Archive for the ‘iraq war’ Category

Most of George Bush’s foreign policy mistakes have been caused by what may be termed excessive foreign policy idealism.  Though Bush is rightly criticized for his incompetence and failure to learn from events, no amount of competence would have saved him from the pathetic, ongoing insurgency in Iraq. This outcome was a natural consequence of the situation that he put himself in due to foreign policy idealism:  our ambitious plans to change Iraq’s people and culture, the lack of an Iraqi center of power or leader to which we could appeal, and the inherent friction of a proud, ancient people in the face of foreign occupation. 

Bush misjudged where we should intervene (Iraq, Ukraine’s elections, Kosovo Independence), how long we should stay (forever), and what kind of results we could expect (flowers) because of this idealism. In the world of Bush and the neoconservatives, we should concern ourselves not merely with security or commerce, but high ideals like democracy and human rights among both our allies and our enemies.  The lack of concern for such things has undergirded our historical alliance with folks like Saudi monarchs and Indonesian dictators.  The idealists respond that these regimes fuel terrorism amongst their resentful and downtrodden people.  So, we must democratize places like this by force, including Iraq, as a matter of englightened self-interest. 

McCain believes all of this in spades.  Pat Buchanan describes what we can expect in a President McCain:

Like Condi Rice, who regularly disparages the policies of every president from FDR to Bill Clinton, McCain enjoys parading the higher morality of his devotion to democracy-uber-alles.

“For decades in the Middle East we had a strategy of relying upon autocrats to provide order and stability. We relied on the Shah, the autocratic rulers of Egypt, the generals of Pakistan, the Saudi royal family. … We can no longer delude ourselves that relying on these outdated autocrats is the safest bet.”

Speaking of self-delusion, does McCain believe the “democrats” lately elected in Pakistan will be tougher on al-Qaida and the Taliban than Pervez Musharraf, who has twice escaped assassination for having sided with us?

Does McCain think this new crowd in Islamabad will be more pro-American than the general, when the people who voted them in are among the most anti-American in the Islamic world?

From Richard Nixon to George Bush I, we expelled Moscow from Egypt, won the Cold War, brought peace between Egypt and Israel, and created a worldwide alliance, including Hafez al-Assad of Syria, that drove Saddam’s army out of Kuwait.

What has the Bush-McCain democracy crusade produced, save electoral victories for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas? And if we dump the sultan of Oman, President Mubarak, and the king of Saudi Arabia, who does McCain think will replace them?

The “idealists” are the most war-mongering bunch around.  Their idealism has no respect for the diversity of political arrangements in the world, nor the benefits of tolerating injustice compared to initiating the horrors of war. Idealists are behind such varied campaigns as Kosovo, Iraq, and Vietnam, as well as the current call to intervene in Sudan.  Without a sustained focus on America’s abiding interest in peace and the avoidance of trouble, the idealism of a Clinton or a Bush or a McCain will always get us into wars.   The “no war for oil” folks have it all wrong.  That at least would make some crude sense.  The neoconservative ideaslists are seeking not power or lucre, but the satisfaction of standing up for a noble cause.  For them, every threat is Hitler, every decision Munich, every threat of world historical importance.  This same idealism does not give a leader the analytical tools to realize our predicaments and extricate ourselves. 

Idealists always paint vivid images of the future, a world characterized by law and right. Our present difficulties are always treated casually, necessary and bearable suffering that will be vindicated by the verdict of history.  Such “this worldly” optimism is reminiscent of the Hegelian-Marxist view of history, where any given state of society is only a step on the way to the Communist paradise. 

But sometimes it’s not December 1944. Sometimes the stakes are not existential.  And in these cases, hard-headedness is needed to go with softer-heartedness, in McCain’s case the admirable concern for others and a high sense of duty and persistence.  There is a time to throw in the towel, and that time has arrived in Iraq.

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The media have rightfully reported some of the setbacks, sectarian fighting, American missteps, and other bad news from Iraq.  It would be short-sighted for America and its policymakers to believe nothing but the administration’s rosy assessments.  A critical and free press is one of our birth rights.  But the media’s silence about the relative success of the surge and the miracle in Anbar is deafening.  My brother was in Ramadi in 2004-2005 during the big Fallujah offensive.  It was a tough time for him and his fellow Marines in a terrible place.  Ramadi was widely regarded at that time as the most dangerous place in Iraq.  Numerous Marines and soldiers were killed, both in Ramadi and in the surrounding areas in Anbar.

But a combination of good tactics and good luck have turned things around.  Al Qaeda overplayed its hand and alienated the Sheiks.  The Marines stuck to their forte of Counterinsurgency 101, reached out to locals, avoided excessive force, employed intensive patrols, and allowed Sunnis’ fear of Shias to persuade them that cooperating with Americans is their best bet in avoiding oppression by the Shia-led Iraqi government.

 How times have changed:

When 200 members of the 800-member 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment extended their enlistments this year so they could accompany the Two-Five back to Iraq, it was significant. No infantry battalion has had as many Marines extend their tours as the Two-Five — Marines who were “short-timers” and could have ended their service with comfy stateside billets but chose instead to return to Iraq to help less-experienced Marines navigate the dangers.

As the Marines from Two-Five returned here early today, they had a new number to boast about: zero.

In seven months of patrolling the streets of Ramadi, once the most violent city in Anbar province, the 2nd Battalion, 5th Regiment had no Marines or sailors killed and only one injured. In its previous deployment, the battalion’s numbers were 15 killed and more than 200 wounded.

Whether this local respite from violence and apparent country-wide cooling down in ethnic tensions will lead to a long term settlement remains to be seen.  Many of the relevant events and negotiations are out of the control of Americans and the military forces on the ground.  Nonetheless, it surely is a good thing, a sign of progress, and a source of hope that violence is on the decline in what appeared to be the most hopeless part of Iraq.  This will hopefully allow Americans to draw down our forces and focus on other threats.

It’s not that hard for the media to report good news and other positive developments, but the media is not fair-minded enough to do so.  They’re not liars, per se; they are just very selective in their judgment of what is news-worthy, and this selectivity accords with the anti-war bromides these reporters inherited from the Vietnam era.  These omission are indefensible and are hurting the war effort at the very time its successes may allow for an honorable and security-enhancing withdrawal.  I am happy that my pessemism may have been over-stated in early 2007.  I am more than willing to be happily proven wrong.  But is the media and its liberal confederates in the Democratic Party?

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Blackwater, like any group of armed professionals in a chaotic environment, will find that some of its operators make mistakes. Under stress, they might be too quick on the trigger, misidentify the target, or otherwise create problems for themselves and the mission in Iraq. This is inevitable and likely occurred in the recent incident in Baghdad where 17 civilians were gunned down. The fact none of their protectees have died in Iraq is admirable, but this does not necessarily show that Blackwater’s personnel are furthering the mission goals from a strategic perspective. If the goal is to secure Iraq for the Iraqis so that they rally to the government so we can then leave, all of the people that are killed or aggrieved in the course of security operations create more work for the US government and the uniformed military.

But Blackwater’s very existence, even if its men performed their work with exquisite sensitivity, is not good news. Private contractors providing services that were once the responsibility of the uniformed military–most dramatically providing security for proconsul Paul Bremer and various US Army Generals–is a sign that our military is too small and inflexible to deal with the mission in Iraq and the war on terror more broadly. The shift from the uniformed military to contractors is part of a broader shift of power away from the nation-state to transnational entities–things like the WTO and multinational corporations–and a parallel devolution of power to subnational groupings like the tribe, the family, and the private individual.

Blackwater’s ususal mission in Iraq is a prosaic one: guarding VIPs in a nation that is in the midst of a very violent insurgency. But their presence shows two very bad things. One, it shows that the environment in Iraq, even in its capital city, remains too dangerous for movement by Iraqi and American officials in all but the most well-armed caravans, replete with armored cars, automatic weapons, and platoon-size teams of guards. Second, it shows that this capability is not available to the government in house. (more…)

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The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan both involve fractious societies, weak governments installed by the United States, rampant criminality, persistent insurgencies, and high stakes insofar as either battlefield (in particular Afghanistan) could become havens for terrorists. Yet the dominant rhetoric of Democrats is that Iraq is the “bad war,” a distraction at best . . . a major injustice to the Iraqis at worst. And for these critics Afghanistan is the good war, the justifiable retaliation for the 9/11 attacks and a necessary investment to avoid the reemergence of terror camps in Afghanistan.

My question to opponents of the Iraq War and supporters of the Afghanistan War is why if these wars are so similar, insasmuch as both are counterinsurgencies among bellicose and tribal people with whom we share very few values and interests, can we not expect similarly bad results in Afghanistan as we have obtained so far in Iraq?  After all, are we not employing the same strategy by the same army in Afghanistan as in Iraq? Or, in other words, how can we win in Afghanistan considering our lackluster results so far in Iraq?

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I think it’s remarakable that General Ricardo Sanchez, former Corps Commander of all coalition assets in Iraq, is now pointing the finger at everyone–including Rumsfeld, Bremer, Casey, Bush, etc.–when he was so singularly incapable of getting the mission accomplished in Iraq. He failed to keep control when the daily numbers of IED and other attacks were 20% of what they are today. He supervised the slow-motion effort to up-armor American vehicles, train Iraqis, and win “hearts and minds” with little attention to the security of ordinary Iraqis. His and Bush’s motto could have been, “Who needs security when you can vote!”

He failed to sound the alarm about our troops’ lack of language training, the porous Iraqi borders, and the failed detention system that culminated in the Abu Ghraib scandal. His task may have been too ambitious and his assets too few, but even so he misused what he had and never risked his career to do the right thing for the American troops in the field. He willingly gave support to Rumsfeld’s ideological blindness about the war’s progress and failed to provide an appropriately skeptical counterweight to Rumsfeld and Bush’s more outrageous demands. Finally, he failed to provide a proper “big picture” mission to his division commanders, and thus a lack of mission clarity hampered efforts at every level.

I believe this anecdote, recounted by the highly credible Thomas Ricks, speaks for itself:

I actually said to Sanchez one day, something my driver had said to me. My Iraqi driver said, “You know, when I lived in America, we could call 911 if you wanted police help.” He said, “Why isn’t there a hotline here that we can call in and say, ‘Hey, I saw some insurgents'”? …

I mentioned this to Sanchez, … and he said, “Oh, that’s an interesting thought.” Well, this was March, I think, 2005. I believe they finally did stand up a national hotline.

Sanchez symbolizes everything that is conventional, unimaginative, incompetent, and overly political in today’s corps of generals.

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