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Thursday, December 07, 2006


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Another clear mindset-question to directly inform how to proceed: Is our presence contributing to "victory"? Say victory is "stable democracy", and a current possibility for failure is "civil war". Is our presence in-country contributing more towards one of these options? This question also informs how to respond to worsening conditions: if the situation doesn't improve, does that have to mean the best thing we can do is continue to occupy in a "better/stronger/broader" way?

Ideally, this question has nothing to do with individual troop behavior: our soldiers could be doing the absolute best job fighting and securing Baghdad, but it might still be clear that as a whole the country is continuing to degrade, either due to our inability to affect victory or some strategic implication of securing baghdad that causes harm to stability elsewhere.

This isn't directly addressed towards your post, which contains some excellent historical analysis in both directions.


I don't think a 'victory' is possible - and while I feel like we've gotta get out of there, I too worry about the vacuum that will be generated, and what will get sucked in. I fear the worse. I don't see anything optimistic.


If you're looking for historical cues (and this is an excellent post with very good historical analogies), perhaps you could consider 1948. An interesting constrast would be the end of the British Mandate, the Berlin Airlift and Korea.


Recall the Stratfor article of May 23rd.

The relevant point:

This goal is not unreachable at this point. It is possible to recoup the poorly played American hand, to some extent. But the fate of the political deal is not within U.S. control. The outcome depends, first, on the Sunni leadership and its desire and ability to suppress the insurgency. It depends, second, on the Iraqi Shiite leaders' ability to dominate their community and resist destabilization by Iran. And it depends, finally, on the Iranians accepting the current situation without surging forces covertly into Iraq.

In other words, the United States has become, to a great extent, a bystander. Washington can make whatever guarantees it wants, but the calculus by all sides now is whether they can secure their interests with their own resources. At this point, the United States is growing less and less relevant to the outcome in Iraq, though it remains urgently interested in what that outcome will be.


Victory is the creation of a democratic state of Iraq. This cannot occur without the destruction of the Sunni Baathists, al-Qaeda, Shiite militias, and the expulsion of Syrian and Iranian agents. A state of democracy in Iraq will require the US commitment of vast resources in blood, treasure, and will, and a long-term presence in Iraq.

This is the definition that no one wants to hear, let alone consider or approve. Yet, if we are to remain the pre-eminent power in the world, we must demonstrate the capacity to exercise our power in such a way as to deter future aggression. As Shelby Steele says today:

"Historically, victory in foreign wars has always meant hegemony. You win, you take over. We not only occupied Germany and Japan militarily after World War II, we also - and without a whit of self doubt - imposed our democratic way of life on them. We took our victory as a moral mandate as well as a military achievement, and felt commanded to morally transform these defeated societies by the terms of our democracy. In this effort, we brooked no resistance whatsoever and we achieved great success."

But there's the rub. Victory means hegemony. In today's blogosphere is a post at American Thinker called Seeds of Intellectual Destruction that charts the birth of the anti-hegemonists of the American Left. The success of the anti-hegemonists in terms of infiltrating all aspects of our culture has created, in the minds of many citizens, doubt about the honorable intentions of our country and its leaders.

This self-doubt is what prevents us from imposing our will and creating victory in Iraq. It is a self doubt born of a dated, irrelevant doctrine, internally created, and externally used by those who wish us harm. It is a doctrine that has infiltrated every facet of our life, to the extent that most adherents do not question the provenance or the validity of its tenets.

Not until we rid our psyche of the self-doubt engendered by the anti-hegemonists will we achieve victory.


Ad - Do you truly believe that self-doubt is the problem here? I've felt that a lack of self-doubt is what got us into this mess to begin with!


Ah, doubt. Not enough or too much?

Few have ever been accused of doing anything wrong (much less anything at all) because of self-doubt.

Facing doubt, making a decision and doing something gives your critics all kinds of ammunition for ad hominem.

I thought there were some real diamonds in the rough of this PressThink comment thread.


OK, so I went to American Thinker and read "Seeds of Intellectual Destruction" as Agricola advised. While I probably have about 50 points of disagreement with the article, most of them would be diversions, some of them nitpicking. My major concern, however, is this: while I actually do think there is reason to be concerned about any position that totally evacuates a leadership role for the U.S. in some international affairs, the article does not allow any room for one to disagree with one war and not another. I mean, I read the essay and felt trapped: as soon as I say something as banal as "We should start a deescalation of troops in Iraq," the essay points me as an anti-hegemony hack who thinks there is no such thing as a justifiable war. I actually am quite the opposite: in the terms of the article itself, I thought and continue to think that our time in Afghanistan was justified and that we should continue to take a role in helping create a fully democratic government there. Iraq: never thought that was the right direction. I support one and not the other, but that essay really doesn't allow for that.


In reply to several comments, let me say that victory is possible in Iraq, if we have the will to finish the fight. It may be ugly, nasty, costly in terms of lives and treasure, but it can be won. We must, as a nation, finish what we start. To quit the fight, because it is more difficult than we thought, would be the ultimate manifestation of our self doubt.

JMSloop makes a good point, and I appreciate his following the link provided. His error, if I may be so bold, is assuming that Afghanistan and Iraq are different wars. I suggest that they are actually separate campaigns in a larger war. The danger in quitting the fight in Iraq is that those who oppose the whole notion of a war against the Islamic Jihadists will take our inability to win in Iraq as further motivation to prevent future campaigns in "the long war". Our lack of national will then acts to prevent further engagement and discourages our allies, such as they are, and we will retreat to the supposed safety of our national borders. Which, history has proven, are no longer the bulwarks of yore.

We have not lost a fight at the platoon level in any engagement with our enemy. We are fighting a war with the smallest army, as a percentage of our population, we have ever fielded. Militarily, we cannot be challenged. Politically, we are opposed by most of the world, in thought if not in deed. The courage of our convictions no longer sustains us. As an anti-hegemonist, I posit that we have allowed our native self-interest to be superceded by a global weltenschaung that does not have the moral authority, the freedom of the individual, or the democratic underpinnings of our culture. This is evidenced by the fact that a significant percentage of our citizenry believe that the positions taken by the UN, the EU, the so-called non-aligned nations, and various socialists has more validity and integrity than our elected officials.


I am also tempted to go line-for-line through “Seeds of Destruction.” For now, one will suffice:

“Countries fighting legitimate defensive wars don't suffer this kind of erosion of public support in the midst of hostilities.”

Exactly. The problem is that this was not clearly a defensive war, and the public knows it. Like John, I supported the war in Afghanistan, where the enemy who attacked us was based. After we won there, we faced a shadowy, transnational network hard to hit with anything other than good intelligence work, international cooperation, special forces raids and targeted missile strikes. I think it has been amply demonstrated (to me at least) that Iraq was not assisting al Qaeda. I know Agricola disagrees but doubt either of us could persuade the other.

I will add that I was ambivalent - at least not passionately opposed - to invading Iraq. I never thought the country had much do to with terrorism, but I was persuaded by the law-enforcement rationale of the WMD argument: How many times must the UN warn them before someone backs it up? When there were no WMDs, I not only felt betrayed but saw the war as wrong-headed in the extreme.

Yet my major problem is similar to John’s: Yes, it’s wrong to think US policy is always “evil.” And I also think that most Europeans are fundamentally unserious about global security, because, frankly, they don't have to handle it themselves. But isn’t it also ridiculous to assume that US policy is always clearly “good,” as the writer of “Seeds” seems to?

Ironically, I do see Agricola’s solution as one of the better options at this point - we employ massive force to get this under control. Unfortunately, this would inevitably result in massive civilian casualties, and any democratic election would likely produce a government as hostile to the US as its people would be. Additionally, I strongly suspect that the sort of tactics we’d have to employ - invasive, house-to-house searches, massive detainments on hard-to-prove suspicions, “aggressive” (at best) interrogations - would further erode our ability to claim the inherent “goodness” of our intentions. Those democratic "hearts and minds" would also be lost.

If you accept this war as an idealistic mission to bring freedom to Iraq, this is one of your problems: The process of liberating people from tyranny looks an awful lot like tyranny.

Honestly, I suspect the best we can do is to use our force and influence to establish some sort of stable, non-democratic government - one that will do the nasty work that must be done to restore some semblance of order. But this is difficult, too. A Sunni government? Likely too many ties to the Baathists, plus that pisses off the Shiite majority. A Shiite one? Won’t make us popular with our friends in the Sunni world (notably the Saudis). Maybe a sort of secular dictator? That might be the best option. Unfortunately, it sounds a little like Saddam. But I think one of the above options is likely to be the only way out.

But the fact that this is a MCF shows not a lack of will, but that we underestimated the difficulty of transplanting our ideology and our form of government on a society that looks almost nothing like ours. Assuming that every country’s citizens will see what is “good” the same way we do -- and that is the assumption behind establishing democracy by force -- is the real “seed of destruction” here.


Ben may be right. It pains me, and my weakness in this may be that I have read too many MSM columns recently that include words like defeat, retreat, and not much on victory. The dark side of me says that maybe we need to lose to learn what is necessary to win. It may be clear to most that want to be informed that there will be another war in the Middle East. If, at the least, more of our citizens understand that we are at war, then all is not lost. My fear now is that the overreaction on the part of the anti-war crowd will be so powerful as to dramatically retard the corrections that must be made before we sally forth again.

I leave all of you with this link


So it's the MSM columns, and not misguided policies? Everyone loves to blame the media. As if The NYTimes, WaPo and TV Networks would talk about a "plan for victory," we would have victory.

It's amazing people fight over semantics rather than accepting reality, civil war or sectarian strife, victory or retreat.

Stratfor had a follow up column in September:

A military solution to the U.S. dilemma has not been in the cards for several years. The purpose of military operations was to set the stage for political negotiations. ...

Iran has set a clever trap, and the United States has walked into it. Rather than a functioning government in Iraq, it has chaos and a triumphant Shiite community. The Americans cannot contain the chaos, and they cannot simply withdraw. Therefore, we can understand why Bush insists on holding his position indefinitely. He has been maneuvered in such a manner that he -- or a successor -- has no real alternatives.

There is one counter to this: a massive American buildup, including a major buildup of ground forces that requires a large expansion of the Army, geared for the invasion of Iran and destruction of its military force. The idea that this could readily be done through air power has evaporated, we would think, with the Israeli air force's failure in Lebanon. An invasion of Iran would be enormously expensive, take a very long time and create a problem of occupation that would dwarf the problem faced in Iraq. But it is the other option. It would stabilize the geopolitics of the Arabian Peninsula and drain American military power for a generation.

The massive American buildup would likely require a draft. Can anyone sell that the American public?


Hue...My depression comes from what I read, not what I think. You might agree that a screaming horde of nay-sayers can change the perception of many people.....just because it is said does not make it true. Can you say Bilail Hussein? But perception is reality. My beef all along has been that the media elites have been against this war from the outset, and they've, to their credit, done a wonderful job of persuading more Americans that their perception is the correct reality. MSM opposition + administration fumbling = MCF. Hurrah, you win (not really).


Ag, there are many on the left who would argue that the media elite cheerleaded this war in the run-up and for most of the past three years. Everyone is entitled to his own perception, but not reality.


Here's an excerpt from a remarkable article by a U.S. Army major named Bill Edmunds:

"So what is the balance between taking charge in Iraq and/or abandoning the country? Our best response is to pull the American soldiers back and push the Iraqi soldiers/policemen forward as quickly as possible. I feel the urgency of this mandate as I type these very words on this small Iraqi base among Iraqi soldiers. As I told Ibrahim, the captured insurgent, 'I want to leave your country. The only reason I stay here is because Iraqis are dying and you insist on fighting. All we want to do is to help.'

"I naturally assumed he understood this. Well, he had not, and most do not. This message is one that is lacking and one that Iraqis surely need. So I find myself balanced on a tightrope bridging a deathly height. As Iraqi intelligence officers once explained to me over hot tea, 'It is a race to see which of many possibilities comes first; the competency of an Iraqi Security Force with a stable and competent government, or the formation of a monolithic and deadly insurgency or civil war, both of which would prevent the latter.'

"In Iraq, I wish to survive and to succeed. Yet as the days pass, my hopes increasingly become mutually exclusive: The insurgency gets more effective; the citizen anger at us and the Iraqi Security Force becomes greater; the fractions in the society grow deeper and more violent; the American public becomes more impatient as the war is perceived as less legitimate and the conditions to form a stable Iraqi government become more elusive. So I run along this rope as if in a race to get away. I run knowing full well that my speed comes only at the sacrifice of my balance. I long for the tranquility of normalcy, the comfortable, the understandable, and so I want to run from Iraq. So what then can I do besides serve admirably and hope for the best while fearing the worst?"


We have not been entrapped by Iran.

What we are seeing is fitna provoked by the destruction of the Shrine of the Two Imams.


That's a great word (fitna) to know. And I remember very clearly the moment when I found out about the bombing of the Shrine of the Two Imams: I was standing in line at the Kudu Coffee counter and I noticed that someone had left the morning's NYT front page sitting on the adjacent table. I read the top graph and the cutline and told Janet that this looked like it would change everything. Did it? Was that the watershed moment? Or is this situation too complex to pick just one?


The supreme art of war is bloodless victory !

Janet Edens

the overreaction on the part of the anti-war crowd

Who in their right mind is "pro-war?" Lumping everyone together is such an oversimplification. Debating the necessity and execution of a particular war does not make someone incapable of believing in the right of a nation to defend itself.

Characterizing all who question war as weak-willed and cowardly (and, of course, only able to think as a "crowd") is a nice way to turn the debate away from the real topic.

All who voice outrage at the war are not a "screaming horde" who are oblivious to the complexity of the situation. In fact, many of those who are now in opposition supported the attack on Iraq when it seemed just, which hardly suggests a knee-jerk reaction to any notion of national self-defense.

It's so tempting to think that people who disagree with us on any topic are not as smart or knowledgeable or ethical as we are. It's easy to assume "they" disagree with everything we stand for and agree with everything we are against. People on both sides of every issue do this. It's just not reality-based.

We are never going to find even one person who thinks exactly the same way we do on every subject. All of us would do well to stop with the all or nothing and get about the business of finding compromises and solutions to mutual problems.


Dan, I was on vacation last week (didn't leave Lowcountry) and I watched that Iraq Study Group farce and the Gates hearing, both of which I found pointless. Except as a necessary political rebuke to (and intervention for) George Bush, the ISG report I think is useless to what's happening and will happen in Iraq, which is going to be decided by Iraqis and is moving faster than the U.S. political machinery or military ever could. In fact, I agree with Talibani, that the report is imperialistically insulting to the sovereignty of Iraq and the Iraqi people. Same with whatever snowflakes W. gets from State and Defense... useful only as domestic politics. It's too bad we broke a country and can't fix it (so much for American superiority, military or otherwise), but Bush didn't sign on for that, did he? He never made a commitment to those people. He wanted to be a wartime president long before 9/11, and he wanted their oil.


re: "Did it? Was that the watershed moment? Or is this situation too complex to pick just one?"

Certainly, Iraq is complex. To fall back on a cliche', there are parallel forces at work.

I do think the bombing of the Shrine of the Two Imams was an important event in Iraqi domestic Shia politics, especially between Sistani and Sadr.

I'll offer two more words you might enjoy knowing: Shura and Hirabah.

On the latter:

Hirabah versus Jihad


How about the invasion of Iraq (for non-existent WMDs), was that a watershed moment? What about deBaathification and firing of the Iraqi Army, putting 200,000 people out of work with guns and ammo that US forces didn't guard?

We destroyed a functioning state, then say the Iraqis can't handle democracy. Or the sectarian violence was caused by the destruction of the shrine. The destruction of the shrine was caused by having no functioning government to stop such attack. Hell, we couldn't even stop looting.



re: invasion of Iraq

Very watershed. “Uncovering the Rationales for the War on Iraq. 21 Rationales for War

re: deBaathification and firing of the Iraqi Army

The disbanding of the "self-demobilized" Iraqi army was controversial, yes. Watershed, no. There's more myth and speculation here than understanding about the role the Kurds and Shia played in the decision.

I think I'll let your second paragraph stand as a monument to pathos.


What do Shia and Kurds have to do with the de-Baathification decision?

Presumably as Garner woke up on May 17 [2003], reflecting that "the US now had at least 350,000 more enemies than it had the day before--the 50,000 Baathists [and] the 300,000 officially unemployed soldiers," he could take satisfaction in having managed, by his last-minute efforts, to persuade Bremer to "excise the Ministry of Interior from the draft so the police could stay."

One can make arguments for a "deep de-Baathification" of Iraq. One can make arguments also for dismantling the Iraqi army. It is hard, though, to make an argument that such steps did not stand in dramatic and irresolvable contradiction to the Pentagon's plan to withdraw all but 30,000 American troops from Iraq within a few months. With no Iraqi army, with all Baath Party members thrown out of the ministries and the agencies of government, with all of Saddam's formidable security forces summarily sacked--and with all of these forces transformed into sworn enemies of the American occupation--who precisely was going to keep order in Iraq? And who was going to build that "new and fresh army" that Bremer was talking about?

Three years later and we have new strategies to train the Iraqi Army, waiting for "Iraqis stand up so we can stand down."

Leave it to Sisyphus to come up with "monument of pathos." And fitna. Boys and girl, what we have here is not a civil war or sectarian violence (or as Ben called it--a MCF), what we have here is a fitna. As long as we accept that it's a fitna, we're on to "The Way Forward."


" War is hell. " - Willim Tecumseh Sherman.


Here's background on Iraq's political groupings before the invasion: IRAQ'S MAJOR POLITICAL GROUPINGS (Oct 2002).

An April 2003 CRS report:

To begin the process of establishing a successor regime, the Administration organized an April 15 meeting, in Nasiriyah, of about 100 Iraqis of varying ideologies, present by U.S. invitation. Many of the attendees were representatives of Iraqi tribal groupings that had not been politically active before. However, SCIRI, along with several Shiite clerics that have appropriated authority throughout much of southern Iraq since the fall of the regime, boycotted the meeting and called for an Islamic state and the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Another meeting is to be held in Baghdad on April 26, but SCIRI has said it will not attend. Some U.S. officials want to bring the Shiite Islamists into the U.S.-led process, but, based on their statements, most Shiite leaders appear to feel they can assert their authority in post-war Iraq apart from the United States, and that participation in the U.S.-led process might discredit them in the eyes of most Iraqis....

After spending the combat phase of the war in neighboring Kuwait, Garner and some of his staff of about 200 deployed to Baghdad on April 21, 2003, to begin work. Former Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine is responsible for a
“central” region; and retired generals Buck Walters and Bruce Moore are responsible
for “southern” and “northern” regions, respectively. During the occupation period,
the United States goals are to eliminate remaining WMD and terrorist cells in Iraq,
begin economic reconstruction, and purge Baath Party leaders. Iraq’s oil industry is
to be rebuilt and upgraded.
Here's a link to Juan Cole's May 2003 archive. Just a teaser quote from Cole's archive:
*The attempt by Jay Garner to shoe-horn Ahmad Chalabi, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and other figures from the Iraqi National Congress into power has been derailed by Paul Bremer, who has postponed plans to form a transitional government. He made this decision after meeting Friday with the leaders that Garner had appointed.

The good news is that the people Garner was setting up as the leadership were largely untrustworthy. The bad news is that this step will require the US essentially to run Iraq for many months, maybe years, on its own. I have mixed feelings about all this. I agree with Bremer that the Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld plan to put all the US eggs in the Chalabi basket would have been a disaster. Chalabi was given $4 million by the State Department and the CIA last year and can't account for $2 million of it. If he were a businessman in the US and did a thing like that, he'd be going to jail. Garner and his backers wanted to put Chalabi in charge of $14 billion a year in oil revenues! Plus, Chalabi has been acting erratically. He was somehow given access to Iraqi intelligence files and has gone about threatening Jordanian and Saudi officials that if they make trouble about him taking over Iraq, he will expose their relationships with Saddam. This sounds more like a mafioso than a democratic leader.

The decision to ban thousands of Baathists from holding office is also wise, but has a down side. The Baathists were the ones who knew how to run a ministry. The civilians who are left don't have much administrative experience. But maybe the less compromised university professors in places like Mosul, Baghdad, Kufa and Basra could be tapped as technocrats.

The danger of the US being in control, with no local transitional government, is that the US is now responsible for every single thing that goes wrong. The potential for crowds to gather to protest the US occupation is increased, and if GIs shoot into the crowds, things could turn very ugly. So, maybe one cheer for Bremer, and a hearty "good luck!"
I'd appreciate it, hue, that if you're going to quote me, please get the quote correct. Also, I don't expect you to accept anything I offer anywhere, but rather expect you to reply condescendingly (exactly as you did).

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