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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

I have periodically done a collection of what I consider my better material, such as here and here.  I haven’t done one in a while so, for newcomers in particular, I have compiled what I consider some of my more interesting and enduring entries over the last five years. I hope you enjoy.  I truly appreciate everyone who takes the time to read, comment, and support this blog.  For conservatives, it is becoming a real time in the wilderness, so one small contribution I have tried to make here is to let conservatives know that they are not alone and to give them intellectual ammunition with which to defend common sense and basic decency.

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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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Ten years ago today, our country and my family received a terrible blow.  We were attacked.  Our countrymen were murdered.  We were shaken. 9/11 is an important historical event that has defined much of the last ten years, but it was also a family tragedy for me, as my Uncle Donnie Regan gave his life that day in the line of duty with the New York City Fire Department.

I distinctly remember the day, as I’m sure most Americans my age do.  I was living in Texas at the time–taking time off and about to start my first law firm job in a few weeks–and received a call from a close friend.  They were evacuating the Dallas Federal Building.  I turned on the TV.  The first tower was already down.  I was stunned.  The second tower came down soon thereafter.  My alarm at this took a little time; at first, I thought this was a replay of the first tower falling.  Then I realized that this situation was even worse than I thought.  Rumors of the “mall in DC” being on fire were on the news.  No one knew the extent of it.   I spoke briefly to my parents, when I heard that Donnie–my uncle and the father of my cousins to whom I am closest–may have been at the towers.

(more…)

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Neocons never seem to learn.  Even after the Somalia disaster and the dubious win against Serbia, their first recommended response to 9/11 was to attack Iraq.  Public opinion required them to delay things for a while–in spite of a vigorous debate–but after a short and ineffectual campaign in Afghanistan, they finally go their wish.  We’re still in Iraq, and we’re also plodding around Afghanistan, Iran is stronger, and this is all in the name of spreading democracy as the antidote to terrorism. None of these campaigns is a great showpiece of neoconservative strategic thinking.

So, this week, Charles Krauthammer, perhaps the most bellicose neocon, has suggested the US should be invading Libya and arming the rebels.  Similar sentiments were uttered by his fellow travelers regarding Egypt.  Worse, some Republicans mindlessly pile on Obama’s leadership deficit in this arena, even though his leadership problem is not his caution regarding a military response, but rather his rhetorical invitations for rebellions among strange and unpredictable peoples coupled with his estrangement of longterm and reliable partners.  Who are these rebels?  What do they stand for?  Can we do any good for them or ourselves?  If we intervene, how long will we be there? Do we really want democracy among people shouting Allah Akbar?  I don’t want Obama’s “leadership” here, especially if it means we’ll be putting our troops into harms way without a clear idea of what we’re trying to accomplish.

Qadaffi is a dirtbag, terrorist supporter, whom I haven’t heard much from since Reagan sorted him out in 1986.  But even a nutcase who keeps a lid on things is preferable to anarchy.  What I don’t understand, or rather what I understand and have great contempt for, is the continued call by neoconservatives for mindless, hubristic US interventions after what has gone down in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Worse still is the Pavlovian Obama-hatred among many conservatives that cannot see when, in spite of himself, he is doing something useful, in this case by not doing very much.  Conservatives have been easily manipulated into supporting wars that serve no American interest whatsoever; it is time conservatives woke up, returned to their nationalist roots, and rejected the Wilsonian “global cop” role once and for all.

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I was perusing the Washington Post’s excerpts of Bob Woodward’s new book on Obama’s decision temporarily to add 30,000 troops to the Afghanistan campaign.  A few things are rather striking to me, and they reveal Obama’s defects as a leader.

First, Obama is completely ambivalent about the mission and the troop increase in Afghanistan.  This is the case in spite of his campaigning as this being more important than Iraq and his announcement in early 2009 of a recommitment to Afghanistan.  Obama seems unaware how his flippancy can degrade the mission and morale.

Two, he is completely vague about his goals, other than the goal of getting our troops home. The September 2009 deliberations are rather strange to me, because there seems little collective recognition that in April of 2009 Obama announced an ambitious recommitment of resources to Afghanistan with a goal of destroying the Taliban, protecting the population, and increasing the skills and reality of the Afghan government and its security forces.  Having stated this goal, Obama now asks for wildly varying “options,” even though he seems unaware that certain goals, having already been stated, exclude certain tactical options.  But he’s used to options, because he’s used to low stakes legislative and public relations decision-making; he doesn’t realize that in more practical tasks, from building a car to defeating an enemy, you can’t tell someone to take a satellite to the moon and also demand that he gives you an option that doesn’t involve a rocket.  Incidentally, Don Rumsfeld’s obsession with troop levels in Iraq had much in common with Obama in this respect; he too wanted the military to do the impossible on the cheap.

Three, the military is at times borderline insubordinate, but a certain amount of push-back is to be expected, particularly when you’re being told (a) accomplish the impossible but (b) told to use fewer troops than you have already said are necessary to accomplish part “a” of this mission.  It would be nice if once in a while we’d actually see someone resign in public protest of these impossible orders.  Indeed, the military’s original timeline went out to 2016, which suggests quite a bit about how little will be accomplished by 2011 when the drawdown is supposed to begin.

Finally, Obama also seems to have a real problem with dissent.  He wants everyone to “sign off” on the plan, but it’s clear some disagreed before, during, and after its formulation.  These things happen, and this need not be a major problem.  The President’s the decision-maker.  But manufacturing false consensus where one is absent is not the mark of a mature leader, but rather of an insecure one who wants “yes men.”

Obama is not serious about the Afghan war.  He has split the difference with the military and given them contradictory mission guidance. Woodward’s expose of his decision-making shows to me that far from the problem being the existence of various factions–a normal feature of every major strategic decision–the commander in chief himself is the problem.  Specifically, Obama is incoherent, unserious, and inexperienced in how the world works, particularly on military matters.  The conflicts among his subordinates and his own impatience with them originate in his own incoherent leadership.  He doesn’t see this and mistakes his pig-headedness and stupidity for steadfastness and enlightenment.

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Something did not sit right with me when General Petraeus weighed in on the controversy just down the road (in Gainesville) regarding the well publicized Koran burning.  For what it’s worth, I do not like such gestures; I find them atavistic, and I recognize that religion is indeed a sacred thing to those who believe.  For every Muslim who is out there seething and hurling bricks, many more are simply respectful of the religion of their forefathers, scared of western influence in their lands, and are getting from this event the wrong impression of Americans, who have no natural disrespect of other people’s religious practices.

There is no reason for either our government or ordinary Americans to sow conflict with Islam, and the best solution, as I’ve said before, is deliberate separation both at home and in foreign policy with a long run and realistic goal of containment.  This too would be offensive to some, but it’s better than the perpetual conflict we have now as we intermingle both at home and abroad in the name of liberal ideas of universalism.

All the same, it is a storied and treasured right of Americans to express themselves, ridiculously if they choose, and it is quite predictable, quaint even, that an old school fire and brimstone preacher would act in this way. It’s a very American eccentricity at work here.  And it has served an important purpose in showing that Islam, far from being a religion of peace, is filled with people that may, at a moment’s notice, become violent.  Further, it has shown the hypocricy and cowardice of the American politically correct establishment.

General Petraeus has suggested that this Koran burning hurts the war effort.  Isn’t that interesting?  What other things that Americans take for granted hurt the war effort?  Wouldn’t the recent push for same sex marriage or five minutes of MTV or women wearing bikinis at the beach also offend Muslim sensibilities?  Didn’t our protection of the Saudis from Saddam offend Muslim sensibilities, simply by allowing Americans to set foot in an Islamic land?  Doesn’t our presence now in Iraq and Afghanistan deeply offend Muslims, not to mention the numerous civilians killed accidentally (but inevitably) by airstrikes and drones and scared shitless 19 year old American soldiers.  Indeed, much of our country and its practices, some good and some not so good, are deeply offensive to any traditionally religious person.   Nonetheless, none of these things have typically been up for debate as part of a “hearts and minds” campaign halfway around the world.  Recall the Danish cartoons, which were eminently defensible, also caused similar mass Muslim rioting.  While uneasy with Koran burning, I see that there is something valuable in Terry Jones’ provocation simply for revealing so many people’s true colors, and this was, in fact, one of his stated reasons for this event.

As for the General, there is something altogether gratuitous about Petraeus’ words.  He undboutedly knew they’d be looked on kindly by Obama, in a way that a condemnation of equally problematic pacifist protests would not.  Where was General Petraeus when the Abu Ghraib photos were plastered all over Time Magazine and anti-war protests?  And what of the demoralizing “Bush Lied, People Died” canard?  Petraeus is hardly taking a courageous or conistent stand here; he is simply saying what he thinks the boss wants to hear.  And it is a problem when the military pursues its own (or the President’s) anti-democratic agenda in a free society; the military is supposed to be the instrument of the elected, political branches of government, and those branches (and the people to whom they are accountable) have varied opinions and views on what Islam means, how it should be addressed, and how that view should be expressed by private citizens. And, lest I remind the general, he took an oath to the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment.

A just war preserves a people and a way of life.  I have not forgotten that Petraeus, ever the politician, let the cat out of the bag sometime ago when asked by Senator John Warner (R-VA) if the war made the US safe, responding “I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.”  Indeed.  The current war now has a logic all its own, nearly completely separate from domestic security, which can be easily vouchsafed by capping Islamic immigration and pressuring those here to Americanize or go home.  The idea that to win a war American citizens must be cajoled by uniformed military men to show respect to an alien religion shows the ultimate impossibility of the current nation-building strategy, which aims impossibly and unprecedentedly to reconcile western institutions with an ancient, anti-western religion.   This war, animated by ideological principals of universalist liberalism and multiculturalism, threatens as it drags on to degrade the society it ostensibly is being waged to protect.

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I read (but did not watch) the President’s speech on Iraq.  Of all the things he has done as President, stopping our mindless “stay the course” approach in Iraq has been something I generally approve.  I also think it’s a testament to his relative moderation on foreign policy that our withdrawal has been orderly.  I disagree with conservatives who say we’re “cutting and running” or that his failure to acknowledge the “success of the Surge” shows his bad faith.  The Surge, in fact, while it tamped down some violence in Iraq, has hardly been a success without qualification.  There is still a significant terrorist presence in Iraq.  Its politics are still corrupt, and its likely future will be as a Shia-led Iranian partner. And the Surge is often credited with a reduction in violence caused by the earlier Anbar Awakening, which itself was caused by the mistakes and oversteps of al Qaeda in Iraq.

The original mission in Iraq (of finding and destroying WMDs) turned out to be largely unnecessary.  Upon this, Bush elevated the secondary mission of installing a friendly democracy.  This led to a seven year counterinsurgency campaign that has ended inconclusively.  It likely created as many Iraqi nationalist terrorists as it destroyed Islamist ones.  And for its modest or nonexistent benefits, it did tie down our forces, cost many American lives, destroy much American equipment, and cost a great deal of money over the last seven years.  If the first part of the Iraq mission was defensible, the latter portion was clearly a mistake.

As a work of rhetoric, however, Obama’s speech was uninspired.  He never seems tremendously comfortable in the commander in chief role.  He keeps our troops’ sacrifices and honorable work on the same plane as jobs for steelworkers or healthcare reform. In other words, he misses some of the romance of the soldier’s life that Bush and Reagan understood.  This is one of many reasons a great many Americans view him as an alien figure, who does not share their values.

Where Obama does not get points from me and where he seems particularly confused is on Afghanistan.  He disagreed with Bush and pulled out of Iraq because he surmised, correctly in my opinion, that the mission was a counterproductive loser.  But why then should the same type of mission be pursued in Afghanistan so many years after the 9/11 attacks? Unlike 2001, there are not significant terrorist training camps there; we are dealing there, as in Iraq, with a nationalist and Islamic insurgency fueled by our presence and the various petty and major grievances Afghans have with our lumbering presence.  The main part of the enemy have fled to Pakistan, which is an on again, off again, partner in the war against al Qaeda.  The mere presence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan should not be enough to justify an extended nation-building campaign; al Qaeda is also in Iraq, not to mention Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and, for that matter, Germany, France, the UK, and the US.  It’s not clear from Iraq that replacing corrupt dictatorships with corrupt, sectarian democracies does anything at all to fight terrorism at a strategic level.  Once again, look at Pakistan, a functioning, long-established Islamic democracy, where large elements of its military and intelligence infrastructure support Islamic terrorists.  In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, limping along with a smaller, but still significant presence, hardly seems the kind of serious change Obama made such a show of in the campaign.  It looks more like hedging his bets in an area in which he is supremely unconfident.  And this course promises to continue blood-letting, expense, and meaningless accomplishments like slightly reducing the daily car-bomb count in countries that have nothing to do with us.

How to use the military to fight terrorism is not an easy question.  But part of the answer seems like focusing on the terrorists themselves and not being terribly concerned with changing the environment that incubates them.  That environment is fueled by a combination of Islam and typical Third World corruption, and it cannot be easily changed.  But what our military can do is blow up camps, lavish informants with cash, use drones to blow up terrorist leaders, bomb terror-supporting countries, sink ships, and otherwise engage in our own version of “hit and run” tactics rather than conventionally, and expensively, trying to transform ancient peoples into good liberal democrats.

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