Thursday, December 07, 2006

# Posted 11:47 AM by Taylor Owen  

MOVING FORWARD ON IRAQ DEBATE: While I have admittedly been absent for a while, I have been reading the site regularly, and on the issue of support for the Iraq war, let me just say the following. I was decisively against the war. I wrote extensively on this position, spoke about it to anyone who would listen, and did both passionately and with real concern for the potential consequences of the course taken. That being said, I have worked for a politician who was initially for the war, and write for a blog that was generally in favour of it. Both, however, did so with a degree of analytic and intellectual honesty that is rare in both political and online discourse. I respect them both for it.

As David is the first to admit, the very purpose of public engagement on blogs is to challenge ones ideas and preconceptions as events unfold and debates evolve. He takes very public stands and is more self reflective than just about any blogger out there. He would be the first to welcome the critiques that have been present in the comment sections and indeed, has responded eloquently to them.

For those of us who were against the war, however, let us not get mired in righteous indignation. Almost no one predicted exactly what would happen, and indeed, there were real arguments in favour of intervention. Hindsight, hindsight, hindsight. Ignatieff, for example, took the position that the first principle of intervention was not paramount if the end goal was sufficiently similar - the removal of a dangerous dictator. There is a very real debate on motives in the humanitarian intervention discourse. His position can of course be challenged, and in this case proved to be wrong. But let's not stray from the intellectual honesty that we demand of others as we move forward in what will surely remain the primary debate of our generation. The stakes are too high.

Which brings me to my final point. If the ICG report says anything, it is that there are serious and lasting consequences to continued failure and deterioration in Iraq. While it bothers me that those who were against the invasion due to the irreversibility of the potential concequences are now being asked for solutions, it is all of our responsibilities to provide innovative ideas for this truly massive problematic. In both Iraq and Afghanistan course change is needed. It's time for critics to put their money where their mouths are.

Taking stock of new ideas for Iraq and specifically for Afghanistan will be a theme of my writing here for the next while. I hope that commenters will productively join in this discussion, and for the moment, let old battles rest.

(41) opinions -- Add your opinion

In both Iraq and Afghanistan course change is needed. It's time for critics to put their money where their mouths are.

The solution is to leave; save your money.

The debate over Iraq right now poses, I believe, two areas of argument (following a distinction used in Browne and Keeley's "Asking the Right Questions").

The first area revolves around descriptive arguments, questions that seek answers about how the world was, is, or is going to be -- what we might call factual claims or propositions. Commenters Richard and NPCurmudgeon, for example, are debating whether democratic governance is a universal aspiration or whether this is simply a Western predilection. This is a descriptive debate about human nature and its interface with cultural norms. But there are many other issues that are descriptive in nature when analyzing Iraq.

The second area of debate, the one that is currently being publicly discussed in various media, including blogs, is prescriptive. What should be done in Iraq? Should forces be withdrawn or increased? Should Syria and Iran be included or is that simply, to use a familiar image, allowing the wolves to tend the flock?

And here's the important point. Our prescriptive recommendations rest of a chain of descriptive claims (sometimes these assumptions are explicit while at other times implicit in our arguments), as we've seen in the varied debates about what to do in Iraq.

If one believes that most people would prefer democratic governance if given the chance, then we should protect its tender beginning in Iraq.

If, on the other hand, as NPCurmudgeon argues, Iraq may be just one of those places where the universal hope of democracy is defeated by local tribal beliefs and tradition, then we should retreat with as much dignity as possible and let the Iraqis return to their "strong men," sheikhs, and inter-tribe and inter-clan survival-of-the-fittest organization.

NPCurmudgeon states that while World War II was not an optional war, the one in Iraq was. This is a good example of what I call a descriptive concern.

There are those who will argue that Saddam Hussein, with the inspectors due to leave permanently and with petro-dollars flowing in, would have become a threat to our existence before too long and that it made more sense to remove him as soon as possible. Then there are those who argue that Saddam Hussein was not and would never be a realistic threat to the US and that it the invasion was not, therefore, justified.

Where one stands on these factual propositions will often predict one's position on the invasion.

with the inspectors due to leave permanently and with petro-dollars flowing in, would have become a threat to our existence before too long...



Nicely reasoned rebuttal.


I've just articulated two possible claims that help predict one's view on the invasion of Iraq. Do you agree or disagree with this mode of prediction? Your one-word response to a severely clipped quote suggests to me that you are not thoroughly engaged in the spirit of the proceedings.

But let me follow Taylor's request. Let's talk about what to do in Iraq now. What do you think, Anonymous? What is your recommendation for the US administration?

One more point. David Adesnik has written that he does not mind those who comment under the "anonymous" tag. I mind. I dislike to a considerable degree those commenters who do not even have the courage to sign in under a distinctive name that allows the other commenters to know who we are addressing. Being able to track and follow the remarks made by other commenters is essential, in my view, to public discourse. Good debates have a history and we respond to each other with a history of distinctive comments in mind.

If you're too lazy or lack the courage to sign in under one name, then you should simply read our comments and refrain from commenting yourself.

Jeffrey, well said. This relation is equally as relevant today as it was before the invasion. The problem, of course, lies in the operationalization of descriptive arguments, particularly when one factors in risk. I am bit hesitant towards your statement on "the universal hope of democracy" however. Too often democracy has been used as a prescriptive outcome with little articulation of what the end state is and is not. If we are going to seriously look at potential plausible scenarios, then this needs to be crystal clear, as strategies and risk levels vary considerably with differnt conceptions.

Sorry. Let me be clear. I do not believe that democratic governance is or ought to be a universal aspiration. I have traveled extensively through China and the imposition of representative, multi-party democracy on the Chinese people would be a tragic failure. The Communist Party runs China more or less as the mandarins did for centuries. Chinese are mostly satisfied with the way things are, as long as the economy becomes more capitalist and successful. China, for anyone who has taken a walk through Pudong in Shanghai knows, is a capitalist, one-party country. The Chinese are doing fine without democracy.

And it is also possible that Ira


Ooops. Typing a little too quickly and hit the send button prematurely.

And it is also possible that Iraq could revert to a form of totalitarian control as Iraqis search for another "strong man" to deliver them from chaos.

But, at the same time, I am not ruling out an Iraqi-style democracy from being formed.

Prepared to work with a "strongman"? Strongman? What could be more glaringly hypocritical than getting rid of one dictator but working with his successor? While it might be possible to persuade a strongman or "national salvation committee" to commit itself publically to democratization, experience shows that unelected governments tend to focus on preserving their own power while doing almost nothing to advance the democratization process. Besides, would there be any reason to believe than an unelected government would actually give up all of its weapons of mass destruction?

David, 2003

not hatin', just interesting
Hey Taylor, you're not a politician yet - let 'er rip! ;)

What about comments we hear from the pro-war apologists, politicians, and now even Iraqi politicians: along the lines of, "Iraqis must take their future in their own hands", or "it's their own fault", etc. It featured in David's post the other day: "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."

Such comments are (1) truly intellectually dishonest, (2) ignore the fact that the insecurity is caused by a small part of the population and (3) in effect are a feeble attempt to share responsibility for this mess with the Iraqi people. We were warned about terrorism and insurgency before the war - one can't start passing the buck now as if the violence comes as some kind of surprise.

it is all of our responsibilities to provide innovative ideas for this truly massive problematic. In both Iraq and Afghanistan course change is needed.
I'll start something, but taking this in two pieces, keying off your second point quoted above first.

Why a 'change of course'? In other words, one has to be able to specify the problem, in order to prescribe a solution. For instance, the pass-over to Iraqi sovereignty could signal a 'change in course'. One would want to start to shift politics, simply to accommodate that fact, to incent Iraqi central government from consuming free public goods (well, at least such as they are) or misusing those provided to slow things down.

The point would be, it pays to separate out what people mean by a 'change of course', to be precise. That kind of a ‘change of course’ is different than others.

For instance, there are any number of specific things that could prompt a strategic review, but, in general one would tie it to a failure of various strategies and tactics to achieve an objective within a given timeframe. So, one has to assess, as best as possible, why it is certain strategies or tactics are not working. Is it just that they are taking too long? Is it the tasks were underestimated? Are the tactics counter-productive? Is the strategy too costly for the hoped for results? How are we handling the catch-22's that come up, cutting through the Gordian knots (and there are plenty) -- two areas that require a rare combination of political will, vision, and smarts. In general, as mere citizens, we don’t have enough information to make a really thorough-going assessment, do we?

Something like counter-terrorism might involve certain counter-measures. Counter-insurgency might involve others. Widening civil war or extra-judicial, reprisal killings might involve other things altogether. All of these would involve establishing unique metrics and perhaps milestones. Accordingly, the focus on troops, which is an *outcome* of such deliberations, is not even a short-hand approach to really *thinking* about the problem(s).

On your first point, I'd key off the word "massive". Anyone following the developments in Iraq and Afghanistan realizes how complex things are. At the same time, if you talk to troops on the ground who are right at the epiphany points of civil-military interaction, they can tell you in a few words exactly what the short-list of problems are.

This suggests that, for Nation Building, there are no halfway approaches, either one commits fully or not. We could argue about that; but if one was against the effort to start, then that has to be a really tough sticking point after not having won the day at the time a decision was made. Coordinate all activities is complex and huge and, even when things are simple, there are lots and lots of little lists. It’s like trying to write a single equation for all of human economic activity – it would be both simple and also very complex.

I would also suggest for discussion that the key challenge is that all solutions have to be integrated AND decentralized. “Integration” involves a relatively cohesive, easy to communicate and understand trope, for how to do counter-terrorism, how to mount a decent counter-insurgency effort, both under a general rubric of how best to confront radical Islam in the Muslim world.

After that high-level, integrated set of insights, the basic tasks have to be decentralized (I think), since it seems impossible to nation-build in any centralized way and still mount a campaign that is maximally responsive to the people it is meant to "free".

The communist Chinese government is ruling like the mandarins of old because they are still recovering from the 70 million murdered by the same communist government only 40 years ago. The chinese people will be begging for the imposition of a representative multi-party democracy when the next crisis hits (kind of like the Iraqi Shiites). Perhaps when the economy collapses due to greed of those who cannot be removed from power.
I’ve been sitting on the sidelines of this Iraq debate, and have enjoyed the substantive arguments, namely by David, Jeffrey, NPC and Richard. So, I’d like to add a few words from a novice, if I might.

First, the Iraq war carries with it a multitude of political baggage. So, I must echo Jeffrey’s comments about [descriptive] and [prescriptive] arguments, and how people have the tendency to blend the two, resulting in confusion. It’s what I call the “Iraq warp”. It affects not just the foreign policy debates, but also the legal ones. Judith Gardam, an Aussie, argues that even though jus ad bellum and jus in bello are independent of each other, the pretext to go to war has a practical impact on one’s interpretation of the applicable LOAC legal tests regardless of whether it should be that way. So, Colin Kahl’s latest Foreign Affairs article is all the more pertinent as the occupation continues. The political lens through which we view the world can and often does skew principle, which we are [all] guilty of from time to time.

Second, this trend is why I find an analysis, such as Ryan’s, so impressive. It’s seems devoid of any reference to multilateralism or quasi-moral arguments. Rather, it amounts to a cost-benefit analysis. It contends that Iraq was a lower priority than other areas of the globe, and the costs of acting, namely the hostile aftermath, outweighed the costs of inaction. I find this impressive, because most of the articles, blogs, etc that I’ve read against the war employ moralistic language in reference to international perception, American arrogance, multilateralism or something else in that vein. So, I find myself somewhat skeptical, but without cause, I take it at face value.

Finally, other commentators have addressed fault in not considering a priori the humanitarian cost of the Iraq invasion. However, I find this argument somewhat troubling for the prospects of humanitarian intervention in the future. What about the humanitarian cost of not acting? If one can measure humanitarian costs with statistics, reported deaths resulting from the
Iraq invasion
(IBC) have not reached the number of Kurdish deaths under Saddam Hussein (HRW). Although this was not a widely used argument, especially by the Bush Administration prior to the invasion, liberal humanitarian hawks, like Ignatieff, argued in favor of Iraq taking the humanitarian cost of inaction into account. More importantly, however, is it not contradictory to only consider the humanitarian costs for acting, but also for inaction? For any use of force, which includes humanitarian intervention.
Continuing to strive for victory in Iraq has some baggage that is not ordinarily considered.
That is, George Bush is president.
Krauthammer's Bush Derangement Syndrome is real, not the construct of an impatient conservative.
Talking recently with friend who was not particularly liberal until Bush ran for president, I mentioned Texas high school football culture. "Huh. Bush." Earlier, she had blamed Bush for not extending the unemployment coverage. I pointed out that it was Congress' job and that, if Kerry had returned from campaigning, he would have cast the deciding vote.
"I still think it's Bush's fault."

You will note the NYT has become far more measured after the recent election seemed to take power from Bush.

Bush may be a strong man, strong in faith and not interested in the opinions of pissants, but nobody is immune from a sufficient volume of opprobrium.

On another blog, a commenter observed that what we could do in Sudan we can't do if Bush is president because he'll be hounded for it as a a war criminal when the first Sudanese is killed by a US soldier.

So what we ought to do in Iraq, if it is something other than immediate surrender, has an extra anchor on it, affecting much of the chattering class, many democrat politicians, the over-educated and a good percentage of citizens who substitute getting a good mad on for thought.

In the meantime, our enemies watch and laugh.

Another result of bailing in Iraq is hard to get across to partisans, but the reaction of our enemies to the recent election is on record. They will be emboldened. That means danger to us.
If necessary, if we have to lose, we could at least ruin the surrounding regimes, just as as lesson.
It is one thing to be measured in what we can, for the time, consider safety. It's another when you think of what those other people are capable of doing, presuming you can think of them as being interested in doing something other than what would benefit you.
The ISG apparently thinks some vicious regimes, already at proxy war with us, would be happy to do what we need them to do at some cost to themselves.
Or the ISG thinks they can convince enough influential people to pretend to believe it until it's too late.

I think you've touched on an interesting aspect of the political scene. I have now come to realize that politics draws a lot of its unpredictable power from the way it channels the irrational part of our souls. One of my colleagues at university, a teacher whom I respect, admitted to me that his stomach would literally knot whenever his saw Bush's face or heard his voice -- classic Bush Derangement Syndrome, we would now say. You could run any number of reasoned arguments by my colleague and he would simply nod. But the source of his contempt for George Bush was much deeper than rational argument could reach.

I also recall a friend telling me back in the seventies that all he had to do to maintain an erection during intercourse was to imagine Richard Nixon's face. Don't ask me how that worked, but he was a frequent copulator and his experience in this area was made him, to my mind, an expert witness.

I was looking forward to a nice weekend, out where the cell phones don't work unless the wind is just right. Manhattans by the fire. Blizzards off the lake.
Then I had to hear about your friend and Nixon.

What is the source of BDS? He was an unremarkable governor and otherwise the kind of guy who would have to work to stand out from the wallpaper.
Middle of the road Methodist.
I respect the fighter jock's swagger--he's earned it--even if, as an ex-grunt, I don't think much of people who go to work sitting down.
But...WTF. What did he do to get so many people's backs up so fast?
He's a meanie for not meeting with the BIg Three and giving them, a la the Dear Leader practical and useful advice on how to build cars they don't have to pay people to buy.
He got hell for not signing some nutty environmental treaty, but when he pointed out nobody else had, he was hammered for being obnoxious.
People who've tubed out of any number of schools--see Al Gore--are considered his intellectual superiors by miles, despite his dual Ivy degrees.

I've never seen anything like it. Nixon was reviled, as was Clinton, but at least people had something to point to that they'd done.

It would be an exercise in popshrink, were it not for the effect it has on the most important and dangerous issues we face.

When you ask people afflicted with BDS, they usually tell you about something Bush did or didn't do. As a general rule, they have their facts wrong. Makes no difference.

I really would like to know, though.

It's really puzzling, isn't it? People detested Nixon, of course, but the hot-white hatred for Bush is far more extreme and much more difficult to explain. Whoever came up with "Bush Derangement Syndrome" really nailed it.

For my colleague, I think Bush represents an authority figure (his Dad or Principal or Boss) with power not just locally but over the entire country. And there's a long tradition in America of reviling any authority figure -- especially for teenagers. Taking on Dad is a rite of passage (I remember it well). But, while most of us change over time and see our parents and authority figures in a more shaded light, some people never get beyond fighting Dad.

Over at Daily Kos, for example, one can easily imagine all of the commenters there sitting in their teenage bedrooms and blasting music as they type feverishly against Dad, the Man, the State.

Heck, I can't figure it out. I hope someone else stops by and helps us out.

Hi Richard and Jeffrey,

I hope someone else stops by and helps us out.

I often compare political image to market branding, where individuals and policies are dumbed down and sold based often on an emotional reaction. You buy into the Republican brand or the Democrat brand, not always because you agree with the candidate, but because you like the brand. Similarly, we love to hate the other brand.

With respect to G.W., he seemed to fit the anti-brand that Democrats and the Left have always tried to impose on Republicans. He’s from a wealthy family and involved in big business, which both enjoy a great degree of political weight. The initial rejection of the Kyoto protocol seems to confirm fears about the influence of big business at the expense of the environment. Moreover, the swagger with the take-it or leave-it attitude intensifies the fear that G.W. is more of a cowboy (shoot first, ask questions later), than a politician. His demeanor leads people to wonder if he actually listens to dissent and to the concerns of those around him. Finally, the rhetorical games by Rove, Luntz and Rumsfeld lead people to question the actual honesty and straightforwardness of the administration. The worst-case scenarios and half-truths used to justify the Iraq invasion have cost the admin a lot of credibility.

Clinton had a divisive quality about him too. However, I wouldn’t put him the same category as Nixon. Clinton could be caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but people still loved him (after all boys will be boys). He just had to smile and Arkansas two-step away. I think this is in large part what drove Republicans mad about him.
“While it bothers me that those who were against the invasion due to the irreversibility of the potential concequences are now being asked for solutions, it is all of our responsibilities….” Doing nothing has irreversible consequences, too, and while ‘doing nothing’ was an option, i.e. not intervening – doing nothing is, paradoxically, a most potent action, politically. So, consequences, for doing or not doing, are for all of us to confront. Those consequences, too, derive more directly from the character of Iraqi society than from intervention or non-intervention itself, and I say this not wishing to minimise the direct and terrifying effects of the war. The cheap political point of blaming everything upon the Americans and their intervention is to miss the point. The fact is that American intervention occasioned terrible events within a situation that was already nasty, would have remained nasty, and would also, unquestionably, have got nastier (think Uday & Qsay Hussein) without any American help. It also overlooks the potential that there was, and that there still is, perhaps, for beneficial developments in Iraq. The widespread denial of that possibility, especially amongst those who were opposed to the war, reveals how much is deliberately obfuscated in any discussion of the Middle East. I believe that the heart of the problem is that many people secretly fear (however unjustifiably), and neurotically deny the fear, that any change in the region, whether from intervention, or indigenous development, will almost inevitably be toxic, and that there are scarcely any circumstances, short of Utopian, in which this might be otherwise. This is why there is so much deliberate obfuscation, so much irrational linking of Israel to every conceivable problem, such loud and ubiquitous blame of the West, so little appreciation of the consequences for the region of the immemorial lack of real civil society, and of its continuing toll in suffering and despair.
The fact is that American intervention occasioned terrible events within a situation that was already nasty, would have remained nasty, and would also, unquestionably, have got nastier (think Uday & Qsay Hussein)

Brian, the fact of the matter is that there are, throughout the world, environments parallel in terms of danger to Iraq, and individuals of parallel madness to that of Uday and Qsay; the trick is to not implicate yourself in their troubles. Particularly if you don't have the capacity to win.
But...WTF. What did he do to get so many people's backs up so fast?

Well, Richard, if you're an American, perhaps the worst thing he's done (in my mind) is spend your surplus. He's also spent around half a trillion dollars on something with no profit return.

I guess, if we're looking for other things about Bush, you can call him out for initiating programs with no practical benefits (USVISIT), largely useless data collection (all of Homeland Security), and greatly cutting the size of the United States armed forces.

Those would be my picks. I don't think I have BDS, though.

What is the source of BDS?
I believe it started on the Left.

Parts of the Left naturally fell into political opposition to OIF, just as the Right had 'opposed' Clinton during wag-the-dog.

At that time, many on the Left started to imbibe the jihadi propaganda, sometimes innocently, not knowing what they were drinking too much. Many became unwitting jihadi sockpuppets, saying things like the war was illegal and the war was "really" for oil - all the things that would help to delegitimize the American effort and feed into the massive deligitimization effort that was launch from so many angles, hobbling the ability of almost any would-be leader to actually lead.

When WMD were not found, those on the Left were unable to ascribe any dual motives to Bush et. al. and couldn't find anyway past their political need to discredit Bush with any Humanitarian mission. The culmination of this was Bush, as Chronos, eating his children on the cover of you-know-what magagzine. Unable to ascribe him any idealist motive, he became, for them, a monster.

For others, Bush's decision making and management style was key. They ran an exceptionally tight ship and controlled the message, as a way to push the media to cover their issues, not their disputes. Irksome, that.

Folks like Bernard Lewis recommended stalwart language, which was to be interpreted as strength inside the 'Islamic psyche' and consideration or vacillation as doubt, weakness, and moral corruption to them. Ergo, he picked strong words for his speeches.

From his Harvard days or wherever, he picked up a view the "management's" responsibility is to make decisions AND to stick to them, not constantly persuade and revisit them, for every doubter. I'm leading, you follow might describe it summarily. Irksome, that, for those who want "evaluation".

Last, Bush chose some political angles, such as choosing to dismiss the conclusions or judgments of "some intellectuals [who] think that". This put his politics somewhat past the realm of rational discourse - he was apparently making an appeal to what people felt, not what the high-priesthood said was good, right, or just.

So, in the end, no matter where you ended up on the political spectrum, it was possible to find some basis to become deranged-over-Bush.

Tabernouche, Taylor, t'es allé ou?
Amicus. I completely agree. One thing the ISG report seems to lack is a clear assessment of what exactly is going wrong. Few will disagree that the policy in general is not working, but can we get at specific consequences of specific policies? By the way, your website is great!

Cdntarheel, I too appreciate pure cost befit scenarios at this point in the debate. I might take issue with your dismissal of multilateralism as a purely non-pragmatic policy choice however.

Several mentioned the costs of not acting. Isn’t this a bit of a straw man? Very few people who were seriously considering policy options for Iraq ever suggested that the status quo was desirable. It was the balance of status quo against a range of potential actions, some of which were deemed higher risk than others. The Heinbecker suggestion was a perfect example of summarising these cost-benefits.

As for the prospects for future humanitarian interventions – first, I don’t think Iraq can be called a humanitarian intervention in any meaningful normative way. Second, if we were to apply any of the threshold criteria developed for legitimate humanitarian interventions to Iraq, they almost all fail. This is not to say that there were not some humanitarian issues at play in Iraq, only that in my mind, it does little to the norm.

As for BDS. I don’t disagree with Amicus. Who knows. It is certainly a factor though. In part I suppose due to his deliberate plain-speak, his swagger, his aggressive and many would argue divisive politics (rove), his hypocrisy on social issues, axis of evil style rhetoric, his lineage regarding his rise to power, his stumbling prior to politics, his youth, etc. I could go on. In the end though, it is not that different from the vitriol against Clinton by much of the right. Would Clinton not have been impeached already if he had done some of the things Bush has in the conduct of the war? I agree that it is nasty though.

In any case, the debate in this post has been great. I am wondering how we can collectively work through a specific question? Let me think about it. TO

Umm. C’est pas ce que je voulais dire, mais je t'écoute.

Of course, Iraq cannot be qualified as a humanitarian intervention in any meaningful way. Humanitarian arguments had nothing to do with the justification for the war, and any that were made ultimately fell on deaf ears. It was not until the lack of WMDs came to light, that “Hussein was a bad guy’ came into the Bush admin’s rhetoric. However, I can’t help but question whether the Iraq invasion will taint any future interventions in the future, especially when it comes to humanitarian costs. That is why it seemed important to remind folks that the costs of action and inaction are two sides to the same coin.


Is this the same Bernard Lewis regarding the Islamic psyche? No dig at your commentary. It’s just funny.
"the costs of action and inaction are two sides to the same coin." great point.
Between military based solutions and blaming Bush, I don't think this is what would help in Iraq. Sunni insurgents and Shite violance will only decline when people are fed, schools are open and people feel safe again. With all the money that was intended for the rebuild of Iraq, how much was spent actualy doing that? I believe the latest estimate was 2%. I think we need a "no action" period to replan the whole thing, starting with bringing life back to normal (start with feeding people) and ending with putting the step stones for a political system that would be tailored to Iraq. We as a civilized world should not put the "tribal or regional resttrictions" as a lame excuse to not be able to work things out.

I share your concerns about Iraq but, as someone who has run a blog about Iraq for over three years, no Iraqi has yet complained about lack of food. Lack of electricity, yes, but not lack of food. Lack of security, yes, but not food.

I also think that the tribal organization of Iraqi society is a major hindrance to representative democracy. Tribes are great if you're interested in organizing your network of communuties into an authoritarian dictatorship. The "strong man" leader of the top clan of the top tribe becomes dictator and retains this position until a rival "strong man" -- either from inside or outside his tribe -- kills him. Can you imagine any American president beginning his political career by acting as a hit-man for his party, shooting and stabbing opponents? Saddam began as a hit-man for the Baathists -- and Iraqis did not see that an unusual.

The disparity between our experience of normal life and the usual allegiances and identifications and values within a tribal system is vast. You delude yourself if you think that a sheihk is an analogue to a town councilman.

Mr. Tarheel,

I really liked your comments on the cost of inaction. I've been thinking about that this afternoon. As a teacher, I know first-hand the consequences of NOT putting a disruptive student in line immediately if they start acting up or dominating the classroom. If you do nothing, the other students calculate all the class-time lost to a single student. I teach adults and you will quickly lose their respect if you cannot control the room and teach the material efficiently. In the classroom, the cost of inaction is high.

BDS is acquired; it is not congenital.

Take a look at Bush's approval ratings over time. They range from a post-9/11 90% 'get behind the president' down to the current 35% 'what was I thinking.' Clinton by comparison left office with a 65% approval.

This BDS can be caused by events, Bush or a feckless public. I'll go with Bush.

For those of you playing at home, you'll notice that 65+35=100.
Jimmy Carter. Scraping the bottom of the barrel along with Richard Nixon. Why do we have to hear from Jimmy Carter every other day in the news TWENTY-FIVE F*CKING YEARS after he slunk out of office?




I'm a registered Democrat, but it really bothers me that we have to suffer from the constant limelight groping by ex-presidents like CLINTON and CARTER.

My advice to them: STFU.


Get a name or I'll slip an IED under your pillow. You'll have no teeth left for the tooth-fairy.


The "strong man" leader of the top clan of the top tribe becomes dictator and retains this position until a rival "strong man" -- either from inside or outside his tribe -- kills him. Can you imagine any American president beginning his political career by acting as a hit-man for his party, shooting and stabbing opponents? Saddam began as a hit-man for the Baathists -- and Iraqis did not see that an unusual."

Lame excuse for our faliure. Simple as that.
About the "food" shortage...I was using it for the sake of the argument, what I meant was that as long as the people do not get their daily necessities, it will be difficult to maintain a livable situation there. Once people realize they can get their needs met without the support of the "violance" creators, they will lose peoples support, and things will calm down significantly. I really don't consider myself politically savvy, I am more into my socio-economics.

I have to disagree. The tribal composition of Iraq is a major factor in the difficulty of trying to build security in Iraq. The Anbar Baathists -- only 20% of the population -- are willing to kill anyone in order climb back on top and get back to the old days when their tribes ruled Iraq. A future where they're NOT at the top is not a future they can tolerate. They will never return to power through the ballot box, they figure, so it is better to use foreign-jihadi suicide bombers to kill men, women, and children lining up to buy bread and mortaring Shia neighborhoods than create political parties or join the political process.

You need to learn a little more about Iraqi history. It is some of the most sobering reading you will ever encounter. NO LEADERS in Iraq die of old age. They're offed in one way or another. And for Iraqis, THAT is business as usual.

I am more familiar with Iraq's history than what you give me credit for. I agree that the tribal compsition and other local and regional factors are major forces hindring the process, we should be able to come up with some sort of solution...that's all.

Okay. Sorry if I misjudged your knowledge about the local scene. I tend to agree with David Adesnik's friend Nir Rosen, who now believes that something like a civil war was inevitable in Iraq. And Rosen probably spent more time with the Sunni insurgents than any other Western reporter. So I'm not sure if there would have been anything we could have done to stop the Anbar Baathists from reverting to violence in their effort to climb back into power.

Rosen also claims, I should add, that now there is nothing really that we can do. For Rosen, the future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqis themselves. The Coalition forces cannot effect the future of the Iraqis one way or the other. So Rosen would argue that we should simply stop thinking about "solutions." Iraqis will have to figure this one out. And recall that there are 27 million Iraqis to 130,000 Coalition forces. The ball is now in the Iraqis' court, Rosen would say.

cdntarheel brought up the Iraqi Kurds. While Bush/41 didn't support their uprising against SH, the US/Brits did institute a no-fly zone which ended up giving the Kurds effective autonomy in the North. They have further partitioned themselves off, to the chagrin of the Turks. So since the Kurdish question had been settled before the war even started, it wasn't part of the casus belli. Of course, someone could inform Hitchens of this.

At this point, it is pretty clear that Bush has lost the rest of the war in Iraq, clear to anyone but Bush. However, if you prefer, you can say that he is losing it, Present Continuous, and that he will have lost it when we finally pull our troops out, Future Real Conditional.

But this is not to say that the Iraqi's have won it, far from that. I think the Vietnamese won the Viet Nam war because they ended a civil war (N vs S) and retained a working state while simultaneously forcing us to leave. Iraq has descended into chaos and will descend further. Another way of thinking of Iraq is that Bush didn't lose it, he broke it.
Mr. Tarheel,
I really liked your comments on the cost of inaction. I've been thinking about that this afternoon. As a teacher, I know first-hand the consequences of NOT putting a disruptive student in line immediately if they start acting up or dominating the classroom. If you do nothing, the other students calculate all the class-time lost to a single student. I teach adults and you will quickly lose their respect if you cannot control the room and teach the material efficiently. In the classroom, the cost of inaction is high.

Ok, fine, it's an analogy...but this whole 'costs of action/inaction/coin' & 'classroom' thing...

It doesn't really work; how (and which) 'disruptive student' you put into line isn't really that simple a decision- in a classroom, it's easy to identify individuals who need to be put into line, and the cost of doing so is relatively low. In the international environment, however, the case is the opposite.

And how was Hussein ever really out of line to begin with? Comparatively?
Bush will be gone in two years.
Reality is going to be pretty stark for some folks when he's not between it and them.
Bush's refusal to sign Kyoto annoyed some people. Pointing out that only Rumania-I think it was--had signed it annoyed more, for some reason.
He was hated before the war.
The hypocrisy on social issues is what you call a view you don't like. I don't see a two-face here, which is necessary for hypocrisy.

It is interesting that, as I think Peggy Noonan said, the mightiest military in the world is being defeated by cutthroats killing civilians. That's a new definition of "losing". I see it as wishful thinking.

Some people have admitted on posts or in columns to hoping for defeat in Iraq so that Bush will look bad. If a few will admit it, many must be thinking it.
Kevin Drum recently asked himself why he isn't reproaching Iran for its various violations. He answered himself that reproaching Iran, which opposes much of what he stands for, would make Bush look good. Having come to the conclusion, and felt bad about it, he plans to continue.
I don't think this whole thing can be thought about completely without considering BDS.
Which, I point out yet again, began before he was elected. It has nothing to do with any subsquent policy decisions.
Hell, even the massive giveaway of prescription drugs to seniors is a bad thing because it's confusing. Crap. Too difficult to figure out which freebie to take, and so Bush is a bastard? Give me a break.
Is this the same Bernard Lewis regarding the Islamic psyche? No dig at your commentary. It’s just funny.
cdn-t, as best I recall, Lewis' comments were based on the use of language, mostly. Of course, the phrase "Islamic pysche" is ridiculous - I just need some shortand for how these things were apt to be heard and internalized. Following the comments on 'strongmen' below, one can start to see a basis for the argument(s) in favor.

As for the B. Lewis OpEd you link, I would tend to agree with the parts about how the Iranians constantly been "charging-up" their population, both by feeding them distortions and limiting their ability dispell them by controlling the information that Iranians have access to (even internal viewpoints, again, have been shuddered).

I don't think you have to buy Lewis' "vision" of things hook-line-and-sinker to see how dangerous a course the Iranians are pursuing.

All the same, there is some merit to Lewis' view in the historical record. Iran is the only nation that I know that was able to get parents to send their children to walk mindfields in order to clear them (during the Iran-Iraq war).

That doesn't mean we have to get irrational about every provocation they throw our way, but it pays to understand how much a stranglehold some of their ideologies have had...
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