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June 30, 2005

Comments

It's a problem with following what one thinks is divine guidance. How could it be that the Almighty would bring the US low? No, we're God's favored ones, and the war that He sent us to wage will be a success. All we have to do is maintain our faith, our resolve, in the face of the tribulations He sends our way.

Since we're repeating subjects, I'll repeat posts:

"They may agree that failure isn't an option, but this does not mean they will necessarily avoid it."
-David Manning, Blair's chief foreign policy, March 14, 2002 after meeting with Condoleezza Rice.

And, as before, I will ask what has changed since then?

Avoiding failure is particularly difficult when it appears that the official reaction to any criticism of past or present mistakes is "Shut up. And by the way, you're sacked."

I take von's meaning of "failure is not an option" as: we can't afford to fail. The stakes for failure are too high.

CB, we've planned for worse contingencies than a loss in Iraq. I mean, losing NYC to a loose nuke is not an option, is it? But there's a plan for the eventuality. Losing Miami to a Cuban-based Soviet missile was not an option either, but that didn't stop us from facing down the strategic threat despite the increased tactical risk.

we can't afford to fail. The stakes for failure are too high.

That's been as true for the losing side in most wars that I can think of as it was for the winning side. But they still lost, even though they couldn't afford to.

Someone on some other thread quoted a French journalist in Vietnam who said that the problem was that the Americans could not lose - but that they refused to recognize the difference between "cannot lose" and "we'll win".

You have been asked several times to provide your metrics for what constitutes victory in Iraq. You have not yet responded.

As Orcinus reminds us http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2005/06/hunting-of-liberals.html>again, civilization remains a work in progress. When did we forget that democracy and liberty require perpetual vigilance? When did we begin to take for granted that we had arrived at the pinnacle and we could just coast on to the end of history?

"When did we begin to take for granted that we had arrived at the pinnacle and we could just coast on to the end of history?"

It was probably the boomers. Sounds like them. I shake my fist.

Thanks for posting on this Hilzoy. I have a slightly different take on this, which is to imagine a successful failure, which, I think, is much more realistic than imagining Iraq as a free, peaceful, non-theocratic representative republic

Iraq will be a successful failure if it always remind the US that it cannot act alone, but it must act in concert with others.

Iraq will be a successful failure if through it, the people of the US realize that crimes of torture are not prevented simply by virtue of the fact that we are Americans, but because we have understood and conquered the kinds of demons that exist in all people.

Iraq will be a successful failure if it will help us come to understand Islam as religion that is one of the heritages of mankind.

Iraq will be a successful failure if it helps the US and the world come to grips with the problems of privatized militaries

Iraq will be a successful failure if it helps the US realise that the future calls for a military skilled in peacekeeping rather than military.

Iraq will be a successful failure if the Shi'a majority can create a pluralistic Islamic state that acknowledges and accomodates its Sunni minority.

Iraq will be a successful failure if the US can allow a representative government that can disagree with us strongly and often.

And finally, Iraq will be a successful failure if it makes us stop from ever doing something this stupid again in the future.

On occasion, I have called this the sticky slope fallacy. Just as no slope is so slippery that a slide down it is inevitable, no slope is so sticky that a slide down it is impossible. Denial is often a key ingredient in failure, as is its unnamed obverse - the unfounded hope that something magical will happen to save us. I see this attitude most often with regard to personal liberties. "Oh no, people would never let it get that far. They'd rise up and fight it." Oh, yes they would, but not as long as they're sitting around expecting someone else to rise up and fight it. Both action and resistance come from people who don't expect it to come from anyone else.

Charles, the interpretation of 'failure is not an option' depends on the attitudes and actions of those saying it. For example, when said by a pilot conducting a rigorous pre-flight inspection, checking with the mechanics, double-checking the weather and flight plans, etc., it would mean "I'm making sure that I won't fail".

When said by a pilot falsifying a pre-flight inspection, telling the mechanics to STFU, and sorting through weather reports until he finds the one that he likes, it means something totally different.

Now, which situation is the better analogy for the Bush administration?

There's an anecdote a priest tells President Bartlett in "Take This Sabbath Day": "You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town. And that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, 'I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.' The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, 'Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.' But the man shouted back, 'I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.' A helicopter was hovering overhead. And a guy with a megaphone shouted, 'Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I'll take you to safety.' But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety. Well... the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. 'Lord,' he said, 'I'm a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?' God said, 'I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?"

I'm reminded of this anecdote when I read the Bush-supporter reactions to Kerry's op-ed, or Chuck Hagel's speech - or even to Edward's or Hilzoy's posts here.

On the one hand, these Bush supporters are passionately committed to the vision that victory in Iraq means a free stable democracy, not a theocracy or a replacement dictatorship or a failed state.

On the other, any attempt by anyone but Bush (or another loyal member of his administration) to suggest ways and means of accomplishing this - which necessarily involves pointing out that Bush administration methods aren't working, and why they're not - is greeted with contumely and rejection. They don't want the radio report: they don't want the rowboat: they don't want the helicopter.

There's an anecdote a priest tells President Bartlett in "Take This Sabbath Day": "You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town. And that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, 'I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.' The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, 'Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.' But the man shouted back, 'I'm religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.' A helicopter was hovering overhead. And a guy with a megaphone shouted, 'Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I'll take you to safety.' But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety. Well... the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. 'Lord,' he said, 'I'm a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?' God said, 'I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?"

I'm reminded of this anecdote when I read the Bush-supporter reactions to Kerry's op-ed, or Chuck Hagel's speech - or even to Edward's or Hilzoy's posts here.

On the one hand, these Bush supporters are passionately committed to the vision that victory in Iraq means a free stable democracy, not a theocracy or a replacement dictatorship or a failed state.

On the other, any attempt by anyone but Bush (or another loyal member of his administration) to suggest ways and means of accomplishing this - which necessarily involves pointing out that Bush administration methods aren't working, and why they're not - is greeted with contumely and rejection. They don't want the radio report: they don't want the rowboat: they don't want the helicopter. They're good Republicans, they vote, they pray - Bush loves them and Bush will save them.

What the hell are you doing here?

Okay, how did that happen? Anyway, I put that messed-up comment in a rather better form than this on Liberal Street Fighter. My apologies for the mixup.

Might I take this opportunity to suggest a way to unmuddy the semantic waters?

Failure is always a possibility, but we should never head there by choice or by incompetence, especially when lives are on the line.

Jes: I don't think that the West Wing can really take credit for that old joke.

Hilzoy:

I don't see any contradiction between "failure is an option" and my position. Indeed, because I've become convinced that failure is not merely an option -- but that we are actually failing in Iraq -- I've become a louder advocate for a change of course.

von -- yes; that's why I said I agreed with you ;)

Ahh. Thanks.

Failure has already occured, and so what are the options?

Iraq is not going to evolve into a non-theocratic and slightly friendly government. It is headed toward Iran-lite, with some degree of Sharia law and religious leadership -- that is the will of a majority of Iraqis, as shown by the elections. It is hard to imagine it becoming friendly to US interests. It is also hard to see that there is anything we can do about it except provoke more hatred by resisting the will of the Iraqi people.

It may have a hard time even evolving into some form of democracy -- the escalating Shia/Sunni civil war probably makes it impossible to grow a democracy now. Iraqis are going to opt for greater stability rather than more democracy, as have countless other peoples faced with a similar dilemma. This is the direct consequence of failing to secure the place after the invasion -- a now irreversible mistake.

Our presence has devolved into a participant for the benefit of one side of the civil war, while simutaneously being hated by that side for the ongoing occupation. A neat trick. It seems clear that our continued presence has as much to do with creating instability as trying to stabilize things.

The current mess is the outcome of Bush policy -- not some accidental by-product. The mess is certain to continue since there is nothing in Bush policy designed to remedy it, and no plans to change policy. Think about what that really means -- they prefer the chaos that they have created.

Failure has already occurred -- pretending it is not an option is self-delusion. So now what do we do?

'We' will point out the truth, and what needs to be done. Bush will do what he wishes. The GOP will support him, with a few people making occasional statements that things are going badly - probably as
cover for when the sh*tstorm hits.

Things in Iraq will continue to go badly. More and more Americans will realize that things are going badly. ~30% of the American people will lie, BS, and spin as needed, to support their Dear Leader. They will bitterly blame the rest of us for scr*wing things up.

The main point I was trying to make isn't that the "failure is not an option" mantra is no substitute for having a plan for success. That would have been the salient point a year ago -- just as saying hope is no substitute for a plan would have been the salient point TWO years ago.

I'm saying the United States may have ALREADY failed in Iraq -- failed irreversibly. In which case withdrawal could be the wisest strategic course. Iraq is a battle, not the war. When you lose a battle, sometimes the smart thing to do is retreat and regroup. Only incompetent generals (or crazy ones) refuse to retreat because they can't stand to admit that a battle has been lost.

Maybe that's true in Iraq, maybe it's not. But it seems like somebody should be thinking, and planning, for the possibility that it might be true. How can the damage be contained?

The war against Al Qaeda won't end if Iraq is lost, but the war could be lost if defeat in Iraq leads to other defeats elsewhere.

The real problem with the hardcore Bush/Republican loyalists is that in the end winning the war against Al Qaeda -- which they don't really know how to do anyway --- always takes a back seat to supporting Bush and hating the liberals.

They'd rather help bin Ladin than do anything that might hurt the Republican Party's political prospects.

wmr: "When did we begin to take for granted that we had arrived at the pinnacle and we could just coast on to the end of history?"

sidereal: It was probably the boomers. Sounds like them. I shake my fist.

If this isn't sarcasm from sidereal, it's offensive and unhelpful.

I don't want to get way off-topic, but my g-g-g-generation is the one raised by people who, after WWII, were convinced that that made this country the good guys forever and ever, regardless of our actions.

We were the ones who had our eyes opened by a series of events, including the civil rights movement and the Viet Nam war, to the reality that this country often does not live up to its ideals. Then, in the 1980s, even more proof was provided. This did indeed result in some "reflexively Anti-American" political stances.

No one generation is responsible for the arrogant view that we're such special freedom lovers that nothing we do can be ill-intentioned or wrong, but that view is less common among Americans born between 1946 and 1958 than any other age group.

Nell,

I am going to strongly disagree with you. I think the boomers, having been told that America is the greatest nation from such an early age, are the ones who are idealistic enough to believe it.

Earlier generations, with personal experience of America during trying times such as the Depression and WWII, know America can go in the wrong direction and generally are able to see both sides. Younger generations like X'ers, whose first political awareness related to the consciousness awakening conflicts of the 1960's and 70's, such as the civil rights, women's rights and abortion movements, know it is possible to improve the country and are more pragmatic about how to do it.

I take von's meaning of "failure is not an option" as: we can't afford to fail. The stakes for failure are too high.

This belief might be worse. It's high school coach bushwa through and through. It's not like the Islamo-whatever get magic powers if we leave Iraq; this isn't a video game.

OT, but...quick, see Renewal in Iraq (yes, it really is the White House site). Click while you can.

Thanks, ral. I just took a screen capture of that. ;-)

Two thoughts--

On timetables, I strongly recommend Saletan's new piece in Slate. I have been arguing against withdrawal recently, because I am hoping against hope to rescue a Marshall-plan style victory from this mess. But withdrawal may be the only option. People who like withdrawal should really look at why Saletan advocates setting a calendar date (not just structural objectives) for pull-out. It's a point about the artificiality of the current situation in Iraq that I had meant to make a few days ago when people here were dumping on Kerry for advocating an explicit exit plan. (Also Drum's follow-ups are good).

On morale and body-counts. Certain strategic realists argue as follows: sure, there are car-bombs going off, and sure there is a constant trickle of US casualties. It is heart-breaking, but let's not lose perspective: we still have not lost as many soldiers as in the first day of Normandy. Keep things in perspective: in real numbers, the loss of life and the loss of strategic advantage is simply not large enough for it to cause us to change course. We are being too sensitive to small events, small fluctuations in the body-count, and blowing them out of proportion--with the media's help, of course. Why not focus on the emerging constitution, the increasing economic activity, and the other positive things? We are winning the military war; we can only lose if morale is corrupted by the media's lack of proportion.

Okay--I hear stuff like that, and this is what I wonder. Is there any version of that argument that does not apply equally, and with greater force, to 9/11? I.e., that in the real cost in American lives and destruction to our economy, it was such a small event that it really should not have affected our strategic thinking much at all? (I hate to even talk this way, it's so gut-wrenching to recall those days, but hear me out for the argument's sake). I mean, 3,000 people is fewer than we lost on D-Day, and it's nothing compared to the US population. How many square feet of office space were lost, compared to the surplus rental space in NYC? We still have a stable constitution, economic activity, and so on. There was no damage to our military structure to speak of --yes, good people lost at the Pentagon, but no ships sunk, no divisions wiped out, no fighters shot down. So clearly it would be ridiculous--it would lack all proportion and perspective--to take 9/11 as more than a blip on the passing screen, or make any large strategic decisions about the nation's fate on its basis. The only reason why people got all upset about 9/11 was because the media blew it all out of proportion--all this nonsense about 9/11 "changing everything"--why, from the standpoint of global strategy, the loss of a few thousand lives didn't change *anything*!

But that's not how terrorism works, is it? It felt like the damage was huge, and like my life would never be the same again. And something tells me that it feels that way in a Baghdad bazaar or at a Mosul police station, too.

So: what's the right proportion and perspective to maintain about terrorist acts? When a car-bomb blows up and kills 50 people is it really trivial, the sort of thing that the media should hardly mention? Or is terrorism so horrible, so appalling, that a terrorist act "changes everything", and justifies throwing out all of the rule-books that have governed our behavior since the Washington took prisoners at Trenton?

Or is the answer just that terrorist attacks "change everything" when the lives are lost in America, but mean nothing when the lives are lost in Iraq?

Dantheman, we'll just have to agree to disagree unless someone comes up with survey numbers. Sidereal hasn't weighed in to acknowledge whether his/her comment was serious or not. I think attributing the belief in American exceptionalism to any one generation is unhelpful at best (and absolute bullshit when it's attributed to mine).

I think,

all this nonsense about 9/11 "changing everything"--why, from the standpoint of global strategy, the loss of a few thousand lives didn't change *anything*!

has been roughly the position of many people, including myself. (More accurately, the reaction to 9/11 was a vast overreaction.) We, as Americans, have a preturnatural desire to "address" things. Which is good. But it doesn't always (or even usually) follow the Hollywood "one big battle that solves everything" narrative. And that really bothers people who, for example, believe the Soviet Union would have triumphed but for the one big battle of capital fought by Reagan in the 80s.

SCMT--

Well, I can't get say I share that reaction to 9/11. I mean, I understand it, and probably my inner Clausewitz sees the appeal, but it's not how I felt, then or now.

Still--someone in your position is completely entitled to continue on and say "so the daily car-bombings and deaths in Iraq, and the daily loss of one, five, a dozen Americans, are not globally significant, should not alter our national strategy, and should be buried on page D14. The fact that people pay attention to them is proof of a media conspiracy to hollow out American morale."

You can say that (if you want). Someone who thinks that 9/11 changed everything cannot. (Or at least, I'm not seeing the asymmetry yet.)

Nell, coming in to work today I listened to Le Trente-huit Cunegonde by FT. Hunt it down, and give it a listen.

Slarti should do so too. And report back on the final scene.

I am not aware of any significant post-WWII Western militaristic colonialist project that hasn't been a failure. Well, maybe Falklands. Anyway, I'll say: success is not an option. Deranged neocon messianic megalomaniacs will fail, peoples under foreign domination will eventually win independence. Simple as that. When and how I don't know, detail are not important.

... all this nonsense about 9/11 "changing everything"...

I certainly felt shock on that day and for a long time thereafter. I still remember when those towers were being built, and going up to the top at the first opportunity (I worked in the Wall Street area at the time). I cannot forget the pictures and stories during the weeks that followed, or visiting the site a few months afterward.

What I wish for, from our leaders, is a more balanced and thoughtful perspective. Al-Qaeda was a threat to us on 9/10/2001, and was recognized as such by, for example, Richard Clarke and the Clinton administration in general. It did not grow more powerful on 9/11.

Now President Bush tells us that we have to, for example, pay attention to Africa "because our interests are directly at stake. September the 11th, 2001, Americans found that instability and lawlessness in a distant country can bring danger to our own."

I believe the President's rhetoric is counter-productive to our security, which needs clear thinking, not a knee-jerk response out of fear. I read someone quip that, combining Winston Churchill ("I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat") and Franklin Roosevelt ("the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"), President Bush has nothing to offer but fear itself.

The President's two most recent speeches seem to confirm this analysis.

CharleyCarp! May I see your passport, please? :-)

"If this isn't sarcasm from sidereal, it's offensive and unhelpful."

Correct

"I am not aware of any significant post-WWII Western militaristic colonialist project that hasn't been a failure."

Pile enough adjectives on, and that happens.

Tad,

I really like your comment of 12:30.

That's what most of the rest of the world thought: Yeah, we feel your pain, but let's be honest, we've all been through similar events (if scaled according to country-size) in our history and we have learned that freaking out didn't help things.

abb1: England's defeat of the IRA in Northern Ireland? [the others I can think of -- Shining Path, the Chiapas uprising] have all been defeated by their own central govt]

Otmar--

Thanks, glad you liked it. But my point was not to minimize the impact of 9/11, e.g. to say that it was so trivial that we should not have gone into Afghanistan. Nor am I trying to maximize the impact of terrorism in Iraq, and say that every car-bomb in Mosul is a reason to get out of Iraq.

Rather, my point was to suggest that there is an inconsistency in getting massively obsessed about some terrorism, while insisting that other terrorism is just trivial, insignificant, and so on. (Maybe it ain't inconsistent at all; I'm waiting for a tough-minded hawk to explain why we should shrug off the thousands of deaths in Iraq, but should freak out over the thousands of deaths in NYC. And of course I do see **differences** between the two, e.g. I didn't lose any friends or co-workers in the last bomb in Mosul. But tough-minded strategy ignores sentimental differences like that, right? I'm looking forward to hearing offers.)

What I am objecting to is inconsistent tough-mindedness. When the museum in Baghdad was looted, all we heard was "freedom is messy". A demolished museum here or there is a small price to pay for the blessings of liberty. That's tough-minded.

Okay, now let's be tough-minded **and consistent**. "Freedom is messy"--why not use that as a slogan for repealing the Patriot Act? Sure, if we reduce govt. surveillance then there is a greater likelihood of terrorist acts here in the US. But that's the price of having civil liberties. That's the price of having the open and porous society we used to have--a society in which mobility and freedom were maximized. Maybe the Smithsonian will get blown to smithereens, but as we all know, freedom is messy. What's the exchange value between freedom and museums? Set it at a tough-minded exchange rate if you like, but at least set it at a consistent one.

So I guess my main point was to direct a question to those who want us to ignore terrorism in Iraq, ignore the body counts, and focus on the schools that get painted. Is this attitude consistent with your attitude to 9/11? Shouldn't we focus on the schools that got painted that day? I mean, that is grossly oversimplifying, and I hate to sound callous anywhere near the conceptual neighborhood of 9/11, because as I said earlier it still makes my gut ache to think about it. But isn't it the people who tell us to ignore the car-bombs in Iraq who are really being callous?

von (and for that matter Charles and hilzoy): I asked you this in the previous thread; I hope it's not too forward of me to ask it again. You've maintained that the price of failure is, in some sense, "too high" to allow failure. My question is: too high for what? What price, as concretely as you can, are you willing to pay for success in Iraq? Another thousand American lives? Ten thousand? Another hundred billion dollars? A trillion? How many Iraqi lives? How many North Korean or Iranian nukes? Another 9/11? Another three 9/11s?

[You also didn't address whether the installation of Saddam Mk 2 would constitute success in Iraq, and I'd really like to know that too.]

I'm not expecting you to have a good answer to this; indeed, I'm not sure a good answer exists. But one thing is certain: failure is always an option and rightfully so if the price of success is too high. [See, e.g., King Pyrrhus.] And this is the question that we as a country have never once engaged: what price are we actually willing to pay, and for what definition(s) of success? Without an answer to this, "Failure is not an option" is empty verbiage, devoid of any real meaning.

Well, Gary, from 1945 and thru the 1960s it was a period of demise of the Western colonialism, is it not true?

There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking colonialism is in the past; it just doesn't work any more, like, say, cannibalism.

Tad:

The answer is that our national interests were impacted by 9/11 and are not (directly) by Iraqi loss of life. We have always treated our lives as more important/valuable than those of others; we can argue about the ratio, but I (personally) think it's a natural and good thing that we behave this way.

And, if wasn't clear before, I am wildly anti-Iraq war and anti-Bush.

Anarch: I actually don't believe that no price is too high for failure. I'm also not sure that we have it in our power to avoid failure at any reasonable price. That said:

First, there's the price to Iraqis. We invaded their country. We removed their government. We thereby created a situation in which civil war is a serious possibility. Civil war would be terrible even if we could somehow have confidence that it would stay within the borders of iraq. But we can't -- the most obvious starting-point for the entry of foreign powers would be Turkey into Kurdistan, which would be awful in its own right, but might also provoke others. (Nb: to the extent the problems in Europe make Turkish accession to the EU look a lot less likely, we have also lost one great point of leverage with them.) -- I mean, this could be really, really bad.

Second, there's the price to our credibility, which is already in tatters. By "our credibility" I do not mean e.g. our perceived willingness to just keep on doing anything we start doing, and to hell with the consequences. I mean something more like: the esteem in which we are held. I have some hope that if a sane administration comes in in 2008, it might be possible to undo some of the damage we have done to ourselves, but I think it would be a lot harder if we had just marched in, wrecked Iraq, and marched on out again, leaving behind a nightmare.

Third, I think we have a moral obligation to do it right.

Now: none of this gets to be a factor at all if failure is inevitable. At that point, reasons for avoiding it don't matter, any more than my reasons for wanting not to be dashed to bits on the rocks below me matter when I've already jumped off the cliff.

Also, none of these reasons support staying in if we're only going to make things worse. Since, of course, they are all reasons for trying to make it better.

I honestly don't know whether I think the situation could, in principle, be salvaged at this point. I think it could, actually, though it would be very, very hard. But I am really, really pessimistic about its being salvaged by George W. Bush and his administration. Their track record is too bad, and their unwillingness either to admit any mistakes or to take any sort of corrective action means that they are not likely to improve on it.

So I tend to think that the best we can hope for, given that they are in office, is to declare victory after the Jan. elections and begin an orderly withdrawal. If the Jan. elections are held, that is. The membership of the group that's supposed to draft a constitution by Aug. 15 has still not been settled, and that constitution will have to deal with such unbelievably difficult issues as how much autonomy the Kurds get. A whole lot of cans have been kicked down the road and now have to be dealt with, and the people who are supposed to be dealing with it are bickering.

So what happens if the elections are postponed? If they're postponed not just for a month, but indefinitely, because no one can agree on a constitution? I have no idea.

All of this, of course, is stuff that Bush et al should have thought of before they invaded.

... what price are we actually willing to pay ... ?

A rational discussion of this question is difficult, but I want to point out something that really stands out to me.

Trade-offs are a big part of security design. Of course, that is also true in any resource allocation exercise, but particularly so in security. One frequently cited example is the trade-off between security and convenience: passwords, screening at airports and office buildings, and bulletproof vests all illustrate this trade-off.

As a rule, people don't like paying for security. It's the same problem as insurance. Does anyone like writing a check to an insurance company?

It's the government's job to make these large-scale resource allocation decisions, to weigh benefits and costs. I would like to think that in a war, the costs weigh very heavily since more than dollars are involved.

But, let's consider just the dollars: the Bush administration has funded the war in Iraq exclusively by requesting emergency supplemental appropriations. There has been no public discussion of costs.

After more than two years, I can only conclude that this is a deliberate strategy.

Okay--I hear stuff like that, and this is what I wonder. Is there any version of that argument that does not apply equally, and with greater force, to 9/11? I.e., that in the real cost in American lives and destruction to our economy, it was such a small event that it really should not have affected our strategic thinking much at all?

In my view? In many ways, yes; in others, no. I'll try to expand below, but I can't promise anything like coherency.

Approaching this issue laterally, the basic point is that while the loss of life and the damage to the economy were trivial on the national scale -- though of course wrenching on the personal scale, and I say this as someone who had a friend on UA 93 -- the real damage was inflicted to the two things where Americans are particularly vulnerable: our sense of invulnerability and our sense of being The Good Guys beloved the world over. [You can consider these variations on a theme of hubris if you like.] That, I think, more than any single thing expains the change in the strategic calculus after 9/11: the realization that being The World's Only Superpower(tm) did not render us immune from harm, and the realization that there were a lot of people out there who don't like us and, worse, might have legitimate grievances against us.

[It should go without saying, but no longer does, that irrespective of their grievances I don't think that Al Qaeda took legitimate action against the United States. It should likewise go without saying, but no longer does, that I think 9/11 was a terrible, terrible event and that those responsible should be punished. Please don't misinterpret my rather bloodless analysis of the strategic valences as some kind of attempt to insidiously condone terrorism.]

IOW, the change wasn't so much brought about by 9/11 but rather the realizations engendered by 9/11. In a limited sense, this was a very good thing: our strategic perception of the world was both ridiculously out of date and ridiculously naive, as well as woefully under- and misinformed, and the first requirement of rectifying a broken strategy is the realization that it is, in fact, broken. [Are you listening, Mr President?] To reiterate, in that sense and that sense only, 9/11 was a much-needed wake-up call to the vast majority of Americans. The trouble was, we/they learned the lessons all wrong. I suspect it was because the strategic nuances were drowned in a sea of anger, sure, but primarily a sea of visceral fear: fear of the Bad Men, fear of vulnerability a decade after we had supposedly vanquished Evil once and for all, fear of the fact that we might not be the Good Guys after all but only the latest in a long line of garden-variety empires. Certainly, I think that latter is why people cling to the myth of American exceptionalism so fiercely when all the evidence points to the contrary. That's why, in this Whatchamacallit On Terpsichore, American goodness is -- must be -- taken as axiomatic and unchallengeable. That's why the detainees are -- must be -- assumed guilty. That's why we are -- must be -- so good and pure that to not stand with us is to stand against us amidst the throngs of the unrighteous. To do otherwise would be admit that we have some very unclean blood on our hands and I frankly don't think we have the fortitude as a nation to acknowledge our failings while retaining faith in our ability to pursue righteousness.

[You may now give me the mother of all Karnaks. As well as the father of all generalizations.]

SCMT--

Thanks for the reply. I'm shocked to hear you are anti-Bush--I'm gonna tell Laura, and she ain't gonna send you a christmas card this year.

I'm not sure your answer clears up the mystery for me, because the question of how much and to what degree "our national interests were impacted by 9/11" is exactly what I am asking. How much did it damage our national interests to lose 3000 people? How much did it damage our national interests to lose some excess rental space in NYC? (And again, *please* don't think that this represents how I feel about those people, or even about those buildings. I used to think they were clunky and inelegant structures, and now I miss them terribly).

The tough-minded strategist tells us to view the situation in Iraq by comparison to D-Day, Chancelorsville, or the Somme, and by those standards it is surely right to say that we are taking casualties at a fairly trivial rate. But then, by that kind of metric the events of 9/11 were fairly trivial too, and did not really damage our national interest either.

I also agree with you that some degree of inegalitarian concern for those near and dear to me in preference to those distant and different from me is natural (only too natural) and, hmmm, not sure about "good", but maybe "not completely lacking in adaptive benefits"? So I don't think that answers all my question either.

I guess part of my point is about how we measure the destructive impact of terrorism. The damage that is being done to civil society and the reconstruction effort in Iraq cannot be measured simply by the body count, anymore than the damage to our national interest that was done by 9/11 can be measured that way. (You're just missing the point if you say, "eh, it was one month's worth of highway accident deaths. So what?")

But the parallel to 9/11 should also show that the body-counts and headlines are not *over-estimating* the damage being wrought by the car-bombs in Mosul. If anything, they are *under-estimating* it. It is really, really, hard to rebuild a country when things are blowing up all around you, even if the number of bodies involved is fairly low. If we were right to think that 9/11 was a major blow to our national interests, despite the fact that the body-count was trivial compared to the Somme, then it is not unreasonable to think that Iraq is in a heap of trouble, even though there are only a few dozen people getting blown up every few days. There's a multiplier effect in there, i.e. exactly the multiplier that terrorists count on.

Which is to say: people who think that things are not going well in Iraq, and who base that belief on the prevalence of terror there, are not being deluded by the media. They are making an estimate of the impact of terror that is consistent with their estimate of the impact of 9/11.

It's people who tell us to shrug off the news from Iraq who are being inconsistent. If they want to tell us now that we shouldn't over-react, and that over-reacting only gives the terrorists the reaction they were looking for, they should have remembered that a few years ago.

It does seem quite possible to me that I am being blind and obtuse and missing something obvious here. Suggestions welcome.

ral: After more than two years, I can only conclude that this is a deliberate strategy.

Agreed.

Anarch--

Thanks for the reply, though I'll admit that I didn't understand all of the Musings.

"To do otherwise would be admit that we have some very unclean blood on our hands and I frankly don't think we have the fortitude as a nation to acknowledge our failings while retaining faith in our ability to pursue righteousness."

You may be right about the current state of our country, and especially about its current leadership. And yet there was a time, and a leader:

"If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

So what happens if the elections are postponed? If they're postponed not just for a month, but indefinitely, because no one can agree on a constitution? I have no idea.

If the constitution is approved in October, an election will be held by 15 December and a fully constitutional government will take power by 31 December. If the constitution is rejected, there will be a new assembly election by 15 December, and a further year is then allowed for the whole process.

There is also provision for a delay of six months if not enough progress is made on the constitution by 1 August.

(BBC)

[this didn't show up the first time, sorry in advance if this is a double post]

Let me take a stab at Tad Brennan's question (note that I'm not defending this, just trying to explain it):

If we had had some way to know that a 9/11-type event would occur only once every X years, then perhaps (in theory) we would have been able to base our actions on the relative loss of life & property and come up with some sort of cost-benefit analysis. But we didn't and don't -- 9/11 was a blip, not a regular occurrence, and we don't know whether there will be an even worse attack tomorrow or there won't be another one for 50 years.

In contrast, the opinions voiced on the rate of loss in Iraq are based on a fairly regular (all too regular) process -- casualties are occurring (good ol' passive voice) on a weekly basis and the casualty totals from week to week are all in the same order of magnitude. So the premise is that if there continue to be X casualties per day on average, then we could end up with a stable Iraq at the cost of X*(length of effort) casualties, which product would compare favorably with WWII for many values of (length of effort).

Let me take a stab at Tad Brennan's question (note that I'm not defending this, just trying to explain it):

If we had had some way to know that a 9/11-type event would occur only once every X years, then perhaps (in theory) we would have been able to base our actions on the relative loss of life & property and come up with some sort of cost-benefit analysis. But we didn't and don't -- 9/11 was a blip, not a regular occurrence, and we don't know whether there will be an even worse attack tomorrow or there won't be another one for 50 years.

In contrast, the opinions voiced on the rate of loss in Iraq are based on a fairly regular (all too regular) process -- casualties are occurring (good ol' passive voice) on a weekly basis and the casualty totals from week to week are all in the same order of magnitude. So the premise is that if there continue to be X casualties per day on average, then we could end up with a stable Iraq at the cost of X*(length of effort) casualties, which product would compare favorably with WWII for many values of (length of effort).

But we didn't and don't -- 9/11 was a blip, not a regular occurrence, and we don't know whether there will be an even worse attack tomorrow or there won't be another one for 50 years.

Although, let's be honest, the evidence weighs heavily on the side of "blip".

Francis/Brother Rail Gun of Reasoned Discourse: England's defeat of the IRA in Northern Ireland?

The British army never defeated the IRA in Northern Ireland. So... next?

the evidence weighs heavily on the side of "blip"

Yes, but the question is what exactly is the 'blip'? To my mind, you then need to factor in Brighton Hotel, Sarin in Tokyo, OK city, Washington sniper, Madrid, Beslan. This suggests that it is a trend, but not simply one of Islamic extremism, but of the possibility of small groups of disaffected people wreaking havoc. Thus, the problem is not 'how do we stamp out islamic extremism', the problem is how do we structure our society so that we can either prevent or learn to put up with these attacks. I would think that it would mean creating a system that is less likely to create disaffected people, which would then make it more likely that the mass of people would be more willing to report problems. The alternative is to increase the amount of surveillance and control, but I believe that would increase the number of disaffected people, which would then require more of the same.

LJ: I would think that it would mean creating a system that is less likely to create disaffected people,

I doubt that such a system would be held to be in "our national interests" despite the fact that it would clearly be in humanity's interests.

OT, sorta-kinda: I just saw a reference to something called "Adopt-a-Squad," where participants sign up to correspond with/send stuff/give morale support to soldiers in Aghanistan and Iraq.

I like that idea a whole bunch, but couldn't find any general links to information on how to do so.

Does anyone here know anything about that? How to participate, where to sign up, etc?

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