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August 11, 2007

Comments

I understand your concern about details, specially since the total lack of caring about details is what got us into this mess to begin with.

Two points though, and I will try to avoid using all four of my hands.

The first is that it is really hard for someone to talk about details with regard to how they will handle Iraq in 17 months because we just don't know exactly what the situation will be on the ground at that time.

Secondly, the same is true in just about every other instance in which you are talking about details, including the whole thing about Pakistan. However, in regard to Pakistan it is important that we remember that Obama talked more about working with Pakistan than he did about making extremely surgcial strikes.

I find it somewhat funny that what he is really being criticized for is not the policy itself, which even Hilary agreed with, but rather that he said it out loud.

I don't remember him talking about Americanizing those internal systems you mentioned. He did talk about providing assistance to countries, but there is no reason to believe he meant to duplicate our systems.

To his credit, he at least is providing some insight into his thinking, and it isn't more of the same old that the Republicans are putting out there, and it is more defined than anything the other Dems are saying.

I'll grant your point, john, but I'd love to hear what he would do right now about Iraq, for example. While some of the specifics will change between now and January 2008, the basic questions of how many troops he plans to leave behind will still remain, I think. I don't need to hear precise numbers, but something beyond 'we'll leave some' would be nice to hear.

And while I suppose this piece comes off as critical of Obama, he's the only Democrat with any hope of winning the nomination that I would consider voting for, which strikes me as at least mildly complimentary given our other policy differences.

Excellent post, thanks, lots to think about.


Btw, I take it you lost a chunk after "The specifics he has provided, for example on securing nuclear material,".

Hmmm...so I did. How odd.

G'Kar: thanks; this is really interesting. I completely agree with you on increasing the size of the military: in my (as usual) flamingly uninformed opinion, we need to begin by undoing the damage of the last several years before we think about increasing its size. Besides, I am unclear why we need to increase its size if we're going to (largely) leave Iraq: it's an increase in search of a mission, which always scares me.

A couple of notes: first, in his speech, he says that he would leave some US troops "in the region". If "the region" meant, say, Kuwait, then a lot of the problems you mentioned would disappear. (Arguably, they'd be a lot smaller even if "the region" meant somewhere clearly within Iraqi Kurdistan.)

Second, I assumed that the development assistance he talked about would be to countries that invite us, not aid we would force down people's throats. And I don't see why they wouldn't invite us: even now, USAID "works in 100 developing countries and inclose partnership with private voluntary organizations, indigenous groups, universities, American businesses, international organizations, other governments, trade and professional associations, faith-based organizations, and other U.S. government agencies." That's all at those countries' invitation; I took Obama's ideas to involve a major strengthening of those efforts.

I have never cared for Woodrow Wilson, myself, but a foreign policy based on ideals, that proceeds by diplomacy and voluntary assistance, seems to me a very good idea, though like all good ideas it needs to be competently executed. I have said before that I support democracy promotion, competently executed; I should probably add that I think that the Marshall Plan and (until the EU started getting cold feet a couple of years ago) the EU's negotiations with Turkey strike me as god examples of the genre. The latter isn't something we could emulate directly, since we don't have anything like EU membership to offer, and the former had a lot to do with the specific situation of Europe after WWII -- though any good plan will be similarly responsive. So I'm not offering them as blueprints; just examples of what I take successful democracy promotion to look like.

I completely agree that regaining our good name will take a lot more time than losing it did. As is always the case.

There's one other point about the speech that I think is worth highlighting, namely:

"And worse -- he is fighting the war the terrorists want us to fight. Bin Ladin and his allies know they cannot defeat us on the field of battle or in a genuine battle of ideas. But they can provoke the reaction we've seen in Iraq: a misguided invasion of a Muslim country that sparks new insurgencies, ties down our military, busts our budgets, increases the pool of terrorist recruits, alienates America, gives democracy a bad name, and prompts the American people to question our engagement in the world."

and:

"We know we are not who they say we are. America is at war with terrorists who killed on our soil. We are not at war with Islam. America is a compassionate nation that wants a better future for all people. The vast majority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims have no use for bin Ladin or his bankrupt ideas. But too often since 9/11, the extremists have defined us, not the other way around.

When I am President, that will change. We will author our own story."

I think this is crucial. When we invaded Iraq, we really did play exactly into their hands. I agree with Richard Clarke on this one: "It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting 'invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.'"

Writing our own story, aka regaining the initiative, is crucial.

in the above: "god examples of the genre" is, of course, a typo. The Marshall Plan was good, but not that good.

The title of this dairy is wrong.

Obama do not use the deceptive 10,3,5,6 point plans that others used to cover for their lack of actual policy initiatives.

Obama's is an outline of how we can get back on track on the actual war against terrorism. It took great courage to stand and make such pronouncement even when he risked the reaction he got. Obama has consistently told his audience the truth about what he feels about any situation or issues whether it’s Iraq war, diplomacy, or war on terror.

I'm assuming you meant to say, "While some of the specifics will change between now and January 2009 ..." instead of 2008.

Reading this post I a was struck with the level of uncertainty. All the times that "I'm not sure" or "I am not convinced" or words to that effect -- it adds up.

The thinking of those like Obama, from what they write in various places, appears to come from the following analysis, based on "certainties".

1. It seems transparently obvious, that, if a roughly democratic government (say, about as democratic as our republic) is to take root in Iraq, it will have to have a lot of local control, since nobody trusts anybody else from a different tribe or religious sect or ethnicity.

2. Problem: local control means local minorities will run the risk of having to choose between being oppressed or being eliminated through ethnic cleansing.

3. The US lacks the troops necessary to prevent this, even in the short-term.

4. Some tribes and groups in (and out of) Iraq are certain to take what opportunities they can to change their status, either to regain lost power or to push themselves ahead. These opportunities may include using AQI to stoke tensions and discredit the existing government, or using the US Army to systematically oppress their opponents.

That's all pretty much certain, as I would think most people would agree. Lacking a consensus government and no rule of law, it's what is left.

5. The current strategy (if it can be dignified as such) of the US appears to be to supplant the local militias that had grown up in the chaos in the Shia regions, and arm the former insurgents in the Sunni regions.

6. This will not have the result of calming the tensions underlying the violence. Far from it, repressing the violence will just allow the underlying causes to remain and possibly to grow.

(Of course, if your goal is to delay the resulting chaos until you can blame it on your successor, and you don't mind the increased casualties the US suffers as a result, this is a workable strategy.)

7. Long-term, for the good of the US and the Iraqis, a rapid end to the political uncertainty, whether through a defacto partition of Iraq or a consensus on the part of the Iraqi leadership that their only real hope is compromise and reconciliation (for which I would not advise holding your breath) would result in a paroxysm of violence followed by some type of stable result.

This is tragic, and it's going to get worse before it gets better, but this dance was choreographed when the neocons convinced Bush to strike up the band.

Given this analysis, Obama's position seems pragmatically sensible.

If you wish to take apart this analysis, do point out which of the near-certainties (1-7) upon which it rests are not likely.

Well, technically the specifics will change between now and January 2008...but yes, that was what I meant. Doubtless that was my subconscious wishing that this interminable election season would hurry up and end.

A quick comment regarding the size of the military.

IMO, and the opinion of many people I know in the military, a major hurdle to recruitment is this administration. If people saw an administration that they trusted to use the military appropriately, worked to take care of those who have served, etc, then I don't think there would be as much of problem recruiting.

Additionally, I know several members who are about to hit the 8 year mark and are seriously considering getting out. These are all Captain and above rank in the Army and all of them originally were planning on making the Army their career.

Again, if they felt they were working under an administration they could trust, they would probably stay.

Again, if they felt they were working under an administration they could trust, they would probably stay.

I myself have never heard this from anyone serving, but that is anecdotal at best.

The biggest reason I have heard for people getting out is the frequent deployments. I'm not sure that an administration people trusted would help if soldiers are still expected to spend more than half their time away from home.

This is totally frivalous, but I would point out G'Kar never spent much time (free or otherwise) on occupied Narn, unless you are talking as a much younger G'Kar. But in that case you are talking as G'Kar before he became the sage of later life.

True...but no pseudonym is perfect. I make no claim, in fact, to be a sage, let alone wise to the degree the 'real' G'Kar became later in his life. Consider the pseudonym aspirational rather than necessarily wholly descriptive.

For a non-American like me, Barack Obama seems about the most encouraging of the presidential candidates. (Although my expectations are now so low that I would consider a good US president to be one who did not actively make the world situation worse, for example by starting another Middle Eastern war). But I do wish that Obama wouldn't include in his speech such rhetorical claptrap as Hilzoy quotes: "America is a compassionate nation that wants a better future for all people."

To most non-Americans that just seems ridiculous, if not actually offensive. I see no evidence that the vast majority of the American people care two bits about most of the rest of the world and the US government undoubtedly doesn't. (And most US politicians clearly don't even care about a large number of the US population).

Of course it's only a political speech and no-one should take it seriously, I supose, but it all feeds the beast that is American exceptionalism and we've now seen all too clearly the nasty results that that leads to.

His plans to make the U.S. military more stealthy, agile and lethal sound good...

As did Don Rumsfeld's. But if the job then turns out to be occupation and policing, it's a rotten choice.

But I do wish that Obama wouldn't include in his speech such rhetorical claptrap as Hilzoy quotes: "America is a compassionate nation that wants a better future for all people."

And I wish you would find something else to concern yourself with.

For a non-American like me, Barack Obama seems about the most encouraging of the presidential candidates.

Ditto, although I'd be far more encouraged if Obama hadn't referred to the 'president' of Canada at the union debate this past Tuesday.

At least he didn't send his regards to Prime Minister Poutine (who hasn't resided at 24 Sussex Drive for some time now.)

It's too bad, but it would really be a mistake for Sen Obama, or any of the other candidates, to give very much in specifics on Iraq. We all know that the facts on the ground are going to change, in one way or another, and that today's well thought out solution will be tomorrow's pipedream. A candidate who stays firm with an outdated plan is out of touch with reality, while one who changes is a flip-flopper. When we get closer -- next summer, at the earliest -- there will be plenty of time to give specifics that genuinely uncided voters can consider.

I don't imagine,G'Kar, that you are really looking to commit irrevocably now. For this reason, people in your position are going to have to be content with generalities for now.

On unilateralism, I think you'd find broad majorities in the Dem coalition for contained, limited, short, and successful unilateral action, when all else fails. This bears no relationship to the policies of the current administration. Obviously, a Pres Obama isn't really going to do anything without a bunch of smart people thinking through what happens on the ground in Pakistan -- if you want to vote for people who go with their gut, damn the facts, you'll need to stick to the other side of the aisle. (This makes an assessment of the "gut" of your choice a whole more important.)

On Executive authority, the 2001 AUMF remains in force, and would allow, imo, a strike against bin Laden wherever he is. Simple as that. You don't have to buy into any Yoo-ist fantasy to get there.

Charles: "7. Long-term, for the good of the US and the Iraqis, a rapid end to the political uncertainty, whether through a defacto partition of Iraq or a consensus on the part of the Iraqi leadership that their only real hope is compromise and reconciliation..."

Soft partitioning is the best option... but it won't happen any time soon because that would require a massive shift of U.S. policy, including a concerted effort to effectuate it under a UN mandate -- the kind of effort, energy, and diplomatic accommodation used by the Clinton administration to broker the Dayton Peace Accords to partition Bosnia, and tamp down the sectarian violence in that country.

I wouldn't be surprised if Hill-Bill focus on doing something similar when they get back the presidency.

There is already a de facto partition of iraq. But US and shia armies keep occupying sunni areas, and sunni terrorists infiltrate shia areas.

To get a de jure partition of iraq we'd need to change the iraqi constitution, but the current iraqi government is not yet organised enough to arrange that.

CharleyCarp: On Executive authority, the 2001 AUMF remains in force, and would allow, imo, a strike against bin Laden wherever he is. Simple as that. You don't have to buy into any Yoo-ist fantasy to get there.

That was my thinking, too, and I'm glad to see an actual legal mind confirm this.

Which leads me to the question, if Musharraf proves to be running interference for those who harbor Al Qaeda in Pakistan (which I took to be the subtext of that portion of Obama's speech), how is his nation's sovereignty any more sacrosanct than was that of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan? It seems to me that the real headline here is the tacit admission by pretty much everyone who is now criticizing Obama that, contrary to our rhetoric for the last six years, there are some places in the world that the U.S. foreign policy establishment is afraid to pursue the terrorists who actually attacked American soil and took three thousand lives.

I'm just not quite sure how that story gets overlooked in favor of the "Obama is green" angle.

"although I'd be far more encouraged if Obama hadn't referred to the 'president' of Canada at the union debate this past Tuesday"

I assume that more time on the campaign trail will help with such gaffes.


I was pretty unhappy with all three leading candidates' answers on gay marriage the other day - but Richardson, yeesh - that went well beyond "gaffe" to "he actually seems to think that".

Charley,

I realize candidates aren't going to commit to much, and probably won't even much closer to the election. But that doesn't mean I can't note the problems I see with their positions or wish that they would be more specific. I don't expect it to change, but that doesn't stop me from asking.

And while I see your point regarding the AUMF, I remain uncomfortable at best in trusting the 'gut' of whomever occupies the White House.

Gromit,

I will go out on a limb and suggest that Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons makes an invasion a bit more problematic. Which is a big reason why Iran wants nukes, naturally...

G'kar: I will go out on a limb and suggest that Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons makes an invasion a bit more problematic. Which is a big reason why Iran wants nukes, naturally...

Of course it makes military action against AQ in Pakistan more complicated (though it's worth pointing out that we are really talking about is the credible threat of action). But then why pretend that this has anything to do with sovereignty, or with the idea that Pakistan is nominally our ally in the War on Terror, or with "the American belief that it has the right to strike anywhere at any time if it deems such a strike necessary", when it's really Pakistan's nuclear capabilities that we are afraid of?

Gromit,

Who is 'pretending' that is the problem? Personally, my problem with it is that I have a fundamental aversion to going long distances to kill people without an incredibly good reason, although I suppose if we really did have great intelligence we could do so in this case. Although having that level of intelligence strikes me as being about as likely as knowing the one guy to torture in the 'ticking bomb' scenario that is often used to support the use of torture, which is to say, I don't believe it will happen.

Was the Afghanistan invasion a mistake, in your opinion?

I can't see the Sadrists agreeing to partition: long term, the only decent hope for the slums of East Baghdad is a significant share of oil revenue. Nor are Anbar Sunnis likely to agree to give up on oil money.

These are Iraqi problems, and require Iraqi solutions. We've had no role to play since 2005, except to legitimize -- in some measure -- AQM.

(I disagree with G'Kar about the popularity of AQM amongst Iraqis, but only to the extent that he implies it's indigenous support is zero. I think it has some, but that this would change were we to leave. I also think that the little support AQM gets from Iraqis is essential for its survival in Iraq, and that with our departure, foreigners in AQM either leave or get killed by Iraqis, in very short order. Obviously, those who leave because they only came to Iraq to kill Americans are going to be a problem wherever they go -- I do think, though, that the Saudi government, with all its problems, is better placed to deal with these people than any combination of Iraq/US officialdom.)

Gromit,

The way it was executed, yes.

Charley,

I don't recall suggesting AQI's local support was zero, but if I did, I apologize. I'm sure there are a few people who like it. But from what I have seen, they are not well-liked anywhere they go, in large part because they attempt to inflict a repressive version of Islam in areas they control.

G'Kar: The way it was executed, yes.

So your objection to Afghanistan was that it was done poorly, and not that we went a long distance to kill people without a good reason (the reason both in this case and in Obama's hypothetical being more or less the same)?

No. There were reasons to invade Afghanistan, although I'm not certain it was necessary to go after bin Laden and al Qaeda.

I object to invading Pakistan because
a) I would prefer not to encourage Pakistan to give nuclear weapons to the wrong people
b) I would prefer not to get into yet another war
c) I dislike the idea of Congress granting the President a general license to invade wherever he chooses as long as it is in search of a particular target

Now, are there cases in which Obama's hypothetical would be OK for me? Yes, but they're pretty limited. As I noted above, it would require a level of intelligence (as in information gathering) that I'm not convinced the U.S. possesses.

G'Kar: would it make any difference to you if the action in question involved cruise missiles, not troops? Or possibly: special forces, not an actual invasion? That was how I read it, though on reflection I'm not sure why.

hilzoy: Not really. If it's something we should do, then I'm not overly concerned with means as long as they are appropriate to the task. My concern is that the President shouldn't have the ability to just bomb a country because he thinks it's a good idea...even if he happens to be right.

Yeah; I was thinking of your (b) above, which I would think wouldn't apply, or at least not in the same way.

If you look at the ambiguity as intentional, saying "Given what I know now these are my ideas" strikes me as far more responsible than the current administration, and their rather faith based initiatives. If you've noticed Obama has been rather smart and couched any controversial statement as beholding to a changing set of facts, especially the Pakistan comments.

The fact that these distinctions are put forth in a public manner is important, especially when comparing yourself to the administration which has disdain for the reality based world.

more responsible than the current administration

I am hoping against hope the 2008 election will offer a choice whose final outcome is better than that floor you describe.

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