OxBlog

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

# Posted 9:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE STRATEGIC COST OF DISSENT IN WARTIME: The following is an exchange before the Senate Armed Services Committee as described by Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker:
[Sen.] Lieberman asked what effect the resolution [disapproving of the surge] would have “on our enemies in Iraq.”

[Gen.] Petraeus said that, as a soldier, he had put himself “in harm’s way” to protect the right to free speech, but added, “A commander in such an endeavor would obviously like the enemy to feel that there’s no hope.”

Lieberman, fortified by this response, said, “A Senate-passed resolution of disapproval for this new strategy in Iraq would give the enemy some encouragement, some feeling that—well, some clear expression that the American people were divided."

“That’s correct, sir,” Petraeus said.

In that case, Lieberman said, he would “make a plea” to his colleagues on Petraeus’s behalf to defeat it. “If, God forbid, you are unable to succeed, then there will be plenty of time for the resolutions of disapproval.”

As Lieberman spoke, [Sen.] Clinton’s mask of equanimity seemed to slip for a moment, until she could assimilate the idea that Lieberman had, in essence, accused the Democratic Party of encouraging America’s enemies...

Three days after the hearing, I went to see Lieberman in his office. He was cheerful and easygoing and more convinced than usual of the essential rightness of his vision. I asked him if he thought that Democrats who voted for the resolution would truly be giving encouragement to the enemy. “The enemy believes—Ahmadinejad has said this repeatedly—that we don’t have the will anymore for a long battle,” he said, referring to the President of Iran.

When I asked him if he understood why Hillary Clinton might have reacted the way she did, he said, “I can’t explain why she did that.” Then he shook his head, apparently in sorrow.
Clearly, Goldberg has had enough of Lieberman's self-righteousness. And shouldn't a long time supporter of civil rights like Joe Lieberman know that dissent is essential to the preservation of democracy, especially during times of war?

That much is true, but it is only half the story. Both Petraeus and Lieberman are correct that there is a direct relationship between domestic dissent and enemy morale in counterinsurgency warfare. In Iraq, just as in Vietnam, the enemy's fundamental strategy is to undermine American support on the homefront, rather than defeating it on the battlefield.

The problem with Lieberman's approach (as described by Goldberg) is that it seems to allow no space at all for dissent in wartime. The result is a chain-reaction of self-righteousness in which the dissenters pose as heroic defenders of free speech while their critics launched veiled attacks at the dissenters' patriotism.

But there are other ways to think about this problem. First of all, I suspect that the insurgents are moderately capable of looking at opinion polls and discovering that Americans are deeply dissatisifed with the President's war effort. I also suspect the insurgents recognize to what extent journalists and expert observers consider the war to be a bloody stalemate (at best).

Thus dissenting resolutions in the House and Senate represent little more than a bit of extra fuel on the fire. Or one might even say they are just a byproduct of public opinion, which turned both houses of Congress over to the dissenting party.

Another drawback to the anti-dissent approach is that it rules out the possibility of constructive dissent forcing the executive branch to wage the war more effectively. Has Democratic dissent played this kind of constructive role during the war in Iraq? It's hard to say.

But one of the reasons it's so hard to say is because the debate about dissent never seems to get past the old cliches about dissent being patriotic on the one hand and encouraging the enemy on the other.

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Comments:
Who is this magical President Bush that would ever listen to dissent, whether it be "constructive" or otherwise?

The whole equation here requires a level (any level) of reciprocation that could never occur under this administration.
 
So you're saying the Democrats should stop criticizing the war because Bush won't listen enemy (while the enemey does)? ;)
 
Nobody's saying the Democrats should not criticize. The only thing Lieberman appears to be saying is that if they do criticize, they should be able to appreciate the consequences of their actions and therefore make at least a token effort to assure that their criticisms reflect some reality. And Bush's main problem is that he listens and reacts too much to what ignorant and savagely anti-American Democrats say.
 
It doesn't matter whether the strategists of the enemy are reviewing the polls. It matters that the headlines generated by the non-binding resolution appear around the world on the world's news services.

It matters that those assisting us in the war know what is in the minds of the ruling party in the Congress and a large part of the Senate

Seeing and hearing what we have in the past week would you be hanging a coalition shingle on your door.
 
I see. So as long as you label an action "dissent" it should be immune from criticism? Which of course means that I cannot dissent from dissent, which is really a stupid interpretation of free speech. Sorry, but if you have an enemy whose entire media-centric, paper tiger strategy is to cause public opinion to turn against a war, shouldn't a resolution that fits so completely into that strategy be subject to serious criticism?
 
It's interesting to see how the British Conservative party has handled the problem. They seem to have bitten their tongues for more than three years rather than lay into Blair for his lies and follies over Iraq. I have no idea whether they have been right to do so, but I do infer that they are clear that if they had opposed him earlier, they would have been giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
 
"Has Democratic dissent played this kind of constructive role during the war in Iraq? It's hard to say."

David, I have to disagree. It is easy to say because the answer is obvious.

I also disagree that we haven't gotten past the "dissent is unpatriotic" claptrap. The problem is the Democrats are destructive in their criticism and then claim dissent is patriotic as though ALL dissent is patriotic.

Let them propose a constructive solution and then we can discuss what you say we haven't been discussing.
 
I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history.

That was Republican standard bearer John McCain, dissenting.

Yes, it is easy for you to call Democrats ignorant and savagely anti-American so that you don't have to listen to them. The Roman patrician class said the same thing about the plebeians during the Social Wars. Read Livy.

However, the overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed to the war, so it is hard to call them anti-American. Yet I don't expect the Right Wing to change their views; I don't give them that much credit. It has been their war of choice and it will be their loss. But I'd just as soon get it behind us.
 
There was a mix of constructive and nonconstructive dissent from the early days of the war. Some examples are Sen. Lieberman's Washington Post op-ed in July 2003 which characterized the Bush approach as being as much of a threat to overall success as the insurgency and Sen. Biden's suggestions improving border security and changing the politics both here and in Iraq regarding the war.

The thing is, that the constructive dissenters never got anything for their efforts. The war opponents never allowed for the possibility that the war prosecuted differently could have had a different result and Bush supporters never budged from their position that Bush should enjoy his prerogatives as CINC. It seems that this situation has pushed the constructive dissenters to make a binary choice: is it more important to maintain the war effort in some form or is it more important to end the Bush approach to the war? For the former, priority goes to attacking plans to draw down the war with the mission incomplete and perhaps hope the Bush changes his approach. For the latter, in the absence of a credible demonstration from Bush of a different approach (in that mindset, no demonstration from Bush can be credible), all that matters is getting the troops out of the conflict zones, even if the mission can only be accomplished in those zones. And that is the position we're in now.
 
There was a mix of constructive and nonconstructive dissent from the early days of the war. Some examples are Sen. Lieberman's Washington Post op-ed in July 2003 which characterized the Bush approach as being as much of a threat to overall success as the insurgency and Sen. Biden's suggestions improving border security and changing the politics both here and in Iraq regarding the war.

The thing is, that the constructive dissenters never got anything for their efforts. The war opponents never allowed for the possibility that the war prosecuted differently could have had a different result and Bush supporters never budged from their position that Bush should enjoy his prerogatives as CINC. It seems that this situation has pushed the constructive dissenters to make a binary choice: is it more important to maintain the war effort in some form or is it more important to end the Bush approach to the war? For the former, priority goes to attacking plans to draw down the war with the mission incomplete and perhaps hope the Bush changes his approach. For the latter, in the absence of a credible demonstration from Bush of a different approach (in that mindset, no demonstration from Bush can be credible), all that matters is getting the troops out of the conflict zones, even if the mission can only be accomplished in those zones. And that is the position we're in now.
 
There was a mix of constructive and nonconstructive dissent from the early days of the war. Some examples are Sen. Lieberman's Washington Post op-ed in July 2003 which characterized the Bush approach as being as much of a threat to overall success as the insurgency and Sen. Biden's suggestions improving border security and changing the politics both here and in Iraq regarding the war.

The thing is, that the constructive dissenters never got anything for their efforts. The war opponents never allowed for the possibility that the war prosecuted differently could have had a different result and Bush supporters never budged from their position that Bush should enjoy his prerogatives as CINC. It seems that this situation has pushed the constructive dissenters to make a binary choice: is it more important to maintain the war effort in some form or is it more important to end the Bush approach to the war? For the former, priority goes to attacking plans to draw down the war with the mission incomplete and perhaps hope the Bush changes his approach. For the latter, in the absence of a credible demonstration from Bush of a different approach (in that mindset, no demonstration from Bush can be credible), all that matters is getting the troops out of the conflict zones, even if the mission can only be accomplished in those zones. And that is the position we're in now.
 
Sorry about the multiple posts. Didn't realize that my earlier attempts to post were successful.
 
One of the aspects of this debate I find disappointing is that a loud minority on either side continually represent themselves as victims, either of hysterical jingoism or anti-American spite.

Now, there is clearly a measure of abuse and invective flying about.
But it also seems that some people try to draw a martyrs legitimacy by claiming that they are being 'silenced', 'demonised' or vilified, when most of the time, they are just being disagreed with.

It seems to be part of a 'victimocracy' tendency in contemporary politics.

There was/is quite a lot of abuse directed at those of us who supported (or in my case, came to support) the removal of Saddam Hussein from power by military force.

It is often unpleasant, as is the rhetoric of some of the more intemperate pro-war commentators who promiscuously accuse people of being unpatriotic. But it would be inaccurate to assume that the majority of those on either side are victimising their opponents.

For my part, I don't claim that we are being harassed by our critics.
And I suspect that the continual suggestion that the anti-war movements in western countries are being persecuted etc. is a little overblown.

In terms of David's point, I agree that constructive criticism is not only strategically essential, but part of the liberty that we claim to be defending.
 
"For my part, I don't claim that we are being harassed by our critics."

sorry, that should read, "most of our critics"!
 
What wars have been won with a big level of dissent? I guess none.

If we look at news we know that US isnt fighting Iraqis but only a relative small number of insurgents,terrorists.
I think also the current left grassroots of Democratic party wants to change America in such extent that it would not be America anymore.
 
The US Civil War certainly had a large group of dissenters in the media and in the public.
 
pardon, but isnt there a difference between a private citizen signing a petition or organizing a protest, and a congressman voting for something? Is an attack on a congressman for casting a vote that has international implications the same as denying the right to dissent? I dont think so.
 
By autumn of 2003 it was apparent that we didn't have enough troops in Iraq to suppress the insurgency. Bush only listens to criticism from his base, and there wasn't any. As a result, he could and did continue pretending that everything was going well. As a result, we're fracked. North Korea already has the bomb and Iran will have one soon, and we can't do anything about it because we're bogged down in Iraq. David and his supporters are certainly sincere, but nevertheless I think they have betrayed our country by their blind worship of the administration.
 
LH,

Is an attack on a congressman for casting a vote that has international implications the same as denying the right to dissent?

Article 88 of the UCMJ forbids any form contempt towards officials, including dissent. An argument for this can be made for the good order of the military and for their civilian control, but not per se for national security.

The US Constitution specifically defines treason as "in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

In the case of Cheney v Pelosi, the implication is that what Pelosi is saying isn't a case of dissent, it is an issue of national security, that the House vote gives aid and comfort to AQ -- treason -- and this is an attempt to deny dissent.

Recall that it was Cheney who gave up a CIA agent working on WMDs to silence an earlier dissenter.
 
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