Wednesday, December 06, 2006

# Posted 11:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LET THE MEA CULPAS BEGIN (AGAIN): Three weeks ago, I posted a moderately substantive analysis of why I failed to anticipate the bloody aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. Two days ago, a merry band of mostly-anonymous critics decided that I had not paid enough attention to such failures and began to fill the comments section of every post on this site with quotations from earlier posts designed to illustrate my fecklessness.

Although I wouldn't describe my critics' attitude as friendly or constructive, I am glad to address their substantive points. After all, I think I can say with a good measure of jusitifcation that OxBlog has not shied away from self-criticism.

I won't exhaust my critics' points in this one post, but I figure I may as well begin. Issue number one seems to be what I got wrong about the war in Iraq, so let's start there. Perhaps the place to begin is with this post, from February 23, 2003:

LESSONS OF KOSOVO: Paul Wolfowitz seems to agree with OxBlog that ethnic violence will not present a serious threat to postwar Iraq, despite its devastating effects in Kosovo.

As Wolfowitz told the NYT, Iraq's "ethnic groups have not had decades of slaughtering one another as happened in the Balkans. The problem in Iraq is a regime that slaughters everybody, it's equal opportunity repression,' he said." Sounds sorta like an evil version of the 14th amendment...
My critics (henceforth "The Band", with apologies to The Band) cited that post yesterday afternoon. It was also the centerpiece of my analysis form three weeks ago. Not surprisingly, my thoughts about it haven't changed much since then. My prediction was dead wrong. Why?

I never thought that Arab Muslims would behave in such a brutal manner toward other Arab Muslims. Slaughtering Jews in Israel or black Muslims in Darfur is one thing. But I never expected this kind of genocidal hatred across the Sunni-Shi'a divide.
So what else did I get wrong? Here is a post from May 5, 2003, whose final paragraph was described by the Band on Monday afternoon, which described it as a "gem":

Speaking more generally, the highly visible resurgence of Shi'ite devotion suggests that the people of Iraq are thirsting for spiritual liberation as well. But are spiritual liberation and political fundamentalism cut from the same cloth? I don't know and I suspect not. Thus, it may be correct to describe the Iraqi mainstream as "profoundly religious" without suggested that it is also anti-democratic.
Actually, I'm not embarrassed by that one. Although it is hard in the case of the Shi'ite majority to separate self-interest from democratic principles, I think that Iraqi Shi'ites made far more of a commitment to democracy than most observers expected. In the face of vicious provocations by Iraqi and foreign terrorists, they showed a remarkable degree of restraint for almost three years. They participated enthusiastically in elections and seemed to accept Ayatollah Sistani's explanations of why Islam and democracy are fully compatible. Yet now Iraq confronts the spectre of Shi'ite death squads alongside Sunni terorrists and insurgents. But no one should forget that the former gained credibility and influence as a result of the calculated cynicism of the latter.

On a related note, there is this post from April 2, 2003, cited by the Band on Monday evening. It concerns a debate between Andrew Sullivan and Josh Marshall about whether Iraqis would perceive themselves as liberated or colonized by the US invasion. I wrote

While Josh is right that the administration expected a more enthusiastic response, today's parade in Najaf does make Josh look foolish for passing such premature judgment on the merits of the administration's strategy. As Andrew points out, even the NYT presented Najaf as a straightforward example of liberation. While the absence of any sort of uprising in Basra has been disappointing, there is still good reason to believe the Coalition will be hailed there as liberators once the army and paramilitaries are ousted.
Again, the Band seems to have picked the wrong post to make fun of. Iraqi Shi'ites celebrated the fall of Saddam Hussein and have continued to insist in opinion polls that they are better off now than they were under Saddam, regardless of how bad things have gotten in Iraq.

Now, there are plenty of tensions between the Shi'ites and ourselves, reflected most of all by Moqtada Sadr and his allies. But no one should forget that Sadr initially tried to lead an insurgency against the US, only to meet with negligible popular support. Defeated, Sadr recognized that the US plan for elections was not a foreign impositions, but something his fellow Shi'ites wanted.

On another related note, here is a post from April 1, 2003, also cited by the band on Monday evening. Here is the text in full:

MUBARAK WARNS OF BACKLASH: The Egyptian dictator "warned today that a protracted U.S.-led war in Iraq will lead to a dangerous rise in Islamic militancy across the Arab world."

In the same article, ministers from Jordan and Saudi Arabia also warn that the US invasion will provoke a backlash. Do you see a trend here? Those whose well-being is intimately tied to the survival of repressive dictatorships constantly warn of a coming backlash.

I wouldn't be all that suprised if Mubarak & Co. actually believe what they are saying. After all, it's hard for dictators to survive unless they are somewhat paranoid. Better to crush threats that don't exist than fail to notice one that does.

Warning of an anti-American backlash also has the pleasant side-effect of distracting both Americans and Arabs from recognizing the true cause of instability in the Middle East -- the total prevalence of brutal dictatorships.

The first step toward dispelling such illusions is the democratization of Iraq. Let the people of the Middle East see that freedom is a real option. Then they will slowly begin to recognize who is on their side and who isn't.
Sadly, Iraq has not become an example that others in the Middle East want to emulate. In part, this has to do with serious mistakes and outright incompetence on the part of the Bush administration. But no one should forget that the United States, the Shi'ites and the Kurds worked together to lay the foundations for a constitutional democracy in Iraq. Yet Sunni extremists rejected the invitation of the United States and their fellow Iraqis to take part in the democratic process.

American policy and strategy may have failed, but I would still argue that United States chose a morally sound course action. Critics can point to moral failures such as Abu Ghraib, but only the most blind would confuse such exceptions with the rule of calculated brutality practiced by our adversaries.

On a related note, I was right and Mubarak and his fellow dictators were wrong about the rise of Islamic militancy across the Arab world. On OxBlog, I debated with those who expected rioting mobs to overthrow pro-Western regimes in the Middle East in response to the US invasion. Islamic militants engaged in direct conflict with Israel (i.e. Hamas and Hezbollah) have made advances, but that has very little to do with the invasion of Iraq. In Lebanon, moderate, pro-Western democrats ousted a Syrian military occupation with support from the US and France. I hope their success can be consolidated.

Now I don't want to belabor my point and bore you all to death, but in the same vein I'd like to cite a couple more posts mentioned by the Band. Here are the opening sentences from February 13, 2003 post, cited by the Band, also on the subject of the potential for a backlash across the Middle East:
HORNET'S NEST: "Why must the United States attack Saddam Hussein if that will only anger much of the Islamic world?"

The WaPo has one answer to this question: that the United States unwillingness to back a decisive intervention in the Middle East is precisely the reason why lesser attacks such as the first WTC bombing, the Khobar towers explosion, the twin embassy explosions and the attack on the USS Cole led to the climactic terrorist assault on 9/11.

Rather than offer a second answer, I'd like to challenge the question's premise, i.e. that an American invasion of Iraq will provoke a harsh fundamentalist response.
If you read the full post, you can clearly see that I am talking about "a harsh fundamentalist response" outside of Iraq, not within it. As noted above, I was wrong about the potential for fundamentalist violence in Iraq. But that is not the subject of this post. And as noted above, I was right about the US invasion failing to provoke significant turmoil or violence in the Arab world outside of Iraq.

Moving to the economic front, here is an example where the Band actually did identify something I got wrong. On March 7, 2003, I began a post as follows:
DOLLARS AND SENSE: Some of my anti-war friends have been hyping Yale economist William Nordhaus' estimate that a war would cost $1.6 trillion, if one takes into account its costs on stock and oil markets.

If one ignores, for the moment, indirect costs such as the impact of war on global markets, it is clear that the actual cost of fighting Saddam, including a military occupation, will come in at under $200 billion. That number reflects indepedent estimates made by the Congressional Budget Office, the Democratic staff on the House Budget Committee and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a non-partisan think tank.
The Band's comment on this post was "How did this guy get his PHD?" I presume that their comment was in reference to myself, not Prof. Nordhaus. By the way, that last sentence is in italics since the Band chose not to include it in their comment about whether or not I deserved my PhD. That is important, since there are plenty of high-caliber (and liberal) PhDs who work for the CBO, the House Budget Committee and CSBA. I was certainly wrong about the war costing less than $200 billion, but I am perfectly willing to defend my trust in the analysts at the CBO, the Budget Committee and CSBA.

In closing, let's turn to an example where I clearly got something wrong. After all, the Band deserves a break. A post from February 26, 2003, included the following quotation from a post by Josh Marshall:
By 1945, we had pretty much destroyed the Germans' and Japanese' will to fight. And they were pleasantly surprised when they discovered how relatively benign our rule was. The same set of circumstances won't apply to Iraq. And that should be a cause of real concern.
To which I responded:
I'm surprised Marshall thinks the "same set of circumstances won't apply to Iraq." But everyone there has suffered for years because of Saddam's corruption and brutality. While some Iraqis might blame the West for sanctions, the Japanese and Germans would have been able to make an even stronger case for blaming the Allies for their carpet bombing.

Moreover, I think there is every reason to believe that Iraqis will be "pleasantly surprised when they discover how relatively benign our rule" is.
Clearly, we didn't destroy the Sunni insurgents' will to fight. I was wrong. Perhaps I should've recognized that our careful efforts to avoid collateral damage would, ironically enough, ensure that the Sunni insurgents had more will to fight on after the invasion than say, the residents of Dresden.

So were any Iraqis pleasantly surprised at the nature of the occupation? Certainly not the Kurds. They got what they expected. As for the Shi'a, I don't know. Did they actually expect us to follow through on our rhetoric about promoting democracy rather than exploiting Iraqi oil wealth? Did they know the Pentagon naively dreamed of a quick withdrawal from Iraq rather than a colonial occupation? Hard to say.

And then there are the Sunni. Yes, I truly hoped and expected they would recognize the sincerity of our interest in democracy and join us in an unprecedented effort to build democracy in the Middle East. I am profoundly disappointed.

I don't pretend that many Sunni now would describe the US occupation as relatively benign. Yet say what you will about the administration, that sad result is the outcome of the Sunni insurgents' and terrorists' brutal, cynical and profoundly evil choice of action.
(32) opinions -- Add your opinion

In closing, let's turn to an example where I clearly got something wrong. After all, the Band deserves a break.

Sorry, but I don't think they need one.


The real question is whether Ryan & co. went on the record back in 2003 with regard to their expectations about the war.

I was in high school.
I think that you are completely missing the point about the soundness of the moral choice made by the US.

Let us assume for the moment that the US didn't choose to invade the sovereign nation of Iraq because of claims that Hussein had accumulated a significant number of WMDs, or that he would soon demonstrate a nuclear weapon. (The probability that these claims were true could have been estimated by allowing the UN inspectors to complete their job.) Instead, let us assume that the public debate that we did try to have was an attempt to determine answers to questions like these:

What is the likelihood that an invasion of Iraq (with approximately 150,000 troops) will ultimately result in the establishment of a democratic form of government there?

If a democratic government can be established in Iraq, then what is the probability that this government will be a (Western) liberal democracy, or at least friendly to the West, rather than a government based on Muslim religious law that is hostile to both the West and Israel?

How many Iraqis are likely to die before either of these goals is achieved? Are the Iraqi people willing to sacrifice themselves and their families to achieve this goal?

Not only did we not know the answers to these questions, we weren't even able to determine whether it was possible a priori to estimate the answers with any accuracy.

Therefore, our invasion of Iraq was justified by people like you using almost purely theoretical arguments, without any serious public or private attempt to evaluate (and plan for) contingent risks. Some people (like you) hoped that the unknowable risks were outweighed in principle by the possible rewards, however likely or unlikely they may be. This was grotesquely irresponsible, because without a reasonable estimate of the probability that we would achieve our goals, we literally had no basis for a war of choice. The result has been an appalling loss of life in Iraq, without clearly significant progress toward our goals to justify that loss. This is our shame -- not Abu Ghraib.

Worse, in this post you have not made the case through any empirically-based argument that the current state of affairs in Iraq was in fact highly unlikely to have arisen except as a result of the particularly poor strategic choices made by the Bush administration. For all you know, there wasn't really any way to succeed in Iraq, and the current situation was very highly likely to occur regardless of either our intentions or execution.

The problem isn't simply that you were wrong about some things, as you have indicated in your post. The problem is that you didn't seem to care that there might not be any way to estimate a priori the magnitude of the errors you might be making. I am amazed that you continue to claim that this was the correct moral choice.

One has to wonder -- in a counterfactual vein -- to what extent that vote in the Turkish parliament back in March of 2003 over whether to allow passage of US forces through Turkey might have changed history. I recall coming home and hearing the news that the ruling in parliament, after at first seeming to be approved, was then voted down by a few votes. I also recall thinking that that decision could have serious consequences down the road.

Because of that vote, the 4th ID was not able to come down through northern Iraq and into the Sunni Triangle, where the Anbar Baathists would later retreat and then regroup to fight as an insurgency. If the 4th ID had entered Anbar in full strength, one could argue that a good portion of the disgruntled Baathists would have fought and either been killed or captured -- and, more importantly, the brutal lesson of armed dominance, which our military had secured both in Germany and Japan, would have been allowed to resonate in Anbar.

There is little doubt, however, that the Anbar Baathists would still have transformed itself into an insurgency, but it is possible that, with the 4th ID in lock-down control of Anbar, their actions would not have had the deliterious effects on Iraq's struggling democracy that we have witnessed over the last couple of years.

BTW, Nir Rosen, about whom I've written over at my own blog (see The Education of Nir Rosen), after reporting in Iraq since a few day's after Saddam's statue was pulled down in Firdus Square, has adjusted his over-all assessment and now sees that civil war in Iraq was inevitable. Back in May of this year, Rosen wrote, "It began when Sunnis discovered what they had lost, and Shiites learned what they had gained. And the worst is yet to come."

As you suggested above in your blog entry, it is worth noting that because of the caution used in conducting the war in Iraq, the Anbar Baathists may have learned the wrong (or right, from their point of view) lesson.

One reason to have been optimistic about the future of Iraq post SH is that nice people think other people are nice.
Nice people thought the Iraqis were nice people who would, having been given the opportunity to act nicely, act nicely.
It would have been monstrously chauvnistic and even racist to suggest that some people can't handle freedom, that democracy empowers powers better left unempowered, tht slaughtering one's erstwhile neighbors has a lot more appeal in some cultures than in others.
Sure, we all want the best for our families. Who could doubt that? The question is under what circumstances do we want the best for our families? Does the best of all possible worlds require the extinction of Israel? The second-rate status of women? Permanent conflict with unbelievers?
That question should have been asked.

A failure in Iraq would go a long way to prove what the crypto-imperialists claimed: The wogs can't govern themselves.

Who would have wanted to say that? Who would have wanted to act on that presumption?

Those who hope for a US failure in Iraq will get something they hadn't thought about: Proof that They are not at all like Us. Not at all.

And that clarification may take the WOT in directions they would not like.

For a numbers issue: Some decades ago, the Symbionese Liberation Army kept the Bay Area hopping and there were never more than about a dozen of them. They didn't have outside funding and training. Point is, it doesn't take many people at all to screw up a society. And in Iraq, they have thousands upon thousands bent solely on that goal.

Next question: What to do?

Shut Iran and Syria out of the meddling business, whatever it takes. And whatever it takes may well have further benefits not directly connected with stopping arms smuggling. Like regime change.

Redo the Iraq police, even if they have to be all fired and new guys recruited.

Deal most briskly with militias.

And, just for poops and giggles, don't say or do anything that our enemies consider good news.

You pose some good questions and, while I don't agree with your conclusion, I will have to consider in more depth some of the points you have made.

How about a Benthamite interpretation? Greatest good for the greatest number? The Kurds are very pleased with the results of the invasion, as are the majority of the Shia. Muqtada Al-Sadr did NOT object to the Coalition forces removing Saddam; he objected to those same forces not leaving Iraq immediately after they accomplished what he himself could not do.

The Kurds and the Shia Iraqis make up around EIGHTY PERCENT of the Iraqi populace. Greatest good for the greatest number? Is it such a shame that we have made the Anbar Baathists, centered around the Tikriti Mafiosi, who have ruled a totalitarian state for the past three decades, unhappy?

A very substantive debate. My compliments to NPCurmudgeon, Jeffery and Richard.

What is the likelihood that an invasion of Iraq (with approximately 150,000 troops) will ultimately result in the establishment of a democratic form of government there?

If a democratic government can be established in Iraq, then what is the probability that this government will be a (Western) liberal democracy, or at least friendly to the West, rather than a government based on Muslim religious law that is hostile to both the West and Israel

I think these are excellent questions. It is worth noting that questions of this type were also asked about the Japanese people. The conventional wisdom at the time was that the Japanese were incapable of adapting to a democratic style of governance.

But, as John Dower details in his very fine history of the Japanese during the nearly seven-year-long occupation of their country by the American forces -- Embracing Defeat -- the Japanese people quickly adapted to this new style of governance and political parties flourished, not to mention a wide range of individual expression that had been suppressed for years while Japan was building its Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The Japanese were able to transform themselves and with such speed that they were able to host Winter Olympics already in 1960.

But I do wonder whether a nation that is primarily tribal in composition can become democratic. I think it's possible, but in tribal thinking if one loses an election it appears to result in the defeated party getting out the family AK-47 instead of starting to re-tool one's campaign for the next election.

Most believed the Japanese would never become democratic; they were wrong. This does not mean, however, that those who question whether Iraqis can become democratic are also wrong. But it does give one pause.

NPCurmudgeon said:
"The probability that these claims were true could have been estimated by allowing the UN inspectors to complete their job."

Do you honestly believe that the weapons inspectors would ever have been able to truly "finish the job?" They had been kicked out multiple times, and denied access to sensitive areas.

Chris Matthews was one of the few journalists I remember constantly asking the question, "What if Iraq elects a theocracy? A government bent on Sharia law and hostile to the west?" Nobody wanted to answer that question. I think the answer can be found in how we treat Egypt. We know that if we push Mubarak for truly free elections, the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power is very real.

In principle, we can argue about the greatest good for the greatest number, but in practice we should be able to estimate how much good we are likely to accomplish.

For (an overly simplfied) example, if we can reliably estimate that

* With 250,000 troops, we have a 10-30% chance of establishing a liberal democracy in Iraq, at the cost of 500,000-1,000,000 lives; or

* With 400,000 troops we have a 40-75% chance, at the cost of 250,000-500,000 lives;

then we are ready to have a moral debate. The problem is that we can't estimate "good" by headcounting. We have to have some idea about the probability that we can deliver on our promises.


In my opinion, arguments based on the post-World-War-II occupation of Japan (although admirably empirical), are inapt, because (1) World War II was not an optional war, in the Iraq sense -- there was a demonstrable existential threat to the US, and (2) there are no reliable ways to draw cultural parallels between post-war Japanese and Iraqi cultures. I think that claims that arguments like this are racist miss the point: democracy is not a natural state of government. We take it for granted, because we grew up with it, and Western culture evolved toward it for centuries. There is no reason to believe that a culture with no reasonably recent history demonstrating the precursors of democracy will rapidly adopt it.

John Phillippe,

Yes, I believe that the probability that the UN inspectors could have provided us with a reliable estimate of Iraq's WMD capacity, despite Hussein's intransigence, was high. If you can find documentation that the inspection team was happy to leave Iraq shortly before the invasion because they thought that they weren't getting anywhere, then I will have to change my opinion.

I appreciate the constructive nature of this debate very much. I apologize if I have to duck out of it soon -- I have to travel to Australia on a business trip.
The problem isn't simply that you were wrong about some things, as you have indicated in your post. The problem is that you didn't seem to care that there might not be any way to estimate a priori the magnitude of the errors you might be making. I am amazed that you continue to claim that this was the correct moral choice.

Good point, npcurmudgeon.
That's an interesting point about evolving toward democracy. We can start with classical Greece. Durant mentions a city-state that was so fond of its constitution that anybody proposing an amendment was supposed to have a rope around his neck, to save time if the amendment was voted down.
In Greek democracies, and early republican Rome, the franchise was mostly limited to those who could afford the panoply of a hoplite and showed up for the wars. Since heavy Infantry was the decisive arm, maybe that had something.....
Then there was the protodemocracy of the German tribes, in that the chiefs didn't have practical means of being a tyrant. And Magna Carta.
The Reformation said, among other things, that each man is competent to run his own life and his ideas are presumptively valid until demonstrated otherwise.

The problem with all this, especially if the Iraqis eventually elect a theocracy as the Egyptians might sans Mubarak, is that it demonstrates, as I say, that They are not like Us.
This would not be a few fanatics who've highjacked a peaceful religion. It would be the majority of the voters. That's different.
We would look differently at Muslims around the world, and possibly in this country as well.

One can never tell about another's motivations. Easiest thing to lie about and toughest to prove anything about.

But, let's suppose Bush is playing a very, very deep game.
We win in Iraq, including a reasonably liberal democracy.
We lose in Iraq because they can't govern themselves.
Now we have a laboratory experiment with as many controls as you could possibly expect outside of a lab.
And it proves These People are not like Us, and we'd better, damn' well better, start thinking that way.
Also great, from the point of view of motivating and educating the West.

Yes, in principle, it is an interesting experiment. However, it is not an experiment that should have been undertaken without a careful consideration of the costs (i.e., the probable number of dead Iraqis).

At this point, the moral consideration to be made (in the context of your comment) is whether the Iraqi population is willing to let us manipulate the laboratory controls while they suffer the consequences.
I didn't make up the experiment.
I said the effort in Iraq, if it failed, would be the equivalent of a laboratory experiment and that if Bush were playing a very deep game, either outcome would have been useful, if not exactly equally wonderful.

To this point, attacks by Islamic terrorists have all been written off as the responses of mideducated fanatics.
The surveys of support--see what the British Muslims thought of 7-7--is generally overlooked.
The idea that this is a clash of civilizations is relegated to the fringes, since it's a matter of a few deluded individuals.
Should Iraq fail because of the major differences between what we thought they were and what they turned out to be, the clash of civilizations would be a more mainstream argument.
Not a bad outcome for somebody (Bush) who is trying to get his fellow citizens to wake up.
But I only speculate.

The moral load of the "experiment" is only ours if we think the terrs killing Iraqis are without agency and can merely react, like a paramecium, to our presence.
They can stop any time, far as we're concerned.

Failure in Iraq will convince a good many in the west that Muslims are different and trying to deal with them as if they aren't is nuts.

I feel sorry for the good folks who will be slaughtered if we take offthe experimental controls. I hope the last American out of the country deletes the voter rolls.

Some observers of Iraq have come to the conclusion that the US no longer has its hands on any controls in Iraq -- and it couldn't find the controls even it wanted to. The Coalition forces in the number of 130,000 will not be able to shape the future of 27 million Iraqis. I don't know if I completely agree with that, but I've heard that view shared by many of those who have spent time on the ground in Iraq. This is now an Iraqi matter, they say.

So is it possible that whether we stay in Iraq or leave it actually makes no difference?



I share your concern about whether the gulf between Islam and the West is too great to bridge.

What stands out for me more than anything else is the disparity in what is considered normal in Iraq and what we experience here in the US.

Saddam Hussein got started in his career as a hit-man for the Baathists -- and this was not an arch Beltway metaphor. He murdered peope. He rose to power the Iraqi way: kill your opponents and anyone within your circle who challenges you.

For the Iraqis, living for decades under a dictator messed their minds but good. In every book I've read about Iraq, from Vincent's "In the Red Zone," to Shadid's "Night Draws Near," and to Packer's "Assassins' Gate," you will encounter the conflicted Iraqi, someone with severe swings of emotion since the collapse of Baghdad.

One of the second-wave of Iraqi Bloggers, Konfused Kid, reflects some of this combustible mixture in a recent blog entry called Iraqis: The Biggest Hypocrites:

The sense of Iraq's unity is a paradoxical, dare I say nonexistent thing, I used to think of myself as someone who loves his country, but slowly I became to understand that this was an illusion, like the slogan "Raise your head, you're an Iraqi." Exactly what Iraq has done, from the day it was created to the day that I am writing this to you, that should make me proud? We are a generation who practiced hurling out terms like 'the victorous, proud, chivalrous Arab nation' while in reality we suffered major defeats, exactly like the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, which was another disastorous loss where the descendandts of Monkey & Pigs, Jews (Arabic trademark phrase) almost captured age-old Isalmic capital Damascus. We heavily borrow from our ancestors glories to gild our miserable defeats, Iraqi Ba'ath propaganda was never absent from a direct reference to the invention of the wheel, the glories of Nebuchedanezzar, or the linking of the Iran-Iraq war to the 7-th century Qadissiya, etc). We as citizens, would greet our president with cheers and kisses and sworn allegiances, only to shed them the minute we are safe inside our homes. This practice has severely damaged all pride, we are a nation of cowards, tyrants, and morons.

Identity politics, if you've been following the Iraqi blogosphere, is a contested issue right now.

I believe Iraqis don't have a lot of the usual nationalistic history to be proud of. No St. Joan, or Cinco de Mayo, or Armada, or Valley Forge, no Tours or Teutoburger Wald, no Edison or Martin Luther King. It is said that when the veterans of Pickett's Charge met at a reunion to reenact the thing, the Confederate vets wouldn't retreat. Walking sticks were brandished, until the marshalls broached the kegs and a good time was had by all.
Grant's treatment of the rebs at
Appomatox is unlike any civil war's end I ever heard of.
Let any man who claims to own a horse or mule take it with him to work his little farm. It was Palm Sunday, still time to get a crop in.
Officers to keep their side arms. Lee refusing to go bushwhacking.

Nothing like that for Iraqis to get teary about.
But you have to start someplace. There was the cop who grappled with a suicide bomber, keeping the asshole away from a line of voters, dying in the process. That was a man and an Iraqi. You could do worse than to aspire to such bravery and self-sacrifice.

But, as a Russian writer said, you can only perjure yourself so many times before it starts to ruin you.

One soldier remarked that most Iraqis had the intellectual and emotional level of a sixth-grader.

I understand Iraqis working for the government didn't get paid. They got gifts from Saddaam, or at least that's how the payroll was treated. So they didn't get paid for their work. They got paid for being pleasing to SH. The cumulative effect of the cumulative effect has to mean something, since it can't mean nothing.

The cost of censoring even your thoughts to avoid the slightest slip which might be overheard by somebody who has a quota of reports to the secret police.... Sickmaking to think about.

So it's possible the Iraqis are sick, ruined, damaged by their recent history.

Or it could be that the Arab/Islamic culture is the problem.

One is a more sympathetic predicament than the other, but if either is a given, we have a problem when we try to think of an Iraqi as a wannabe westerner.

I worked with exchange students for twenty-plus years (AFS) and it's possible to seed the young folks. But it's a long, long process and a lot can overcome it.

Anyway, in the meantime, we are being treated to the possibility that it will become manifest that this is a clash of civilizations and we will have to think differently.
"precisely the reason why lesser attacks such as the first WTC bombing, the Khobar towers explosion, the twin embassy explosions and the attack on the USS Cole led to the climactic terrorist assault on 9/11."

Speaking of 9/11, let’s take a few moments and look at some of the details of that horrible event that precipitated the "war on terror", the event without which the Bush regime would never have been able to scare most Americans into thinking it was somehow necessary to invade Iraq, the event around which America’s foreign policy has been inextricably wrapped ever since.

One thing that struck me as odd in the days after 9/11 was Bush saying "We will not tolerate conspiracy theories [regarding 9/11]". Sure enough there have been some wacky conspiracy theories surrounding the events of that day. The most far-fetched and patently ridiculous one that I've ever heard goes like this: Nineteen hijackers who claimed to be devout Muslims but yet were so un-Muslim as to be getting drunk all the time, doing cocaine and frequenting strip clubs decided to hijack four airliners and fly them into buildings in the northeastern U.S., the area of the country that is the most thick with fighter bases. After leaving a Koran on a barstool at a strip bar after getting shitfaced drunk on the night before, then writing a suicide note/inspirational letter that sounded like it was written by someone with next to no knowledge of Islam, they went to bed and got up the next morning hung over and carried out their devious plan. Nevermind the fact that of the four "pilots" among them there was not a one that could handle a Cessna or a Piper Cub let alone fly a jumbo jet, and the one assigned the most difficult task of all, Hani Hanjour, was so laughably incompetent that he was the worst fake "pilot" of the bunch, with someone who was there when he was attempting to fly a small airplane saying that Hanjour was so clumsy that he was unsure if he had driven a car before. Nevermind the fact that they received very rudimentary flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, making them more likely to have been C.I.A. assets than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. So on to the airports after Mohammed Atta supposedly leaves two rental cars at two impossibly far-removed locations. So they hijack all four airliners and at this time passengers on United 93 start making a bunch of cell phone calls from 35,000 feet in the air to tell people what was going on. Nevermind the fact that cell phones wouldn't work very well above 4,000 feet, and wouldn't work at ALL above 8,000 feet. But the conspiracy theorists won't let that fact get in the way of a good fantasy. That is one of the little things you "aren't supposed to think about". Nevermind that one of the callers called his mom and said his first and last name ("Hi mom, this is Mark Bingham"), more like he was reading from a list than calling his own mom. Anyway, when these airliners each deviated from their flight plan and didn't respond to ground control, NORAD would any other time have followed standard operating procedure (and did NOT have to be told by F.A.A. that there were hijackings because they were watching the same events unfold on their own radar) which means fighter jets would be scrambled from the nearest base where they were available on standby within a few minutes, just like every other time when airliners stray off course. But of course on 9/11 this didn't happen, not even close. Somehow these "hijackers" must have used magical powers to cause NORAD to stand down, as ridiculous as this sounds because total inaction from the most high-tech and professional Air Force in the world would be necessary to carry out their tasks. So on the most important day in its history the Air Force was totally worthless. Then they had to make one of the airliners look like a smaller plane, because unknown to them the Naudet brothers had a videocamera to capture the only known footage of the North Tower crash, and this footage shows something that is not at all like a jumbo jet, but didn't have to bother with the South Tower jet disguising itself because that was the one we were "supposed to see". Anyway, as for the Pentagon they had to have Hani Hanjour fly his airliner like it was a fighter plane, making a high G-force corkscrew turn that no real airliner can do, in making its descent to strike the Pentagon. But these "hijackers" wanted to make sure Rumsfeld survived so they went out of their way to hit the farthest point in the building from where Rumsfeld and the top brass are located. And this worked out rather well for the military personnel in the Pentagon, since the side that was hit was the part that was under renovation at the time with few military personnel present compared to construction workers. Still more fortuitous for the Pentagon, the side that was hit had just before 9/11 been structurally reinforced to prevent a large fire there from spreading elsewhere in the building. Awful nice of them to pick that part to hit, huh? Then the airliner vaporized itself into nothing but tiny unidentifiable pieces most no bigger than a fist, unlike the crash of a real airliner when you will be able to see at least some identifiable parts, like crumpled wings, broken tail section etc. Why, Hani Hanjour the terrible pilot flew that airliner so good that even though he hit the Pentagon on the ground floor the engines didn't even drag the ground!! Imagine that!! Though the airliner vaporized itself on impact it only made a tiny 16 foot hole in the building. Amazing. Meanwhile, though the planes hitting the Twin Towers caused fires small enough for the firefighters to be heard on their radios saying "We just need 2 hoses and we can knock this fire down" attesting to the small size of it, somehow they must have used magical powers from beyond the grave to make this morph into a raging inferno capable of making the steel on all forty-seven main support columns (not to mention the over 100 smaller support columns) soften and buckle, then all fail at once. Hmmm. Then still more magic was used to make the building totally defy physics as well as common sense in having the uppermost floors pass through the remainder of the building as quickly, meaning as effortlessly, as falling through air, a feat that without magic could only be done with explosives. Then exactly 30 minutes later the North Tower collapses in precisely the same freefall physics-defying manner. Incredible. Not to mention the fact that both collapsed at a uniform rate too, not slowing down, which also defies physics because as the uppermost floors crash into and through each successive floor beneath them they would shed more and more energy each time, thus slowing itself down. Common sense tells you this is not possible without either the hijackers' magical powers or explosives. To emphasize their telekinetic prowess, later in the day they made a third building, WTC # 7, collapse also at freefall rate though no plane or any major debris hit it. Amazing guys these magical hijackers. But we know it had to be "Muslim hijackers" the conspiracy theorist will tell you because (now don't laugh) one of their passports was "found" a couple days later near Ground Zero, miraculously "surviving" the fire that we were told incinerated planes, passengers and black boxes, and also "survived" the collapse of the building it was in. When common sense tells you if that were true then they should start making buildings and airliners out of heavy paper and plastic so as to be "indestructable" like that magic passport. The hijackers even used their magical powers to bring at least seven of their number back to life, to appear at american embassies outraged at being blamed for 9/11!! BBC reported on that and it is still online. Nevertheless, they also used magical powers to make the american government look like it was covering something up in the aftermath of this, what with the hasty removal of the steel debris and having it driven to ports in trucks with GPS locators on them, to be shipped overseas to China and India to be melted down. When common sense again tells you that this is paradoxical in that if the steel was so unimportant that they didn't bother saving some for analysis but so important as to require GPS locators on the trucks with one driver losing his job because he stopped to get lunch. Hmmmm. Further making themselves look guilty, the Bush administration steadfastly refused for over a year to allow a commission to investigate 9/11 to even be formed, only agreeing to it on the conditions that they get to dictate its scope, meaning it was based on the false pretense of the "official story" being true with no other alternatives allowed to be considered, handpicked all its members making sure the ones picked had vested interests in the truth remaining buried, and with Bush and Cheney only "testifying" together, only for an hour, behind closed doors, with their attorneys present and with their "testimonies" not being recorded by tape or even written down in notes. Yes, this whole story smacks of the utmost idiocy and fantastic far-fetched lying, but it is amazingly enough what some people believe. Even now, five years later, the provably false fairy tale of the "nineteen hijackers" is heard repeated again and again, and is accepted without question by so many Americans. Which is itself a testament to the innate psychological cowardice of the American sheeple, i mean people, and their abject willingness to believe something, ANYTHING, no matter how ridiculous in order to avoid facing a scary uncomfortable truth. Time to wake up America.

Debunking Popular Mechanics lies:
someone else debunking Popular Mechanics crap:
still more debunking Poopular Mechanics:
and still more debunking of Popular Mechanics:

Poopular Mechanics staff replaced just before laughable “debunking” article written:
another neo-con 9/11 hit piece explodes, is retracted:
Professor Steven Jones debunks the N.I.S.T. “report” as well as the F.E.M.A. one and the 9/11 commission "report":
N.I.S.T. scientist interviewed:
F.B.I. says no hard evidence linking Osama bin Laden to 9/11 which is why his wanted poster says nothing about 9/11:
Fire Engineering magazine says important questions about the Twin Tower “collapses” still need to be addressed:http://fe.pennnet.com/Articles/Article_Display.cfm?Section=OnlineArticles&SubSection=Display&PUBLICATION_ID=25&ARTICLE_ID

Twin Towers’ construction certifiers say they should have easily withstood it:
USA Today interview with the last man out of the South Tower, pursued by a fireball:
Janitor who heard explosions and escaped has testimony ignored by 9/11 whitewash commission:
Janitor starts speaking out about it and his apartment is burglarized, laptop stolen:
Firefighters tell of multiple explosions:
Eyewitnesses tell of explosions:
Interview with another firefighter telling of explosions:
Firefighter saw “sparkles” (strobe lights on detonators?) before “collapse”:
Other eyewitnesses talk of seeing/hearing explosions:
Surviving eyewitnesses talk of multiple explosions there:
Cutter charge explosions clearly visible:
The pyroclastic cloud (that dust cloud that a second before was concrete) and how it wouldn’t be possible without explosives:
Detailed description of the demolition of the Twin Towers:
Freefall rate of “collapses” math:
More about their freefall rate “collapses”:
Video footage of the controlled demolition of the Twin Towers:
Video footage of the controlled demolition of WTC # 7 building:
More of WTC # 7 controlled demolition:
Naudet brothers' video footage of the North Tower crash:
Photos of the Pentagon’s lawn (look at these and see if you can tell me with a straight face that a jumbo jet crashed there):
More photos of this amazing lawn at the Pentagon:
Very unconvincing fake “Osama” “confession” tape:
More about the fake “Osama” tape:
Fake “Mohammed Atta” “suicide” letter:
Commercial pilots disagree with “official” 9/11 myth:
More commercial jet pilots say “official” myth is impossible:
Impossibility of cell phone calls from United 93:
More about the impossible cell phone calls:
Experiment proves cell phone calls were NOT possible from anywhere near the altitude the “official” myth has them at:
Fake Barbara Olson phone call:
Where the hell was the Air Force?
More about the Air Force impotence question:
Sept. 10th 2001, Pentagon announces it is “missing” $2.3 trillion (now why do you think they picked THAT day to announce it? So it could be buried the next day by 9/11 news):
Unocal pipeline-through-Afghanistan plan:
Unocal pipeline-through-Afghanistan plan mentioned:
More on Unocal Afghan pipeline:
The attack on Afghanistan was planned in the summer of 2001, months before 9/11:
Pentagon deliberately misled 9/11 Commission:
Evidence destruction by authorities and cover-up:
9/11 whitewash Commission and NORAD day:
The incredible fish tales of the 9/11 Commission examined:
Jeb Bush declares state of emergency 4 days before 9/11 for Florida, saying it will help respond to terrorism:
Steel debris removal from Ground Zero, destruction of evidence:
Over two hundred incriminating bits of 9/11 evidence shown in the mainstream media:
Tracking the “hijackers”:
“Hijacker” patsies:
“Hijackers” receiving flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station:
Several accused "hijackers" still alive and well, wondering why they are accused:
Yet the F.B.I. insists that the people it claims were the "hijackers" really were the "hijackers":
No Arabs on Flight 77:
Thirty experts say “official” 9/11 myth impossible:
“Al Qaeda” website tracks back to Maryland:
Al Qaeda videos uploaded from U.S. government website:
Operation: Northwoods, a plan for a false-flag “terror” attack to be blamed on Castro to use it as a pretext for America to invade Cuba, thankfully not approved by Kennedy back in 1962 but was approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sent to his desk:
Glancing through the comment by "Enlightenment," I just shake my head. I have no patience for such morons. I never responded to them in the past and I won't now.

A good debate soiled by this jerkoff.

While I have not read all the posts, let me add my own comment concerning a point that always irks me: the oft-told tale of the creation of democracy in Japan. While hardly a Japan expert, I am familiar enough with its history to be able to point out that this is a widespread myth, with unfortunate contemporary consequences (believe the myth and you just might end up in Iraq to "repeat" the "success story").

First of all, Japan had a functioning parliamentary system for decades prior to the American occupation. Those of you who are tempted to mock that assertion probably don't recognize any parliamentary system with a democratic suffrage as legitimate unless it fits into a narrow pattern (hence the rise of another famous myth-- no democracies have ever fought a war against each other, happily confirmed if one refuses to recognize Wilhelmine Germany as a democracy, which it was). So, Japan was hardly transformed into a democracy by the US occupation because it already was a democracy. This is not to deny that there were changes wrought to some institutions and laws, but they were hardly transformational. Which leads me to the second part of the myth

2. The Japanese system at present continues to manifest many of the same tendencies that it had prior to the "transformation". There is a massive concentration of power in the hands of the political elites centered on one party in partnership with concentrated business interests (the American policy of breaking up the Zaibatsu was quickly abandoned as a result of the Cold War).

So, the unfortunate repetition of this myth about the ability to create democracies (Germany being the other part of the myth)is hardly the cause of the American debacle and defeat in Iraq. But a little bit of wisdom about the limits of power in the past may have given a few wise heads reason to pause instead of becoming cheerleaders for the Bush adventurism.

I don't disagree with you, but would you consider women's suffrage in Japan as a minor or major expansion of democratic values?

In Japan Ichiwaka Fusae and other female activists established Fusen Kakutoku Domei ("Women's Suffrage League") in 1924. They succeeded in gaining the right to organize and attend political meetings, from which they had previously been barred. In the 1920s one of the two major political parties supported woman suffrage. The Japanese military took control of the country in the 1930s and quashed all democratic movements, including the movement for woman suffrage. After the Allied nations defeated Japan in 1945, Japanese feminists and female staff officers of the Allied Occupation cooperated in proposing that the new Japanese constitution should enfranchise women. They hoped that women would use the ballot to make the Japanese nation less warlike and that women would raise their children to believe in peace and democracy.


John Dower, author of "Embracing Defeat," a history of the Occupation primarily through the eyes of the Japanese themselves (and whose book I have mentioned in a previous comment), has written an article -- "A Warning from History" -- about the comparisons of Iraq and Japan.

If you know anything about the historiography of Japan, then you will have encountered the name of Dower before. And Mr. Dower would probably disagree with your characterization of the "myth of democracy." For example, here he writes:

One of our major initiatives was to create an entirely new constitution. There were no citizens in Japan in 1945. There was no popular sovereignty. Under the existing constitution, sovereignty was vested in the emperor and all Japanese were his “subjects.” So, the Americans drafted—but the Japanese translated, debated, tinkered with, and adopted—a new national charter that remains one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. The emperor became a “symbol” of the state. An extensive range of human and civil rights was guaranteed—including an explicit guarantee of gender equality. Belligerency of the state was repudiated. Changing the constitution meant, moreover, that much of the civil code had to be rewritten to conform to these new strictures concerning equality and guaranteed rights. Although the occupation ended in 1952 and there are no restrictions on amending the constitution, not a word of it has been changed.

Of course, you may challenge the authority of John Dower, but if you do so I would imagine you might proceed with trepidation.

His article on the parallels (or lack of parallels) between Japan and Iraq is worth reading and I think you might find some ideas that you could use as you lift the lance to battle "Bush's adventurism."


Sorry, I forget to add the link to the Dower article. Here it is:

A Warning from History.

It was first published, by the way, in Feb/Mar of 2003.

I have never been comfortable with citing Germany or Japan as examples of our supposed prowess in creating democracies ex nihilo, especially when cited in support of our capability to do the same in Iraq. The differences are too stark.

Both Germany and Japan were ethnically and religiously fairly homogeneous. Both had a strong sense of nationhood. Obviously, none of the these statements apply to Iraq.

Also, our war making was incalculably more brutal in each case. What percentage of military age males in each country were killed during the war? Does anyone know? I'd imagine 10% or more. There was also much more violence inflicted on people outside the MAM demographic. Blockades, aerial bombing, and, in the case of Germany, pretty much everything the Red Army did on its way to Berlin.

And, finally, the justice of our cause and our self-assurance in asserting it also played a role. Leaving aside the technical correctness of the justice issue, certainly we currently lack the confidence to assert its justness. Our justifications come off as lawyerly at best. This was not the case post WWII.

So, I'd say our success, and it was a huge moral and political success, in democratizing Germany and Japan after WWII, had little to tell us regarding the likelihood of democratizing Iraq.
I have no trepidation challenging him. As wonderful as his scholarship has been, he has bought into the notion that only American (and French and British) democracy (ies) meet his definitions. But Japan had a Diet, suffrage, basic law, etc. It may not meet your standards or his, but then our system hardly compares to some of the democracies of the world (the Senate, electoral college, voting issues, etc).

Okay. Point taken. You argue that the change in governance in Japan after 1945 was a matter of degree -- infusion of more democratic values and institutions -- and not of kind.

But it sounds as if you're tossing me into the camp of those who want to bring "our" system of democracy to other countries. Recall, however, that I argued above that a country like China, which is currently a one-party authoritarian regime with very little that one could call part of representative democracy, should NOT be changed.

It is Dower's argument, which he wrote on the even of the invasion, by the way, that one should NOT expect Iraqis to embrace democracy as the Japanese had done (or, should I say in Japan's case, to follow your argument, to embrace MORE of the democratic institutions than they had previously possessed?).

Have you read Dower's article? Remember as you read that it was written for the Feb/March, 2003, issue of the Boston Review.

Do you agree with me that China should remain a one-party state with controlled -- if any -- freedom of speech and monitored -- not to say muzzled -- freedom of the press and no elections?


I don't know if we needed to more "brutal," but I have argued elsewhere that the Turkish parliamentary vote that disallowed passage of the 4th ID through Turkey removed the force that would have cleaned out the Sunni Triangle.

In my review of various counterfactual arguments about the conduct of the war, that vote in the Turkish parliament looms larger the more time passes. Many of the Anbar insurgents surely would have fought (and most likely died) if the 4th ID had rolled through their towns. Damn, that would have been sweet! And perhaps today the decimated Anbar Baathists would be far less disruptive to the tender shoots of democracy growing along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Jeffrey-- David Adesnik would probably be amused that you mis-predicted my own position on china. I am, to adopt the term, probably closest to the foreign policy realist school (though my own sympathies are on the left). I believe that China should be allowed, hopefully successfully, to find its own path to a more pluralist society. The alternatives are too awful to consider and would make the Bush misadventure in Iraq look like a picnic.

I will now turn to the Dower piece that you linked to. But I think we both realize that once the terms are more carefully defined we are more or less in agreement.

You're right. On China we do agree. You are correct to warn that pushing things too quickly in China would reduce Iraq to a scratch on a footnote's asterisk. Yeah, I probably belong in the "realist" camp along with you.

Did you enjoy that barbed treat I offered -- last sentence in my last comment to you -- when I asked for your ascent to muzzled freedom of the press in China? I wasn't sure who you were, but I thought with that tasty bait I might snag a softie. I guessed wrong. Heh heh.

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