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December 21, 2006

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Who in Iraq will support US bases?

Only the Kurds.

And while the US is running from Sunni and Shia areas, they will claim to have beaten the Greatest-Superpower-Of-All-Time (This seems to be very important to Bush Jr. and his followers).

I’m sure many right-wingers are hoping some Democrat will play Eisenhower to Bush’s Truman. However, the way Bush is so thoroughly screwing up, maybe he’s hoping some Democrat will play Nixon to his LBJ. I mean most Americans still believe Vietnam was Nixon’s/Republican’s war.

I just hope the Dems DON’T PLAY.

Always swimming against the current, eh von?

The South Korean analogy isn't apt. U.S. forces remained to deter a conventional invasion. In Iraq, hypothetical U.S. forces would be there to deter the population. Which isn't working right now, and probably won't then either.

I really can't see any military component to the Iraq problem.

"Vietnam was Nixon’s/Republican’s war"

By 1968, Vietnam belonged to every American. I was old enough then, and there were enough Senators and pundits supporting it, that I don't remember Vietnam feeling particularly partisan til well into the 70s.
...
Is this about troops? The surge? It just struck me, that Bush was talking about 20-30k combat troops, and adding the support, means ~80k troops total. Lord knows where he will find them.

Now using that same formula, the ~150k troops we currently have in Iraq would translate to ~50k at spearpoint, combat troops, so a surge of 20-30k would be a significant increase, and could make a difference.

Am I missing anything here?

Von,

I'm not sure that the experience in Korea is terribly relevant. We had a constituency in South Korea, a anti-communist, pro-western group that we were trying to help win against the pro-Soviet North. In that case, even with outright victory impossible, it was still to our advantage to help our allies "not-lose". But who is our constituency, who are our allies in Iraq? The Shia? The Kurds? Certainly not the Sunnis. If there were some relevant group of non-sectarian, pro-western Iraqis whom we could be aiding, even if it were simply helping them to not-lose, I might agree with you about the utility of staying. But the westernized, educated elite who were our natural consituency have mostly either fled the country or been radicalized or otherwise entangled in the sectarian conflict. So who would we be staying for?

who would we be staying for?

I thought that was obvious. The oil companies.

Where oil money should go, per the Iraq Study Group. US troops will remain on permanent bases, located to protect oil extraction & transfer.

I have to say that's the single largest piece of crap I've seen on dailyKos in recent memory. Some diarist reads a report, and summarizes it with nearly the exact opposite of what the report actually says.

Although de rigeur for dKos, still crap.

The South Korean analogy isn't apt. U.S. forces remained to deter a conventional invasion. In Iraq, hypothetical U.S. forces would be there to deter the population.

What about Iraq's neighbors? I have no idea what to make of the various accusations of "meddling" that have been leveled, but the more complete the power vacuum becomes in Iraq, the greater the danger of proxy (or not-so-proxy) regional war. That's my nightmare scenario right now.

Not that I'm convinced that having the US military could prevent this from happening, were the various actors really determined to open up wide-scale chaos.

One way that the US presence actively destabilizes the whole region is Bush's preferred rhetoric. If I were facing someone who's called my government innately evil and has demonstrated his willingness to manufacture grounds for war against others on his enemies list, I would be arming to the teeth and trying to complicate his life as much as possible, as a basic matter of survival for me and mine. Knowing that he despises negotiation, I can look at the rest of the world and see that the only thing that seems to help is firepower, and a lot of it.

That natural response to threat will persist as long as the US is there in large numbers and under this style of management. Adding troops will intensify it.

Good point, Baugh. I keep forgetting that thinking rationally about solutions fails to take Bush and Cheney into account.

von: you may be interested in this policy 'outline' from retired Col. W. Patrick Lang. He calls for a 'Concert of the Greater Middle East' to comprehensively address the disputes between all relevent regional powers and factions.

Lang's comments from a recent appearance on the Situation Room are also relevent to this discussion. On the troop surge:

Well I think it's not a good idea. Because, and the reason is that I think that is it's too big a risk. It's too big of a gamble because if you pull a lot of units out of their place in the rotation queue to go back to Iraq or Afghanistan, in this case Iraq, and you put them in Baghdad for a decisive battle against the Sunni insurgents, it will inevitably, I think, slop over into the Mahdi militia business because the United States government is trying to put together a coalition that would make the Mahdi militia and Muqtada al-Sadr unnecessary in Maliki's government. If you do that, then you'll have done something which will mean that you either have to win or it will be perceived everywhere that you've lost and that's a tremendous gamble.

What about Iraq's neighbors? I have no idea what to make of the various accusations of "meddling" that have been leveled, but the more complete the power vacuum becomes in Iraq, the greater the danger of proxy (or not-so-proxy) regional war. That's my nightmare scenario right now.

If there's meddling happening now, then the continued presence of the U.S. Army alone won't deter future meddling. Nor did it deter North Korean meddling in South Korea, for that matter.

U.S. military power isn't going to create a viable central Iraqi authority. U.S. political power might, but it looks bleak on that angle too.

U.S. troop are simply juicy targets for proxy armies.

Wouldn't oil be a pretty good reason to go to war? Call be old fashioned, but aren't wars generally over scarce resources

I actually agree with this, so long as we A) recognize that "pretty good" is not synonymous with "sufficient"; B) for me it's not so much that it was about oil (to some degree) but that there have been consistent, scandalized denials, in the Capt. Renault manner, that oil had anything to do with it; C) the refusal to make those interests who were most benefited by the war foot any of the bill, see e.g. Exxon; Lee Raymond, etc. One can view the adventure as (at least of portion of) a Billion + $/wk subsidy to the oil companies.

Oooh, historical revisionism alert.

If you'll recall, the reason we did not arrest Sadr and eliminate the Mahdi Army at the time of the uprisings, is because we didn't want to turn all of Shiite Iraq against us (which the ongoing rebellions were threatening to do.) Sadr sensed that he was just slightly too weak to survive his forces continuing to fight us, and thus he brought an end to the fighting, but he also realized that if he bided his time, he would outlast us. And so he shall.

To me, the war-for-oil argument never made a lick of sense. The war-to-destabilize-the-region-and-drive-prices-up, on the other hand, does make some sort of twisted sense, but I didn't hear that at all, early in the game. Instead, I heard various fantasies about pipelines across Afghanistan and confiscation of Iraqi oil, which were (and still are) stupid, not to mention somewhat lacking in the purported end state of higher oil company profits.

Many imagine that victory and defeat are our only options in Iraq, and that if we cannot win then we should cut our losses and go. This is an oversimplistic view. There is still great benefit in not-losing Iraq (even if we cannot win); ask South Korea. And it may be that even a too-little-too-late surge is better than the alternatives at preventing even worse events in Iraq from unfolding.

For one thing, South Korea is not a good analogy, for obvious reason. Perhaps you were trying to make a broader point about how not winning is sometimes also not losing, but South Korea is hardly applicable. Plus we did actually win, in that we prevented the North from conquering the South, which was our only stated objective.

Second, the "surge" can't be "better" than the alternatives at preventing worse consequences. It either will work, or it will not. It cannot partially work. And if it fails, as it certainly will barring a miracle, that will mean thousands more dead Americans and Iraqis for only the illusion that we could forestall an inevitable withdrawal.

We must be realistic about these things.

It cannot partially work.

You, sir, are an optimist.

Von, about your update #2: On what grounds do you think that killing al-Sadr would have helped? Is this one of those things like the Roman empire's execution of Jesus freeing them of ever having Christian troubles again, and the way John Brown sank into complete obscurity right after Harper's Ferry and his hanging?

von: I'm just going to address your last update, with this:

If, in a democracy, those in power want to wage a war for control of an important resource, then the country stands one hell of a lot better chance of winning it if those in power are honest about the goal from the beginning.

This war, whatever its real goal, was sold with shifting and fraudulent rationales.

At this point, the only goal that matters to the only people whose decisions appear to matter (Cheney and Bush) is to keep troops in Iraq until the end of their term.

Slartibartfast: To me, the war-for-oil argument never made a lick of sense.

Total agreement, but then it just puts it on the same level as the rest of the arguments for this war.

Here's a novel idea about how to respond to Bush:

"SCARBOROUGH: Well, this is uncharted territory. And Josh Green, I want you, if you will, to imagine, how would Republicans have responded if President Bill Clinton had ignored the advice of all of his Joint Chiefs, his top general in the war zone, his former secretary of state, and 80 percent of Americans? Is it not a stretch to say that many Republicans would have considered impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton if this situation were identical?

JOSH GREEN, “THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY”: I think they would have launched a coupe."

Launching a coupe! Why not think big, and launch a while sedan, or even, dare I say it, a station wagon?

A whole sedan. Whole.

It's transcript, right? So, how do you know he wasn't proposing something involving chickens?

I think they could have launched a coop, after all.

"I think they could have launched a coop, after all."

Fetchez le poulet!

I'm thinking about launching my lunch.

Straight from my record collection:

The horror.

The horror.

Oh, my God, the horror.

Crap. Wrong thread.

Pretend I put that elsewh...never mind.

The trouble with "war for oil", besides the point Nell so properly makes about the need for honesty, is that it is armed robbery. No matter how dependent we are on it, it is not our oil and it was never our oil. This is why the idea that the war is for oil must be steadfastly denied -- because that would make the US categorically in the wrong.

But you're right, it is a very traditional reason for war. Armed robbery has a long tradition, too.

"War for oil" is certainly an accurate description of the 1991 Gulf War, but that was undertaken to prevent armed robbery. I'm less convinced that this current war was a war for oil, considering that the oil companies weren't exactly enthusiastic about the idea. I'm sure they would have been quite content to lift the sanctions and do business with Saddam.

I may be wrong about this--I read somewhere that the "surge" would not be made by injecting new soldiers, but by refraining from sending home those that were due to cycle out. Does anyone know?

Yeah, a war for oil would be armed robbery. I am surprised at von's attitude.

a war for oil would be armed robbery

Just about any offensive war is only distinguishable from large-scale armed robbery by the pretty rhetoric which supports the endeavor.

"Wouldn't oil be a pretty good reason to go to war?"

WTF? No.

Or maybe in the same sense that her sleeping with another man might be a pretty good reason to kill your wife. I mean, call me old-fashioned. People sure have been doing it for a long time.

And by the way, making fun of people who believe it was about the oil as being deranged, and then following up with the opinion that invading for oil would actually be sort of reasonable is not exactly sensible. Call it hedging to the point of incoherence.

If you'll recall, the reason we did not arrest Sadr and eliminate the Mahdi Army at the time of the uprisings, is because we didn't want to turn all of Shiite Iraq against us (which the ongoing rebellions were threatening to do.)

No, I understand that those were some of the reasons given to stop short with Sadr; it's just that I didn't (and still don't) believe that they were sufficient to actually stop short. The chances of Sadr's death provoking a general Shia uprising were miniscule; among other things, the majority Shia party (SCIRI) would benefit from his death, and many in the Shia clerical hierarchy have been at odds within. Neither could take sides against Sadr, but neither was going to riot in the aftermath of his death.

We could see back then that Sadr could not be coopted into the democratic process (which was the next most popular reason given). He simply didn't have that interest. We're now seeing now is the completely predictable result of leaving a populist strongman with a large militia and significant control Iraq's President (who requires his political support to remain in office) -- civil war.

I never thought the idea that we waged war to get control of the oil made much sense. On the other hand, I thought the idea that we waged war in order to prevent control of the oil from being in the hands of someone whose interests are hostile to our own made a lot of sense.

I didn't buy it, except in some 'maybe it was a part of the picture' sense, because I don't think Bush's mind works that way, but here I'm off in the more speculative bits of my views about Bush.

(Cheney's mind, insofar as I have any grasp of it at all, which is not that far, might well work that way.)

Doesn't anybody remember "Rebuilding America's Defenses"?

It's all there, in black and white.

Von, question again: You are confident that the matyrdom of al-Sadar would not have provided a focal point for hostility to the US? You're pretty sure he wouldn't have joined (in local eyes) the ranks of leaders like Aquino and Sandino?

Wouldn't oil be a pretty good reason to go to war?

call me old fashioned, but killing people for resources is immoral - I'm a bit surprised that this has to be pointed out at ObWi, that an ObWi frontpage poster is suggesting that it's not and that he hasn't gotten smacked around a bit more for doing so

This is why the idea that the war is for oil must be steadfastly denied

Denied? Ridiculed, more aptly. Especially when that idea is argued in a way that conflicts with reality.

Wouldn't oil be a pretty good reason to go to war? Call me old fashioned, but aren't wars generally over scarce resources (water, oil, land, etc.)?

Going into someone's home and killing them in order to take things that don't belong to you is referred to, at least I'm pretty sure it is in your jurisdiction, as "felony murder." Completion of the thought is left as an exercise for the reader.

Next up: von's stirring defense of the Japanese attacking us at Pearl Harbor. Seriously, though, are you going to teach your child that, if he's ever running low on something, it's OK to just kill, or threaten to kill, someone else to take theirs?

ahem. felony murder arises in the context of an unanticipated killing arising during the commission of an underlying felony.

so, going into someone's house when they're home and killing them so you can take their stuff is premeditated murder with aggravated circumstances. death penalty stuff.

burglarizing someone's house when they're supposed to be at work, then shooting him because he comes in and points his gun at you, that's felony murder. 25 to life, maybe 25 determinate if you have a good public defender.

No, I understand that those were some of the reasons given to stop short with Sadr; it's just that I didn't (and still don't) believe that they were sufficient to actually stop short. The chances of Sadr's death provoking a general Shia uprising were miniscule; among other things, the majority Shia party (SCIRI) would benefit from his death, and many in the Shia clerical hierarchy have been at odds within. Neither could take sides against Sadr, but neither was going to riot in the aftermath of his death.

Well, I guess we'd be reduced to arguing our respective memories at this point, but I certainly do recall that there were legitimate fears that killing/arresting Sadr would have prompted a general Shiite uprising. Certainly the other Shia parties would have benefited from his elimination, but the concern was over the feelings of the average Shiite, not their political leaders. I think we had good reason to fear such a thing, given that the mere threat of arresting him prompted thousands of men to take up arms again our soldiers. I recall that the campaign was gradually turning public opinion against the occupation forces, and attacking the mosque Sadr was holed up in was likely to prompt more of the same.

But that's neither here nor there I suppose. Whether we could have eliminated him then is irrelevant, because we almost certainly cannot do so now, not by military force alone, and not without significant political effort, the kind of which we may not be around long enough to exercise.

I think when talking about Sadr and Hakim, it's important to keep in mind the differences between their constituencies: urban Baghdad slumdwellers wouldn't necessarily rally around middle-class shrine-city clerics if their champion was eliminated. The SCIRI agenda isn't about holding the country together (read, making sure that the poor of Baghdad benefit from oil wealth) in the same way that the Sadrists are.

It's not just a Great Man (or Mediocre Man) thing -- there are interests, cultures, currents, pasts, and futures to take into account.

I don't mean to sound Marxist, but one ignores the political and economic factors at peril.

As hilzoy pointed out upthread, going to war to take somebody else's oil is robbery. Going to war to prevent someone else from denying you access to a necessary resource, in this case oil, is not robbery.

It's been the explicitly stated position of the US since 1980, in the form of the Carter Doctrine, that we would use any and all means necessary to prevent any state hostile to the US from gaining control of Persian Gulf oil assets.

In any case, it's hard to see how our invasion in Iraq has contributed in any useful way to ensuring the supply of oil to the US or anyone else, or made it any harder for other actors to threaten our oil supply. If that was part of the motivation, somebody screwed up.

To von's original question:

Too Little? Too Late?

Yes, to both.

Thanks -

On your theoretical, in my moral framework causing the deaths of an estimated 650,000 people for the purpose of gaining oil is not a pretty good reason.
In my view it is not even an edge case.

Great to see old names on the front page - I'd participate but it's familytime all the time at the moment in the Rilkehousehold. Happy whatever, everybody.

Many imagine that victory and defeat are our only options in Iraq, and that if we cannot win then we should cut our losses and go. This is an oversimplistic view. There is still great benefit in not-losing Iraq...

There is an even greater benefit in having a rational Iraq policy, and one built around "not losing" is anything but that.

My guess is that what von means to say is that "we have not lost as badly as possible" and that we should not do things to exacerbate the loss. Agreed. But guess what -- starting the withdrawal happens to be the strategy that minimizes the extent of the loss. Staying is not the alternative -- it's the Scarlett O'Hara strategy for avoiding a decision about leaving -- "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."

And it may be that even a too-little-too-late surge is better than the alternatives at preventing even worse events in Iraq from unfolding. I'll hold off judgment until I hear the particulars from President Bush in the new year.

Forget what Bush may intend -- why can't you make your own objective judgment as to the utility of sending another 20,000 or so troops? I have yet to hear any cogent argument explaining why that will be useful -- what is it other than a device to disguise what is simply a "stay the course" policy, and to forestall a withdrawal decision?

More pointless war so that we can pretend we are "not losing."

The advocates for killing Sadr either in 2004 or, apparently, now (according to some speculation, the hidden purpose for the surge) are making several erroneous assumptions.

One is that the Sadrist movement is somehow overly dependent on Sadr as the leader, and that taking out leadership will somehow quell the movement -- I have seen many reports indicating that Sadr has a hard time keeping his militia under control. Taking him out would not eliminate the threat. It would almost certainly worsen it.

Second is that Sadr is the only troublesome faction amongst the Shia. They all have militias and death squads, and all hate our guts. The WaPo article linked by von refers to the rivalry between Hakim and Sadr for Shia loyalty. Its humorous to see WaPo indicate that Bush advisors see Hakim as "moderate." Please -- Hakim stands for an Iraq essentially acting as a satellite of Iran. Sadr and Hakim are at odds because Hakim wants to create an Iran vassal in south Iraq -- Sadrist is the nationalist who opposes Iranian influence in Iraq. Hakim is whispering with Bush because he wants to use us as his proxy in his war with Sadr. But why would we act to promote Hakim over Sadr?

Iraqis of all stripes hate us -- eliminating Sadr either in 2004 or now makes very little difference.

And there is that little problem with "taking out" political leaders voted into power by the people -- great way to spread democracy and encourage stability.

And there is that little problem with "taking out" political leaders voted into power by the people -- great way to spread democracy and encourage stability.

Indeed. But as we've learned, it's a problem easily solved once one is neck-deep in the swamp of ends justifying means.

WRT Von's second update, Wouldn't oil be a pretty good reason to go to war?, Mathew Yglesias has a good rejoinder to Von's Freudian slip.

Or, for yet another perspective, American consumers use about 20 million barrels a day of black gold -- good for 7.3 billion barrels in a year. Now suppose you think that withdrawing military forces from the region would lead to widespread chaos and $100 a barrel oil. That means higher energy prices for consumers. But if US consumers could just pocket the cash that's instead being spent on military operations in the area, they'd still have much more post-oil money on hand even if consumption didn't drop at all in response to the price hike.

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