Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

One mark of ideological thinking is a strong strain of rigid consistency. All the facts must fit. The past must be re-written to reflect today’s goals. If the Catholic Church committed some evils in the priest scandal, it was evil back to the time of Christ. If the Iraq War is wrong, so was WWII, WWI, the Vietnam War, and even the War of 1812. Bad means in the pursuit of a noble goal, well-meaning mistakes, incompetence rather than malevolence,  and all forms of moral complexity and human error are consigned to either the realm of the elect and the damned.

A nasty strain of this has emerged among the anti-war right. The left, of course, has long had a large body of supporters whose criticisms of the western world and the United States are intemperate, because the philosophy is rooted in an anti-western fetishization of the Other.  But now the anti-war right, frustrated perhaps by the support received by Bush among a fairly large constituency, has undertaken to extremes of rhetoric, culminating in 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Lawrence Auster exposed this nonsensense quite trenchantly in a piece he wrote some time ago in Front Page Magazine where he wrote, inter alia, about the strange turn of Antiwar.com to anti-Americanism after its initial, powerful condemnation of the Kosovo campaign:

But then something very strange happened with Szamuely, and with Antiwar.com itself. Not content with merely opposing the U.S.-led war on Serbia, he began retrospectively attacking America’s entire effort in the Cold War against the former Soviet Union. He did this by denying that Communism had ever represented a threat that needed to be stopped. It was as though, once he had switched into an oppositional mode against what he saw as the unjustified use of American power in the case of Serbia, he was compelled by some mysterious dynamic to see any use of American power abroad as wrong or imperialistic, even when that power had been used for such a righteous and necessary cause as resisting the spread of Communism, and even though he himself had previously been an anti-Communist and a supporter of the Cold War.

This came as a shock to me. And the shock didn’t end there. I soon noticed a similar adversarial stance among other antiwar rightists, a wild denunciatory quality that did not confine itself to particular wrongs committed by the United States, but eagerly embraced any assertion against America, no matter how ridiculous.

I strongly recommend the article.  Auster correctly notes that significant numbers of the paleoconservative right, resentful perhaps over their lack of influence and professional success, have turned into nihilist haters of all things American.  It’s ridiculous, of course, and far out of kilter with what should be conservative instincts, particularly when natural patriotism and unease with the paranoia of the fringe left is why so many normal people remain encamped on the right side of the spectrum.


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I’m splitting my time here over at Takimag.com, where I’m writing most of my longer pieces.

Here is a piece I wrote on why liberalism makes its adherents incapable of criticizing the stark failures of liberalism:  once liberalism is imbibed, a liberal cannot give appropriate consideration to non-liberal political good.

A piece on Afghanistan and why our “nation-building” strategy there may be the wrong tack.

How Obama’s gun control position shows that he’s a conventional liberal more than a moderate technocrat, and some thoughts on why he wants to keep his family background, in particular his wily father, under raps.

Finally, here and here, I express skepticism of Pat Buchanan’s argument that WWII was avoidable and that Britain’s security guaranty to Poland under Churchill was a major precipitating factor, making the war an avoidable epiphenomenon of British bellicosity.  Since ethnic Germans were scattered throughout Europe, there is little reason to believe they would have been satisfied with the Sudetenland, or the Anschluss, or Danzig, or with anything less than an Eastern Empire with which Germany would have become a world power.

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Interesting article about Marine operations in Afghanistan.  Veterans of the successful (for now) Sunni Awakening strategy are trying to recreate those results in Southern Afghanistan.  As in Iraq until very recently, locals fear to work with the US and Afghan troops because they are  “here today, gone tomorrow” leaving peasants to the tender mercies of the Taliban.

There are a fraction of the numbers of troops in Afghanistan as there are in Iraq, and the war presents many of the same strategic and operational challenges.  Even with the surge and the intelligent leadership of General Petraeus, at most the conditions of some kind of stability and success have been created in Iraq.  America has little power or ability to shape the Iraqi political settlement, which our leaders have always acknowledged requires reconciliation that can only come from the Iraqis themselves.  Without more troops–which are unavailable and will be for the foreseeable future–there is little hope even for this level of “success” to transpire in Afghanistan.  The country is nearly as large, requires more troops to patrol due its spread-out rural population, and yet there are only 23,000 US troops there, a fraction of the 130,000 plus in Iraq.  Even if the overall “hearts and minds” strategy focused on security succeeds, it is at best an intermediate goal.  As in Iraq, nothing stable will come of it that will not require a continued US presence,  because the end-state will be a power-brokered democracy.  Yet that presence is entirely unrealistic considering our modest-sized “peace dividend” military.  The Afghan people are entirely sensible to be wary of US offers of support and protection.  The Marines themselves surely know that politicians will break faith with these forlorn people far more readily than local commanders would.

We truly have a situation of lions led by donkeys.

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I’ve been a bit busy to write anything major.

Here is something I wrote about why the war in Afghanistan faces the same strategic challenges as Iraq.  In other words, it’s a bit facile for Obama and others to propose a mere shift in resources without more.  Unfortunately, the posting got invaded by 9/11 Truthers.

A good piece on the herky-jerky nature of military procurement, with a specific discussion of controversies surrounding the new Marine body armor.

Larry Auster compares Obama’s Church to a Nuremberg Rally.  Nice.

William Lind reminds us that Fourth Generation Warfare and terrorism are not only features of the Middle East, as illustrated by the degeneration of state authority in Mexico.

Finally, a piece showing how the candidates’ positions on Iraq are nearly identical.  If the Democratic Congress is any indicator, expect many weasel-worded statements of caution rather than a precipitous withdrawal.

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Doug Feith is a piece of work. Compare his recent attempts to pain himself as the Cassandra uttering realist warnings to Bush about Iraq in 2004 with his saccharine pro-democracy rhetoric uttered at the time. I agree with his criticism today that Bush’s rhetorical shift from WMDs to democracy confused the American public and resulted in a wrong turn by redefining the mission as “freeing Iraq.” Bush’s talk of liberation obscured the chief pre-war rationale for the war as a self-defensive action based on the reasonable view that Iraq had WMDs coupled with the reasonable reduction in tolerance for risks posed by troublesome and provocative nations like Iraq after 9/11. Bush’s rhetoric in 2004 almost exclusely emphasized the democratization efforts. Too bad for Feith–and Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Perle–all of the administration people were all sayings the same things as Bush at the time. It wasn’t lying per se. Democracy always made an appearance in lists of reasons to attack Iraq. But a tertiary rationale became the main rationale, and no one bothered to acknowledge this change in forthright terms. It’s as if “Elections for Bavaria” replaced “Remember Pearl Harbor” in May of 1943.

More important, whether or not the administration’s unacknowledged change in emphasis constituted ethical rhetoric, no one in the administration dissented about the idealist rhetoric’s major premise: that with or without WMDs, a democratic Iraq was a worthy and achievable goal that furthered American national security.

I confess, before the war, I thought all of this democracy talk was merely window-dressing to justify our realist motives. I only realized later that the Bushies were bona fide foreign policy idealists with general indifference to the welfare of Americans. For Bush and other liberals, fidelity to liberal principles is the chief mark of strategic success.

Feith is a liar and an Israeli spy. He belongs in jail, not on the pages of America’s newspapers. It’s one thing to make mistakes. Everyone does, particularly in the complicated world of foreign policy. But, like Sanchez, Rumsfeld, and George Tenet, his lack of character consists in his unwillingness to acknowledge his own barely hidden dual loyalties and consequent dual motives in promoting and managing a huge failure of an operation that rested on mistaken intelligence and sought to obtain ridiculous goals.

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Andrew Bacevich–West Pointer,  conservative, father of KIA 1st Lt. Bacevich–criticizes the war in a way that should be persuasive to conservatives, including conservatives like me who initially supported the war for punitive reasons. Namely, it’s now clearly a waste of resources and a strategic error to continue on this course. It’s important not to continue this path, even though leaving Iraq would violate a normally good means to discover good policy: staying would enrage liberals.

Just because many anti-American liberals oppose something, doesn’t make it right. This war, like others, might be wrong for reasons pacifists and unpatriotic globalists don’t appreciate. As Bacevich observes, the war is a strategic failure and will continue to murmur along without any real progress indefinitely:

The costs to the United States of sustaining this dependency are difficult to calculate with precision, but figures such as $3 billion per week and 30 to 40 American lives per month provide a good approximation.

What can we expect to gain in return for this investment? The Bush administration was counting on the Iraq War to demonstrate the viability of its Freedom Agenda and to affirm the efficacy of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war.

Measured in those terms, the war has long since failed. Rather than showcasing our ability to transform the Greater Middle East, Operation Iraqi Freedom has demonstrated just the opposite. Using military power as an instrument for imprinting liberal values in this part of the world has produced a failed state while fostering widespread antipathy toward the United States.

Rather than demonstrating our ability to eliminate emerging threats swiftly, decisively, and economically—Saddam Hussein’s removal providing an object lesson to other tyrants tempted to contest our presence in the Middle East—the Iraq War has revealed the limits of U.S. power and called into question American competence. The Bush Doctrine hasn’t worked. Saddam is long gone, but we’re stuck. Rather than delivering decisive victory, preventive war has landed us in a quagmire.

I would add that the absolute worst reason to stay in this war is for some emotional notion of national honor and commitment to the troops, impulses that undergird the very unstrategic thinking John McCain and numerous buck sergeants. We don’t go to war to do the conquered a favor. We don’t stay to avenge deaths like some armed camp of Zulus. A nation goes sends its army to war to accomplish foreign policy goals. This same nation can and should withdraw these troops when it’s in our interests to do so, when those goals are out of reach, no longer important, or too costly. It’s not like Iraq is sacred American soil; this is a foreign land, half way around the world, in a very bad neighborhood, populated mostly by uncivilized people whom we do not understand and who do not understand or appreciate our soldiers’ sacrifices.

Sure, we can pig-headedly spend $20 or $30 trillion over another decade, but even if everything turns out for the best, it will be a strategic benefit worth some fraction of that. And then what? We’ll still have al Qaeda to worry about. We’ll still have North Korea. Our borders will be too porous. Our ranks of third world immigrants will remain too numerous. The Middle East will still have large numbers of pissed off young men who are given sanction to vent their anger by their religion.  The deterrent value of staying or leaving is a wash. Iran knows we won’t easily commit to a similar adventure on its territory. Russia and China will still be ascendant in their spheres of influence. Oil will still be scarce and in the hands of unstable autocrats and their resentful subjects.

Vast swaths of people all around the world will not appreciate Iraq as a model, it ends up as stable as Pakistan or Indonesia when all is said and done. Instead of seeing idealistic U.S. sacrifices for democracy, most Arabs and Muslims will perceive a marginally successful bid for power and domination of Iraq’s oil wealth. Most of the worlds peoples will continue to be more passionate about religion, nationalism, ideology, wealth, prosperity, and tribalism than democracy and the rule of law. Not only that, they’ll treat these tangible goods as more desirable than democracy–whether originating from bloody revolutions at home, or imposed from without by an idealistic and ideological United States.

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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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