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August 12, 2005

Comments

When I wrote: "have they all been tried?", I meant to say, later, something like: if not, why on earth haven't they?

it's odd, the military says "these pictures depict Americans doing things so horrible that they will cause riots in the Middle East" and yet people in the Middle East don't ... riot.

if i told my wife i had pictures of me doing things so awful that she would divorce me if she saw them, so i wouldn't show her, i wouldn't be surprised if she divorced me without waiting for proof.

no larger point.. just.. odd.

hilzoy, you reminded me of something Donald Rumsfeld said,

Rumsfeld said that while the world has seen those "shameful pictures," the world also has seen how a democracy is true to its beliefs.

"Abuse Scandal Gives Lesson on Democratic Processes", American Forces Press Service, May 17, 2004

Yes, I guess we see how a democracy handles this situation.

it's odd, the military says "these pictures depict Americans doing things so horrible that they will cause riots in the Middle East" and yet people in the Middle East don't ... riot.

if i told my wife i had pictures of me doing things so awful that she would divorce me if she saw them, so i wouldn't show her, i wouldn't be surprised if she divorced me without waiting for proof.

Well your wife would believe you if you said such a thing to her. However I don't see (a) the U.S. communicating an equivalent statement to the Iraqis in the near future, and so (b) the pictures must be released before the riots ensue.

"Well your wife would believe you if you said such a thing to her. However I don't see (a) the U.S. communicating an equivalent statement to the Iraqis in the near future, and so (b) the pictures must be released before the riots ensue."

I'm pretty sure that there are people in the Middle East who have access to NYtimes.com.

One thing that might explain why the General's remarks are not followed by rioting in Iraq--and why the release of the new material may not be followed by rioting, either--is because many of the potential rioters may already believe that these events occurred, and were horrific. Their minds aren't going to be changed by any new horrors.

They live in a propaganda-bath that maximizes every hint of American awfulness, so they are already convinced that the Americans tortured, raped, etc. the prisoners in Abu Ghraib. In fact, that may have something to do with their lack of hospitality.

We live in a propaganda-bath that minimizes any hint of American awfulness--it didn't happen, if it did it was just frat-boy pranks, if it was worse it was just a few bad apples, etc. etc.

So the only people whose minds are going to be changed by this release are the American people. That's what the Administration's whole fight is over: controlling what the American people think. We're the only people who have been fed a steady line that "nothing happened, and if it did it wasn't bad, and if it was bad it wasn't official, etc. etc." We're the only people who need the pictures in order to change our beliefs about how the American military was corrupted by the Bush administration.

As for what people in Iraq think, the photos & movies may actually be *less* bad than what they have been led to believe.

[And, by the way, I have *no* desire to view these new items myself. I may wind up reading verbal descriptions of them, and that will be bad enough. But I have avoided, with a fair bit of success, having to see any of the more horrific images from the earlier releases.]

Cleek, it could be that there are no riots for the same reason that the Pentagon really fears release of the photos: Photos have a much greater impact than verbal descriptions.

Information about prisoner abuse was out there long ago, but few Americans cared until the earlier set of Abu Ghraib photos came out, and few care about other cases of abuse where there are no photos. No doubt the Pentagon has been able to prevent lots of further abuse stories by the simple expedient of eliminating cameras from the prisons.

Like Tad, I have no desire to see the photos and videos myself, any more than I want to hear the taped 9/11 911 calls that conservative blogs have been linking to lately for some reason.

My guess is that Tad, as usual, has it right on the money: they're trying hard to avoid American reaction.

You could say, though, [warning -- thread jump ahead] that the resistance shows that the Admin is just not cynical enough; if the pictures cause riots, and this interferes with the Iraqi constitutional process, who will be 'to blame' for the 'failure' of the Iraq policy: the ACLU.

"The situation on the ground in Iraq is dynamic and dangerous," General Myers said, with 70 insurgent attacks daily.

Man, these last throes are taking forever. Can we just move on to the final last throes, or the last final throes, or the penultimate throes, or what have you?

He also said there was evidence that the Taliban, though still weak, was gaining ground because of popular discontent in Afghanistan.

Gosh, I thought we were pretty much done there. Huh.

He also said the images could fuel terrorist disinformation campaigns.

But . . . they're real photographs, of things we really did, right?

"It is probable that Al Qaeda and other groups will seize upon these images and videos as grist for their propaganda mill, which will result in, besides violent attacks, increased terrorist recruitment, continued financial support and exacerbation of tensions between Iraqi and Afghani populaces and U.S. and coalition forces," he said."

I guess in retrospect, maybe we shouldn't have done them, huh? You may want to call over to the attorney general's office and let him know what a bad idea some of this turned out to be.

Brennan and others have it right. The cover story about "preventing riots" is pure fiction -- it exists simply to avoid admission of the actual motive for this policy, which is so much a Bushism. That is, by denying access to information, they can pretend that a problem does not exist.

This is 100% about burying these facts with a baloney reason and thereby avoid all of the domestic political consequences.

And if the photos are not released, expect official policy to reflect the posture that such horrible abuses did not really happen. All we are left to is links to Hersh, which Charles will tell us (because of the "obviously tainted" source) have been "debunked."

CharleyCarp--

Many thanks for the compliment. But don't misunderstimate their cynicism: isn't the General's warning couched as it is, in part, simply *in order* to say "we told you so" if there is any reaction?

If riots *do* occur because of these new images, the riots will not be blamed on Rumsfeld who crafted the policies, or Yoo and Bybee who apologized for them, or Bush who signed off on them, or any of the actors who really had a causal role to play. Nope, it will be the fault of liberals.

You know, in ancient Greece there was this system of magical thinking whereby you could cure an epidemic of infectious disease by atoning to the gods for the public's sins, and you could do that by ceremonially loading all the sins onto the back of an animal--say, a goat--and then killing the goat.

Now, sober people think that infectious diseases are caused by micro-organisms, and they recognize that blaming the goat is due to magical thinking. But scape-goating is still with us.

I hate to come in and say me too, but I really think Tad Brennan's post has nailed it: this is all about the US public and not the Iraqi public.

"The world is a good place, and worth fighting for. I agree with the second part."

"By not doing that -- by not living up to their own responsibilities -- they have forced us to choose. Neither choice is good. But it is not a choice we had to make."

Sums up the whole war, pretty much.

See, the thing is: I don't for a minute discount the possibility that these photos and videos could get people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I read Gen. Myers' statement last night, and though large chunks were redacted, there was a public bit about rape in Arab culture; and if I recall correctly, Seymour Hersh, who has seen them, mentioned children. And clearly photos or, worse, video of rape, let alone rape of a child, would have an impact that words would not have, even granting (what seems obvious) that what happened in these prisons is already far better known in Iraq and Afghanistan than it is here. Knowing and seeing on video are different.

I think they should be released anyways. This is the kind of country we live in, and this is the sort of thing we need to be informed citizens in a democracy. But I don't think this will be cost-free, nor that the cost will be borne only by the people who got us into this mess.

I think they should be released anyways. This is the kind of country we live in, and this is the sort of thing we need to be informed citizens in a democracy. But I don't think this will be cost-free, nor that the cost will be borne only by the people who got us into this mess.

I tend to agree with all of this, even though I'm seriously queasy at the thought of what might ensue upon the photos' release. Ironically (or perhaps not so ironically) I think that as a matter of domestic policy those photos need to be shown to every American, especially those who were/are pro-war, so that we're fully cognizant as a nation of our failings (and so that we can attempt to rectify them). As a matter of foreign policy, though... bad juju. Really, really bad juju. If the truth comes out, people are going to die.

And swirling about and under all this, the real question: what have we become as a nation that we must actively cover up our crimes in order to prevent a massacre?

Anarch: I share the queasiness. Completely. And I agree about the real question. Except for this one caveat: that I can imagine some awful thing being done, by one or a few people, that truly would fall under the heading of 'given a large army at war, it's likely that at least one truly horrible thing that should never ever have happened, will happen'; in a case like that, I would feel differently. (I suspect I'd be for their release, but solely on principle, and because of precedent etc.)

But then, in a case like that I do not think the ACLU would have filed the FOIA request.

My fear is that if the photos and videos are released, the Bush supporters will sink further into their moral sewer and abandon even more of their humanity, justifying and minimizing greater degradations and crimes than they already have. Rape will become just another thing to expect in war (unfortunate but unavoidable), just another interrogation tactic necessary in desperate times, or just another example of fraternity-style hijinks (boys will be boys).

Except for this one caveat: that I can imagine some awful thing being done, by one or a few people, that truly would fall under the heading of 'given a large army at war, it's likely that at least one truly horrible thing that should never ever have happened, will happen'; in a case like that, I would feel differently.

Yeah, I have something of a similar caveat. That's why I spent so long trying to phrase the question (and didn't really succeed IMO): this wasn't just a case of "bad things happen in war", of "collateral damage" or anything like that. Whether it was official governmental policy or not, the truth is that all of these abuses, tortures, rapes and deaths were entirely preventable, the result of a systemic perversion that gave license (and sometimes encouragement) to individual malice.

So the question, properly asked, should read more like: what have we become as a nation that we have to cover up crimes of this nature in order to prevent a massacre? What have we become that fear -- the completely justified fear of violent retribution -- has triumphed over honesty, honor and justice?

"But then, in a case like that I do not think the ACLU would have filed the FOIA request."

Do you really think so?

Except for this one caveat: that I can imagine some awful thing being done, by one or a few people, that truly would fall under the heading of 'given a large army at war, it's likely that at least one truly horrible thing that should never ever have happened, will happen'; in a case like that, I would feel differently.

But than the perpetrators (sp?) would be prosecuted, and as Hilzoy already remarked, that changes the consequences.

In other news, Maher Arar's http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/10/nyregion/10civil.html?ex=1281326400&e>civil suit on extraordinary rendition is being heard in NY. We're not giving an inch.

I rather like the anti-Republican sentiment. That in other threads, people muse about how is it even possible that there are anti-Iraq war activists, but I see no such compunctions here about insinuations that Republicans support Iraq torture. I really don't want to toss the overused jab 'hypocrite' around, but I have to bite my tongue not to.

I support the Iraq war, and I of course, disapprove of the actions of the soldiers in regards to these prisoners, and they deserve nothing but scorn and shame for their actions, but we're in a war in which victory or defeat is based solely on public opinion.

So, to me, the question falls down to a level of which is worth more, full exposure of the actions performed, or keeping those tools out of anti-war zealots hands.

This is not an easy decision, and were I President, I would definitely make sure that the people involved pay dearly, but I'd have to weigh that against a desire not to cut off parts of the military that might still aid us, perhaps waiting until after the situation has cooled down to crucify those responsible.

I don't see how the pictures should be used as tools to attack pro-war activists. Granted, I think any sane Iraq War supporter realizes that we're not being perfect here, but they feel that the possible benefits of freeing the Iraqis and whatnot are still a noble enough purpose to pursue.

We simply cannot leave Iraq presently. That possibility should be simply off the table, and I shudder more at the idea that these pictures could be used to make public opinion become so vehement that we leave immediately. No matter WHAT you think, leaving right now will result in atrocities anything that we assume went in the alleged secret prisons across Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though, to be honest, if we had a guy who we knew had info that could stop a violent attack on Iraqi civilians, American troops, or, a much more frightening prospect, a terrorist attack on any of the civilized nations outside... well, I would weigh that detainee's discomfort vs. the innocent lives that could be saved... leaning toward the latter.

But, it is, of course, foolish to assume that many cases in Abu Ghraib or similar situations hold up to that archetype, but I want to make sure that moral compasses are aligned reasonably here.

"we're in a war in which victory or defeat is based solely on public opinion"

I must say, I don't understand this. It just seems to turn a real war into a political game. A real war, over there, into a game, back here. That's not fair to the troops.

The war in Iraq, like other wars, is won by the control of territory, and the re-establishment of a functioning civil society, remade along the lines preferred by the victor. It is won by attaining military objectives. Or it is lost by failing to attain them.

So, for instance, when US soldiers are not able to walk down the street in Baghdad without being shot at or bombed, then there is a problem right there, involving bullets and bombs, that has nothing to do with domestic public opinion.

When fresh insurgents can come across the border with impunity, that is a problem whose origins are in military control, and whose solution is within military control. It is not a problem about public opinion.

If the insurgency could be quelled tomorrow, and Iraqis could start reconstructing their country, then it would not matter what the latest poll numbers are back in the States. That part of the war would be won.

This war is not being lost because of public opinion. This is a war that needs, and has needed, more troops, better armor, better leadership, civilian and military. It has needed real strategies, real fall-back plans, real planning of any kind.

The public has been and will continue to be supportive of the troops and of America. The public has never been asked for money and refused; it has never been asked for troops and refused. Everything that this administration has requested, it has received. Of course, it requested far too little, and used that little badly, but public opinion cannot be blamed for that.

The public can do very little about the gross *military* incompetence exhibited at every phase of this conflict. The public gave the administration a completely free hand in the conduct of this war, and the administration failed, catastrophically. And now the administration is turning around and saying it was the public's fault?

Yes, I will grant easily and readily that the war was poorly planned on a number of levels (To me, this feels easy to say not being a military analyst, but it also seems fair.)

The thing is, we have the manpower, the resources, and the knowledge that we can stay in Iraq almost indefinitely. The odds of the American forces in Iraq being wiped out, the full control of the Iraqi government falling, are minute.

The way I see the war, for what mistakes there are, the only way the terrorists will win if public opinion turns so far away from the war, that we pull out and walk away without letting the job get finished. THAT is the scenario I fear more than anything, the scenario which I feel is equal in horror to thousands upon thousands of Abu Ghraibs. (I don't say this to trivialize Abu Ghraib and any reasonable person should see that and see the depth the potential world outlook should we pull out that causes me so much fear.)

Like you said, everything that the administration has asked for, it has received. That situation will likely continue, and I feel that when that situation ceases, we will completely lose the war. It won't have been public opinion's fault that we didn't win, but it will be public opinion's fault that we walked away.

Sources I've read said that the general beliefs in Baghdad regarding the Iraq situation is more positive than the beliefs in New York about Iraq. Just as a random tidbit.

Now, when I say public opinion, I'm not trying to cast it as a cruel villain or something. I simply want the American public to realize that, dangit, the potential positive benefits of the Iraq conflict for the Iraqi people and, the good Lord willing, the Middle East are great and could be immense. That the sacrifices we are making are noble, and that President Bush is not waging this war solely because he is some greedy cartoon villain. Criticism of the military's mistakes, perfectly acceptable, but dangit, I'd rather take the role of the President and read them myself and personally face-punch those responsible than let them be used as instruments to attack public opinion.

And, of course, I wish President Bush would get over his issues and start sealing borders, both in Iraq and the US! We should be doing better to control the terrorist insurgency. Dangit, we're the American military, some of the best trained in the world! WE SHOULD BE DOING BETTER THAN THIS!

But I also think it is foolish to assume that progress isn't being made as we speak. Given time and the assumption that our military leaders have SOME idea how to run a military, as in being not completely incompetent buffoons, we should learn from our mistakes and be able to work to correct them in Iraq.

OH NOES A TRIPLE POST

Better than this should be read to mean tactically as well as what goes on in Abu Ghraib.

I rather like the anti-Republican sentiment. That in other threads, people muse about how is it even possible that there are anti-Iraq war activists, but I see no such compunctions here about insinuations that Republicans support Iraq torture. I really don't want to toss the overused jab 'hypocrite' around, but I have to bite my tongue not to.
I don't understand the first part of your "hypocrisy" non-accusation. I haven't seen anyone "muse about how is it even possible that there are anti-Iraq war activists." It sounds like something they might do on a right-wing site. People here mostly understand how it's possible to be an antiwar activist, and some may even be among those activists.

In any case, if you really don't support torture, you should be very angry with Bush for making our country into one of the ones that tortures people, and ships people elsewhere to be tortured, and you should be calling for the people responsible for the policies that led to torture to be punished rather than promoted (as they have been so far). If instead you continue to support Bush as he does nothing to remove the stain he put on the US, it's understandable that people might call you a torture supporter.

KC: Though as Katherine said before (I think), she would have supported FDR despite the internment of the Japanese, as would I. And I don't think this exactly makes me into a supporter of forced internment of citizens; just a person who thinks that sometimes, horribly enough, the alternative is worse.

Of course, I have an easier time seeing why losing WW2 would be bad enough to justify supporting FDR than I do finding any such counterbalancing thingo with the Bush administration, but that's hardly surprising, since I did not in fact vote for him anyways, and moreover wouldn't have been caught dead voting for him. But I think that as a general principle, "If you vote for a President who you know does X, you support X" isn't right. At most, "If you vote for a President who you know does X, you either support X or think that this person being President is, for some other reason, important enough to justify voting for him, despite X."

But I think that as a general principle, "If you vote for a President who you know does X, you support X" isn't right.

Does that apply to X's so profoundly, morally wrong as to disallow their usage in society? What if, for example, X were "rapes small children" or "murders innocent civilians"? [I'm thinking Idi Amin here, or maybe Mugabe; someone of that ilk.] Such doesn't apply here -- no-one has accused Bush of actually torturing people himself (and if anyone has they should be roundly condemned as a lunatic) -- but it strikes me that there is a definite limit beyond which I, at least, am unwilling to go.

"But I think that as a general principle, 'If you vote for a President who you know does X, you support X' isn't right."?

I'd like to think this is obvious, but I suspect it isn't universally so, so I'll attempt to add to this by pointing out that it's also simply another way of saying, for instance, "if you didn't support the invasion of Iraq, you were objectively pro-Saddam/pro-fascist/." It's terribly easy to construct these little false binary-isms. I gotta million where those came from, and I can be here all week if the pay is good. "If you choose X, you are in favor of everything that flows from X," certainly doesn't logically hold together; "if you choose X, you are responsible for your part of everything that flows from X" is, on the other hand, a far more complex assertion to contemplate. Or so it seems to me.

OHNOES: The thing is, we have the manpower, the resources, and the knowledge that we can stay in Iraq almost indefinitely. The odds of the American forces in Iraq being wiped out, the full control of the Iraqi government falling, are minute.

Well, true, the US military is in control of the Iraqi government: the Iraqi government theoretically has the authority but does not have the power to tell the US military to get out. (Even though, so I recall reading, every single party that ran for election in Iraq has included on its platform "ending the US occupation".) But since the Iraqis cannot tell the US military to get out of their country, the only way the war can end is if a US administration decides to end it by withdrawing the troops.

Criticism of the military's mistakes, perfectly acceptable

But in fact, the worst mistakes were not made by the military. The worst mistakes were made by the Bush administration, and neither Bush nor his administration appears interested in acknowledging and learning from their mistakes.


Er, excuse me, no time to rebutt everything, but PIMF. I meant to say the musing how it is even possible that there are opponents of the Iraq war who want America to lose it.

Ahem, and thus it is hypocrisy for you to doubt the existance of irrational anti-war people who want America to lose, but then shade pro-war people as being in favor of torture without giving them the same benefit of the doubt.

O: Ah, that makes a lot more sense. I was sort of scratching my head a bit. Thanks.

OHNOES: and thus it is hypocrisy for you to doubt the existance of irrational anti-war people who want America to lose, but then shade pro-war people as being in favor of torture without giving them the same benefit of the doubt.

Well, I think the difference is that there exist people who claim to be against torture, who were aware that the Bush administration were pro-torture (it's been extensively and thoroughly documented here in a series of posts labelled Maher Arar) and who nonetheless voted for and actively support Bush. I agree that it's not right to assume that means they're lying when they claim to be against torture, but it does mean that they clearly don't think that opposing torture is as important as whatever their reasons for supporting Bush.

Ditto people who claim to support the war in Iraq, but supported Bush in 2004: one cannot assume they are lying, but if we assume they have been following the Bush administration's conduct of the war, they plainly don't think that success in the war in Iraq is as important as whatever their reasons for supporting Bush for a second term.

(PIMF: Preview Is My Friend. I didn't know until I looked it up.)

But I think that as a general principle, "If you vote for a President who you know does X, you support X" isn't right.

Hmmm . . . how about, "If you vote for a President who you know does X, you are at best indifferent as to the continued occurrence of X?" That's probably closer, but still not altogether correct, given one's likelihood of trying to convince the President not to do X anymore. (Or convince the Congress not to allow the President to do X, to the extent that the Congress is inclined to limit Presidential power and the President is inclined to listen.)

Mark Kleiman says it better...

"Hmmm . . . how about, 'If you vote for a President who you know does X, you are at best indifferent as to the continued occurrence of X?'"

This whole confusion of feelings with responsibility seems to be a rather modern thing. Anyway, it's been very popular in modern times. If you didn't vote for George W. Bush in 2000, does that mean you were "at best indifferent" to Iraqis suffering under Saddam? Probably not, although if you were, the anecdote would still say nothing about anyone other than yourself.

There's also the point that people who actually say they support torture are probably a couple of orders of magnitude more common among bloggers and commenters than people who actually say they want America to lose. But mistaking the part for the whole is still wrong, whether the part is 0.1 percent or 10 percent or 99 percent -- though I think there may be degrees of wrongness there.

If you didn't vote for George W. Bush in 2000, does that mean you were "at best indifferent" to Iraqis suffering under Saddam?

Well, assuming that there were no other candidates in the election, or if there were, not a single one of them had any plans whatsoever on U.S./Iraq relations that might make things better for Iraqis, sure, that's essentially exactly what it would mean.

Sorry about that. I was on a bit of a typing rush as having lost sizable post earlier. Feel free to poke out any further inconsistencies like that if I make them.

I'd, of course, like to see how the President is saying "You were responsible for torture, and for that I'm promoting you." I've not been an avid reader of this blog, so if this was proven as fact before, I'd like to see it.

People who voted for Bush might also have thought that Kerry's Iraq plan was not particularly effective from their analysis. That and as was illustrated by Anarch, President Bush is not directly torturing people.

On a side note, while I think torture is reprehensible, I'm not ready to unequivocally tie the president's hands on the matter simply because a situation could arise where it is our only way to get information which could stop a terrorist attack. If it had to be done, I'd forgive President Bush for that, but certainly not making torture a matter of standard policy, and preferably not the practice of exporting torture, if we can be reasonably sure that's why President Bush is sending those prisoners to other countries. Not an illogical conclusion to be sure, but it is a grave accusation.

I'm not ready to cast President Bush as an ignorant buffoon unable to win the fight against the Iraq terrorist insurgency. Granted, if public opinion doesn't screw us out of victory, Bush's inability to fight this like a REAL war will be the second place cause if we lose.

Regarding the Iraqi's wishing to end the American occupation, NO country wants to be occupied. That's a simple fact. But, I'm 95% certain that for all the Iraqis that want the American occupation to end, there are quite enough out there that still want American troops there to protect them from terrorist scumbags. I want the occupation to end too, if that means anything.

Hey, if anyone knows a magic formula to make President Bush only able to apply torture.. and by this I mean something a bit more... civilized than the sort of things that Saddam or Stalin did, take what little moral stand we can out of a bad situation... if and only if it will yield information that will directly save lives, I'm all for it.

OHNOES: I don't think that the fact that Bush is not directly torturing people (e.g., personally going to Guantanamo and doing it himself) matters all that much. Whether he condoned it explicitly or not matters more, but to me it's not decisive: what matters is whether his leadership is responsible for its happening, in the sense that having the leadership style that he has, and appointing the people he did, made it likely that something like this would happen. Personally, I think it did.

Myself, I don't think he promoted anyone because of torture. I think he just decides who he likes and goes with that regardless of the consequences, as you can see in a small way in his statement that he trusts Palmeiro when he says he didn't use steroids, after Palmeiro tested positive.

But certainly he promoted Alberto Gonzales to Attorney General despite his having been very heavily involved in all the torture memos, and he has taken no action against Rumsfeld despite his involvement in setting interrogation practices, not to mention his incompetence in prosecuting the war.

And I think this administration has lost the war; public opinion has very little to do with it, and if public opinion turns against him now, it will be in large part because of this administration's incompetence, not because e.g. the public can't take casualties.

Logical statements, hilzoy. I cannot argue.

Public opinion turning against President Bush isn't going to stick anything to him unless one of two things happen. He either gets impeached, or the chorus of voices calling for withdrawal become so loud that President Bush, or his Democratic successor, pulls the troops out of Iraq.

Granted, if Hillary would fight this terrorist insurgency in an effective and tough way, I would vote for her, even if I feel her social policies are misguided at times.

I REALLY, REALLY wish the Bush administration could have put on a better show, but I am not going to say that they "lost the war" right yet.

Again, criticizing Bush's handling of the war makes me queasy. I don't think it's on the whole unfair, but I prefer to let cited military experts do the talking.

Granted, if public opinion doesn't screw us out of victory, Bush's inability to fight this like a REAL war will be the second place cause if we lose.

If you concede President Bush has gotten what he's asked for from Congress, you should at least consider ranking incompetence higher than you seem to.

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The military could be doing everything right on a small and medium scale, and we could still have problems. The larger scale questions, not least of which is, "is the very existance of an occupying force making the situation better or worse?" are more Bush, Rumsfeld and Rice's pay grade. Assume the occupying force is a net positive. They still need to know what their primary, secondary, etc. missions are - and those goals have to coincide with our intelligence, diplomatic, economic goals etc. All that coordination, in a nutshell, is the job of Bush and his appointees. Is it getting done? Sadly, that's rather hard to say, since I couldn't honestly tell you what our top three priorities in Iraq are now. If we're actually succeeding in Bush's top three priorities, well, I'm not completely thrilled with what those would have to be... but it would argue against incompetence.

This illegal war, sold on fear and lies, was never winnable, and the fact that we have not and cannot win it is sinking in to some of the people who make the decisions that matter.

A non-trivial part of the fear and lies was the linking of the Iraqi government with the terror attacks of September 11. That, combined with "gloves off" decisions already made at the top in reaction to those attacks, and the failure to prepare for resistance in Iraq, created an atmosphere in which abuse and torture of Iraqi detainees was quite possible, almost predictable.

There is a public relations war that has accompanied the shooting war at every stage. It is a war on us by our own government, made necessary by lies and wilful omissions in the runup to the invasion -- and made ever more necessary as the multiple failures and disasters of the last two years become apparent.

This administration has continued to assert that the President can do just about anything in his role as Commander in Chief, regardless of U.S. law and the constitution. The White House threatens to veto amendments to the Defense spending bill to bar cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees, and Sen. Frist pulled the bill from consideration to avoid a fight over those amendments. But that can't be avoided forever; the bill will come back up sometime in September or October.

The images from Abu Ghraib, particularly the video images, have the potential to be a metaphorical 500-pound bomb to the administration's p.r. efforts. There will be other damage, too. However, it's worth remembering that the 'bomb' was created with materials this administration left lying around.....

Nell: I'm not sure that the war was never winnable. I mean, I didn't support it, and one (of many) reasons was that I didn't think Bush et al would do a competent job at it, but I'm not sure no one could have. I think it would have taken a lot more troops, and a lot more planning, and would have been a gamble in any case; but not a hopeless one.

"The thing is, we have the manpower, the resources, and the knowledge that we can stay in Iraq almost indefinitely. The odds of the American forces in Iraq being wiped out, the full control of the Iraqi government falling, are minute." OHNOES

The fact is, as I tell students in my Vietnam War courses, that the USA could still be in *Vietnam* today, if we were willing to stomach the consequences and the cost. Exactly the same parameters apply. The US is militarily strong enough and - for now - economically strong enough to sustain an occupation of almost any 3d world country indefinitely. In the 19th century, it was called - unapologetically - "Empire."

But To What End? Is the purpose of a war - Vietnam or Iraq - simply not to lose, to "stay the course"? Or is there supposed to be a time when we can end our occupation, stop fighting, and achieve some desired result? (Presumably that, and that alone, would constitue "winning.")

In Vietnam there wasn't. The rightists who argue that we never lost in VN militarily are correct, but the fact remains that after almost a decade of direct military involvement (combat/occupation), which followed on two previous decades of major financial and military support for our chosen faction, we were really no closer to "winning" in 1973 than ever. And at that point - or before that point - the American people decided it wasn't worth Americans dying (to say nothing of the Vietnamese, and the "collateral damage" to Cambodians and Laotians) just to keep on not "losing" as a nation.

I know much less about the current situation in Iraq, but I'm perfectly willing to believe that your statement above is true. We could stay in Iraq indefinitely. But To What End?

Hilzoy, it depends on how counterfactual one wants to be in imagining an invasion and occupation that might have "worked."

Upfront, I'll acknowledge my extreme skepticism that war, no matter how well planned and carried out, can be effective in establishing a stable, reasonably free nation. Foreign occupation generates resistance, period. Japan and Germany are not relevant examples because crushing defeats of that kind are not an option in wars of choice.

[This recognition is at the heart of my distaste for the liberal hawks and "muscular democratizers" who have such a stranglehold on my party's foreign policy. The strategic class fancy themselves as the tough-minded ones, but what they propose is nearly impossible to pull off. I also object on other grounds -- empire is just wrong -- but the breezy assumption that they're "serious" and the rest of us aren't is what burns my bacon most.]

In the case of Iraq, huge and riven as it is, only a cooperative international campaign involving most of its neighbors as well as the west would have had a prayer. That's a different world than the one in which this war took place.

So, if we're talking about a U.S.-led "coalition", the number of troops it would have taken to establish security in a country as large and as riven as Iraq -- 250-400K -- was never available. Even if they had been, the proportions of MPs and translators would have been nowhere near what was needed.

And Iraq was one of the thorniest "nation-building" exercises possible. The choices being faced now were always what was going to be on offer: unified state in which Shiites dominate (with the big step backwards for women and secularism that entails) vs. federal setup of Sunnis in resource-less desert, Kurdistan that raises the hackles of Turkey/Syria/Iran, and Shia region that functions as Iran West. Cheney laid out the unpleasant options in 1991 when he was against taking Baghdad, and they didn't change in the intervening decade.

Finally, a war that would have been winnable could never have been sold successfully to the American public. Honesty about the cost in lives, dollars, and years would have killed the project politically. When war is inevitable, Americans love to tell themselves it's for freeeedom, but give them the tab ahead of time and they have a lot of other suggestions for those resources. This is another fundamental impracticality of "democratization through war".

Wars are effing hell, and the only possible excuse for them is self-defense. This is a practical reality as well as a moral truth.

OHNOES: People who voted for Bush might also have thought that Kerry's Iraq plan was not particularly effective from their analysis.

Kevin Drum put it nicely: If you go to a restaurant one night, and the waiter assigned to your table makes a catastrophic mess and then declines to apologize or admit he did anything especially wrong - are you really going to say "Well, I should give him a second chance, let him stay the course" - or are you just going to get a new waiter?

I know that most people who argued that "Kerry's plan isn't effective" didn't seem to have any idea of what Kerry's ideas with regard to Iraq were*: they just knew that the right-wing news sources they followed said it wasn't.

But, the plain truth is, it was evident by 2004 that Bush's conduct of the Iraq war was catastrophically incompetent. Kerry might not have done better? Well, it's impossible to predict the future, but certainly Bush had in no way earned a second term via his conduct of the war: to dismiss a proven failure in favor of a fresh start was only practical politics.

Again, criticizing Bush's handling of the war makes me queasy. I don't think it's on the whole unfair, but I prefer to let cited military experts do the talking.

Why? I mean, starting from the start: why is it unfair to criticize the failure to secure known stockpiled weapons? The primary reason claimed for invading Iraq was those mythical stockpiles that Bush & Co claimed they "knew" were there: well, if they knew they were there, why were there no plans made and resources allocated to secure them? Why does this question make you queasy?

Moving on, why is it unfair to criticize the failure to provide sufficient troops to secure (for example) Baghdad, and prevent the mass looting? Why does this question make you queasy?

*That is, they plainly weren't going to Kerry's website, reading the material there, and responding to it: they were responding to anti-Kerry soundbites from the mass media.

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