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November 01, 2006

Comments

Rather than write anything new, I'll incorporate by reference my comment to this http://andrewolmsted.com/archives/001526.html#comments>thread, as if fully set forth herein.

So less than a minute ago I was wondering what Andrew would have to say about this issue and I thought, well, I'll go over to ObWi and ask......and here's Hilzoy's thoughts. What do you think, Andrew?

there's always hope we'll find him, even without the blockade.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What is wrong with the Democratic Party?? Here we have a situation where WE'RE LOOKING FOR ONE OF OUR KIDNAPPED SOLDIERS and, because al-Sadr, known American killer, raises a fuss, we pack up and leave, ABANDONING OUR SOLDIER by APPEASING A KNOWN TERRORIST and yet and yet and yet everyone is talking about how disrespectful Kerry's comment was with the troops...

Why why why why can't the Dems run with the simple story that we are abandoning our search for a soldier just because a terrorist told us to do so, since the topic du jour is respect for the troops??? Why why why?? You know the Republicans would. You can imagine the stink they would raise.

My mind is lost.

I apologize for the caps. I'm just on the verge of losing my reason.

Maybe I'm not getting something. This is the (presumably) sovereign Iraqi government ordering a foreign military force to stop blockading one of the major neighborhoods in its capital.

Surely this is permissible?

d+u: Sure it's permissible, unless we have some understanding with the Iraqi government that they will not ask us to do stuff like this. That said, it's also something that should never have been allowed to happen, not because we should have e.g. shut Maliki up (though we might well have asked him to come to us privately first), but because we should have thought of this beforehand.

As in my previous post, about us standing around while a massacre happened: I have no confidence in my judgments about whether there was some reason unknown to me why that was the right call to make given the circumstances. I have a lot more confidence in my judgment that when we find ourselves standing around unable or unwilling to stop a massacre, it's time to go. And the same holds for finding ourselves obeying an order to abandon one of our soldiers.

Okay, that clarifies it somewhat.

Regarding the recent actions of Maliki - he seems to be fearing an October surprise in the form of a coup to oust him, and the recent positioning of US troops and some Iraqi forces in the capital has aggravated those fears. The undeployment may have something to do with this.

Would I be right to think that we are basically making concessions to Maliki to win some kind of stability, figuring the quickest way to make things appear normal is to take sides? Or are we just afraid of losing control of the gov't we've created?

Just at first glance, it seems to me that, having supported the elections that placed this government in power, we have an obligation to listen to them, even if they ask us to do things we don't necessarily like. I would very much like to find this soldier, but I'm not certain that a continued cordon of Sadr City would accomplish that in any case.

I'm a little surprised this hasn't caused a small meltdown among the right-wing bloggers, like the comments by Frist about the Taliban a month ago did. But maybe the fact that the election is so close, plus the distraction of Kerry (plus maybe the soldier's being of Iraqi descent, for some of them), has kept them under control.

A lot of people have trouble with the concept that the lesser of two evils remains an evil. It may well be that it was in the service of the greater good that we abandoned an American soldier to preserve the credibility of a satrap regime. It may even be that our promises to that regime outweighed our implied contract with that soldier in a non-utilitarian sense, in that it can be reasonably argued that commitments to a nation are of greater moment than commitments to a single person. BUT - none of that changes the fact that we betrayed our soldier, and that this is evil and a shame to our country.

I also agree with Hilzoy that we were grossly negligent at best to get in this mess in the first place, tho that's a different matter.

"Our own opinion is that Iraqi sovereignty is still not complete and is lacking until the occupying forces leave the country," said the official, Sahib al-Amiri, who runs a charitable institute for veterans and families of the Mahdi Army.

"At the same time, we consider this a step forward for the government," Amiri said.

I assume that would be the main reason. Undermining the new government in any way right now would be a step backwards. If this bolsters the government, even with these goons, it may be the best thing to have done in the end.

Personally I think it was a huge mistake not to take Sadr out the first time he caused trouble. Also a huge mistake not to have crushed these militias long ago.

Were checkpoints an effective tool searching for a single soldier? I don’t know. It seems questionable. They would only be effective if his captors tried to move him. Obviously, knowing about the checkpoints, they would just lay low and not try to move him. I also assume Deraa is smart enough to lay low when checkpoints are in place. Going house to house would be the most effective tactic, but that would have caused a much larger stink.

They have not given up the search for the missing soldier. I assume they won’t.

Remember that we just recently turned over control of the Iraqi military to the government. Iraqi troops were backing us up here. Maliki had full authority to withdraw Iraqi troops without even consulting us.

Let’s assume we had defied the legitimate government, and the result was that government fell, being seen as an American puppet, essentially setting us back 2 years. I believe that you would have written a post saying something along the lines of how badly we screwed up, because shortly after turning control of Iraq’s military over to the government, we ignored their order to remove the checkpoints. I would have agreed with you.

It seems like damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

trilobite,

We have not betrayed that soldier unless we have simply given up the search. I see nothing in that article that says we have done so.

OT: Bush says we're fighting for oil and Israel.

It seems like damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Yes, yes it does. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that counter-insurgency often ends up in damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situations.

Well the real problem is that this (from the beginning of the situation and quite possibly including the direct circumstances which led to the soldier's disappearance) is yet another power play by a man we should have killed either the first or the second time he tried to start a revolution in Iraq.

Twice we taught Sadr that he can intentionally sow violence to get his way. Why are we surprised that he uses a successful technique yet again?

But given that Bush decided long ago not to bother taking the Iraq war seriously, the lesser of evils is probably to abandon the soldier to his fate (and I regret to admit almost hoping that his fate is to already be dead rather than in some vicious man's hands). But we shouldn't be in such a situation at all.

Hmm, "abandon to his fate" was despair talking. Of course we should and will continue looking. Just not with the cordon.

Maliki has every right to tell us to go hither but not thither, depending upon hither/thither's relative advantage to whatever faction he's currently allied with.

But that makes us his instrument in a civil war, which used to be one definition of "abysmal U.S. failure."

That means "get out of Iraq, now."

yet another power play by a man we should have killed either the first or the second time he tried to start a revolution in Iraq

Somehow I doubt GWB and Rumsfeld would have faired as well as Heracles had that route been taken.

plus maybe the soldier's being of Iraqi descent, for some of them

Well, I wouldn’t take it where you seemed to be going, but this factoid did tweak my interest. Exactly how did this come about – that is, an American Soldier in Iraq, with an Iraqi wife?

It is not at all uncommon for soldiers on long deployments to fall in love with and marry a local. Just ask any of the thousands of current or ex soldiers with German or Korean wives. But I just can’t see the military allowing that in Iraq. It would be a dangerous situation for the soldier (as we see here) as well as for the wife. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see his commanding officer allowing this to happen.

So where does that leave us? Did he leave his wife in Iraq years ago and immigrate to the US? Then find himself in the military and back in Iraq? Did his wife also come to the US, then return after Saddam was ousted?

I really don’t know that is has any bearing on the story, but it is a curious twist.

Cleek:

Yes, Limbaugh termed Bush's
worries "extremely visionary."

What's next? Is Barbara Bush going to interview her son? Will she pronounce on election eve his maunderings "brilliant and original" and her son as a "Metternich in our midst"?

I would say Bush's visions are "extremely worrisome", considering just about everyone on planet Earth thought about this stuff more than 30 years ago.

I'm nominating myself for a Nobel Prize in beating Bush To His Visions, because I told him the Iraq War was mostly about oil AND that removing Saddam and interjecting ourselves between Shi-ite and Sunni would lead to conflagration and debacle.

I plan to subdivide the Nobel prize money between everyone here and the other two and half billion people who thought of it before me.

We'll each get less than a cent.

Just in time for Nancy Pelosi's tax hikes.

Yes.

Sebastian: Well the real problem is that this (from the beginning of the situation and quite possibly including the direct circumstances which led to the soldier's disappearance) is yet another power play by a man we should have killed either the first or the second time he tried to start a revolution in Iraq.

Aside from the fact that from most reports al Sadr is a relatively dumb politician and military commander that would likely have been replaced by someone smarter and angrier if he had been killed or imprisoned, and that he is currently a supporter of the government and an opponent of division of Iraq, and that he seems to have little control over his militia in the first place, you might have had a point there.

I'm in rare agreement with OC Steve. There were no good options here and I'd rather the Democrats not use this opportunity to be demagogues the way the Republicans would. I'm all in favor of Democrats fighting back and doing everything possible to expose Republican incompetence and criminality, but getting up on a soapbox in this case where all options stink--well, no.

I have always assumed that since no Iraqi Prime Minister could survive for long while being seen as an American puppet, there would come a point at which Maliki would have to start picking fights with us. I have always hoped that we would recognize this, and let him win some of them.

BTW – I should not bail for the night without noting that I think this is extremely perceptive of you, and right on the money.

This may have happened for just that reason. There were consultations. This could have been agreed upon between us. We just don’t know. If we realized the futility of the cordon, and wanted to give him a boost – well, it worked pretty well, no?

The more the duly elected government is seen by common Iraqis as being in control, and even getting the US to do what it wants, the better for everyone I think.

Now, of course, deep in my rightwing death monger heart, I hate the thought of our troops caving on anything. I do know though that we are reaching the point where political considerations outweigh ‘shock and awe’.

Personally I think it was a huge mistake not to take Sadr out the first time he caused trouble.

and

...yet another power play by a man we should have killed either the first or the second time he tried to start a revolution in Iraq.

I wrote and deleted a longish reply to these, because it just seemed too bitter. Instead, two questions and one observation.

1) What would the legal basis for this killing have been? Anything remotely plausible would be welcome, as is the view that it should have been done extra-legally, provided you are willing to say so in so many words.

2) What sort of response would you have advocated in the event that Sadr's assassination caused a full-scale Shia uprising against US occupation forces?

As you consider these questions I would suggest that you (particularly OCSteve) reread the news from spring of 2004, and the events surrounding the attempted arrest of the person whose assassination you're advocating. I believe you will find reminders that there's more to "crushing militias" than simply deciding to do it.

Even for Americans, with Apaches and A-10s.

OCSteve:

Exactly how did this come about – that is, an American Soldier in Iraq, with an Iraqi wife?

The NY Times fills in some of the blanks:

The people who said they were the missing soldier’s in-laws identified him as Ahmed Qusai al-Taei, 41. They showed visitors to their Baghdad apartment an enlarged wedding photo of him and the bride, whom they identified as Israa Abdul-Satar, 26, a college student. They also showed the visitors glossy snapshots of the smiling couple in Egypt for their honeymoon.

The couple had married, they said, three months ago. The precise dates of the wedding and honeymoon, and whether the soldier had been on active duty at the time, were not clear.

The people also described in vivid detail how members of the Mahdi Army militia, led by a local commander known as Abu Rami, came to the wife’s home in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Karada last Monday, the first day of the Muslim holiday Id al-Fitr, and dragged Mr. Taei away.

[...]

Mr. Taei had friends in Karada, a mostly well-to-do commercial district that sits outside the Green Zone, Um Omar said. As she described it, he spotted her daughter one day as she was en route to classes at Mutsamsirya University in central Baghdad, where she is enrolled in the science college.

Through friends, he arranged to speak with her parents, Um Omar said, and after some discussion, Ms. Abdul-Satar agreed to marry Mr. Taei, whom her mother described as a “gentleman.”

After the couple married, Um Omar said, Ms. Abdul-Satar moved out of her mother’s cramped apartment on the third floor of a dreary complex on a side street in Karada near the National Theater, to a cousin’s one-story home down the block.

Mr. Taei came to visit every few days, said a neighbor who lives across the street from the cousin’s home, where the kidnapping took place.

“We thought he was a businessman,” said the neighbor, who asked to be identified only by his last name, Nadhir.

Interesting...

As you consider these questions I would suggest that you (particularly OCSteve) reread the news from spring of 2004, and the events surrounding the attempted arrest of the person whose assassination you're advocating. I believe you will find reminders that there's more to "crushing militias" than simply deciding to do it.

I think that some of this stems from the "one bad guy" theory of political strategy -- that all bad things spring from a single figure, and that if the figure is removed, the associated bad things will fall away. I thought this theory was discredited when the capture of of practically every bad guy on the list (or more accurately, deck of cards) had been captured or killed, yet the bad things in Iraq continued to multiply.

At the time, it was noted over and over again that al-Sadr was just the guy hanging on to the tiger's ears, the tiger being a fundamentalist political movement among Iraq's Shia. Simply killing the guy would make the tiger just that more uncontrollable and angrier.

The "one bad guy" theory is related somewhat to the "finite number of terrorists" theory, in that they're both simplistic political theories that the ignore complex social and political reasons for political unrest.

I would have thought that the spectacular failure of these political models in the last few years to produce anticipated results would discredit them completely. I guess that my own models on political thinking are proving inaccurate.

Very interesting Matt. Thanks for the link.

Based on that, I’ll go out on a limb and say that his commanding officer did not approve this marriage. As weird as it sounds (think about having to ask for your boss’s approval to marry) military members deployed overseas generally have to get their CO’s permission to marry a local. Correct me if I am wrong Andrew. So he may have been seeing his wife in violation of rules as well. I am pretty sure that it is against the rules for service members to go out outside the Green Zone alone, much less anything like this. With that said, I did much the same in Germany, but I only risked my CO’s wrath (actually the First Sergeant’s, much worse than the CO) and not my neck.

That does not change anything at all – the military will do all they can to get him back. He may get an Article 15 if they do – but any wrongdoing on his part is not going to mitigate the efforts to get him back alive.

He was foolish, IMO, and the effort to get him back may well result in more lives lost. But that won’t stop them from trying. You don’t abandon your own, even (especially) when they screw up.

OCSteve: Your analysis seems to correspond with the NY Times story, which indicates that the kidnapped soldier had left the Green Zone without authorization (in fact, later in the article, the mother-in-law says she wasn't even aware that al-Taei was a soldier--or American.)

Also, the kidnappers apparently were under the mistaken impression that al-Taei was a foreign journalist.

To add to dpu's point, Saddam thought he'd 'solved the problem' by killing Sadr's father.

What would the legal basis for this killing have been? Anything remotely plausible would be welcome, as is the view that it should have been done extra-legally, provided you are willing to say so in so many words.

“take Sadr out” does not necessarily imply assassination. In fact, I agree that killing him (proven, verifiable) would just make him a martyr and cause more problems. We have (supposedly) CIA operatives, and damned good SF. Whisked away in the night to some covert prison would have been best. Still martyr status? To some extent. The point is that if we had done something about him a couple of years ago, things would be much smoother today.

“extra-legally”? You tell me. If you could direct the CIA to assassinate one individual, when you knew it would result in hundreds or thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) fewer deaths in 2 years – would you give the order?

I will say so, in so many words. If Sadr had been “accidentally killed” resisting arrest a couple of years ago, I would not have shed a tear.

I read the news in 2004. It was pretty apparent that this guy was a serious problem. My first choice would have been for more prominent Muslims to shut him down. My second choice, slippery slope and all, would have been to have the legitimate government arrest him on charges of inciting violence. Last choice – whatever it takes.

Anything remotely plausible in his defense would be welcome.

DJ (+OCS): "I'm in rare agreement with OC Steve. There were no good options here and I'd rather the Democrats not use this opportunity to be demagogues the way the Republicans would."

I agree that there were no good options here, and I absolutely do not want to say: given that things had somehow gotten to this point, we should have told Maliki to jump in a lake (absent some very, very, very compelling reason to do so.) My point was, rather, twofold: first, we should never have let it get to this point to start with, and second, if in fact we are now in a position in which our best option turns out to be accepting orders to lift a blockade we thought was needed to rescue one of our soldiers, then we should leave, since a situation in which we have such lousy options (and no obvious prospect of victory around the corner) is not a situation we should be in.

OCSteve: I don't think this really is just a matter of our backing down to let Maliki save face. Or at least, it shouldn't be seen that way. As I said, I think there are large costs associated with giving people the idea that if they just mount a large enough protest or torch enough cars or make life miserable enough for enough other people, they can force you to do what they want. This is not a lesson I'd want to give anyone about how to affect my behavior, and I especially wouldn't want to give it to Sadr.

I mean: imagine that you run a company, and a bunch of people decide to mount a public, possibly violent protest in order to get you to change some policy that they object to. They block traffic outside your plant, they harass and maybe beat up your neighbors, etc., etc. It's a bad thing to send them the message that this sort of thing works; like paying blackmailers or kidnappers, it can lead them to try it again.

Of course, if they are right about your policy, then you should switch. But even then, letting them force your hand is a bad thing. As I said above, much, much better to try as hard as you can to do the right thing from the outset, so that insofar as possible you never have to yield to blackmail.

Similarly here. If the blockade was not worth maintaining, then it wasn't. If it was worth maintaining, but not at the cost of defying Maliki, then we should either have ensured that he would not put us in a position where we had to defy him or not imposed the blockade to start with. (If we wanted a way to defy us, we should have come up with another one.) -- I mean, it's not as though it would have been hard to foresee that if we locked down Sadr City, Sadr would get mad and put pressure on Maliki. It's not as though this was some sort of absolutely unpredictable event, like being hit by a meteor. -- And if the blockade was worth maintaining even at that (high) cost, then we should not have lifted it. I just don't see how what we actually did is the best thing to do on any story I can think of -- except a story in which we are just teleported into this situation, without having had any opportunity to pick and shape our battles.

Oops: in the last para., after I said "If the blockade was not worth maintaining, then it wasn't.", I meant to add: and in that case we should have lifted it before we were forced to.

According to Josh Marshall, Kroll, a private security unit of Marsh and McClennan, and Bechtel Corp. are pulling out of Iraq, citing risks to their employees.

Great. Mercenaries flee, while our troops are caught between Shi-ites and Sunnis and a bunch of unAmerican punks over at Red State holding guns on them until after the election.

Impeach the entire Bush Administration. Deport the foreign scum at Red State.

Every now and then I read things that just make my jaw drop. This is one of them:

...yet another power play by a man we should have killed either the first or the second time he tried to start a revolution in Iraq.

This, in reference to a man who is revered by a lot of angry Shiites, the majority of the population in a country we're trying, and failing, to pacify. A man whose father was famously killed by Saddam, the ugly dictator our President crowed about toppling.

The morality of advocating the odd murder of leaders we find inconvenient here and there is bad enough. But the act would have been political madness as well. Imagine Sadr as the duc d'Enghien, perhaps. Killing him would have been worse than a crime: it would have been a mistake. It still would be, inconvenient as he might be.

But then the cockles of my heart are warmed by sentiments I can wholeheartedly agree with:

Impeach the entire Bush Administration. Deport the foreign scum at Red State.

Hear, hear. I concur with Mr. Thullen.

I think that some of this stems from the "one bad guy" theory of political strategy

I'm reminded of Gary Brecher"s (aka war nerd) essay about "Mister Big Unplugged", which suggests that the theory is not just political, but extends deeply into the tactical/propaganda realm.

Anything remotely plausible in his defense would be welcome.

Why on earth would any "defense" be required for someone who isn't getting a day in court? You're stipulating that you'd be willing to order an assassination or rendition. If you want an assessment of the moral landscape maybe hilzoy can help.

The point is that if we had done something about him a couple of years ago, things would be much smoother today.

Dude, closing a newspaper and arresting a few of his aides caused all blistering hell to break loose in Baghdad, with tens (hundreds?) of thousands of protesters, and seven soldiers getting killed in one day. We got into all-out street battles with the al-Mahdis, strafed them from the air. Eventually Sadr agreed to "disband" the militia. Funny how they didn't really disband though.

Maybe you should read the news again, so you can kinda relive the moment.

DJ 6:47

Sorry, but when the Repubs are using this nonsense Kerry junk to distract people and to persuade people, you have no choice but to frame the story -- even if it is unfair. If you do not frame the story, you will simply lose and lose and lose.

And since they are fundamentally culpable for Maliki and Iraq and al-Sadr, it is far less unfair than the run-of-the-mill campaign ad that knocks a candidate for going one way on a poisoned pill bill.

Politics is something like a cooperative scheme where if neither party hits below the belt, we are all better off. But if one party does and the other does not respond likewise, we get, well, years of cronyism and misrule. I think one ought to fight as hard as is possible within the rules of the system. I don't think there is anything honorable about being the only one to cooperate in a prisoner's dilemma.

I'm pretty sure my position is okay on this. I think gerrymandering is awful, but I also want California gerrymandered away. What I want is comprehensive reform and, short of that, I want Ds making as many R votes meaningless as possible, because I know Rs will do the same. What I don't want is Rs making as many D votes as meaningless as possible, while we sit back with our honor in tact as the Constitution and our fiscal policy and Iraq is shredded.

Is politicizing this really less fair than politicizing the Kerry flub?

I'm reminded of Gary Brecher"s (aka war nerd) essay about "Mister Big Unplugged", which suggests that the theory is not just political, but extends deeply into the tactical/propaganda realm.

Hadn't seen that before, thanks.

Donald Johnson sez:

"I'm all in favor of Democrats fighting back and doing everything possible to expose Republican incompetence and criminality, but getting up on a soapbox in this case where all options stink--well, no."

What, exactly, *would* merit getting up on a soapbox?

Why doesn't bringing the US to a point where "all options stink" qualify?

Thanks -

Yglesias has been anticipating this moment for months:
when the fundamental incoherence of our presence in Iraq is resolved into one or the other coherent picture:

either we are a sovereign occupying force, in which case we don't take orders from the Maliki govt., but also don't pretend to respect democracy, elections, etc.

or the Maliki govt is sovereign, in which case we are hired mercenarires taking orders from a foreign govt.

Which is what seems to have been revealed by this episode.

Personally, I have never objected to the prospect of US troops fighting under foreign command, if that meant NATO or UN.

But you'd think that people who go ballistic over the idea of US troops following the orders of a UN commander would mind *just a little* bit the prospect of our troops taking direct orders from Maliki.

Time to go.

But if one party does and the other does not respond likewise, we get, well, years of cronyism and misrule.

This might be better placed at the end of the There they go again thread, but I'll put it here because of the quote. I can't help but bring up the martial arts angle at this point. There is a concept in aikido that when you are attacked, while you don't respond in kind, you put yourself in the position where you can do exactly that and you choose not to. I've heard it referred to as the 'hidden atemi' (atemi means strike or punch). While I don't want to Dems to demagogue on what to do in Iraq, what I do want them to do is to put themselves in a position to deliver precisely the same sort of strike that the Republicans have done over and over. This is easy to see when you are doing this in a dojo, but a lot harder to see when it is not necessarily actual kicks and punches (when practicing, you can stop and say "in this position, I could do this *whack* or this *thump* or even this *wham*", but in a political campaign, it becomes like the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he is the ref and he says 'I don't want any elbows, like this *whap*, or low blows like this *pow*, and don't ever do this *kaboom*") My admittedly biased impression is that the Dems have only started to position themselves in this fashion in this election and even then, it is fitful and hesitant. I wasn't going to post this because it seemed to pessimistic, but seeing the ads that hilzoy linked to in the most recent thread, I think this is precisely the point where the Dems can wield the 'hidden atemi'

Homer (to Bart): I want to share something with you -- the three sentences that will get you through life. Number one, "Cover for me." Number two, "Oh, good idea, boss." Number three, "It was like that when I got here."

Or, as we like to say in the Army:

1) Admit nothing.
2) Deny everything.
3) Make vigorous counteraccusations.

Look at it this way. It gives a whole new meaning to the Bush mantra "we'll stand down when they stand up."

There are plenty of soapboxes Democrats can mount with perfect legitimacy. People post about them here almost every day and if anything, I often think hilzoy is too mild in criticizing Republicans. (Just the other day, in fact.)

But this? The US is told by the supposed head of Iraq that our troops should take down the checkpoints which are angering the Shiites and I'm supposed to rail against the Bush Administration for this? Defying Maliki on the subject of what American troops are allowed to do in Iraq would bring us one step closer to that massive anti-American Shiite uprising Steve Gilliard has been talking about for years.

I agree with hilzoy's larger point
(rephrased in my own words)--it took a policy of either criminal incompetence or deliberate malice (Bob M's preferred theory) to put us in this kind of situation.

DJ: What I think you ought to do is use it as a campaign issue, distasteful as that sounds. That is, you should accuse the Rs of abandoning a soldier.

But short of that, at the very least, you should use it if only to point out R hypocrisy, since they would certainly use it against a Democrat to argue that she was soft on terror. That is, if the R criteria are the right criteria (i.e., shouldn't appease terrorists, shouldn't ever abandon troops, etc.), then the action is certainly worthy of criticism. If the action isn't blameworthy, there is something wrong with their criteria that would attribute blameworthiness to it.

Stickler, "This, in reference to a man who is revered by a lot of angry Shiites, the majority of the population in a country we're trying, and failing, to pacify. A man whose father was famously killed by Saddam, the ugly dictator our President crowed about toppling."

D+UG, "I think that some of this stems from the "one bad guy" theory of political strategy -- that all bad things spring from a single figure, and that if the figure is removed, the associated bad things will fall away. I thought this theory was discredited when the capture of of practically every bad guy on the list (or more accurately, deck of cards) had been captured or killed, yet the bad things in Iraq continued to multiply."

Radish "1) What would the legal basis for this killing have been? Anything remotely plausible would be welcome, as is the view that it should have been done extra-legally, provided you are willing to say so in so many words.

2) What sort of response would you have advocated in the event that Sadr's assassination caused a full-scale Shia uprising against US occupation forces?"

The problem with Sadr is that he attempted to start a revolution twice before "currently" (sort-of) supporting the government. I don't know if I subscribe to a "one bad guy" theory at all. I certainly don't believe that killing him fixes everything. But it would show that if you are a popular figure who actively attempts to use your popularity and militia to start a revolution, you end up dead. After the first attempt at revolution, there might have been some (in my opinion bad) reason to believe that Sadr just didn't understand the situation, and that he could be coopted. After the second, his survival only emboldens every other player who wants to move with violence against the government.

Sadr and (perhaps more importantly if you don't believe he is the important factor) his militia had to be militarily defeated when they decided to use violence to push for a revolution.

Failing to kill Sadr and destroy his internal army, failing to kill leaders like Sadr and their internal armies, is a large part of the reason why there is such lawlessness now.

Bush has been horrifically half-assed about the whole thing since the beginning. As much as I hate to admit that I'm wrong--when he did that "Mission Accomplished" thing I believed he was talking about the getting rid of Saddam part and was aware of the other issues. Apparently those who disagreed with me at the time on that interpretation were right. He seemed to think everything was done after a few weeks. It wasn't. We needed to seriously and painfully fight at least one of the militias once they started fighting. Failing to do that with was a very bad mistake. It may have been fueled by a concern that there weren't enough troops in theater to deal with the militia, but if true that is also an administration mistake.

You don't avoid civil war by letting someone get away with trying to start one twice. Whatever else you plan, that just doesn't work.

I never believed it was a good idea to invade, never believed that Bush could lead anywhere but straight down the drain. Yet I find myself unable quite to get myself to a place where I can give up on Iraq. It violates my sense of responsibility. I'm probably being unreasonable. The pooch is screwed. Our soldiers are in an untenable position. Most of the people who argue for our continued presence there don't really care about Iraq; they only care about the effects of an acknowledged failure on the future of the Republican party. (I do not include Sebastion or von in this catagory. I'm thinking of people like Rove or Bush).

But it is so hard to walk away from such a disasterous mess and just leave Iraqis and other Middle Easterners to suffer the consequences. It feels so irresponsible. I know this is an emotional reaction, not an intellectual one. I also don't have one friggin' clue what we ought to do.

But it would show that if you are a popular figure who actively attempts to use your popularity and militia to start a revolution, you end up dead.

Then the millions of supporters and thousands of militia members who held al-Sadr in adoration then wisely decide to pack it in, or are somehow muted?

I don't think so. And this sounds vaguely like a lot of the reasoning I was hearing for the invasion of Iraq in the first place.

Failing to kill Sadr and destroy his internal army, failing to kill leaders like Sadr and their internal armies, is a large part of the reason why there is such lawlessness now.

No, the reason there is such lawlessness now is that Iraq has been mismanaged by people who have little understanding of the causes of political unrest or how to defuse it. Not killing al Sadr was probably one of the few smart moves they made, and it probably delayed the inevitable by a year or two.

i agree 100% with lily's 1:43.

what to do about it? beats me. that's beyond my pay grade.

but perhaps Iraq will simply have to disintegrate with or without our help until Bush leaves office. after that, maybe the next adminstration will be better equipped to help. maybe not. maybe this is something that gets kicked down the road for some far-distant President to handle (maybe "pacifying Iraq" will be a big campaign issue in 2020).

(maybe "pacifying Iraq" will be a big campaign issue in 2020).

I expect by then Iraq will be the Sumer province of Iran, the eastern half of Syria, and a simmering hot point between Turkey and Iran.

This whole Sadr thing is interesting to me, because I was under the distinct impression that Sadr's rise was in large part because we ignored Sistani. There was this op-ed in the WaPo that suggests that Sistani has been dissing us, but I seem to remember everyone darkly hinting that he was an Iranian, not an Iraqi, and he was simply a puppet. My own view is that Sadr was able to take so much power because the person we should have gone to, Sistani, wasn't being given the time of day.

Lily, and others: Some advocates for withdrawal have said for a long time that we absolutely have to continue to pay for a lot of post-withdrawal projects, as the bare minimum of our obligation. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has made this point in general since early 2005, and now George McGovern and William Polk have spelled out some detailed proposals in their Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now.

They include cost estimates, expressed as 'number of months of the current occupation spending'.

They were on BookTV last weekend outlining the plan.

Sebastian, there is nothing in your reply that answers my second question. This part:

After the second, his survival only emboldens every other player who wants to move with violence against the government.

Is not in dispute. Of course it does/did that. Not only is that not in dispute but it's totally beside the point. Whereas this:

We needed to seriously and painfully fight at least one of the militias once they started fighting. Failing to do that with was a very bad mistake.

...is the sort of vagueness I was trying to get past. How exactly do you propose that we should have done that!?!?

You are advocating a terribly significant tactical decision as though it had no strategic consequences. What you're implying is that it wasn't enough to bomb and strafe the Baghdad slums. That it wasn't enough to generate so much hostility from so many people that seven US soldiers were killed, in one day, by an irregular, barely-trained cilivian militia. That when those contractors were dragged out of their cars, killed, mutilated and strung up on a bridge we should either have let it slide and remained focused on Baghdad, or simply leveled Fallujah from the air and to hell with the consequences.

You may not realize that you're saying those things, but you are. There's only so much you can do, even with the best army ever, and pacifying Sadr city was not within our capabilities. The closest we could have gotten would have been to rip the scab completely off and turn half of Baghdad into a more-or-less free-fire zone. You don't prevent a civil war that way either. Which brings us back to to the Sophie's choice problem.

Sistani's offers, and our rejection of them (and our refusal to allow elections until we had the CPA firmly in place), was the centerpiece of the "bitter" comment that I decided not to post. Some stuff about Iran and Israel too IIRC.

Sebastian: Failing to kill Sadr and destroy his internal army, failing to kill leaders like Sadr and their internal armies, is a large part of the reason why there is such lawlessness now.

This is a statement so breathtaking in its determined ignorance of the actual situation in Iraq* from March 20 2003 onwards that I really want to ask where the real Sebastian Holsclaw is hiding, and can we have him back?

*I mean, on any list of the Awful Mistakes that were made by the Bush administration that are a large part of the reason there is civil war in Iraq now and the US is powerless to prevent it, not assassinating Sadr comes somewhere so far down the list...

A little beyond "fair use" doncha think. Don't steal, it's not attractive.

Neither is being a intellectual rights nanny but, well, one's illegal and can get you prosecuted.

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