Sunday, November 20, 2005

As Good as It Gets

From NYT's Sabrina Tavernise:
Two and a half years after the American invasion, deep divides that have long split Iraqi society have violently burst into full view. As the hatred between Sunni Arabs and Shiites hardens and the relentless toll of bombings and assassinations grows, families are leaving their mixed towns and cities for safer areas where they will not automatically be targets. In doing so, they are creating increasingly polarized enclaves and redrawing the sectarian map of Iraq, especially in Baghdad and the belt of cities around it.

The saddest thing about this story is that there's nothing we can do about it. It's another illustration of why no military solution for Iraq exists.

And another reason why I'm so on board with what Congressman Jack Murtha says. Our troops have done the job we sent them over there to do. They can' t protect the Iraqis from each other, nor should they be expected to. Their presence in the country has gone well beyond the point of diminishing returns. We're not defeating terrorism by remaining in Iraq; we're throwing fuel on the fire.

Once the December elections are held and verified, excuses for "staying the course" will be hard to come by.

But I'm confident the Bush administration will make every effort to come up with new ones.


  1. RE: Murtha. The guy makes a lot of sense, and makes it in a very reasonable way. He doesn't get into the name-calling and rhetoric business, even when his opponents do. I find it somewhat ironic that many of those now-lauding Murtha and decrying the attacks on him are just as bad as those they criticize when it comes to nasty personal attacks. This is true of politicians and some in blogspace (but not this blog, jeff, which is why I read this one!). Murtha seems to be above all of that nonsense that we see from the usual cast of idiots on the left and right, and that gives him credibility in my mind. I think the GOP is making a serious miscalculation by personally attacking him. The public doesn't like that sort of thing, by and large, the only people who go for it are kool-aid drinking, non-thinkers on both sides of the aisle.

    While we're lauding Murtha, I will point out, however, that when asked on Meet the Press this morning whether the admin purposefully misled the public in the run-up to the Iraq war, he said no, he didn't think they did. This is another reason to like the guy. He can be critical of the admin, critical of his own earlier decision in support of the war, without jumping on the tiresome "Bush lied" bandwagon.

    Seems like a good guy.

  2. I would not be surprised that some of the heavy hitters in the Pentagon asked Murtha to issue his resolution. They could not do it without risking a career. He is a tough nut and clearly has the respect of both parties (the slut from Ohio being the glaring exception). The professional soldiers have surely come to the same conclusions as presented in Murtha's resolution and wanted them to see the light of day with minimal internal pain.
    General Casey was very quick on the heels of Murtha with a phased drawdown. Coincidence?

  3. I can't agree more with what Mr. Kimsey says. (btw, where's *your* blog?) I think Murtha manages to handle himself with dignity and poise, even when his detractors need to resort to cheap shots.

    Regarding the "polarized enclaves" of sectarian sentiment, I think that this is something common to all mixed societies. The difference between mixed societies that work and those that don't seem to be both political and economic. In a society where economic prosperity is hard to come by (by one or all of the different identity groups), you often get resentment brewing between the groups. I think that this was the case in the US during the depression, in the southern antebellum states, in France right now, and more dramatically in the Sudan. A lack of economic integration as they have in Singapore, in many parts of India, in the meritocracy of the wild west, in Canada (the 51st state), et cetera, can cause a serious rise in tensions between those different identity groups.

    Also, politically, I think that it is necessary for a mixed society to have a strong political machine to keep the order if it doesn't want to see sectarian chaos. The rise to power of Slobodon Milosovic (sp?) after the fall of the Soviet Union is a classic example of how the removal of a strong political machine that keeps the peace can lead to schisms that tear a country apart. Cyprus is another good example, where the Turks and the Greeks have interacted harmoniously when political representation was protected, but where they turned upon one another when the British withdrew. All throughout the Middle East and Africa, post-WWII, states cannibalized themselves when the colonial powers pulled out and ceased to have the stabilizing force of an outside, autocratic government. They largely broke apart along ethnic or sectarian lines.

    We broke Iraq. We are responsible for fixing it. But we're not going to "fix" anything by simply blindly trusting that if we keep our troops there long enough to keep the peace that the rabble will settle down. Iraq needs security--security and economics are mutually interdependent--but they need security on their own terms. Another autocratic regime isn't good for them, us, or the region, but an alternative to such a regime has to be on their terms, not ours.

    They need security. It should be their call. I don't advocate turning over operational control of our military to the Iraqis, so PLEASE don't misconstrue what I'm about to say. But I do believe that we should let THEM tell US what they want in terms of security. They're going to have elections in December. I think we should leave it up to them. If they want us to stay in significant numbers in order to provide security, I think that we owe them that, unless the situation becomes simply too untenable (which is what the debate would be about). If they want a measured draw-down of US troops, one that allows "us to stand down as the Iraqis stand up", we should give them that opportunity. If they want an immediate pull out, a "cut and run" scenario, we should honor their wishes. But as long as the Iraqi people feel that it is the Americans imposing their will, through the mechanism of our security forces, on the Iraqi people, we will always have these problems. We own the problem now; if we want to get the support and cooperation of the Iraqi society as a whole, we have to make *them* own it.

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful feedback, guys.

    Scott, I didn't catch what Murtha said about the run up to war this morning. My sense is that he's steered clear of that issue altogether.


    RE "fixing" Iraq, I see the issue as how much do we "owe" them and how much can we actually fix.

    No easy answers there, I don't think.

  5. I disagree, in one important sense. I think that the answer is pretty simple; it's just difficult to swallow.

    As to how much we "owe" them, I think that we owe them the chance to make it on their own. Eight years after we captured West Germany and signed the peace treaty that ended the European front in World War II, one American journalist described West Berlin as a "hellhole". The Werewolves, a cadre of German insurgents, were still acting as snipers and assassins, trying to undermine our efforts to build a civil society there. And look what happened there.

    I think we "owe" it to them to do everything in our power to give them the help that they ask for. I also think we owe it to them to ask their opinion on what they want from us. Powell was right: we broke it, we bought it.

    I'm about to make myself VERY unpopular, but here it is: for the amount of damage we did, for an invasion and an occupation, in historical terms, 2000 dead isn't that much. How many died in World War II? How many in Viet Nam? How many is too many? It's an impossible question to answer, but one can compare it historically to other conflicts and get an idea of the scale of the problem.

    So, if we set aside that "impossible" question and address what are the likely consequences of different courses of action, we are left with a serious analysis of the situation. I think that we should suggest to the Iraqis that they hold a referendum in which everyone in the country can vote. It would have three questions, to be answered Na'am or La (yes or no).

    1. Should the US withdraw immediately?

    2. Should the US draw down troops, province by province, to levels determined by the central government?

    3. Should the US stay until either the Iraqis ask them to go or until they believe that they can't stay any longer?

    Whichever gets the highest percentage, we should honor. In the end, we started it, we broke their country, and we owe them for it; but it's their country to rebuild.

  6. Sadiq,

    If we give them everything they ask for, they'll never stop asking. I don't advocate abandoning them--especially when it comes to rebuilding their infrastructure. But an infinite, indefinite troop presence, no we don't owe them that. They must work out their own internal security, and they must do it sooner than later.

    For reasons I've written about at length, I reject the WWII comparisons. It's not just apples and oranges, it's apples and elephants.

    As to casualties, one is too many in a bad war.

    And I don't agree that your three choices cover all the options.

    Plus, I believe that the Iraqi government will ask us to do what the Administration tells it to ask us to do. (Kind of like how our generals didn't ask for more troops when they needed them.)

    Ultimately, I guess my view is opposite of yours. We owe it to them to help rebuild their country, but we don't owe them a perpetual internal security force.

  7. Jeff:

    On Meet the Press, Murtha was asked specifically about whether he think the admin misled people in the lead up to the war. He said he did not think that.

    As for Iraq, I agree that we "owe" them at least help in rebuilding their country, and also enough security in the meantime so that they can stabilize and the new government can have a good chance of succeedingI have heard reports, though, the the Iraqi government tends to fall short in training of its tropps, etc., because they don't want the U.S. forces to leave yet. Whether these reports are true, I do not know.

    A wholesale pullout now would be irresponsible, though, and I think we have a moral obligation to stay there a bit longer seeing as how we're directly responsible for the current situation there.

  8. Scott,

    Because Murtha said he did not think the admin misled us to war doesn't mean they didn't. I don't think Murtha wants to get caught up in that controversy at all.

    As to "wholesale pullout" I don't think anyone's actually proposing that other than the Republicans who stuffed that strawman bill for "immediate withdrawal."

    What Murtha's talking about, and what the Democrats are really calling for is a "roadmap" with specific objectives and milestones, something any military option should feature. (This one should have featured it a long time ago.)

  9. Perpetual? No, I agree wholeheartedly there. But I think that there is a middle ground. Give them the chance to own this war, to either formally invite us or ask us to leave. Make them primarily responsible for security, with us playing the supporting role. If that doesn't put them in a position where they share more intelligence and give us more support in rooting out and killing the insurgents, THEN leave.

    This is the thing; we keep on preaching self determination while creating a situation in which we continue to carry the Iraqi security obligations. We have to make security something that the Iraqis take care of on their own (with our help for now). Just pulling out won't do it. Giving them the chance to own the security situation on the ground should either give them the incentive to cooperate or give us the indication that they never will cooperate in significant enough numbers to stabilize the situation. THEN we leave.

    Self determination is one of the most powerful motivating paradigms one can have, and we haven't tried it. Unless we try to make our presence there explicitly by the invitation of the Iraqi people, through something resembling a referendum (that the people can get behind and take credit for collectively), they aren't going to feel we are there legitimately. If they don't feel that we are there legitimately, they have no ideological motivation to support us, and they will only use pragmatic criteria to evaluate their situation (not good for us).

    It's like if your car engine isn't turning over and the mechanic has checked the wires and the spark plugs, but he wants to junk the car without replacing the battery. It is, in my view, fundamentally important that we try this, or something similar. Give them three simple choices, and give it to the people, not the government. If you want to change the choices or give them more, that's fine--that's what the debate should be about--but to not address the "occupation" question directly and without any room for misunderstanding or spin is fundamentally irresponsible on a moral level.

    We have already pulled out of a couple of provinces almost completely (with great success). I'd like to see us pulling out to the countryside, giving support to the Iraqi military and police forces as requested, acting more as a heavy strike force rather than a police force. The "presence" felt on the ground should be an Iraqi presence, not an American one.

    And we both agree on this: One dead American is one too many in a bad war. But I don't think that this is the same as Viet Nam. I do, however, think that it will become 'Nam if we don't stop propping up Diem and start letting the people choose for themselves.

  10. "We must acknowledge once and for all that the purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis." Spock

    Murtha said what needed saying. Can't help but wish it had come sooner. But let's see what effect it has on the debate, if any, in the coming weeks. Let's hope it's more than just Swift-Boating attacks on him.

    We need a timetable for withdrawal. From atrios: As a Marine officer quoted by James Fallows in the current Atlantic Monthly puts it, "We can lose in Iraq and destroy our Army, or we can just lose."

  11. Jeff - I agree that just because Murtha said he didn't think they misled us doesn't mean they didn't, but what I've heard over the past few days is that Murtha is so "in" with the military and so well-respected etc., that his opinion should carry a great deal of weight. Some of the lefty bloggers are practically falling all over themselves to defer to the guy (and for the records I think Murtha makes good sense). So if his opinion is that credible, then the rest of it should be credible as well. Otherwise you're stuck with a situation where those of his opinions "we" agree with are beyond reproach, and the rest are wrong. That doesn't seem like a reasonable analysis.

    But I realize that's OT for this thread. Unless and until someone can "prove" the admin misled us, I'm frankly tired of hearing the speculation on it. I'm more concerned with what we are doing now and what we are going to do next - which is where Murtha comes in, and I think I agree with you for the most part.

  12. Scott,

    I forget what it's called in rhetoric, but if person A's opinion in one area has credibility, that doesn't give all his opinions credibility, and certainly not equal credibility.

    I personally don't see how the Iraq intelligence could NOT have been shaped to fit the policy (which Cheney, Rummy, Wolfie, etc. had formulated in the '90s). Whether it was done so criminally, unethically, or immorally is something I want to know about. But consider two things: 1) how could so many supposedly "smart" people have made that many "honest" mistakes? And 2) If these people are on the up-and-up, why do we get so much of the "it is what it is" kind of language from them?

    I think getting to the bottom of that issue is every bit as important as finding a solution to Iraq, and I don't buy the "limited choice" argument that we can only do one or the other.

    For what it's worth, I'd kind of like to put our dialogue on this subject on the front page, but don't know how I can do that without pulling a "Rush" on you (i.e., I control the front page, I can chop off the debate whenever I want, etc.)

    Oh, on some of the liberal bloggers "falling all over themselves"--a lot of them fall on a lot of things a lot of the time. ;-)

  13. Jeff:

    I think the fallacy you're talking about is called Appeal to Authority. But it generally takes the form when an authority in X is appealed to to make argument Y. For example, if an authority in nutrition is used as a basis for making an argument about global warming.

    But if Murtha is as connected in to the military and what is going on as he seems to be, I think he is credible on the intelligence issue as well. At least, I haven't seen any suggestion as to why he shouldn't be credible on that.

    I *tend* to lean toward the idea that the intelligence was weighted in the admin's favor, and it could have been either purposefully by the admin, or done by those under them who knew what answer they were supposed to be giving. The main thing that holds me back from saying "Yeah, Bush and Co. cooked it all up" is that so many people (other governments and the previous admin) thought the same thing, and from what I can gather, Hussein wanted people to think that.

    I realize people against the admin don't like to hear it, but that's a pretty big factor in my view. Obviously, Clinton (in the case of the former admin) didn't invade Iraq over it, so you certainly can't lay any blame at his feet anything like that, but he certainly did make the same sorts of claims that the Bush admin later used.

    Whether the admin manipulated the intelligence is something we do need to find out - I agree - but to at least some degree it is fairly apparent to me that they were operating with the same understanding of Iraq that had existed prior to this admin coming into power.

    As for using my posts - feel free to use them at your discretion. I know you won't be unfair in your usage, so I don't have a problem with it.