Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

The Seinfeld Strategy

Michael Fullilove on America’s ‘Seinfeld’ strategy in Iraq, which means doing the opposite of everything your instincts tell you to do, a tactic once tried by Seinfeld’s Costanza:

First, military and diplomatic resources are finite and should be directed towards your greatest priority. An example of the opposite approach would be for a country that has been attacked by a non-state terrorist group to retaliate by removing a state regime that had nothing to do with the attack.

Second, take care not to weaken your intimidatory powers through poor military performance. Aim for short, sharp victories (such as that in the 1991 Gulf war) that get your adversaries worrying about the extent of US power. The opposite would be to launch a war of choice involving the drawn-out occupation of an Arab country – the kind of thing that gets your allies worrying about the limits of US power.

Third, you get by with help from friends. Although the powerful are sometimes tempted to go it alone, international support helps determine the perceived legitimacy of an action, which affects its risk and costs. Building this support requires discussion and compromise. The opposite would be to spurn real negotiations, slough off your allies, bin multilateral agreements you do not like and declare that you are not bound by the rules that govern everyone else.

Fourth, state-building is hard. Few of the international efforts at state-building since the cold war’s end have succeeded. Luckily there are numberless reports identifying lessons learnt. The alternative would be to do the opposite of what those reports recommend, for example by deploying insufficient troops and dismantling any extant national institutions such as the army.

Fifth, democracy is a blessing that requires patient nurturing. The opposite approach would be to seek to impose democracy by force of arms on a population traumatised by decades of vicious and totalitarian rule.

Sixth, politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If two dangerous states are struggling for dominance of a strategic region, maintaining a balance between them may be the least worst option. The opposite would be to emasculate one of them, thereby greatly increasing the relative power of the other.

Finally, historians often cite the need for prudence in international relations, quoting the physician’s dictum: “First, do no harm.” The opposite would be: “Don’t think too much, just chance your arm and see what happens!”


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An amazing flash timeline of Iraq coalition fatalities (it would be nice to see something similar for Iraqi casualties).

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Berube vs Cockburn

Alexander Cockburn shows us just how nasty the internecine squabbles of the left can get:

Have any of them, from Makiya through Hitchens to Berman and Berube had dark nights, asking themselves just how much responsibility they have for the heaps of dead in Iraq….

Sometimes I dream of them, — Friedman, Hitchens, Berman — like characters in a Beckett play, buried up to their necks in a rubbish dump on the edge of Baghdad, reciting their columns to each other as the local women turn over the corpses to see if one of them is her husband or her son.

Berube defends himself:

Neither Gitlin nor I lavished abuse on Chomsky for his opposition to war in Iraq. But we did criticize him for things like for proclaiming on the afternoon of September 11 that the attacks paled in comparison to Clinton’s 1998 bombing of the al-Shifa plant in Khartoum….

The real problem was that we’d criticized Noam Chomsky, which, for some people, is even worse than supporting war in Iraq.

Yes, and the followers of the high priest, like him, fight dirty. Berube takes a play out of their book and weds them to their enemies:

In the US, the Z/Counterpunch crew have a symbiotic relation to Berman, Hitchens, et al., just as in the UK the Galloway/Respect crowd have a symbiotic relation to the Eustonites. To this day, each needs the other. And it is in both camps’ interest to pretend that Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq were all part of the same enterprise: all three wars were wars of liberation for the Hawks, and all three were exercises in imperialism for the Sovereignty Left.

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What courageous humility is exemplified by Christopher Hitchens, who … strike that, reverse it, I misread his recent article in Slate.

To revive a different motif: what a sack of shit is Hitchens, who now trots out his anemic debate team arguments for a last stand. The bad boy of letters must not admit defeat!

We get legalistic arguments about UN resolutions, as if we didn’t know those resolutions are based on U.S. arm-twisting and bribery and can be always be had for the right price. We get lines like the following:

The Bush administration never claimed that Iraq had any hand in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But it did point out, at different times, that Saddam had acted as a host and patron to every other terrorist gang in the region.

Here’s what Cheney said in 2003: “We learn more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s that it involved training, for example, on [biological and chemical weapons], that Al Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems.” Whether Cheney avoided the technical error of saying “Hussein helped Al Qaeda accomplish 9/11,” that’s what these statements meant to most Americans; and that’s what most Americans believe. I’m sure we could find and celebrate the technical nuances of many other examples of successful propaganda — that is, after all, what makes them successful.

Of course, strained legal technicalities are of particular interest to Hitchens — this is after all his self-defense. His article ends with sophistry that can be paraphrased thus: “I admit that civil war was predictable, but that’s because the roots of this civil war lie in Saddam’s exploitation of sectarian differences, which means there already was an “unease” that certainly would have led to civil war anyway if … (someone invaded?).

But the icing:

So, you seriously mean to say that we would not be living in a better or safer world if the coalition forces had turned around and sailed or flown home in the spring of 2003?

That’s exactly what I mean to say.

I suppose we are not to ask Iraqis this question, because manifestly they do not live in a “better or safer world”. And we know historically that Saddam was a threat only to a) his own people and (when armed and encouraged, intentionally in the case of Iran and unintentionally in the case of Kuwait, by the United States and Europe) b) his neighbors, to whom he is no longer a threat; hence the primary task of the war was to improve the quality of Iraqi lives. It was not: the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the displacement of millions, and the devastation of their infrastructure, economy, and way of life. Life was bad under Hussein; it is much worse under coalition forces.

For men like Hitchens, these concerns are just rank consequentialism: there are ideals to uphold — what are human lives next to these grand ideals? Under this view, when countries go to war, the send only their blue-blooded patriots, and upright pure defenders of freedom; all the compassionate carriers of machine guns who would never hurt a fly if the good of their invadees were not at stake.

In fact: when countries go to war, they send a motley crew of good and bad men: they send men with fine and heroic sensibilities, and they send sadists and criminals. They send the men who are saints, and they send men who, for instance, will rape a 15-year-old Iraqi girl and set her on fire and kill her entire family. And then of course they send average men; they pour their entire, mixed bag of these men into another society — and with them, their courage and nobility; but also, their problems, their frailties, and their crimes. And then this entire spectrum is subjected to tremendous stress and impersonal, bureaucratic militarism: so that, for instance, when they ordered to massacre Iraqi soldiers running for their lives, they will do it, as they did on the “Highway of Death” in the first Gulf War; and when they are told that rules of engagement allow blindly “clearing” houses anywhere near areas where they have encountered fire — i.e., killing every Iraqi man, woman, and child, as in Haditha, they may well take the opportunity to do it and defend their actions afterwards; or if a car pulls up to quickly on their skittish and impromptu checkpoint, they are more likely than not to turn its occupants into dead meat. Some soldiers will enjoy these atrocities, some will be haunted by them, some destroyed: but the point is that war is so catastrophic, so spiritually and physically catastrophic for both sides, that it ought not to be entertained as Hitchens entertains his scotch or his next glib bit of copy. We ought to take seriously the tragedy of war, and its consequences; because its execution transcends and destroys the values for which it is supposedly a means, and the only value that may survive it and justify it is brute survival. The words and the grand ideals of writers and neocons are not the actuality of war; war is not the smart bombs and good guys and bad guys; the actuality is a devastating moral perversion that no amount pickled sentimentality or troop-supporting will reverse.

But beyond this: if we do believe there are ideals which justify the mass-murder of innocents as well as those unfortunate wearers-of-uniforms, we ought to ask whether we want to be the executioners, and whether our government has the kind of record of moral purity and competence that might encourage us to believe that war will in fact improve our lives and ultimately the lives of those we vanquish. As Andrew Sullivan puts it:

The real question is: if we knew then what we know now about the caliber, ethics, competence and integrity of the president and his aides, would we have entrusted them to wage this war?

But then what administration would we trust, in a country whose recent history includes killing millions of Vietnamese? In a country that has supported death squads in South America, and armed and encouraged both sides in the Iran-Iraq war, which killed more than a million people? In a country that went out of its way to defend Hussein while he was gassing his own people, right up to the eve of the first Gulf War, for the principal reason that he was needed to satisfy the war profiteers and economic interests that so strongly influence its government? You don’t have to be a liberal or an America-hater to believe these things; you merely have to read history and love your country enough to be upset by it. War profiteering and corruption and atrocities and mismanagement and bungled occupations are not novel apparitions, suddenly coming on the scene to confound the theorists of the good, the true, the right-pure war. And we ought not to be confused on these points by the fact that Bush has added more brazen forms of criminality and acts that really threaten to destroy the United States by dissolving the institutions that comprise it — torture and indefinite detention and suspension of habeas corpus, for instance.

So while we worry about the destruction our country via its values and institutions (and the traditions we thought until recently that conservatives cherished), let Hitchens tell Iraqis that the destruction of theirs was worth it because of our abstract sense of safety and their abstract sense of liberation from a bad, bad man. Let him tell them how, consequences be damned, he was right, because by his math a world minus a bad man is a better world, notwithstanding the subtraction of a few hundred thousand lives. Let him tell them that this is exactly what he means, as if one writer sticking to his imaginary guns were itself such an act of fortitude that it redeems any amount of actual destruction.

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Honey, I Created a Jihad

If you’re interested in how a century of British and American (and generally Western) involvement in the Middle East led to the mess there we now face see Barry Lando’s excellent book Web of Deceit (and ses also his blog: http://barrylando.com). No Hitch and Sullivan, it’s not “islamofascism”; rather, it’s about oil and colonial history and the CIA. The West could not have more meticulously created today’s predicament if that were its primary goal. (Lots of interesting and surprising facts, including employment of a young and murderous Saddam Hussein by the CIA, Kissinger’s well-documented indifference to mass casualties, France’s promiscuous arms industry, and the list goes on).

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Another Washington Journal moment: “This is a Wahr,” the old woman reminded us. “This” — not two wars, the war on terror and the war in Iraq, the first a made-up fantasy and the second elective folly. The first not really a “this”, but rather an unending excuse for abuses of executive power and the folly of trying to use the blunt instrument of force against hidden cells; the second not legally a war (which in our forgotten Constitution, only congress can declare) but rather an executive military “action”. And neither really a war in planning or practice: no tightening of security on the first front, no establishment of security on the second.

The Republicans like to make a sentimental mockery of this notion of war and support of troops: they apply it liberally. What a boon 9/11 was to this fantasy of militarism, what an ultimate excuse for the occasional leisure aggression, to be waged with a fierce minimalism, watched from the living room, and lamented as if it were the great national sacrifice that it is not.

The great sacrifice that was asked of us, that we might have made: to find bin Laden, to target our enemies selectively, to improve our national security and intelligence apparatus, and to make rational our foreign policies. The great indulgence that we are engaged in: a prideful fantasy, a folly that is now approaching its logical conclusion — not a wahr at all, not a war, not even a battle, but the kind of tale that idiots craft for themselves, full of shock and awe, accomplishing nothing.

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Andrew Sullivan on the fact that some commenters on Huffington Post took delight int he Cheney Assassination attempt:

I think some Huffposters’ desire to see the vice-president assassinated is repulsive on every level, and indicative of real sickness on the far left.

I was reminded immediately of a certain classic by Chris Rock:

While Sulllivan realizes that Kristol’s post is a “classic gambit” (merely expand the notion of culpability — you are responsible for the views of your readers, or the characteristic views of your “group”; the kind of expansion of culpability behind racist and jingoist impulses); it is one of his many tautological expressions of distance from a “far left” bogeyman. Why not say that it is “indicative of real sickness of the very sick” or “indicative of real far leftism on the far left.” The real meaning: we spare a range of reasonable debate in the middle, cut out and identify both ends (the far left and right), and we don’t bother to ask ourselves how we know whether our views fall within that reasonable middle except to find little bits and pieces we know we can safely condemn before the herd — they will concur. But it is critical to make these bits and pieces representative of some group out there, some substantive entity, rather than an errant few: “the far left.” So we can bravely take these mainstream positions (“2+2=4!”) because we have invented the 2+2=5ists. Have I given an overly complicated description of a straw man? Whew.

But then again, we might surprise ourselves when taking Herr Kristol’s test:

Enlighten us, Arianna. Poll your readers. Ask them: Are they pleased that the attempt against Vice President Cheney failed? Are they grateful that he is alive and well? Do you hope the U.S. prevails in Afghanistan? In Iraq?

Yes, we are so pleased that the attempt on Cheney failed. Each day I light a candle before my picture of Cheney, and each day that his heart faithfully and gently beats him to sleep like a Guantanamo detainee, I tenderly hush the candle, thanking God, not just for Cheney but for the many blessings he has brought to America and Iraq, hoping that we prevail — meaning, prevail in furthering our good work of establishing security and preserving the lives of the Iraqis who aren’t dead or forcefully emigrated, and the good work Padilla, and all those good works, Amen.

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