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August 05, 2009

Comments

Eric, I sympathize entirely with your criticism of analyses of the Iraq situation that pass over the sheer stupidity of trying to invade Iraq in the first place. But couldn't one say that even more analyses of Afghanistan tend, also, to overlook the sheer folly of invading that country in the first place?

The main advantage that the invasion of Afghanistan had over the invasion of Iraq is that it was neither illegal nor based on entirely false pretenses.

However, I think a very good case can be made that it was equally stupid, especially if one focus on its likely medium- and long-term impact.

I can't wait until the human race evolves to the point where we examine issues in order to find the truth of the matter and to seek a pragmatic solution. Seriously. Can't wait.

However, I think a very good case can be made that it was equally stupid, especially if one focus on its likely medium- and long-term impact.

Perhaps, but disrupting al-Qaeda was a vital interest, and it has actually succeeded in many respects. And in order to realize that goal, some level of military involvement was needed, including some number of "boots on the ground."

As far as nation building, well, that's a good debate.

I think Reese has got it right: we can't do any more to prepare the government structures than we have. The difficulties that remain are long standing cultural norms that we simply can't change. The weak link is the Iraqi Air Force, but by its nature we don't have to develop that in country...and it would probably be preferable to do that training out of the country so we don't have rogue pilots dropping bombs on our convoys.

Staying for short term stability just kicks the problem down the road at great expense: whenever we leave, there is going to be an uncertain vacuum. Staying longer just means putting more treasure into the pit before we get off the nest and find out what hatches.

"But that's completely backwards - and indicative of a dangerous trend in American political life whereby military leaders are deified and granted an undue presumption of wisdom in terms of policy making."

How dare that upstart Truman, who wasn't even FDR, but was that little tailor, that machine politician, from Missouri, fire the god Douglas MacArthur?

To be sure, I'm not aware there are signs that Petraeus holds himself in quite such high self-regard as MacArthur did, nor requires such sychophancy as MacArthur did, but, then, few humans could. Nor does Petraeus's career match the length and (over-rated) legend of MacArthur.

I'm just saying that the parallel, to whatever degree there might be one, springs to mind.

Sycophancy. I'm in a rush because theoretically the guy who will come take my computer away for a day or two and fix the broken USB parts will arrive any minute.

I should still be online via the MacBook back-up, knock wood, albeit likely less prolifically, since I'm still not used to the OS or keyboard or trackpad.

Whoops, here he is!

Looking back on the decision to go into Afghanistan, based upon conditions now, is not really appropriate. To say it was stupid is discounting what may have taken place had it been done propely.

Of course, this would involve a lot of "what if" type of thinking. But there is little doubt that if attention had remained focused of Afgahnistan at a high enough lebvel, with appropriate use of force and other, more ground up building of the country, with Afghans leading the way, things might be extremely different.

Up until our invasion of Iraq, even most of the muslim world was not as antagonistic toward the US, the Taliban had suffered the loss of most of the actual support it really had, and al Qaeda was definitely losing its ability to recruit.

Given all that, and minus bombing a few wedding parties, etc. the actual decision to go in may well have been brilliant, not stupid.

And I'm back, on the Emergency Holographic MacBook!

Which I'll be on the next few days, until the desktop comes back.

Isn't there some kind of "page down" equivalent on these keyboards? Scrolling is awfully tedious.

"But couldn't one say that even more analyses of Afghanistan tend, also, to overlook the sheer folly of invading that country in the first place?"

I'll at least defend the initial overthrow of the Taliban. I think that was entirely defensible, and a reasonable idea, although, yes, it involved killing people, and I neither had to do the killing nor suffer in any way from it, so yes, it's completely easy for me to take that stance, and I'm aware of that.

Beyond that, I'm less sure what we should have done in Afghanistan, although I'm sure that the Bush administration's decision to continue a half-assed war, while pulling out vital personnel and resources for the war in Iraq, was not the way to go. Either a more or less complete military withdrawal, or a maintenance of a huge effort, are the obvious two other primary choices to argue in favor of.

Isn't there some kind of "page down" equivalent on these keyboards? Scrolling is awfully tedious.

Try holding down the function key while pressing either the up or down arrow key.

Regarding that keyboard query: I'm still idly curious if there's an answer, but I've ended up plugging in my Windows keyboard via USB hub, thus curing the problem for now, aside from having to get used to odd way I'm forced to place the MacBook at a 45 degree angle next to the keyboard, due to my desk space limitations.

This is all so fascinating, isn't it?

"I can't wait until the human race evolves to the point where we examine issues in order to find the truth of the matter and to seek a pragmatic solution. Seriously. Can't wait."

This is purely a bit of friendly snark (since I realize you're using the term evolve figuratively), but assuming the current Darwinian structure for understanding evolution is reasonably correct, megafauna species evolution is (on a human time scale) a very slooooowwwwww process. So you may be waiting a while. Also, it tends to involve species exctinction a lot. Which could be kind of a bummer.

"since I realize you're using the term evolve figuratively"

Inner science fiction fandom has had jokes since the 1940s, when a lunatic sf fan named "Claude Degler" used to travel about claiming that sf fans were a higher form of evolved human beings, and that they/we had Cosmic Minds, so those of us privy to that kind of fanhistory have joked ever since about having Cosmic Minds. (A famous line from the forties came from a well-known fan Jack Speer sending Claude a series of postcards saying "I have a cosmic mind: now what do I do?")

Anyway, I think that's the kind of "evolution" being referred to. :-)

So you may be waiting a while.

I'm still waiting for smellevision to replace television. It's almost a decade past due.

Pretty cheap rhetorical trick to ask, "What if Petraeus disgrees?" when Crowley has no idea what Petraeus might think about the proposal.

To say it was stupid is discounting what may have taken place had it been done propely.

I'm sorry, but when I looked at G W Bush and his administration in 2001, I did not see a President and administration that seemed either more competent or more ethical than the JFK, LBJ, and Nixon administrations. Which suggested to me that any war Bush started had a substantial probability of turning out about as well as Vietnam did. When you start wars, things can get out of your control very easily: being really smart and really honest is insufficient to guarantee decent, let alone good outcomes. By 2001 it was clear that the Bush administration was not particularly competent and honest compared with recent Presidential administrations, so there was no reason to believe they could be trusted with something as important as a war.

By 2001 it was clear that the Bush administration was not particularly competent and honest compared with recent Presidential administrations, so there was no reason to believe they could be trusted with something as important as a war.

See, I actually thought, at the time, that experienced hands like Rumsfeld would do a decent job of it. And I thought it was necessary to disrupt al-Qaeda and with them the Taliban.

The staggering incompetence was not as easy to spot back then, and while it was clear that the Bush team was pushing a small government agenda, they seemed to be treating the DOD with respect.

Micheal Crowley has every right to call for a constitutional convention that would install an American paramount military commander over whom the civilian president has no authority. But until he succeeds in that effort, Mr. Crowley has no business writing as though General Petraeus's "willingness" to do anything had any relevance to his plainly mandated and sworn duty if faced with an order from President Obama: salute, say "yes sir", and carry out the order diligently and without reservation. Inevitably, the Iraqis will have to stand up for their democracy or lose it, like the citizens of any other country on Earth; legally, they will have to do it by the end of 2011; in practice, it might as well happen sooner rather than later. But even if you could make out a solid case that American forces can stay in Iraq, even if you argue that they should stay, it does not do to forget that President Obama has the final authority.

Yeah, it was definitely a tongue-in-cheek remark - the idea being that we have to wait for evolution to solve the problem since we apparently aren't going to do anything to solve it of our own volition. Of course, that assumes that truth-seeking and pragmatism have an evolutionary advantage that rationalizing what we want to believe does not.

"I'm sorry, but when I looked at G W Bush and his administration in 2001, I did not see a President and administration that seemed either more competent or more ethical than the JFK, LBJ, and Nixon administrations."

Neither did I, to put it mildly.

However, where I went wrong, as regards Afghanistan, and even to some degree in the early days of Iraq, was that I completely underestimated how thoroughly and deeply Bush and Cheney and their political-level appointees (Feith, etc.) would step in to make crucial decisions, rather than leave the crucial decisions on Afghanistan to the military professionals, and the professionals at State, AID, and the other departments. I didn't expect Weinberger to override professionals like Eric Shinseki and those like him.

That was what I got completely stupidly wrong. I way underestimated just how activist the political appointees would be in making the relevant decisions, and reject the decisions of the departmental professionals, and I accept full responsibility for my errors of judgement in this.

Worse, I was still ambivalent about the decision to go into Iraq until some time after it was done. I never came out for the invasion, but I didn't oppose it, either; I stayed on the fence for the first few months, growing more and more doubtful each week, until long before Abu Ghraib (though I couldn't now pin down which week) I concluded it was a complete mistake, but it wasn't until Abu Ghraib that I completely and thoroughly denounced the war and how wrong I had been to not have realized it earlier.

Plus, of course, invading Iraq was, I came to realize, a complete mistake in any case. I also accept full responsibility for having taken a few months to realize this, rather than just having been deeply ambivalent about the pros and cons for some time. It took me a year to be this clear.

So feel free to doubt my judgment in such matters, given that other people did a much better job of getting it right far earlier.

One other factor in my ambivalence was that I had retrospectively concluded that I had been in error in, at the time, opposing Gulf War 1991; at the time, I actively opposed the invasion of Kuwait, and argued for relying on containment of Hussein's regime.

When subsequent details came out about the then genuine nuclear program in 1991 of the Iraqi government -- the program later dismantled by the IAEA -- and that then the Hussein regime indeed hadn't been far off from a nuclear weapon, I concluded that I had been wrong in opposing the 1991 invasion, because I concluded that the dangers of Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons were sufficient to, now that I was aware that he was in fact much closer than I had estimated, justify the 1991 invasion of Kuwait to retake it, after all.

And when 2003 came around, having made the previous error was a large factor in my ambivalence, as I didn't want to repeat what I regarded as an error in 1991. I over-corrected to the point of reaching ambivalence.

So I wound up getting it at least partially wrong both times, unless, of course, you take the view that the 1991 retaking of Kuwait wasn't worth it, or was wrong.

For the record.

I wonder what the Bush Administration would have done if one of their generals had defied them by telling them they needed more troops to invade Iraq?

OH WAIT

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