Friday, September 21, 2007

BACK TO IRAQ

My friend Dick is a supporter of the war in Iraq. He asked me to take a look at an article he wrote for his local paper (see "Sunday Editorial"). It seems like in the past when I have discussed Iraq with people we have been all over the place and trying to discuss too many things at one time, so I think I'll comment on just one of his comments at a time so that we can discuss them better.

First a preliminary question and an aside.

Question: Dick, maybe you could share with everyone why you were asked to write this and what your qualifications are to comment on this subject.

Aside: I heard a sound bite from Joseph Liberman yesterday that is a good example of the DoubleSpeak of the Chickenhawks. A measure that would have required the military to allow soldiers to have more time in garrison between deployments was defeated. Joe Liberman, praising the defeat of the measure said that he voted against it to "allow our men to keep fighting the war on terror." Bill Mauldin would have a field day. I'm sure there there are thousands of GI's who forgot what their kids look like who are much appreciative!

But now for what Dick said:

"One need not be a military expert to anticipate that the aftermath of an American pullout would likely include at least these seven consequences: 1. Sunni and Shia would be at each others' throats in a desperate civil war for political dominance. It would be a fight for survival because whoever prevails would surely oppress, if not utterly eliminate, the loser."

My Comments:

1) Did you say "would be"?

2) It is amazing how supporters of this ill-thought-out preemptive war against someone who never attacked us and had no plans, ability or desire to attack us, use the mess that the invasion has created as an excuse for continuing our occupation.

3) a) No government we leave behind will remain in existence, so this is the result no matter how long we stay and nurse it b) It is not possible for us to keep order in Iraq. What you suggest is that we do what no Army in Human history has done for the rest of human history

18 comments:

Dick said...

Civis,

Thanks for giving my column consideration on your blog. I'll try to reply to the questions you raised about it. You wrote:

Dick, maybe you could share with everyone why you were asked to write this and what your qualifications are to comment on this subject.

I have no particular qualifications, but then neither do most people who comment on the war. In fact, depending on what aspect of the war they choose to comment upon, even people who have been to Iraq, either as soldiers or observers, may not be qualified to comment on it. I was simply invited by the paper to submit seven essays outlining my opinions on topics of my choice. I hope the views I express will be judged on their merits, not on my resume.

With regard to your aside, Civis, I think it's unhelpful to refer to people who haven't served in the military but who believe it to be important that we succeed in Iraq as "chickenhawks." It reduces the discussion to insults and name-calling and discourages debate. It also seeks to score rhetorical points by discrediting people rather than their ideas.

You quote me as follows:

"One need not be a military expert to anticipate that the aftermath of an American pullout would likely include at least these seven consequences: 1. Sunni and Shia would be at each others' throats in a desperate civil war for political dominance. It would be a fight for survival because whoever prevails would surely oppress, if not utterly eliminate, the loser."

And then you add some questions and comments:

1) Did you say "would be"?

Yes. I think it is not only the consensus of observers, but it is also a reasonable belief given what we saw happening at least until the surge kicked in. Most people, war critics and war supporters alike, seem to agree at least on this, that our presence in Iraq is the only thing keeping the country from devolving into chaos and civil war.

2) It is amazing how supporters of this ill-thought-out preemptive war against someone who never attacked us and had no plans, ability or desire to attack us, use the mess that the invasion has created as an excuse for continuing our occupation.

Well, this isn't quite accurate. Saddam tried to assassinate Bush 41 and also regularly fired missiles at our aircraft which were flying patrols in keeping with the terms of the '91 cease-fire agreement, both of which were acts of war. But be that as it may, the question before us is not whether we were right or wrong to invade, but what is the strategically and morally responsible course of action to follow now that we're there.

It may be that the responsible course is to withdraw, but before I will be convinced of that I have to be convinced that the consequences I discuss in my column are unlikely to occur.

3) a) No government we leave behind will remain in existence, so this is the result no matter how long we stay and nurse it b) It is not possible for us to keep order in Iraq. What you suggest is that we do what no Army in Human history has done for the rest of human history

These are pretty sweeping claims. They may be true, they may not be, I don't know. My column, which is the basis of our discussion here, doesn't really deal with this issue, though. In it I addressed reasons why I don't think we should leave right now. It may be that there will come a time when our position in Iraq is doing more harm than good and that we should withdraw. My argument is that that time is not now.

Best,
Dick

Dick said...

P.S. Readers can see the original column here: http://wscleary.com/pov/home?month=02&year=2007#3126

Rodak said...

"It also seeks to score rhetorical points by discrediting people rather than their ideas."

Not true. The term "chickenhawk," while it is obviously and deliberately denigrating, is critical of the *idea* that it is just hunky-dory to advocate sending young men and women off to kill and die in the advancement of some geopolitical doctrine for which one is not prepared to fight and die for oneself. Being the possessor of such an *idea* makes one both a hypocrite and a bit of a coward. But it is one's own *idea* that brands one as such.

Dick said...

Re: Rodak's comment:

In the first place "hunky-dory" is hardly an accurate or appropriate desriptor of the thinking of most people who supported the effort to overthrow Saddam and who support efforts to create a free and stable Iraq.

It's demeaning to imply that the deaths and injuries of our young men and women aren't a source of continual anguish for those who bear the responsibility for making the right choices.

Moreover, calling people who see the crucial importance a stable Iraq has for the world "hypocrites" and "cowards" because they themselves have never seen combat (neither have most people who have ever served in our military) may be a useful tactic for deflecting attention away from the argument, but it does little to shed light on the contoversy.

Furthermore, how does anyone who uses the term "chickenhawk" know that people who have never served in the military would not be willing to "fight and die" for what they perceive to be an important geo-political goal were they able?

They don't know this, of course, but it makes them feel good, superior even, to insult other people, and so rather than sticking to the question whether it would be wise to withdraw from Iraq, they choose to hurl insults.

It's not a very mature strategy, but alas, it often works.

Rodak said...

"Furthermore, how does anyone who uses the term "chickenhawk" know that people who have never served in the military would not be willing to "fight and die" for what they perceive to be an important geo-political goal were they able?"

Dick--
I don't know how you define "able." I do know that I have personally argued online with strident promoters of the current war who are young enough to enlist in our all-volunteer military (they will take you up to age 40), but who have other priorities for themselves.
We also know that the prime mover of this war, Dick Cheney, is on record as saying that he didn't sign up for Vietnam because he had other priorities.
It's called walking the talk. One doesn't have to go fight for what one claims to believe in. But if one *chooses* not to, I'd say that it would behoove one to keep one's mouth shut about it.

Dick said...

Rodak,

I would be inclined to agree with you if we had a draft and the people who were being sent to war were being sent pretty much against their will.

But most of the people being sent have volunteered to go. If their mission is just (which I believe it is), and if they want us to support it, then why are those who give them that support, even though they don't go themselves, to be derided?

It's like insulting people who support missionaries abroad because they believe in what the missionaries are doing even if they themselves don't want to make the kind of sacrifices the missionary makes.

Or it's like insulting those who support the police even though they don't choose to go into police work themselves.

One last point about Cheney. Just because he didn't think the mission in Vietnam was worth fighting for doesn't mean that he believes that no mission would be worth fighting for. Iraq is far more important to the world than was Vietnam, and it seems unfair and unreasonable to say that because someone didn't serve in Vietnam that he has therefore disqualified himself from making decisions which are right for the country if those decisions put our troops at risk.

But, let's not lose our way in these thickets. Let's try to stick to the paramount question that Civis has invited us to discuss: whether we should withdraw from Iraq or not.

Rodak said...

d"But most of the people being sent have volunteered to go. If their mission is just (which I believe it is), and if they want us to support it, then why are those who give them that support, even though they don't go themselves, to be derided?"

The first reason that comes to mind is that there are not nearly enough of them volunteering. Those who have are having their tours extended. Standards for enlistment have needed to be lowered, and felons are again being allowed to enlist. The families of those men and women whose tours must be extended suffer at home, and marriages are put under extra stress.
Should we withdraw from Iraq? It seems to me obvious that we should. The majority of American people do not support the war. We are not winning the war, despite the propaganda to the contrary.
We can't stay there forever. Whenever we leave, whatever will happen, will happen. It is for Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran to keep the peace in the region, adnd to establish a Sunni/Shi'a balance of power, not for us.

Dick said...

Now we're back to the original topic. Rodak states that it's obvious that we should withdraw from Iraq and gives several reasons:

1)The majority of American people do not support the war.

I don't know whether this is true or not. It all depends on how the pollsters frame their questions, but nevertheless, it's not a good reason for deciding to leave. We should leave only if it is the right course of action, not because it's the popular course of action. Whether withdrawal is, in fact, the right thing to do depends on the likely consequences of our retreat for us, the Iraqis, the Middle east and the world. I argue in my column that those consequences are likely to be calamitous.

2) We are not winning the war, despite the propaganda to the contrary.

I don't know that this is true either, and I don't know how Rodak knows it. Whether we're winning or not there is much evidence that the surge has done much to bring peace and security to a lot of people. It may be transient, I don't know, but then neither, I suspect, does Rodak.

3)We can't stay there forever.

I'm not sure what I think about this claim. We've been in Europe since WWII, S. Korea since 1950, and Bosnia since the mid-nineties. What determines how long we can stay is not the calendar but rather the cost, and the cost of staying has to be weighed against the cost of leaving.

4) Whenever we leave, whatever will happen, will happen.

Well, yes, but it seems to me that we should follow the course of action least likely to produce the consequences I talk about in the column.

5)It is for Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran to keep the peace in the region, adnd to establish a Sunni/Shi'a balance of power, not for us.

That's a pretty dismal prospect Rodak holds before us. Unfortunately, peace in the region does not just affect Iraq's neighbors. It affects the whole world, including us, and, therefore, to the extent we are able, we cannot leave it to people like the Iranians and Syrians to establish peace. They haven't a very good track record in Lebanon and I'm not sanguine about the chances that they'd suddenly become a bunch of Quakers in Iraq.

Rodak said...

We should leave only if it is the right course of action, not because it's the popular course of action.

1) So much for the will of the people. I saw this all before with Vietnam. We know how that ended.

"...the surge has done much to bring peace and security to a lot of people. It may be transient..."

2)That, too, depends on who you ask. That it is transient, so far as we can project by conditions on the ground is a given: there is no Iraqi government to maintain any gains that have been made, should we withdraw. Baghdad is being ethnically cleansed of Sunni, and our allies are the Shiites, whose regional ally is Iran; a country we are threatening to attack.
If that sounds like "winning" to you, then I guess just about anything would.


"...Europe since WWII, S. Korea since 1950, and Bosnia..."

3) When was the last American soldier killed in Europe, S. Korea, or Bosnia? I must have missed the reports.

4) No further comment needed.

5) When ever we leave; or even if we stay indefinitely, as you seem to suggest as a possibility, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are all going to be there, too. And, since some kind of partition of Iraq seems almost inevitable, they are all going to be choosing sides with their respective slices of the pie to be known as "the former Iraqi Republic."
The only thing that will disrupt the flow of oil is a regional conflict that disables all of the oil fields. We don't want that, and they don't want that, because oil is how they make their living. They can't eat it; they have to sell it. They don't have to allow American corporations to be the primary profit-takers in the enterprise, but the oil will get to market. How much treasure, and how many lives, are we going to squander trying to protect market share?
And we haven't even discussed Afghanistan, which is hardly a done-deal, or Pakistan, which is a nuclear powder keg. We don't have the troops to deal with a major flare-up in even one of those places, plus Iraq. And the Bushies are poking sticks in Iran's eys.
You're all nuts!

Dick said...

"You're all nuts!"

(Sigh)For a certain type of person disagreement always deteriorates into invective. It's almost a law of nature.

Unfortunately for such folks, invective is a poor substitute for a good argument, but it's often a good indicator that the person who employs it lacks one.

Rodak said...

So, you choose to ignore the entire point-by-point argument, because of four words at the end.

Well, I don't blame you.

Dick said...

Rodak's latest response (9/23 6:16) is wide of the mark. For example, in reply to my assertion that we should leave Iraq only if it's the right course of action, not because it's the popular course of action, Rodak offers the enigmatic reply: "So much for the will of the people. I saw this all before with Vietnam. We know how that ended."

Now what does this mean? Is Rodak saying that we shouldn't do what's right for the country and the world? Is he saying that our foreign policy should be decided by poll results and popular opinion? If so, how does one assess popular opinion? How well-informed are the people who give their opinions to pollsters? Does he not understand that we live in a republic, not a pure democracy? And how, exactly, does Vietnam figure into any of what we've been discussing?

After citing the sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni Rodak says, "If that sounds like 'winning' to you, then I guess just about anything would," but I haven't said we were "winning" in Iraq, so I'm not sure what Rodak is talking about. What I wrote is that whether we're winning or not the surge appears to have achieved at least a temporary improvement in the level of violence in Iraq. This, it seems to me, is undeniable.

Rodak then launches into a disquisition on how no matter who controls Iraq oil will still be available to us because those who control it will want to sell it. I think Rodak fails to understand what motivates our enemies in the region (it's not profit, it's religious imperialism), but it doesn't matter. American accessibility to oil is not one of the reasons I gave in my column for why we should stay in Iraq. Rodak simply introduces it into the discussion out of the blue.

So, once again I'd like to try to get us back on topic. In my column (see here: http://wscleary.com/pov/home?month=02&year=2007#3126 ) I list a number of consequences which I think are likely to ensue from an American withdrawal from Iraq. The questions I took Civis to be inviting us to discuss here are 1) Am I correct that these are indeed likely consequences of an American retreat? And 2) If I am correct, can withdrawal be a wise or morally defensible option?

Rodak said...

Dick:
Thanks for providing the URL to your article. I hadn't been able to find it. I will attempt to shape my argument to yours in the future:
1) This is already happening. Our military personnel are dying in the crossfire, unable to prevent it.
2)It is hard to imagine something like this not happening, even if a unified Iraq were a possibility, which I don't think that it is (except, perhaps, under another strong dictator.) The Kurds want autonomy, and the border problems with Turkey would not have gone away. Iran and Iraq already went to war when Iraq was unified under the rule of Saddam. It is hard to see how a future, weaker unification would prevent of replay of that. As for the Sunni states, the major question is how they will deal with the millions of Iraqi Sunni refugees who have taken shelter within their borders.
3. This is a possibility. But we are already seeing regional warlords expelling al-Qaeda from the territory they control. This could go either way.
4. So why aren't such refugees being taken in by the U.S. already? They will never be safe in Iraq, regardless of what happens.
5. Everything that you describe here is already happening. That's why the majority of Iraqis polled want us to go home.
6. The Gulf Sheiks will do what they need to do to try to survive. If that means asking us to leave and close our bases, that's what they'll do. If it means asking us to stay, they will do that. This includes the Saudis, who have more to fear from al-Qaeda than we ever will. None of that is contingent upon our continued occupation of Iraq.
7. I don't see how the position of Israel would be any different if we withdraw from Iraq than it was before we invaded Iraq. The Palestinian issue would still be there. And until that is settled, Israel will always be in jeopardy. We could certainly help to protect Israel more effectively if we weren't involved in destabilizing the whole region. If we set up a Shiite state in Iraq and antagonize our Sunni allies in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, your worst case scenario for Israel becomes more likely, imo.

I'm out of time. I realize that my points are just sketched in. Perhaps it would be profitable to discuss your points one-by-one.

Civis said...

Dick and Rodak,

Thanks for the lively discussion. I'm sorry I have been absent. I have gotten kind of snowed under and this morning was my first opportunity to get on the net. I'm going to do my best to weigh in more.

This is an important topic and an emotional one. One thing I'm very happy to see is that the two of you give a rip. "All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

I agree that "Chickenhawks" is not the most flattering handle. It was directed at Liberman, not at you Dick. I think you are well-meaning, but mistaken and I don’t want to imply that you are a coward. At any rate, I would like to expand on the concept of Chickenhawks. For me it means two things: 1) a person who is gung ho about war without an appreciation of the cost of war: death of Americans, death of Iraqis, increased drug abuse, divorce, absent parents, post traumatic stress disorder, damage to our nation’s strength (not an exhaustive list). 2) A person who has all sorts of great ideas, but nothing that works on the ground: go back and look at the plans of Wolfowitz et al. and the things he, Cheney, and Rumsfeld said would happen in Iraq. They had no clue. Indeed, America is largely clueless with regard to middle easterners and we spend twice as much on a single plane as we do on training Arabic interpreters. At the Embassy in Iraq we have (I may need to double check this, but if my numbers aren’t exact they are correct within 3 or 4) a four people who speak Arabic fluently and only 21 who can speak Arabic at all.

RE: the impossible task

There is no army that can beat us on the battlefield right now, so our enemies don’t meet us on the battlefield, they wear us down with sneak attacks. Just like the Romans could not control the Scots, or the Russians could not control Afganistan. The generals told this administration, conquering Iraq is easy; controlling it is impossible.

One of the reasons I am upset about the Iraq war is that so many people died in our invasion, both Americans and Iraqis. So many die keeping it. Americans die by ones and twos and Iraqis die by the dozens every day. We will eventually leave Iraq and when we do, no matter what, there will (not may, will) be a blood bath and the blood bath will continue until someone twice as nasty as Saddam rises and is so brutal that he keeps everyone in check. So all of these people have died, all of the high cost of war has been paid and it may even lead to the ruin of our country and all for nothing. In the end Iraq will be worse than it was before.

I would suggest the following as a good focus for discussion: Are we simply postponing the enevitable?

Rodak, I checked out your blog. I’m going to have to spend some quality time over there in the near future.

Civis said...

Check out this news article from the Assyrian International News Agency: "...the future existence of Iraq's dwindling Christian population hangs in the balance as violence continues unabated. Moreover, direct blame has been leveled at Iraqi governmental as well as Coalition forces' inaction in the face of mounting attacks against Christian population centers."

http://www.aina.org/releases/2007053195824.htm

Rodak said...

"Rodak, I checked out your blog. I’m going to have to spend some quality time over there in the near future."


Civis--

Please feel welcome!

Dick said...

Rodak said: "I realize that my points are just sketched in. Perhaps it would be profitable to discuss your points one-by-one."

I think so, too. I'll leave it to Civis to decide if he wants to post them. If so, I'd be happy to discuss them. If he thinks the conversation has run its course that's okay, too.

Civis said...

Sure, I'll post your whole article.