Well, one thing leads to another. Tired of considering The Three Who Would be President, carefully following just who is calling whom a racist, or a child, or incompetent, or a monster, or a fool, and who is justified in saying any such thing, and also confused by the ongoing disintegration of the nation’s financial system – although it seems it’s okay if you have no idea what a Liquidity Put is (no one does) – you might recall we’re still in Iraq. As we enter the sixth year there – doing whatever it is that we now think we’re doing – the experts, who once thought that a preemptive war, against a country that had not attacked us and posed no threat, a fine idea, have been urged to offer their own what-I-got-wrong pieces. These are, of course, the Serious People – there are no requests for any what-I-got-right-and-how-I-did-that pieces. It seems those who got it right aren’t the serious people.
Over at Slate you’ll find an impressive array if what-I-got-wrong pieces – those are from the so-called “liberal hawks.” These folks were thoughtful, and didn’t much care for Bush, or loathed him – but they came around and back then said the war would be just fine. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
That’s interesting enough, but more interesting is what you now hear from a former Bush fan, a guy who five years ago mocked everyone who was at all hesitant about blowing off the UN and not in favor of wiping Saddam Hussein’s Iraq off the face of the earth, but now has changed his mind, and has even left the Republican Party and registered as a Democrat. What does he say? See John Cole at Balloon Juice with My Iraq War Retrospective:
I was wrong about the Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Warfare.
I was wrong about Iraq possessing WMD.
I was wrong about Scott Ritter and the inspections.
I was wrong about the UN involvement in weapons inspections.
I was wrong about the containment sanctions.
I was wrong about the broader impact of the war on the Middle East.
I was wrong about this making us more safe.
I was wrong about the number of troops needed to stabilize Iraq.
I was wrong when I stated this administration had a clear plan for the aftermath.
I was wrong about securing the ammunition dumps.
I was wrong about the ease of bringing democracy to the Middle East.
I was wrong about dissolving the Iraqi army.
I was wrong about the looting being unimportant.
I was wrong that Bush/Cheney were competent.
I was wrong that we would be greeted as liberators.
I was wrong to make fun of the anti-war protestors.
I was wrong not to trust the dirty smelly hippies.
It is amazing I could tie my shoes in 2001-2004. If you took all the wrongness I generated, put it together and compacted it and processed it, there would be enough concentrated stupid to fuel three hundred years of Weekly Standard journals. I am not sure how I snapped out of it, but I think Abu Ghraib and the negative impact of the insurgency did sober me up a bit. War should always be an absolute last resort, not just another option. I will never make the same mistakes again.
Well, that’s fine and dandy, but now what? Those of us who thought the war was a dumb-ass idea, and then were told we were just like the damned French, find all this tiresome – although many of us find the idea of being French for a time kind of appealing. Think of pistachios and pastis on a quiet hot afternoon at a café high up in Gordes, or walking in the rain in Paris followed by a quick cognac in some minor bistro by the river. There are worse things. But who was right and who was wrong hardly matters now. What happens next is what matters.
So, one thing leads to another. Spencer Ackerman here, talking about “the new viceroys” in Iraq, points to Michael Kamber in the New York Times here reporting on what we’re now doing in Iraq. This is what Ackerman calls “the new imperial reality” we have set up there:
During the war in Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become American viceroys, officers with large sectors to run and near-autonomy to do it. In military parlance, they are the “ground-owners.” In practice, they are power brokers.
“They give us a chunk of land and say, ‘Fix it,’ ” said Capt. Rich Thompson, 36, who controls an area east of Baghdad.
The Iraqis have learned that these captains, many still in their 20s, can call down devastating American firepower one day and approve multimillion-dollar projects the next. Some have become celebrities in their sectors, men whose names are known even to children.
Is that how it is? Is that how it supposed to be?
Matthew Yglesias has a problem with that:
One is never to speak ill of The Troops, but I don’t think you need to be a hard-bitten anti-American to have some doubts about the soundness of this kind of set-up. Suppose we replaced the mayor of your town with a twenty-something foreigner who didn’t speak English but did have a ton of firepower at his disposal and no real checks on his power? You’d probably feel that was a step in the wrong direction. And conversely, it’s not genuinely reasonable to expect relatively junior Army officers to do this sort of job well. I find there’s often an element of fantastical thinking in counterinsurgency doctrine, where if we establish that it would be desirable for things to work in such and such a way, then it also becomes possible for them to work like that.
Even the Brits in Iraq and India weren’t this stupid:
But it’s not an army of mutant superheroes we’ve got – it’s an army of soldiers. How’s it supposed to suddenly be filled with people well-suited to the task of governing foreign towns? The British had a whole separate civilian agency set up to train and recruit their colonial administrators and make sure they had the right skills. If we’re going to want to run foreign countries effectively, we’re going to need to do something similar. An alternative, and superior, option would be to back away from running foreign countries.
We will do neither, of course, nor will we get out, as Yglesias notes:
My first draft theory about an exit strategy from Iraq was back in 2004 when it seemed to me that we ought to take advantage of the election scheduled in Iraq for late January 2005. Troops should stay in the country through that date, the election should be organized, and then shortly thereafter we could declare victory and announce our schedule for leaving. People said that if we did that, Iraq could fall into chaos and increasing violence. And those people won the day. So we stayed. Then in 2005, Iraq became more violent and chaotic anyway. Then in 2006, Iraq became even more violent and chaotic. Then in 2007, it became even more violent and chaotic. Then momentum changed, the level of violence fell sharply, and then it plateaued at a level of violence and chaos still well-above where it was in 2004.
In other words, the bad things people worried might happen if we left still happened anyway.
So? Bad things happen. But Yglesias contends today is no different. And it cannot be different:
… the defense and foreign policy establishment is programmed, deep in its DNA, to have a kind of morbid fascination with the risks of not being involved. So when we talk about Iraq, the debate is dominated by the fear that if we leave some bad things will happen. And that’s not an irrational fear – it’s a bad situation, pregnant with bad possibilities – but precisely because it’s a situation so pregnant with bad possibilities those risks exist either way. We chose not to declare victory in January 2005 and all the bad things that were predicted as a consequence of leaving Iraq happened anyway. There’s a lesson to be learned in that.
So if preventing “the terrible outcome” is impossible, then one should, of course, think of what is possible. No one is thinking of that very much at all.
Andrew Sullivan nails it:
Increasingly I hear that even if it were in the West’s interests to leave Iraq, al Qaeda would consider it a victory, be emboldened and grow stronger. This is a core part of McCain’s message, as if a complicated war against a Wahhabist terror franchise, a Shiite regional power and a myriad other constantly shifting cross-currents can be reduced in this fashion with any great enlightenment. Obviously, the morale of the enemy matters; and bin Laden himself has cited Iraq as a key battle ground. But it is important not to have our strategy actually dictated by bin Laden.
And that is where Yglesias agrees:
This business about al-Qaeda securing a recruiting boon from us leaving Iraq is bizarre. According to MNF-Iraq, the occupation of Iraq is the main fact driving recruits to join AQI. Absent the occupation, there’s no recruiting pitch. Pearl Harbor was a boon to U.S. military recruiting, VJ Day wasn’t. And what’s this business about them acquiring “an even greater determination to dominate the region and harm America.” Does Bush really think they lack determination now?
It’s striking how much of conservative thinking about national security these days centers around subjective factors – determination, emboldening, “claiming victory” – rather than on objective assessments. Objectively speaking, withdrawing from Iraq would cut off a major line of recruiting for al-Qaeda while simultaneously freeing up vast quantities of American manpower and other resources.
That is too logical for an election year. You have to appeal to the emotions.
Sullivan gets all logical anyway:
I do think there is one force Sunni al Qaeda may hate as much as the West: Shiite Iran. And vice-versa. One classic way to advance our interests in a situation like this is to let them fight each other and get out of the way. Al Qaeda has tended to lose support when it targets other Muslim Arabs. And the Iraq-Iran war kept two monstrous regimes busy with their own battle for quite a long time. Why not fly-trap themselves?
That may be a little hasty. You really don’t know what you’ll get. But it’s an idea, even if a bad one. Determination isn’t even an idea – it’s just a pose, usually for the cameras. One thinks of the prize-fighters at the weigh-in, staring menacingly at each other. It’s silly, finally.
And one should consider that the Sunni militias we fund, to stop blowing up our guys and blow up the local al Qaeda franchise workers instead, are going on strike:
But dozens of phone calls to Sahwa leaders reveal bitterness and anger. “We know the Americans are using us to do their dirty work and kill off the resistance for them and then we get nothing for it,” said Abu Abdul-Aziz, the head of the council in Abu Ghraib, where 500 men have already quit.
“The Americans got what they wanted. We purged al-Qaida for them and now people are saying why should we have any more deaths for the Americans? They have given us nothing.”
There’s no way for the US to build a coherent strategy in Iraq without there being a coherent, genuinely national, Iraqi political movement for us to get behind. In the absence of such a genuinely national movement you can’t build from localized successes to national ones, and anything you accomplish will eventually be undermined.
That’s a bit abstract. One should turn to the video report about this from The Guardian – in short, the “surge” may be on the verge of collapse.
Logan Murphy here seems upset:
Our occupation of Iraq and the fragile surge has been all but blacked out in the US media, but thankfully, the foreign press is still out there trying to bring the truth to the rest of the world. A big part of the surge was the Awakening Project. The goal of the project was to pay Sunni and former insurgents to fight al Qaeda and drive them out of their towns. The result is 80,000 angry men and a surge on the brink of collapse.
Despite spending some $12 billion dollars a month in Iraq, the Bush administration has failed to pay most of the Awakening members and their patience is all but gone. Thousands of men have given up and walked away from the program and resentment toward the U.S. has reached a boiling point.
… They hear news accounts that the US military is taking credit for the surge and they are angered. They feel that they are doing the dirty work that Americans should be doing and they feel they’re being used as propaganda to sway the US presidential elections. Senator John McCain has staked his entire presidential campaign on Iraq and the success of the surge. I hope that he, along with all Americans, has the chance to watch this video and see the real surge.
The American media has forgotten that there are countries to the east of Pennsylvania, home of the April 22 primary. The marginalization of the Iraq debacle is expected, since in many ways the media wants to obscure their own failures in the run-up to the invasion in the first place. If they manage to re-open any foreign bureaus, perhaps they’d like to pay some attention to a story of 80,000 angry Sunnis threatening to strike and reduce Iraq to total chaos.
It seems that the Concerned Local Citizens groups (CLC’s) that we have been paying for over a year not to kill us and instead to defend their territories and drive out Al Qaeda in Iraq are unhappy:
You could not set up a more potentially unstable situation if you tried. The CLCs have no fealty to the national government; in fact they are if anything oppositional to it. The Shiites in power are afraid of incorporating the CLCs into the Iraqi security forces. It has been alleged that the CLCs include former insurgents and rogues, and they are primarily interested in 1) receiving money, and 2) defending their corner of Iraq from all invaders, foreign and domestic. This is not a path to national reconciliation but balkanization.
And then the military and the Administration went and did the worst thing possible – they forgot to pay everyone on time. That’s right – the incompetents that still reign throughout the Bush Administration aren’t paying the bills. And so we may see a general strike.
That is what the Guardian text notes:
The success of the US “surge” strategy in Iraq may be under threat as Sunni militia employed by the US to fight al-Qaida are warning of a national strike because they are not being paid regularly.
Leading members of the 80,000-strong Sahwa, or awakening, councils have said they will stop fighting unless payment of their $10 a day (£5) wage is resumed. The fighters are accusing the US military of using them to clear al-Qaida militants from dangerous areas and then abandoning them.
A telephone survey by GuardianFilms for Channel 4 News reveals that out of 49 Sahwa councils four with more than 1,400 men have already quit, 38 are threatening to go on strike and two already have.
Improved security in Iraq in recent months has been attributed to a combination of the surge, the truce observed by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army, and the effectiveness and commitment of the councils, which are drawn from Sunni Arabs and probably the most significant factor, according to most analysts.
So we’re using these Sunni forces to “do their dirty work,” as one council head put it, and now they aren’t going to hold up their end of the bargain. We didn’t hold up our end. Add to that the fact that none of the CLC members are being allowed to get jobs in the Iraqi security forces. That ticks them off too – but they’re Sunnis and the Shiite government cannot afford to let them into the Iraqi security forces. That’d be asking for trouble – civil war. It’s a mess.
Of course “dday” wonders how empowering and arming these Concerned Local Citizens is going to lead to any kind of stable democracy in Iraq:
Here we have Sunni strikers chanting “America is the enemy of God.” You’ll see the story of a university professor in Diyala province who was bullied by Al Qaeda in Iraq members and fought back by leading one of the CLCs. And now he’s turned against America and is leading a strike.
This is the surge going up in flames. You’d think that would merit a story or two on the nightly news. And the point is that this ad hoc strategy to build security gains in Iraq is not only fated for failure, but when that failure occurs is will be maybe the WORST possible outcome, with both sides of the sectarian divide armed to the teeth and scornful of the Americans.
So, what about Hillary? Did she cry again, or is she talking about Obama’s pastor?
The real president is thinking about other things:
President Bush said Thursday that Iran has declared that it wants to be a nuclear power with a weapon to “destroy people,” including others in the Middle East, contradicting the judgments of a recent U.S. intelligence estimate.
See Yglesias on that:
As the article goes on to point out, Iran has not, in fact, ever declared that it wants to be a nuclear power and a fortiori has never declared an intention to use a nuclear weapon to destroy people. The official line from the NSC spokesman is that “the president shorthanded his answer” with “shorthanded” apparently being a new term meaning “lied.”
Heck, we’re used to that, but Yglesias points to something he wrote in 2006:
Some hawks, like Jeffrey Bell, writing in the February 6 Weekly Standard, have adopted a strategy of simply making things up, like claiming that Ahmadinejad not only “says the Jewish Holocaust never happened” (which he did say) but also “muses about the possibility of correcting that Nazi failure by dropping a nuclear bomb on Israel.” This last seems a highly unlikely statement since Iran officially denies that it has a nuclear program, it’s hard to imagine – and there’s no evidence – that Ahmadinejad ever “mused” about dropping a nuclear bomb on anyone.
Bell later explained to me that he was using “poetic license,” which I think is somewhat more elegant than the “shorthanded his answer” formulation. Still, the fundamental point is that some folks would really like people to believe that Iranian leaders are running around saying “let’s build a nuclear bomb and drop it on Israel!” even though no leaders are, in fact, saying that. It’s really not a small difference.
Oh, let’s not think of that. One thing leads to another. Let’s think about Obama’s pastor.