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Posts Tagged ‘iraq war’

Iraq Pullout

America really gave it the college try in Iraq, but in no sense of the word can it be said we “won.”  It was more like a draw or a mixed bag. We won everything worth winning back in 2004:  Saddam was gone, no WMDs were found, and we had lost a minimum of lives. But since then we’ve seen an insurgency arise that cannot be beaten, and we have empowered Iran and installed an Iranian-friendly government in Iraq due to the friendliness of these two Shia-majority regimes.

This week we left Iraq with little fanfare; indeed, we left kind of in a rush since the “friendly” Iraq government would not approve important details in a renewed status of forces agreement focused on training Iraqis.

The insurgency has ebbed and flowed during our tenure, and it still persists. Our military became really interested in counterinsurgency along the way, and this led to the rising star of General Petraeus for a time, but the military and politicians alike realized–perhaps without saying so explicitly–that we’re not really cut out for this kind of war, and that it cannot be won without a decent partner in the indigenous government, and that such a partner is nearly impossible to find when there is a tradition of nationalism and also the Islamic religion, i.e., in the entire Middle East.  So we left, and we’re soon going to be leaving Afghanistan for many of the same reasons under similar circumstances (and there, as well, finally having done something useful in whacking Osama bin Laden in spite of all the marginal results during the interim).

One thing wars do is expose a nation’s military in all its competence and glory–consider the Battle of Fallujah, the swift expulsion of the Taliban, or the death of bin Laden–but also in all its infamy, pettiness, and mismanagement, coupled with the casual dishonesty and misinformation that surround even the most basic affairs, such as the bestowing of a Medal of Honor.  Surely, these contrasts are not lost on the soldiers and veterans, many of whom now are learning what class of people run the VA bureaucracy or have found that a good war record can be turned into dust with a few bad fitness reports in garrison.

Thomas Ricks has an interesting observation that the type of war we have fought, where so little measurable progress can been made, particularly encourages various type of “chickenshit,” as  a means of restoring the illusion of control:

The main issue is this–a LOT of the senior leadership is lost in the sauce, has no idea what’s going on or how to accomplish anything concrete. So, they attempt to make themselves feel like they’re in control of the situation via a) imposing ludicrous chickenshit on those below them, and b) spending most of their time liaising with other senior Americans, doing coordination meetings, briefings, etc., etc., etc. That way, they feel like they are in control of their environment, and never have to encounter anything which would suggest differently. All this is done at the expense of their subordinates and of the war in general, but that’s ok.

Of course, peacetime militaries are notoriously worse in this department, and it will be interesting to see how the huge cadre of combat veterans reacts to these things as we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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If Obama’s foreign policy is sometimes incoherent, Hillary’s is simply Bush-lite.  Her recent essay in Foreign Affairs reveals herself as someone who does not depart substantially from the globalist paradigm of Bush and President Clinton, with the main difference being her greater faith in “diplomacy.”  In a world where many nations’ interests involve knocking America down in prestige and power, this is simply wishful thinking of the worst sort.  It’s essentially the foreign policy espoused earlier by John Kerry.  It is vague about how she will fight terrorism, focusing instead on a policy of supporting the people that will clean up the pieces in the wake of an attack, the lauded “first responders.” 

The flaws in Hillary Clinton’s basic perspective are never more apparent than in her discussion of one of the major foreign policy failure of the last decade, the payoff deal given to North Korea to cease its nuclear programs.  This deal was brokered by Jimmy Carter and signed off by President Clinton and promised North Korea money to cease its nuclear arms programs after it had essentially threatened the West with its arsenal.  She writes: 

Like Iran, North Korea responded to the Bush administration’s effort to isolate it by accelerating its nuclear program, conducting a nuclear test, and building more nuclear weapons. Only since the State Department returned to diplomacy have we been able, belatedly, to make progress.

Actually, North Korea was undertaking all these programs after the deal when it promised it would not do so.  Nothing in Bush’s “axis of evil” remark could have set off such a massive undertaking.  The money paid off by the ’94 Clinton Deal enabled the North Korean regime by giving it much-needed financial and material support.  As I wrote earlier:

I can’t say I blame Clinton for not discovering North Korea violations and weapons plans earlier. The secret North Korean regime is notoriously hard for our spies to penetrate. But I do fault him for thinking he could bribe a criminal regime like this into behaving sensibly. The basic concept of the agreement was the problem, and the end result was more or less inevitable. Even the most minimally rationally black-mailer, once he’s been paid, has an incentive to seek more. And that’s exactly what North Korea’s been trying to accomplish ever since. Clinton’s plan was all carrot and no stick. Bush has been tasked with cleaning up a mess that he did not create, where he did not fail to negotiate real security guarantees, and under the threat of a far more substantial North Korean weapons capability.

On top of its flawed concepts, Clinton’s lengthy essay provides little guidance as to when and where diplomacy is necessary or unlikely to be of use, nor does it articulate when force is needed and under what circumstances she would use it.  For instance, does she embrace the “humanitarian wars” concept of President Clinton?  Does she think a UN mandate is always necessary (after all, her husband did not in Kosovo)? Does she recognize that certain irrational players on the world stage, such as A-Jod in Iran, may not respond to the same incentives as less ideological and religiously-tinged leaders?  Finally, does she recognize any inherent or at least structural tension between the Western World and the Islamic world?  She’s either silent or vague on these issues.  The world Muslim only comes up in referring to her support for “building a Muslim democracy in Afghanistan.”

Bush has been a disaster on foreign policy because he is a liberal.  He believes in spreading democracy, the universality of American values, and the necessity of idealism in our foreign policy.  He also has been incompetent, using tough talk without backing up words with appropriate action, alienating potential friends like Russia, using democracy as a substitute for the necessity of real security in Iraq, and being diffident and inarticulate about the need for intelligence-gathering against al Qaeda.  There is no reason to think Clinton will not be worse in all these respects, even if she is accepted more readily by the Europeans. 

Let’s not forget that it is al Qaeda, China, Iran, and Russia who matter most in the next President’s foreign policy.  On all four matters, the first President Clinton, embracing a very similar view as Hillary was a disaster.  Al Qaeda grew in strength and planned 9/11 during his watch.  China grew stronger military and economically under his watch, and its increasing trade with the West did not liberalize its internal affairs as promised.  Iran continued to support terrorism during Clinton’s more mild presidency and was linked to the Khobar Towers bombing without any retaliation on his part.  Finally, Russia grew increasingly alienated from the West during Clinton and Bush’s presidency because both presidents desired to expand NATO, criticized Russia on Chechnya (where it’s fighting al Qaeda and its allies), and both meddled in Russia’s internal affairs and elections.  Clinton may not be loony on foreign policy, but liberals and conservatives alike should expect many of the same problems as Bush has had, coupled with the likely disappointments that the deus ex machina of diplomacy will foster.  These problems will persist because both Hillary Clinton and Bush use liberal ideas–the importance of the UN, democracy (including among our allies), and human rights–as guides when hard-headed realism about diplomacy and the use of force is needed.

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Ace reports an extraordinary story that I’d like to hear the disciples of judicial process and civil liberties for terrorists in the Democratic Party respond to:

Last May, Iraqi terrorists kidnapped three American soldiers.

American intelligence officials searched for cyber-signals about the kidnapping… and actually found them. They found the kidnappers talking to each other on-line.

However, they had to stop listening because the signals were passing through an American-based server and under the law that meant there could be no eavesdropping without a warrant.

So they stopped listening in on foreign terrorists holding kidnapped American soldiers.

For ten hours, officials worked to get “emergency authorization” to resume eavesdropping.

His post, and the evidence in support, is worth reading in full. In an earlier post entitled Wishful Thinking and Terrorism and another here, I’ve discussed some of the issues surrounding this issue.  In short, my view is that combating terrorists located overseas during a time of war, when combined with emerging communications technologies, demands flexibility and less judicial process than the fight against peacetime, domestic criminality. It would be nice if the Democratic Party would grow up and quit acting like this war to protect America from terrorism (and also the exigencies of protecting our troops fighting it overseas) can be carried on effectively without some flexibility in the executive branch and its agencies. Process is not free. We accept this domestically because we, American citizens, might be caught in the law enforcement net. But for terrorists communicating overseas with one another or their agents in America, there are few valuable interests at stake. If any American is talking to Khalid Sheik Mohammad, I want someone in the CIA listening as a matter of course.

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