saying is this: In going to Sicily you are leaving many enemies behind you, and you apparently want to make new ones there and have them also on your hands.”

-Thucydides (Nicias’ statement on the proposed Athenian expedition against Syracuse)

That's one hell of a list there, otto. Keep us posted on how the class goes!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad